MONK: Hilarious Hamlet

In the first stages of phase 2 of our group projects, I find I am more intrigued by MONK that I had been initially in phase 1, to say in earnest (but not unfounded) honesty. As promoted by the blog posts of the MONK group and throughout our presentation, MONK, as a text mining tool that focuses on statistical analysis and word frequencies, appears to be more cooperative in answering questions about a broader range of data. Though Act V is not as broad as MONK seems to wish it could be, I have found that I am indeed learning new information about Hamlet, Act V than I had known before.

My initial purpose in embarking on my analyzing journey was to discover what was unique about Act V, that I could not deduce from reading, but could learn from using the analytics of MONK.

In my blog posts from phase 1, I was left pondering the question of, “why does MONK, in comparison to all other tragedies, continuously notify me that it is only half confident that Hamlet is a tragedy?” With this question in mind, I endeavoured to determine if perhaps Act V participated in this strange inconsistency.

To begin, I defined my workset to contain As You Like it, The Rape of Lucrece, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Much Ado About Nothing, and Act V.

Then, selecting my classification toolset and the newly created workset, I began to rate the the training and test sets. As can be seen in the image below, I rated As you Like it, and Much Ado About Nothing as the comedy training sets, and The Rape of Lucrece and Julius Caesar as the tragedy training sets. I left Hamlet and Act V with blank ratings, thus making them my test sets.

This is what I was returned with:


From this image it is easy to have the attention redirected to the fact that according to these queries, Julius Caesar is not a tragedy.

However, MONK’s lack of confidence in Julius Caesar being classified as a tragedy notwithstanding, where the attention must be drawn (as it took me a while to do so), is toward the fact that in a statistical analysis of the plays that are present, MONK has classified both Hamlet and Act V as comedies.

Feeling uneasy about my results, I went back to the user ratings, and removed those anomalies that MONK was picking up, and forced MONK to recognize Hamlet as a tragedy by rating it so.

These were the results I was returned with:

Both analyses were conducted on the basis of nouns.

In classifying Hamlet as a tragedy, and leaving Act V as the test set, MONK returned me with it’s classification that, with a 0% probability of error and 100% confidence, Hamlet is not a tragedy.

However, MONK does believe, that Act V is a tragedy.

The words I was most interested by in the data it used in determining its confidence in the ratings, however, was words like ‘blood.’

The first number displayed, 26.1241, represents the average frequency that the word appeared every 10000 features in the test set, Act V. The second number is the average frequency that the word occurred every 10000 features in the training sets.

From words such as ‘blood,’ MONK has determined that, based on average frequency, act V can be classified as a tragedy.


It was interesting for me to find that based on word frequencies and statistical analysis of noun features, in comparison to other works of Shakespeare, Act V can be classified as a tragedy and Hamlet cannot. Though it would be a worthwhile endeavour to attempt to figure out why MONK refuses to agree that Hamlet is definitely a tragedy, I find (it being my responsibility as a member of the Act V group for phase 2), I am led to research the cause of Act V being classified as more of a tragedy than Hamlet itself.

Because, to me, the subject matter and the words Shakespeare uses in telling the tale of Hamlet’s tragic story, it is difficult for me to understand its classification as anything but a tragedy. Therefore,  I have reached another understanding of MONK that I did not previously have in attempting to analyze 3.4. I wanted, so desperately, for MONK to see and understand Hamlet 3.4 the way I read it. I wanted to force it to read the words on the page in the order that they are in, and take the sentence for what it means.

However, it is this reading that we do as sensible, and feeling people, that leads to an analysis that is incomplete without tools such as MONK, and it is that reading that completes the pure numerical data, which is literally meaningless to any symbolic possibilities that exist in literature.

I digress.


MONK being a tool that uses pure data (and not emotion) in providing a classification, has yet to reveal to me the statistical reasoning for Act V being more tragic than Hamlet as a whole. Although my point here is not that MONK is unable to show me, it is that I have yet to fully understand the reasons it has provided me.

Reading the subject matter, it is rather simple for me to determine why Act V is tragic. The entire cast being wiped out is indeed, quite tragic. However, from reading that same subject matter in Hamlet, I cannot comprehend the reason why the play ISN’T tragic. From the interpretation of Hamlet losing his father, to have his mother marry his uncle, to find out that his uncle-father murdered his mother, and much more, is devastatingly tragic! My point here then, is that my reading and comprehension is not, and cannot always be correct. I would assume, as a university student living in Canada where all people have equal rights, that Othello is a tragedy. However, the audience that Shakespeare wrote for, not knowing a thing about racial equality would consider Othello a comedy.

The evidence of these are in the words, and in the probabilities that MONK discovers. It will classify Othello as a comedy on the basis of words, and in that same way it will classify Hamlet as a ‘half-tragedy.’

It is my hope that we, as the group analyzing Act V, can determine (undeterred by emotional bias) the true nature of Act V in relation to Hamlet by collaborating the various data we get from our digital tools.

I will from here, endeavour to determine why MONK tells me that Act V is so significantly more tragic than the entire text of Hamlet.




