New Perspective via the Integrated Force of Tradition and Digital Tools

Introduction

So, this is my last post for English 203, and instead of sitting here at a loss of words (like I was so often in earlier posts) I find I’ve got so much to say. Digital humanities has enlightened me to so many more possibilities than traditional close reading of texts, giving me new ideas and analyses about and for classical literary texts. But, that doesn’t mean I’m going to completely disregard everything I know about close reading and the pen-in-hand-holding-a-tattered-book method. In contrast, the digital humanities has actually made me appreciate those techniques even more. In my opinion, the traditional and the new should be integrated in order to be most effective, otherwise, I fear the two methods will be locked in their own ways so much that neither will be able to grow. My opinion of this is supported by Metaphorz’s blog post Humanizing Code found on the Digital Humanities Now editor’s choice blog. While he—assuming Metaphorz is a he— discusses using technology and software in accordance with the digital humanities, rather than specifically for designing  digital text analysis tools, the reasons he argues this can be applied to those same tools and their use with close reading skills. Metaphorz blog post highlights that though the digital humanities tools are being created by computers and then given to people, they are not as effective as they could be. He says “there are many differences in our respective theories, and yet, there are bridges opening up” about digital tool designers and digital tool users and their interactions. In his opinion, by keeping software and its tools separate, it prohibits the tool from adapting for the people to better use it. We saw this problem in our class with the way Monk seemed to have been abandoned. In contrast, Aditi’s changes to Wordseer exemplify Metaphorz’s argument for more integration and back and forth between users and designers.

There are “bridges opening up” between readers and digital humanists, just as there are between tool developers and digital humanists. And, similarly, we can see the same issues arising when we try to keep the digital text analysis tools separate from close reading techniques. By using only close reading, a person only gets so far in their analysis, simply because the process is time consuming and strenuous. By using digital tools exclusively, the results we gain are not only incomprehensible, but also hit and miss. Used together, close reading skills and digital tools—like WordHoard—can filter ideas and perspectives towards a unified theme of exploration.

Traditional Method and Hamlet

As I discussed in my earlier post, The Game is Afoot, Hamlet can be read and interpreted as it always has been. In that post, I discuss Ophelia and her apparent suicide, and formulate some ideas about if she is or is not suicidal. To continue to explore this vein of thought using conventional methods, I would have to go back through Hamlet to every scene of Ophelia and determine a change of character within her. Then I would want to compare her behaviour when she is with her father, to her behaviour when he is not around. Using these close readings, I would look at Ophelia’s mind frame and see what type of change there seems to be (assuming of course, there is one, as most people would agree).

Overall, this whole process would be very tedious and use up quite a bit of highlighters and sticky notes and may drive a person into insanity themselves, as I’m sure most people studying English would agree with.

WordHoard and Hamlet

Looking at Hamlet without regard for close reading and just searching randomly on a digital analysis tool, such as WordHoard, give little insight to the play as a whole. For instance, searching “Hamlet” gives 85 results to fish through for what is important/ relevant to what you wish to search. By clicking on each of these entries, you get the context, but not the speaker until you double click and it opens up the whole document of hamlet with your word highlighted. Clicking 85 times would be ridiculous—you could, but it would negate any time saving you gain from using WordHoard rather than by hand.

So, you could randomly click and see who seems to say your word (“Hamlet” in this case) the most frequently, then open a new page in WordHoard to search “Hamlet” again along with that speaker. But this could be misleading if you wanted to see who had the most interaction with Hamlet, so just to be safe, you could search how many times each character says “Hamlet” and then analyse each character’s feelings about Hamlet from there. But getting to this stage purely with digital humanities is difficult, especially if you want to focus on a specific thematic element or event, because, as I’ve already implied, it can be rather hit-and-miss when searching without a solid starting point.

For example, when I open one instance where the word “Hamlet” is said, I get Gertrude saying, “That your good beauties be the happy cause/ Of Hamlet’s wildness” (III, i, 38-39) to Ophelia. This isn’t particularly helpful in figuring out how either Gertrude or Ophelia feel about Hamlet, it only indicates—by the use of the word “wildness”— that by this point (Act 3, scene 1) Hamlet is already going mad, or at least seeming to. Even if a reader had not close read Hamlet before doing this search with WordHoard, I would expect them to already know about Hamlet’s madness. Perhaps it would reveal that the root may have been his love for Ophelia, but I doubt anyone would find this to be accurate if they had read the play.

