GRE Reading Comprehension
Computer technology offers some tantalizing new innovations to the study of literature, and some scholars are seizing this opportunity to address one of literature's great puzzles. Until the 20th century, few would have questioned the authorship of Shakespeare's work. The consensus among scholars was that William Shakespeare, a Stratford grain dealer, penned the plays, perhaps with some help from others. In recent decades, many began to question the authenticity of this attribution. Various luminaries were put forth as the real author, including Lord Francis Bacon. Scholars argued that an ordinary yeoman would be unlikely to boast the vocabulary, style, and knowledge evinced in the Shakespearean canon; moreover, the doubters could offer biographical facts about the grain dealer that contradict the disseminated biographical facts about the Bard.
A computer study conducted at Claremont McKenna College has upended the debate. The program divided each Shakespeare text into blocks and counted common words within each block. The computer measured and ranked eigenvalues, or modes, which are complex patterns of deviation from a writer's normal rates of word frequency. The finding was that while Shakespeare's language patterns were internally consistent, they varied considerably from the patterns of any other author. While it seems certain that none of the previously attributed authors can be definitively identified as Shakespeare, this does not rule out that yet another author may be discovered to be the true author. While this is unlikely to happen, it warns us that the most prominent feature of the computer study is its message of the consistency by which writers practice their craft.
The author of the passage focuses primarily on
- A discussing a series of computer studies and their impact on the study of Shakespeare
- B recounting the effect of one computer study's findings on an academic debate
- C ruling out a definitive attribution of a particular author's work
- D illustrating the many difficulties involved in establishing author attribution
- E determining the exact value of computer technology in relation to the study of authorial attribution
Correct Answer: B