1. What Authorship Question: Homer, Who, Shakespeare?

In my previous post I posed the question, could a computer differentiate between episodes of Dr Who that were under the artisitic guidance of Russell T. Davies and those of his successor, Steven Moffat. Supposedly a computer can recognize the hand of Shakepeare in Early Modern Literature. Actually, faith in such programs is so fervent that they are being used to pinpoint exactly which bits of Shakespeare, Shakespeare actually wrote and which bits belong in the chops of a horse.

Now, if you were writing this post and I was reading it, my immediate reaction would be that TV and Early Modern Playscripts use different storytelling techniques. That TV guides the majority of the viewer’s responses to a text through its clever use of mise-en-scene, editing, casting, and special effects. A playscript is a raw thing, yet to be basted and baked on a stage. The theatre’s audience, more difficult to lead. Computers can count words, their forms and usage in early modern texts: what are they to measure in an episode of Dr Who? An impossible comparison.

What if the arena were to be circumscribed? Could an essential parameter box in the ring? Could we take this parameter to be the writer’s underlying world view? To my mind there is an issue with counting words and their usage: the writer as an artist. The writer may have a preferred style, but doesn’t it change at all over the course of their writing careers? Doesn’t style develop over time? over experimentation? over admiration of others’ works? over response to their own? What of vaulting a mindblock or orchestrating a conceit?

Shakespeare isn’t the earliest writer to have his penmanship questioned. Homer shares the stigma with him. Homer has left two great epics, The Illiad and The Odyssey. Like Shakespeare, there is little of his life on historical record. We dont know the year or circumstances of the creation of either of his works. They are so different in style and content that it is believed that they must have been written at the beginning and the end of his career if he were to have written both of them. This begs the question, where are his transitional works?

Statue of Homer in Munich

Statue of Homer in Munich

While The Illiad is a concentrated recount of the skirmishes of the last battle of the Trojan War, the Odyssey is a narrative of Oysseas (Ulysses) ten year-long journey home. Immediately we see a different approach to the treatment of the passage of time between the texts – one is broad ranging the other, very particular. In The Illiad, Homer identifies the players in the war through their families, allegiances, achievements and relationships to a particular god. The gods themselves are part of his narrative. No warrior is a statistic. No warrior fights alone. There is a sense that this history is told to honour the generals, the soldiers, their families, their communities and their gods. A pious reverence pervades the text. Those who will read him, will honour his gods and the gods will hear them.

The Odyssey is a different kind of yarn, spun and pulled out over the course of ten years. It could easily be retitled, Odysseas’ Seafaring Advenures. Unlike The Illiad, it focusses on one protagonist. This is Odysseas tale. It’s an ancient melodrama, romance, and thriller. But not a history. Odysseas is clearly the hero. The goddess Athena takes a personal interest in his domestic situation and his return home. She serves him. The goddess serves the mortal! Not to say she was a serving woman but this is not a war of nations.

There is a more light-hearted approach to The Odyssey. The family histories and relationships of the characters sailing with Odysseas are not given. The story is meant to move forward sprightly, and it does. It can be suspenceful and is engaging.The story of Odysseas’ journey is almost a story within a story. Yes, Calypso tells the tale but within the story of Telemachus and Penelope (his son and his wife respectively), the wanderings of our hero are a play within a play. There is a huge leap in innovation where storytelling is concerned.

Most importantly, the mindset, the attitude of the writer of The Illiad is very different to the attitude of the writer of The Odyssey, when it comes to the sanctity of life. There is a concern for the soldiers and a weight over their loss in one and a feeling that the sailors are mere pawns in the world of a good story in the other. In one, there is a sense of a battle veteran writing, in the other a good imagination. Were they from the same pen?

Statue of Homer, Munich

Photo credit: Source / CC BY-SA

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The Nightmare : Where? What? When? . . . Homer, Shakespeare, Dr. Who

The glare. In front. Above. In your ears; on your skin. Radiation. Run! Run outside! Where? The corridor is here, it paces with each of your strides, just ahead of you. Run! It will come into view. That’s all you know. Run, it will meet you. Matter:you create it. Look back: the corridor is long, white, dim. Lockers on either side. Forward: it’s still there, a void. Stop here. Lockers: overburdened, over hanging, over your line…falling. Get up! The weight: white, above. Red trickles down. Cold metal, bare skin, gash. Push up, hard! The hinges pop. Out falls a tee. Clothe yourself. Walk. Don’t look back.

Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/drurydrama/5203232967/

Doors separate blocks of lockers. With each footfall, another room comes into view. And another block of lockers. There’s more with each step, canter, jog, run. Where is an exit sign? Don’t slow. The white begins to fall. Dash! Grab, turn, yank . . . bang! Silence. The speaker stops. Homer is projected, enormous behind him. The auditors turn to face you. They’re bearded, like Homer.

“Sorry. Late. I’ll just take a seat.”

They rise, all of them. No one smiles. They scowl. They glare. They lift their chairs, each with one hand. The free hand drags across a collapsing trench through their foreheads. They approach. They don’t look at your eyes, just your t-shirt. Homer’s face is written over: Odyssey into Authorship Fraud. You back away from them, a foot at a time with your chair in arms until you reach the door. Turn the knob and push back. Move back and back and back until you feel another door knob to turn.

Cheese, crackers, wine and goatees. English-Lit. Tap-tap on your shoulder.

“When did they start letting your ilk in?”

“I don’t know what you mean. Please?”

A poke is drawn out long, over your shoulder blades while the accompanying voice, louder than polite conversation allows, enjoins, “I Swear, Shaxpere, was wearing red herring!” You run your fingertips over your back. You can discern the rise and fall of paint and cotton. A decanter, shatters. You feel the stares as the silence spills and runs towards you once more.

“I must be in the wrong room.”

“Stay. It’s been a while since they served the meat here, raw.”

Run to the corridor. Close your fingers over the hem of your tee. Shut your eyes. Blue rectangles emerge in the blackness. Yellow rectangles make towers in the blue. Pixels of neon lights organize themselves into a recognizable shape. Pull over and off the tee. Flutter up your lids. Close them again. The blue box! A blink and it’s gone. Pull the tee back down, inside-out. Run. The hall is creating itself once more with your every stride.
You hear a commotion. There is a break in the wall on the right. The echo of feet drumming the floor in measured, robotic pounds, broadens the opening. Another corridor emerges in the wall opposite. It’s the Chinese state army. You stop to allow them to parade by. They may have just created an exit. Will they be your saving grace? A command is called. They stop and turn towards you. The commander picks you with his eyes. Guns are raised. You look down at your t-shirt. “Falun Dafa is Good!” is printed around the wan symbol. You dive into an open doorway. More bearded men. Ringlets escaping their black hats and murmurs fibrillating history and religion in a foreign tongue. One, only needs to see your t-shirt. Revulsion, pain, anger and fear transform the air. It is a different kind of radiation, one of darkness. So black that only sound can warp its way through.

“Hahhhhh-uh. Hahhhhh-uh” The blue box emerges. Run. He is here, the alien-man with the screwdriver. He will fix it. He has to. He’s the Doctor. Who?*

Tardis in the Dark/in black

Nightmare, parable – is there a difference? Ask Jung. When we speak or write we censor our content depending on our audience. Why? For many reasons. Inevitably, individuals outgrow the institutions and social constructs that previous generations have built to deliver needs like education and social harmony and etiquette. Plain speaking in the open isn’t always possible, from reasons of the personality of the speaker to the fear of the government one may be speaking out against. To bring about change and growth there has to be an acceptance of the need for change. How is it managed?

Pseudonyms, allonyms, disguise and deception are the tools of many writers, not just for revolutionary purposes. Could you pick a fraud? Computational text analysis has been used to delve with the mathematical ability of a computer into the Shakespeare Authorship Question. Apparently by counting instances of words, their forms, spelling and usage a computer can determine the authorship of a work purported to be by Shakespeare. But isn’t there more to writing than the words themselves? In my next post I’ll be looking at Homer, Shakespeare and the Doctor as interpreted by Russell T Davies vs Steven Moffat.
Could a computer tell a script by Moffat from a script by Davies?

• For any Whovians among you, in the Nightmare sequence the disguises of the hordes once doffed would reveal in order of appearance: The Slitheen (you guessed it); the Sycorax (Shakespeare actually did get there first – see The Tempest); the Cybermen; and the Ood.

High School Lockers

Photo credit: Len Radin / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/drurydrama/5203232967/
Tardis in the Dark

Photo credit: Boyce Duprey / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA