Artificial intelligence helps discover unpublished work by Lope de Vega

Professor Germán Vega García-Luengos, from the University of Valladolid, and researcher Álvaro Cuéllar, from the University of Vienna, identified a new comedy by Lope de Vega in the manuscript collection of the National Library of Spain (BNE). It’s called La Franca Laura and was written a few years before the writer’s death.

For its detection, the use of computer tools has been essential, the results of which have been fully supported by philological analyses. The results of the investigation have just seen the light in the Lope de Vega Yearbookreference journal in studies on this author.

The discovery was made possible thanks to the collaboration of two European universities, the BNE, the Stylometry applied to the Golden Age Theater (ETSOwith 150 collaborators dedicated to the application of computational analysis to the theatrical literature of the time), the PROLOPE group of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) and the Transkribus platform that facilitated the preparation of the necessary materials for the analysis.

The use of artificial intelligence was crucial in associating Lope de Vega with ‘La française Laura’, a work preserved in an anonymous manuscript at the National Library of Spain

In recent years, artificial intelligence (AI) has become a high-performance tool in numerous tasks and investigations. Historical-philological research is also taking advantage of its possibilities, as was the case with the discovery of La française Laura, an unknown play by Lope de Vega (1562-1635), after intense work combining the use of advanced computer techniques with traditional philological research. .

The use of AI was decisive in linking Lope de Vega to this work, preserved anonymously in a manuscript from the late 17th century, many years after the writer’s death, which is preserved at the BNE. First, the work was transcribed automatically using AI techniques through the Transkribus tool.

Thanks to it, ancient manuscripts can be transcribed with accuracy and a high degree of precision, something impossible until a few years ago.

calligraphy machine learning

For this, it must be trained providing manuscripts and their corresponding transcriptions (in this case, around 3 million correctly identified words were needed) until reaching a point where the machine recognizes the letters and words autonomously. From this moment on, it can be applied to handwritten documents intended to be transcribed.

One of the pages of ‘La française Laura’. / EFE/BNE

On this occasion, nearly 1,300 Golden Age pieces (printed and handwritten) were processed and transcribed in just a few hours, rather than the years of intense work that a traditional research team would have taken. The result of these transcriptions is not perfect, but it serves for the next step in which the AI ​​turns to the authorial attribution of this text to its legitimate author.

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Among all automatically transcribed comedies, La française Laura was classified as written by Lope de Vega, in full. In other words, the lexical uses of the work were closely aligned with his, not with the other 350 playwrights of the time included in the study.

Thanks to AI, around 1,300 pieces from the Golden Age were transcribed in just a few hours, rather than the years of intense work it would take a traditional research team

AI, therefore, has been indispensable for, on the one hand, automatically transcribing hundreds of pieces and, on the other hand, finding one that conforms to Lope de Vega’s biblical usages.

In addition, researchers carried out intensive research work on La française Laura to determine whether it could actually be a comedy by the famous playwright, this time using traditional philological research resources.

Among these tests, the study of versification stands out (as Lope habitually used the meter in his works), of orthology (how he pronounced words and used diphthongs, hiatuses or signals), and mainly the study of the lopesco echoes, that is, the coincidence both in ideas, issues and motives and in specific lexical structures between our work and other texts by the playwright close to the time of his writing.

A comedy with great dramatic force

“Everything indicates that we are facing a new genuine comedy by the playwright that until now we had no news, composed in the last phase of his life”, point out the researchers, who also consider La French Laura a remarkable play, with an expected drama of strength. of a mature Lope de Vega.

The plot takes place in France and revolves around Laura, daughter of the Duke of Brittany and married to Count Arnaldo. The Dauphin, heir to the throne of France, falls in love with her and decides to court her at all costs.

The protagonist resists the prince’s attacks and the suspicions of her husband who, in a fit of jealousy and fearing public disgrace, even tries to end his wife’s life with a powerful poison. Finally, Laura’s integrity is proven and the couple’s happiness is returned.

With studies like this one, AI proves to be an ally of the historical-philological discipline, for solving problems and optimizing processes, allowing the discovery of unpublished works such as The French Laura. It is up to future readers and scholars to continue investigating this comedy, accessible to everyone from the digital bookstorel BNE Hispanic.


Alvaro Cuellar, German Vega Garcia-Luengos. “The French Laura. The discovery of a new comedy by the last Lope de Vega”. Lope de Vega Yearbook.

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