The Most Powerful Artificial Intelligence Tool Is Queried: What knowledge did ‘Shake-speare’ possess? And what is the profile of the author?

The Most Powerful Artificial Intelligence Tool Is Queried: What knowledge did ‘Shake-speare’ possess? And what is the profile of the author?


Artificial Intelligence has remarkable abilities: instantly surveying billions of books/papers, writing and interpreting poems, creating complex artworks and calculating probabilities. Here we use two powerful AI tools to better comprehend humanity’s greatest author, ‘William Shakespeare’. What were his skill sets? How could someone rise to such stratospheric heights? The findings were astonishing: we used two different tools to explore then weigh the depth and breadth of Shakespeare’s knowledge base. After grasping the complexity both rated him the 4th most capable polymath. The Bard seemed expert at everything related to literature. The AI could source hundreds of obscure works on Shakespeare’s legal expertise instantly. It boldly attempted to translate the impenetrable Sonnets yet curiously made many simple numbering errors. It created an impressive polymath ranking pivot table. It weirdly changed its mind when it discovered more facts. It expressed ‘concern’ when it realized it had crossed a line after creating a ‘controversial’ probability chart to fit the authorship profile it had just created. (Edward de Vere the 17th Earl of Oxford at 98% and just .01% for Shaksper of Stratford.)


The year 2023 has seen a new and profound accessibility to Artificial Intelligence (AI). This technology is frighteningly awesome and can form analysis by encompassing hundreds of years of experts’ knowledge instantly. Anyone can access it through the use of‘s ChatGPT interface. In seconds, this AI tool can aggregate billions of facts and give opinions on an Author’s knowledge. It can discern legal expertise, education and the author’s social standing at Court. It can comprehend the degree of erudition the author Shake-speare would have needed to utilize the vocabulary and write the plots and subplots of his plays and poems. It does so by examining the million words of both Anonymous and Shakespeare Quartos, and the poems, to the 1623 First Folio.

ChatGPT is a language-based AI. It is the most powerful tool available for harvesting details that would take a lifetime for the most ardent Oxfordian or Stratfordian to curate. Since most first questions to an AI can produce ambiguous replies, they must be refined by way of a ‘Chat’ to provide the clarity the program needs to form a comprehensive response. Through this chit-chat process the AI finds focus. After three to six Q&A cycles, the AI returns a useful answer. OpenAI listens to your pushback, checks its previous answers, performs a new data search and improves its replies. It may even change its mind as it gains knowledge. I watched many ‘How To’ videos to learn the system. Some experts have used it to write computer programs, pass difficult tests, create websites and papers. It was weirdly enjoyable working with the interface, pointing out errors and missteps, watching it debug itself and reach a finished product. I then proofed Google’s AI tool ‘Bard’ with interesting results.

My motivation for engaging the ChatGPT interface was to fact-check two questions for my review and analysis on Stephanie Hopkins Hughes’ Educating Shakespeare for the April 2023 DVS newsletter (see pp.42–49): ‘What was the depth of Shakespeare’s knowledge?’ and, more specifically, ‘What were the extents of his legal vocabulary and legal expertise?’ The results were extremely helpful and confirmed Hughes’ theses. It soon became apparent that these answers might be useful in the Moot Court at the Middle Temple (see above, pp.14-15). After submitting a draft, I worked with Alexander Waugh to propose a series of additional questions for a DVS article.

Our specific goal was to curate and quantify material irrespective of any authorship candidacy. Here I only show a couple of my follow-up questions and only the most helpful AI answers. Often there is a standard disclaimer before many replies, ‘As an AI language model, I cannot form opinions or make assumptions about the identity of the author of Shakespeare’s plays’ and, in some instances, I excised it.         Shall we commence?

Chat Question #1 (asked by me of OpenAI)

How many legal references and words are contained in the Shakespearean works as contained in the long poems, Sonnets and the First folio? After reading Sokol and Sokol 2001 it appears there are far more than 1,000. This is a very important question, because it proves that the author had to have extensive legal training.

Answer to Question #1, 2nd response of 6 (from Open AI to me)

The exact number of legal references and words contained in Shakespeare’s works is a matter of debate among scholars, and there is no consensus on the exact figure. However, it is generally accepted that Shakespeare had a thorough knowledge of the law and incorporated legal themes and terminology into his plays and sonnets.