5 thoughts on “MONK: Hilarious Hamlet

  1. April,

    I find it interesting that you raised the point of wanting your tool, MONK, to conform to what you believed from your closed reading and analytical assessment of the text, in its returned results, as I too often find myself more willing to consult the text and my own interpretations as opposed to those of my tool word seer. In reading this aspect of your post, I immediately considered this question: Are their instances in which our own interpretations serve to undermine the value of the data results returned from digital tools, through obscuring them with critical or skeptical bias? However, this being said, I am gradually training myself to collaborate between my own interpretations and those of word seer, as data is effective in prompting new conclusions, questions, and avenues for research unavailable on simply the level of closed reading. Additionally, I understand your assertion that the entire text of Hamlet should be classified as a tragedy, however, I myself am apt to conclude that Hamlet largely deviates from tragic conventional tendencies, in the plot events that unfold prior to our assigned act, while, incidentally, some of Shakespeare’s comedies are incredibly dark in tone until their conclusions, equipped with themes of betrayal, lust, envy, revenge and retribution, and family strife, such as in Measure for Measure, As You Like It, and Cymbeline(which is technically classified as a late play, romance, or “tragicomedy”), rendering Hamlet, besides the fifth act, as feasibly able to join the ranks of these plays. Therefore, I can understand MONK’s association of Hamlet as a comedy, all except for the fifth act, yet, I disagree with the categorization of Julius Caesar as not being a tragedy. In addition, I especially disagree with Othello being classified as a tragedy, as, dismissing its actual plot events, just as in Julius Caesar, the play involves a tragically flawed hero facing peril as a consequence for a mistaken act they have committed against something so close to them, that it is as though they have inflicted damage to themselves—a trend Hamlet doesn’t necessarily assume in its outcome. Therefore, this observation reaffirms that each of these digital tools has their drawbacks and disadvantages, and thus, we must be wary as to what data we trust as valid. However, I am impressed with your level of engagement with MONK and evident awareness of the hazards of trusting the data to too great of an extent. As a side note, perhaps it is the grave diggers and their wordplay, as well as Hamlet and Horatio’s sarcasm towards Osric that lend to MONK’s interpretation of the play as a comedy, through the words used in these exchanges? This may be something worthy of looking into with all of our digital tools, in examining word frequencies, and other such patterns. In light of this, I am prompted to ask myself: To what extent can we as digital humanities scholars instill our trust within digital tools to return valid results and insights upon consultation? Also, pertaining more directly to our assignment, can our collaboration of five tools be employed to determine if act five’s significance is that it determines the entire play of Hamlet as a tragedy, or will such searches with digital tools return results that suggest otherwise? Therefore, I believe that we should, as a group, begin by fixating on what differentiates act five, according to our own critical closed reading analyses, from the rest of the play, and how these potential discrepancies could be identified or supported in consulting digital tools. However, this is only a preliminary stage of the project, of course, and I am intrigued by your efforts and unusual findings. I guess it is well founded to conclude that if anything, these tools certainly serve as surprising, and even perplexing from time to time. Well done,


    • I really appreciate the feedback, Dane. Thank you!

      In regards to your note of Hamlet’s lack of a authentic hero, to say in short, which really is an injustice to the coherent way that you phrased it. MONK makes its classifications based on word frequencies, and then based on those frequencies gives you a ‘probability’ guess with a certain percent of error. So, based on the words that Shakespeare has used in writing Hamlet (and Julius Caesar), MONK has determined the probability of the play’s classification as a certain genre. As much as I wish that it could recognize the qualities and characteristics of a tragic hero, it unfortunately does not make its classifications in that way. I would assume that my frustrations with MONK and it’s classifications stemmed from it’s inability to recognize what I was interpreting from the text. Like I say, I so desperately wanted it to just tell me what I was interpreting was ‘right,’ in a sense.
      Although, I do agree with you in that, I would have accepted this classification as a ‘half tragedy’ however, the presence of Julius Caesar (and Macbeth in numerous previous trials) being classified as having ‘0% chance in tragedy’ made me question if the words that were being used in these plays were comedic in some way. Or perhaps W.S used said comedic words more frequently in these plays than in others, whatever comedic words even are.
      I assure you, all the other tragedies, save for these three, appeared to be classified as complete tragedies.
      So perhaps there is something I am missing merely in the words.
      This is probably the greatest hurdle I have overcome in the course of working with a digital text analysis tool, is letting go of what the picture looks like and understanding that it’s the little parts that make the picture what it is, whole and complete. As a lover of reading all things literary, I often forget that it is individual words put into sentences, arranged strategically into paragraphs, with themes incognito, etc. that makes comprehension of texts so critical. I find this was a nice reminder that while being busy for what lies underneath the words, I shouldn’t forget that the words are there.

      • I also absolutely agree with your guiding questions for our research! I believe that focusing on what makes our act unique to the play will be a great place to start. Discovering what each of our tools tells us is unique and characteristic of our act, I believe, will generate some further questions for all of us to pursue.

  2. The only other Shakespearean tragedy I have read is Macbeth, so my definition of “tragedy” is pretty much “multiple people die in the end.” As such, I find that your work with MONK is interesting because it makes me think of where exactly Hamlet falls in the classification of Shakepeare’s works. I’m still not entirely sure that I understand how MONK comes to the conclusions it does, but I do believe it is this final act in Hamlet that makes it a tragedy, although, like so many characters that fail at their goals in tragedies, Hamlet does achieve what he wishes to do, which is revenge his Uncle. Yet along the way Hamlet has all these witty conversations with people, many while he is “pretending” to be mad. I think it is probably these conversations that cause MONK to doubt the “tradediness” of Hamlet.

    • In my personal opinion, I have to say, that definition of a tragedy sounds bang on to me. I suppose, to me, there are things that are tragic that happen in the course of life, and Hamlet’s life story sums up some of those tragic things that can happen. So, that is part of the reason that I am confused also. I’m not entirely sure what MONK’s idea of a tragedy is.

      But I do agree with your suggestion that his pretend madness does have a comedic air to it at times in the puns and jokes he makes. This is something I am currently testing right now by trying out various combinations of ratings and having different plays in the worksets to test the classifications! I will let you know what I discover!

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