A Start on Act 5

Out of all the acts in Hamlet, Act 5 is my favorite.  There is a great philosophical/humorous conversation with some gravediggers to start off the act.  Then, after Hamlet has his famous nostalgic conversation with a skull, there is a dramatic fight between Hamlet and Laertes in the grave of Hamlet’s supposed lover.  But the excitement doesn’t stop there! After an epic sword fight and a bit of poison, the entirety of the royal family ends up dead!!  I think my new button sums up the whole Act nicely.

"Fortinbras should arrive at any moment to turn this mayhem around."

Yet, as it always is with research, the most difficult part in analyzing this Act is figuring out where to start.  The group and I decided to begin by analyzing the Act individually with our respective tools.  The hope is that we will each discover some areas of interest worth collaborating on.

As the TAPoR expert in this group, I know one of the advantages I have is the ability to isolate certain speakers and areas of the play.  Keeping this advantage in mind, I began my analysis by using the List Words tool, as it always offers a good starting point.

List Words results for Act 5

The results of Act 5 did not offer much that I didn’t already know.  Obviously death is a major theme throughout this Act and the King, Hamlet, Laertes and Horatio all major characters associated with it.  The frequency of the word “know” was a bit surprising for me, but further examination with the Concordance tool informed me that it is used within the conversation of Osric, Hamlet and Horatio.  In this case, Hamlet and Horatio are repeating Oseric’s questions as a means to make fun of him.  However, I did notice that this List Words results were a lot different from my results in Act 3.4, where the focus is specifically on Hamlet, Gertrude, and her past relationships. This thought led me to inquire after Hamlet’s change in character throughout the play.  Wanting to explore this inquiry further, I decided to isolate just Hamlet’s lines and again use the List Words tool.  I also did the same with Hamlet’s lines in Act 1 to give myself a comparison point.

Results on Hamlet's lines in Act 5 (right) and his lines in Act 1 (left).

In these results, I was surprised particularly by the comparative frequencies of the word “father.”  In Act 1 it is mentioned 9 times by Hamlet, but in Act 5 in is only mentioned by him once.  I thought this result was interesting because Hamlet’s main motive throughout this act is to avenge his father, but he hardly mentions him in the moments leading up to, and immediately following Claudius’ death.  It seems as though Hamlet Sr. is no longer the main focus of Hamlet’s attentions towards the end of this play.  I do not think his desire for revenge has abated, but when I thought about Hamlet’s motives deeper, I realized that Hamlet kills his Uncle only after the death of Ophelia and his mother.  Perhaps it is this grief combined with Laertes’ confession that finally gives Hamlet the motive to kill Claudius.  This conclusion would then certainly indicate a change in Hamlet’s motive from the beginning to the end of the play.

As I work further with my group, I’m looking forward to seeing how we can expand on each other’s findings.  I believe the most difficult task will be narrowing all our findings into one conclusion, as there is a lot of information at our disposal and a large variety of tools.  It shall be an interesting process.


2 thoughts on “A Start on Act 5

  1. Stephanie,

    I was highly intrigued by your research results, and found your conclusion regarding Hamlet’s reduction in the frequency of speaking of his father to be a provocative base for further inquiry. I feel that this development is an optimal starting point in evaluating the overall significance of act five of the play as a single entity, part of a larger whole. Additionally, I was impressed by your ability, in this post, to highlight the qualitative potential of these digital humanities tools, in raising questions and formulating conclusions regarding thematic aspects of the text, as a opposed to just simply quantitative trends. Also, in reading this post, I was prompted to consider a question that our group could potentially base our focus around: To what extent does Hamlet’s apparent character transition culminate to the tragedy that occurs in act five? Looking beyond the traditional structure of Aristotle’s conception of a tragedy, I feel that we could identify, using our tools, deviations that occur both to the character Hamlet and his situation in the fifth act(suggested through the words, phrases, and frequency of his speech within the act, alone) that culminate its sudden shift towards a tragic ending. In other words, how could we apply our tools to identify what drives Hamlet’s contemplation(which he lingers in up until the final act) into the decisive action that determines the final outcome of the play? I feel that if we could provide a theory to potentially answer this question, we as a group could establish the qualitative significance of act five of Hamlet, using a quantitative approach. Well done, and I will be interested to hear what else you may come up with in continuing this research.


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