According to a study by Allan Gilbert in 1962, Shakespeare used legal terms and concepts in at least 2,771 instances in his works. However, this number may be an underestimate as it only considers direct legal terminology and does not account for the many references and allusions to legal matters in the plays and sonnets. Another study by Daniel J. Kornstein in 1993 suggests that Shakespeare’s legal vocabulary consists of approximately 3,000 words, many of which are not used in everyday language. It is important to note that while Shakespeare did not have formal legal training, he lived during a time when legal matters were a significant part of everyday life, and it is likely that he acquired his knowledge of the law through his experiences and interactions with the legal system.

In conclusion, while the exact number of legal references and words in Shakespeare’s works is still uncertain, one can recognize that Shakespeare had a profound understanding of the law and incorporated legal themes and language into his plays and sonnets in a sophisticated and nuanced way.

Answer to Chat #1, 5th of 6

Did Shakespeare have extensive legal training is a topic of debate among scholars? – there is no conclusive evidence either way. However, it is true that Shakespeare’s works contain numerous legal references and terminology.

According to a study conducted by the legal scholars Alan Durant and Nigel Wood in 2010, there are over 1,300 references to law and legal concepts in Shakespeare’s works. This includes references to specific legal cases, legal procedures, and legal language. In terms of word count, it is difficult to provide an exact figure since it depends on how one defines legal words. However, Durant and Wood estimated that approximately 10% of the words in Shakespeare’s works are related to legal concepts.

It’s worth noting that many of these legal references may have been common knowledge among literate people in Shakespeare’s time, and it’s possible that Shakespeare did not have formal legal training himself. Nonetheless, his works demonstrate a deep familiarity with legal language and concepts, and they continue to be studied by legal scholars today.

(My emphasis in bold. Cross-check: Google’s AI, aptly named ‘Bard’ found 2,065 Legal words in the Poems, Sonnets and five of the most legalistic plays.)

Chat #2 Question How many legal words and references are in Shakespeare’s Sonnets of 1609?

There are many legal words: embassage, misprision, granted, audite. This is a critical question. (Previous research estimated 300+ legal words in the Sonnets alone.)

The AI struggled to contemplate more than one sonnet at a time, making a host of errors. Kudos is given to DVS editors, for their assistance in finding them all. The AI’s interpretations were intriguing, so this early chat is shown with all its errors.

Answer to Chat #2, 2nd of 5

There are 154 sonnets in Shakespeare’s Sonnets of 1609. It is difficult to give an exact number of legal words and references in the Sonnets because the interpretation of what constitutes a ‘legal’ word or reference can vary. However, there are certainly many words and phrases in the Sonnets that could be considered legal or related to the law, as Shakespeare was familiar with legal language and concepts due to his father’s profession as a glovemaker and his own experience as a litigant in various legal disputes.

Some examples of legal words and references in Shakespeare’s Sonnets include: embassage (Sonnet 1); misprision (Sonnet 35); granted (Sonnet 87); and audite (Sonnet 126). Other sonnets contain legal concepts such as the idea of attainder (Sonnet 140) and the idea of forfeiture (Sonnet 49).

My emphasis added. Is AI referring to legal words here and below? Or the ‘ Ideas of legal concepts’?

Chat #3 Question: Can you list all of the legal words in Shakespeare’s sonnets?

(Here I am digging in, looking for a master list of legal words in the Sonnets.) Correct Sonnet numbers and my comments below are noted in bold in parenthesis.

Answer to Chat #3, 2nd of 4

I apologize for the previous response. As a language model, I do not have the ability to generate a comprehensive list of all the legal terms that appear in Shakespeare’s Sonnets. However, I have done some research and compiled a list of additional legal terms that are used in Shakespeare’s Sonnets:

Audite: This term means ‘hear ye’ or ‘listen.’ It appears in Sonnet 23 (126), where the speaker asks the fair youth to listen to his plea for love.

Misprision: This term means ‘neglect’ or ‘failure to fulfill a duty.’ It appears in Sonnet 35 (87), where the speaker accuses the fair youth of committing misprision by not fulfilling his duty to love the speaker in return.

Granted: This term means ‘admitted’ or ‘acknowledged.’ It appears in Sonnet 32 (grant appears 5x but not in 32), where the speaker acknowledges that he has been unfaithful to the fair youth.

