Death, Death, Death- Or is that it? (Phase Two, Blog Post One)

Throughout the course of this post, it is my intention to explore the relationship between my interpretations of the text of Hamlet acquired
through traditional text analysis and my closed reading of the text, and the interpretations drawn from employing my tool of expertise, word seer, to critically analyzing certain fragments, in this case, a single act of the play. I will then highlight how these two approaches compare to one another, and pose further questions as to how this comparison may be capitalized upon in order to generate new conclusions or insightful observations.  I would first like to express that I have always been sceptical of classifying Hamlet as a conventional tragedy, as the protagonist Hamlet deviates from the characteristic traits of the tragic hero, and commits no apparent “mistaken act”, and the majority of action does not culminate until the bloodbath of act five, coincidentally, the act I have been assigned to study. Therefore, my interpretation of this act can largely be characterized by the observation that it alone defines this iconic play as the tragedy it has come to be widely recognized as. Without summarizing the plot of the text, it is evident that the catastrophe and other defining aspects of Aristotle’s conceptions of the genre
of tragedy are reserved almost exclusively for act five, as Hamlet and a series of characters surrounding him, including the villainous king Claudius who he seeks to exact a vendetta upon, face their untimely demise. So what does this mean to my interpretation? Death, death, death. Futility, futility, futility. Basically, I believe that the bard is trying to express to us a message that revenge only manifests as death, and highlights the futility of life the struggle associated with it. My interpretation is one among many, however, of course. Even as superficial a source as Wikipedia recognizes a multitude of proposed and perceived contexts and themes that the text carries.

Now, this interpretation is just fine, on a superficial, redundant, basis. However, when we seek to uncover new insights and avenues for exploration that have rarely been embarked on, it is also effective to employ tools such as word seer to aid in identifying new trends.

So, how would I gauge word seer’s interpretation of act five of Hamlet, and, in turn, compare it with my own? In considering the advantages of word seer that my group outlined during phase one of our team assignments, I felt obliged to plug in some words, pertaining to act five in particular, that I felt could be conducive to word seer’s processing. Simple enough, right? However, this was not the case; incidentally, I was unable to segregate the fifth act of Hamlet alone(a task I will fixate on more as my research progresses), therefore, I felt it fitting to exhaust the next best alternative, in examining the entire text again using word seer, in order to apply it more broadly to my interpretations of act five, alone. I must comment, of course, that this may be an instance in which another tool, such as voyeur and its image qualities, could well supplement word seer’s shortcomings. Regardless, I decided to employ words that I feel characterize the themes of Hamlet, and proceeded to observe the concentration of them throughout the text, paying particular attention to the words that more frequently occur towards the end of the text, that being, act five. In this case, I searched “death”(as a fundamental), “life”, “duty”, and “soul”, in order to observe whether or not they appeared heavily towards the text. (These results are pictured below). However, what I was surprised to find was that these words, which all carry emphasis within the “revenge” tragedy, were dispersed throughout the entire text, and did not exceptionally exceed their counterparts near the end of the play.

What exactly did I make of this? Ironically, this interpretation provided by word seer, identifying that none of these words completely define the text in frequency, contrasts to my own closed reading and textual analysis interpretations in demonstrating that words themselves do not necessarily develop into a coherent indicator of theme. Therefore, I am intrigued towards studying speech patterns and speaker frequencies in order to expand my perspective regarding interpreting Hamlet, a process which, I will conclude, could be better achieved by other tools.

Before giving up on my previously advocated frequent words constituting theme theory, I intend, one last time, to compare “death” and “honour” with the other texts in the Shakespeare corpus, in order to see if the frequency exceeds the other texts, perhaps suggesting that Hamlet is founded more on characters, speeches, and themes that favour these words. For now, however, I will reiterate the relationship, and comparison, between my interpretations of Hamlet, and those suggested by my findings in word seer.

It would be an exaggeration to suggest that the two interpretations I worked with were at dueling odds with one another. While word seer’s findings didn’t exactly support my interpretations, (the results would have verified my interpretations were they to contain a higher concentration of the inputted words near the end of the play) they certainly aided me in recognizing that interpretations and perspectives should not be taken at face value, in that, words that are suspected to occur frequently do not constitute the theme of text. Therefore, while my interpretations are geared more towards my closed reading, the word seer interpretations helped me to be aware of leaning towards
one theory or conclusion without considering varying alternatives, and this is the ultimate underlying relationship between what I found and suspected, and what word seer supplemented it with.  In my next post, I will further explore this relationship, in using more detailed
approaches with more specific functions of word seer, and perhaps even other tools that my new group members specialize in, in narrowing down my search more successfully to act five alone. However, this being said, no one is a complete expert, and one of the fundamental values in research is to adapt and learn as one progresses, and that is what I intend to do.

5 thoughts on “Death, Death, Death- Or is that it? (Phase Two, Blog Post One)

  1. Nice work Dane! Your findings are a great way to start the rest of our research in phase 2. TAPoR may be able to help with some of the problems you encountered as I can isolate Act 5 from the rest of the play and examine it. Also, using the XML extractor I could figure out how many times each character speaks in the scene. I actually tried this last night and found that Hamlet and Horatio seem to speak the most in this particular Act, and the King actually speaks less than I originally thought. Though for some reason the tool can not isolate Laertes’ lines. I’ll see if I can fix that.

    Additionally, you said in the post that you’d like to look more at speech patterns. I don’t know if TAPoR is the best tool for this job, but perhaps something like wordhoard could work for that?

  2. These are great findings that could collaborated with mine, Dane! At least, I think they are!
    If you peek at my blog post, I was interested in the tragedy-Act V-Hamlet relationship area as well. Your discovery that the words ‘death,’ ‘life,’ and ‘duty,’ (as classifiers of a revenge tragedy) are dispersed evenly through the text are interesting in contrast to my discovery that, in relation to Hamlet and a few other Shakespeare texts, Act V was classified as more tragic than Hamlet itself. It is difficult to examine why that is in detail through my tool, but perhaps your tool would be an interesting direction to take in determining the reason for MONK’s classification.
    Without considering the ‘sub-genre’ (if that’s what it even is) of ‘revenge,’ do you think that there are other words that are particularly characteristic of a Shakesperean tragedy that could explain MONK’s classification?

  3. Hi Dane,

    As you may already know, I recently implemented the ability to isolate acts and scenes in WordSeer — what exactly went wrong when you tried to isolate scene 1? You could send me an email or just reply to this message.


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