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Last Updated: Friday, 9 May, 2003, 12:28 GMT 13:28 UK
No words to describe monkeys' play
Sulawesi crested macaque, picture courtesy of Paignton Zoo
Six monkeys took part in the experiment at Paignton Zoo

A bizarre experiment by a group of students has found monkeys cannot write Shakespeare.

Lecturers and students from the University of Plymouth wanted to test the claim that an infinite number of monkeys given typewriters would create the works of The Bard.

A single computer was placed in a monkey enclosure at Paignton Zoo to monitor the literary output of six primates.

But after a month, the Sulawesi crested macaques had only succeeded in partially destroying the machine, using it as a lavatory, and mostly typing the letter "s".

The project, by students from the university's MediaLab Arts course, received 2,000 from the Arts Council.

The work was interesting but had little scientific value, except to show that the "infinite monkey" theory is flawed
Dr Amy Plowman, Paignton Zoo scientific officer

Director of the university's Institute of Digital Arts and Technology (i-DAT), Mike Phillips, denied the project was a disaster and said they had learned "an awful lot".

He also denied it had been a waste of money.

He said the 2,000 was spent on purchasing the hardware to set up a radio link so the activities in the enclosure could be watched live on a website.

"Compared to the cost of reality TV, this was a tiny pinch of money," he said.

"It provided very stimulating and fascinating viewing."

The six monkeys - Elmo, Gum, Heather, Holly, Mistletoe and Rowan - produced five pages of text which consisted mainly of the letter "s".

Book published

But towards the end of the experiment, their output slightly improved, with the letters A, J, L and M also appearing.

However, they failed to come up with anything that remotely resembled a word.

Paignton Zoo scientific officer Dr Amy Plowman said: "The work was interesting but had little scientific value, except to show that the 'infinite monkey' theory is flawed."

The results of the experiment formed part of a larger project developed by i-DAT.

They have been published in a limited edition book entitled Notes Towards The Complete Works of Shakespeare.

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