Felix Lope de Vega (1562-1635) is considered a prolific poet of Spain’s Golden Age in the early Baroque period. He has written at least 1000 works, including the drama “Fuente Ovejuna” and the classic “El caballero de Olmedo”. In part he is already considered the author of around 1500 writings. A piece is now largely secured: researchers have identified with the help of artificial intelligence (AI) that the comedy “La francesa Laura” (The Frenchwoman Laura) also comes from the pen of Lopes. Since 1886, the play has eked out an anonymous existence in the rich fund of the Spanish National Library.
The machines assigned the comparatively serious play about a married French noblewoman who has to defend herself against the advances of the heir to the throne of France to Lope’s late work. He is said to have written it five or six years before his death, i.e. between 1628 and 1630. This emerges from an essay published a few days ago in the yearbook on the poet by researchers Álvaro Cuéllar from the University of Vienna and Germán Vega García-Luengos from the Universidad de Valladolid. Additional traditional philological analyzes have thus confirmed the authorship.
National Library hopes for more puzzles to be solved
María José Rucio, expert on manuscripts and incunabula at the National Library, was pleased about the surprising information after all these years. In a statement, she assumes a breakthrough from which linguistics and literary studies should benefit even more: According to her, the discovery “will probably not be the last” thanks to the new technical possibilities. The Spanish library alone has around 85,000 manuscripts in its archives, including 11,500 plays. The author of many of them is unknown.
The scientists found the first technical reference to Lope with the AI program Transkribus, which emerged from an EU project at the University of Innsbruck. The system is designed to recognize historical texts, automatically transcribe manuscripts and convert them into digital documents. The corresponding file for “The Frenchwoman Laura” can already be found in the Spanish digital library.
The researchers trained Transkribus on some 1,300 works from the Golden Age of Spanish literature. The program was then able to digitize the pieces within a few hours, whereas a conventional manual transcription would have taken several years. For the next step, Vega and Cuéllar uploaded the cleaned transcription of “Die Französin Laura” to the ETSO (Estilometría aplicada al Teatro del Siglo de Oro) platform they developed. “It’s a corpus that contains about 2,800 comedies by 350 authors, almost all from the 17th century, but also some from the 16th,” Vega explained to the daily El País. The database should help to decode the authorship of the works.
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A third program, called Stylo, uses the literary method stylometry to compare the text uploaded to ETSO with all the other pieces it contains, according to Vega. For example, the frequency of function words or grammatical elements is automatically recorded using statistical methods. In the case of “The Frenchwoman Laura,” the system determined that the hundred works to which the comedy is most closely related are almost all by Lope de Vega. The most similar of all is his 1631 tragedy “El castigo sin venganza” (Punishment Without Vengeance).
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