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Can Twitter's infinite monkeys write the complete works of Shakespeare?

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It was the best of ideas, it was the blurst of ideas

Shakespeare's Globe

Twitter is teaming up with Shakespeare's Globe theater in London to have a go at proving the infinite monkey theorem: that infinite monkeys randomly hitting infinite typewriters will eventually write any and all given texts, including the complete works of William Shakespeare. In this case, though, the infinite monkeys are Twitter's users, and the typewriter is a real device, sitting in the lobby of the Globe.

The typewriter is hooked up to Twitter (how? Presumably there's some sort of plug), and is looking through the world's tweets in real time. Word by word, it's going to type out all of Shakespeare's 37 plays and 154 sonnets in order, waiting for someone to tweet the next word in the sequence before it types it. It started yesterday with The Two Gentleman of Verona, but doesn't seem to have got much further than Act II yet.

The main difficulty is obvious. Shakespeare used a lot of strange words combined with a lot strange spellings, and his characters frequently address one another by their strange names. How often do Twitter's users say 'troth' or 'coxcomb,' 'kickie-wickie,' 'fustilarian,' or 'rascalliest.' And what about 'honorificabilitudinitatibus' — the longest word in Shakespeare, appearing in Act V, scene one of Love's Labour's Lost.

When this happens, says the Globe, the "public will be asked to help out," and should tweet the desired word with the hashtag #TheCompleteTweets. (We're not sure how the public is supposed to know, but maybe they're counting on people seeing the typewriter in real life, stuck on the appropriate word.) The Twitter feed set up to highlight these contributions shows that so far the typewriter has been struggling mainly with characters names — Turio, Proteus, and Lucetta, for example.

It's a bit of a cop-out, sure, but the project would be impossible otherwise. Plus, it shows that Twitter users aren't actually the same as an infinite assembly of monkeys — they're much worse at writing Shakespeare.

The installation in the theater shows the play title, word count, and percentage of the work that's been completed. They're using the W.W. Norton definitive version of the text. (Image credit: Shakespeare's Globe)