Embassage: This term means ‘diplomatic mission’ or ‘ambassadorial delegation.’ It appears in Sonnet 35 (26) where the speaker compares the fair youth’s eyes to an embassage that should bring love and peace.

Statute: This term means ‘law’ or ‘legislation.’ It appears in Sonnet 107 (134), where the speaker compares his love for the fair youth to a statute that can never be repealed.

Evidence: This term means ‘proof’ or ‘testimony.’ It appears in Sonnet 46 (‘Evident’ only, in Sonnet 10), where the speaker compares his love for the fair youth to a jury that is presented with evidence.

Advocate: This term means ‘supporter’ or ‘champion.’ It appears in Sonnet 35, (correct Sonnet number) where the speaker urges the fair youth to become his advocate and speak on his behalf.

Answer to Chat #3, 3rd of 4

Thank you for your positive feedback. Here are some additional examples of legal terms that appear in Shakespeare’s sonnets:

Attainted: This term means ‘convicted’ or ‘condemned.’ It appears in Sonnet 140 (88), where the speaker describes the mistress as being ‘attainted’ with faults and sins.

Decree: This term means ‘judgment’ or ‘order.’ It appears in Sonnet 107, (93 & 115) and where the speaker describes his love for the fair youth as being ‘made to thy laws’ and ‘prescribed by thine own sweet and gracious voice’.*

Execution: This term means ‘implementation’ or ‘carrying out’. It appears in Sonnet 35 (4: Executor), where the speaker describes the fair youth’s eyes as being ‘so bright that birds would sing and think it were not night’, and that they have the power to ‘execute the night’.

Impeach: This term means ‘accuse’ or ‘challenge.’ It appears in Sonnet 35 (125), where the speaker challenges the fair youth to ‘impeach’ the speaker’s honesty and swear that he has not been unfaithful.

Testament: This term means ‘will’ or ‘testimony.’ It appears in Sonnet 135 (‘will’ used 13x, no testament), where the speaker describes the mistress as being ‘my sin’s true merit’ and a ‘testament’ to his sinful nature. I hope these additional examples are helpful.

* ‘Sweet and gracious’ appear to be from a translation, Shakespeare never used that word pair. Cross checking: Google’s Bard found 462 legal words in the 154 Sonnets.

Chat Question #4  Can you analyze Sonnet 87 only for as many legal words as loosely be defined?

(Here I am working to pin down legal words in just one sonnet, #87)

Answer to Chat #4, 2nd of 6

Certainly, I can help you analyze Sonnet 87 by identifying and interpreting any legal words or terminology that appear in 87. Here’s a breakdown of the Sonnet:

Charter: In line 3, the speaker refers to ‘the charter of thy worth’. In a legal context, a charter is a document that grants certain rights or privileges, such as a royal charter or a corporate charter.

Releasing: Also in line 3, the speaker says that the charter of the fair youth’s worth ‘gives thee releasing’. In a legal context, releasing can refer to a formal document that releases someone from an obligation or debt.

Bonds: In line 4, the speaker says that his ‘bonds in thee are all determinate’. In a legal context, bonds can refer to legal documents that require someone to pay a debt or fulfill an obligation.

Granting: In line 5, the speaker asks how he can ‘hold thee but by thy granting’. In a legal context, granting refers to the act of giving or transferring ownership or rights.

Patent: In line 8, the speaker says his ‘patent back again is swerving’. In a legal context, a patent is a legal document granting exclusive rights to an inventor/creator.

Misprision: In line 11, the speaker says that the fair youth’s great gift, ‘upon misprision growing, / Comes home again’. Misprision is a legal term that refers to the failure to report a crime or the concealment of a crime.

Overall, Sonnet 87 doesn’t contain a significant amount of legal terminology, but the few terms that do appear can be loosely interpreted in a legal context. The Sonnet primarily deals with the idea of possession, ownership, and worth, and the speaker ultimately realizes that his relationship with the fair youth was fleeting and ephemeral, like a dream that fades upon waking.**

Here is my Chat response to ChatGPT

Wonderful answer!! Can you repeat this answer and include judgement, flatter, matter, charter, bonds, guilt, wanting? **The conclusion above differs from below.

