Historians have long assumed that William Shakespeare did not write the play Henry VIII entirely by himself. Now, a study by a Czech linguist suggests that one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries wrote almost half of the work.
According to an analysis by Petr Plecháč from the Institute of Czech Literature of the Czech Academy of Sciences, John Fletcher is the author of almost half of the play Henry VIII.
Compared to Shakespeare’s earlier work, the drama about English King Henry VIII marked a stylistically new direction for the famed author, but researchers have not agreed on who cooperated with him to produce the play.
In the 19th century, however, British academic James Spedding was the first to identify Fletcher as a possible co-author.
In his research on the topic, Plecháč combined vocabulary and verses analysis with machine learning methods. He designed an algorithm to examine the play from various angles, including the frequency of certain words or rhythmic patterns.
Plecháč concluded that the first two scenes of the first act are unmistakably the work of Shakespeare based on the rhythm of the verses, but the next four scenes in the first and second acts are Fletcher’s.
The two playwrights share credit for a scene in the third act, while most of the fifth act suggests Fletcher was the author, he found.
Fletcher, together with Shakespeare, worked in the prestigious theater company King’s Men. Shakespeare also collaborated with Philip Messinger, whom some historians also described as co-creator of Henry VIII. Plecháč’s findings, however, do not support this hypothesis.
On the other hand, the new analysis suggests another unknown author may have contributed to the fourth act, which does not correspond to either Fletcher’s or Shakespeare’s style.