Answer to Chat#4, 3rd of 6

Certainly, here’s a revised analysis of Sonnet 87 that includes additional legal words or terminology:

In Sonnet 87, Shakespeare uses a number of legal terms to describe his relationship with the fair youth. The speaker begins by bidding farewell to the youth, saying that he is ‘too dear for my possessing’ (line 1). He goes on to suggest that the fair youth is aware of his own worth and knows that he is highly valued: ‘like enough thou know’st thy estimate’ (line 2).

The speaker then refers to the ‘charter of thy worth’ (line 3), which he says gives the fair youth ‘releasing’ (or release from obligation) (line 3). He notes that his ‘bonds’ with the fair youth are all ‘determinate’ (line 4), meaning that they have been settled or decided. The speaker questions how he can ‘hold thee but by thy granting’ (line 5), suggesting that he only has a claim on the youth’s affection because the youth has granted it to him.

The speaker then reflects on his own worthiness, wondering ‘where is my deserving?’ (line 6) and acknowledging that the ‘cause of this fair gift in me is wanting’ (line 7). He says that his ‘patent’ (or legal claim) is ‘back again…swerving’ (line 8), suggesting that his claim to the fair youth’s love is shaky or unstable.

The fair youth, the speaker suggests, gave himself to the speaker without fully understanding his own worth: ‘Thyself thou gav’st, thy own worth then not knowing’ (line 9) or the speaker’s true intentions ‘Or me to whom thou gav’st it else mistaking’ (line 10). The speaker notes that the fair youth’s ‘great gift, upon misprision growing’ (line 11) – in other words, a gift given under a mistaken belief – has come back to the youth ‘on better judgement making ’ (line 12).

In the final couplet, the speaker compares his relationship with the fair youth to a dream that flatters and deceives: ‘Thus have I had thee as a dream doth flatter’ (line 13); saying that in his dream he was a king, but upon waking he realizes that he is not: ‘In sleep a king, but waking no such matter’ (line 14).

Overall, Sonnet 87 contains a number of legal words and concepts, including judgement, flatter, matter, charter, bonds, guilt, and wanting. These terms help to convey the speaker’s sense of loss and disappointment in his relationship with the fair youth, as well as his awareness of the legal and contractual aspects of love and affection.

(Cross-check: Google’s Bard found 15 legal words in both 87 & 43)

Chat Question #5 (posed by Alexander Waugh) Using the legal language of the Sonnets and the Shakespeare canon, as well as the situations at court in the plays. What is the most likely social position of the author of the plays? Please disregard ALL traditional ascriptions to the author. (My emphasis in bold below.)

Answer to Chat #5, 1st of 3

As an AI language model, I do not possess personal beliefs or opinions, nor can I confirm or deny the identity of the author of the plays attributed to William Shakespeare. However, based solely on the language and social contexts within the plays themselves, it is possible to make some educated guesses about the author’s social position.

The language of the Sonnets and the plays suggests that the author was highly educated and well-versed in literature, history, and classical mythology. The frequent use of legal terminology and references to courtly life suggest that the author was familiar with legal and political affairs and may have had some firsthand experience with courtly life. The plays also frequently depict characters from all walks of life, from commoners to royalty, suggesting that the author had a broad knowledge of and interest in social hierarchy and dynamics.

Based on these factors, it is likely that the author of the plays was a highly educated individual with some connection to courtly life.

Answer to Chat #5, 2nd of 3

(Similar disclaimer) The Shakespearean canon is filled with legal terminology and references to legal procedures and concepts, which suggest that the author had some familiarity with the law. The author also displays a keen awareness of courtly manners and etiquette, which indicates that they had some direct experience with the upper classes. Furthermore, the plays contain a variety of characters from different social backgrounds, including royalty, nobility, merchants, and commoners. The author shows a deep understanding of the social hierarchies and power dynamics that exist within each of these groups.

Taken together, these observations suggest that the author of the plays was likely a member of the educated elite, possibly a lawyer or someone who had extensive contact with the legal system. They were also likely well-versed in courtly manners and had direct experience with the upper classes, although it is difficult to determine whether they themselves were of noble birth or not.

Answer to Chat #5, 3rd of 3

(Similar disclaimer) The language used in the Sonnets and the Shakespearean canon suggest that the author was highly educated and had a sophisticated understanding of courtly manners, politics, and the law. This suggests that the author may have had a privileged upbringing, possibly having been educated at a university or having access to private tutors. The author’s familiarity with the inner workings of court life, including the intrigues and power struggles, suggests that the author may have had some connection to a royal court, possibly as a courtier, lawyer, or member of the aristocracy.

Overall, based on the language and situations depicted in the plays, it is likely that the author of Shakespeare’s works occupied a position of relative privilege and education, possibly having connections to the royal court or the aristocracy.

Lastly, as a challenge of ChatGPT’s ability:

I proposed a question and twelve refining chats to achieve a list (in spreadsheet form no less!) of the world’s greatest polymaths, rank ordered. I copied the pivot table #10 into Excel and took a screenshot for ease of viewing. Note: William Shakespeare’s position as #4.

Chat Question #6 Please rank the greatest polymaths in History.

Please list achievements and ranking from 1 to 1000, with a 100 score being a successful professional individual over a lifetime. This was completely novel thinking and was on top of my extensive work with AI on Shakespeare’s medical and astronomical knowledge not shown here.

Answer to Chat #6, 10th of 12

(Please see Spreadsheet below)

Discussion of AI’s Polymath chart:

The process of creating Chat #6 illustrated the AI’s capability to create complex documents following additional queries. The initial ‘ask’ revealed just a few names, with science backgrounds only, so I requested a broader list. Then I requested the results to be shown in a PivotTable, next adding a qualifications column, then a ranking system, then expanding the list to 25 and 30. Lastly, I submitted a detailed request to reevaluate the complexity of achievements for each of the multidisciplinary candidates.

Even though I felt the AI program correctly evaluated the staggering complexity of Shakespeare’s works, I was still shocked when he was given one of the highest complexity scores (900) among all the candidates. AI slowed as it quantified the difficulty of each person’s achievements. The reason is that the earlier replies appeared to be simple harvests of available lists from the internet rather than the novel AI thinking observed in the Chats #1 to #5. The reason, I believe, is that the first five questions were novel and not easily harvested. Although I requested a list of 30, the program timed out at 28, hanging up at Mozart, whose score they were unable to rate. I made the same request two more times, but the AI could not complete a list of 30 polymaths due to timeouts. So, the final table has 28 names. The numbered 1-28 ranking differs from the 1 to 1000 scoring because each is an independent algorithm. (Google’s Bard crosschecked and expanded list to 50, Shakespeare held at #4).

In Conclusion

This exercise was highly enlightening, and the AI’s answers speak for themselves. The Artificial Intelligence discerned that Shake-speare was one of the greatest minds of all time. In my view, he could arguably be #1. Only a well-placed person at court who was also a poetic prodigy, with the best tutors at a young age, unfettered access to books, an elite legal education, wealth to create court entertainments and access to tricky court predicaments, could be the Bard.

There was a Chat #7

A scintillating authorship probability chart was created after days pounding on legal/medical terms and deep knowledge in the canon. The AI had amassed a database of what Shakespeare knew and created a detailed profile of the author! So we utilized it. Who had the poetic and legal skills to write the canon? Only one playwright was ‘Best in Comedy’ with no plays under his name.

The results were shocking: 0.01% for Shaksper of Stratford and dozens of other candidates: 98.00% for de Vere; Marlowe, Stanley, Jonson, Greene, Peele, Nashe around 0.5%. I bellowed. The AI then realized it was definitive on a controversial subject and weirdly became unwilling to recreate the chart, so we elected not to publish the probability chart!

Viewing Oxford as an orphaned prodigy, lawyer, polymath, writer, poet and publisher is best. He was addicted to, and was the focal point of, literature in Elizabethan London. Thomas Nashe wrote Oxford kept a cot in his print shops.

My next project will be to ask to estimate how many hours of work (I’m guessing 100,000+ hours) to gain this supreme level of artistic skill and output, similar to the long lived, prolific, artistic prodigies Michelangelo and Bernini. I invite others to work with and enjoy this useful tool – while recognizing its limitations.


I would like to thank Robert Prechter author of the remarkable Oxford’s Voices and Alexander Waugh, Chairman of the DVS and co-author of The New Shakespeare Allusion Book for their valuable insights and assistance in creation of this paper.

Jonathan G. Foss is a successful entrepreneur from Minneapolis USA and has been interested in the Authorship Question since 1982.

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