Another example is in act 4, scene 3 when Claudius is talking to Hamlet about sending him to England. The king says “Hamlet, this deed, for thine especial safety/ … must send thee hence” (IV, iii, 40-42), and if someone had not read Hamlet, or had just skimmed through it, they may discount this quote as useless, seemingly harmless as it is, or else credit Claudius as having Hamlet’s best interests at heart. This assumption seems quite farfetched, but by only using WordHoard and arbitrary searching and clicking, that is a conclusion someone could draw. Had someone read Hamlet and encountered this quote in a search, they may still disregard it as being unhelpful in determining characters or relationships, but by looking at the context it is in, you can see how Hamlet is in fact playing with the king while the king is attempting to manipulate Hamlet—a much more complicated situation than someone uninformed would believe it to be.

Not only is it a hit-and-miss technique (especially with WordHoard), but it is frustrating to work without a good idea of where you want to go/ what you want to be looking for. Even if it turns out there is nothing to find, it is better to start with an idea than to just plunge into analyzing a text like Hamlet without something to go from, as Dayna discusses in her post Unlocking the Mystery that is WordHoard. I agree with her because, as she says, the design of the digital tool WordHoard is such that you need to know what you’re searching to be able to fill in all the fields and create a more narrow focus of information you receive. Otherwise, as with my earlier search of “Hamlet”, you get too many results to navigate effectively and which take many circuitous routes to narrow down.

Traditional Reading with WordHoard

Through my personal experiences with WordHoard, I have come to the conclusion that it, and the other text analysis tools used in our class, works best when in combination with close reading skills. By employing close reading skills initially, you can best form an idea about what you want to analyze and how you want to do so. As I discussed in my second post, Battle with WordHoard? Challenge Accepted—in agreement with Dayna’s post Unlocking the Mystery that is WordHoard—WordHoard needs specifics to deal with. You have to have read your text close enough to have a formulated idea to explore, as well as a plan for how to explore that idea. WordHoard challenges its user to think about how best to problem solve—you can’t search for tone or metaphor, only words. So you have to have read your text and know what type of language is used in order to be able to search words that appear in the text. WordHoard can isolate specific characters when they speak, and also show you the context and person to whom they are speaking, but it needs a focus to garner meaningful results. This takes WordHoard maybe two minutes to compile—by hand it would take several hours to mark where an individual speaks and then make up a list of what they said and to whom, etc. WordHoard brings this up immediately, allowing you to get more results faster. But then we must to back to close reading to interpret these findings accurately. Again, WordHoard is helpful here because it shows the sentence the word you searched appears in, and allows you to click the sentence to get the exact page to show up so you can read the context before and after. Close reading of this context can not only provide you with other search options/ ideas for exploration, but also allows you to more easily distinguish if results yielded by WordHoard are false positives or negatives. Once you’ve got results (positive or negative) you have to then employ your close reading skills again and check the validity of your results. Perhaps you have false positives and need to double check the context or way in which the word was used—as Shakespearian use of language is different from our own, the word “love” could be used to describe the emotion or a character’s feelings, or merely be used as an expression. Or else, you may have a false negative  if you are searching for words that are synonyms to what are actually used in the text or describe a common metaphor but are not present in that metaphor.

Conclusion

So, as I found in my post The Game is Afoot, traditional close reading of a test like Hamlet only gets you so far and can lead to much frustration because of the time consuming nature of this traditional method. But, using a digital tool such as WordHoard on its own or with minimal close reading employed also gives way to the same limitations. As Metaphorz says in his blog post “Acknowledging our differences, let’s step back and look at our similarities”. While close reading and digital tools encounter similar problems in finding difficulty focusing, they also possess a similarity of purpose. Both are methods of interpreting and analyzing a given text, and can help each other with coming to a conclusion. They work toward a common endpoint with different tools and so complement each other’s findings. What I’m trying to say is that neither close reading or digital tools are infallible in analyzing a text. You need to be able to use them both in conjunction as a give-and-take method to get the best out of each and to (possibly) uncover a new perspective. Both traditional methods and new face the same problem of filtering out extraneous details, but when used together, they complement each other’s weak points and work to narrow searches and ideas into a cohesive point.

Action Words in Relation to Relationships

Alright, last blog post, but still a couple more group meetings until the presentation. This is probably good, considering the amount of work my group has yet to do. Now that we’ve solidified what each member is doing, it’s up to us to do it. This stage is very interconnected for us, as we’ve decided to work very collaboratively. No that Katy’s given me, Hannah and Ayesha her findings of most frequent words spoken by each character, we are finding which of them are most relevant. Hannah and I are both working on finding the most useful in context words each character speaks, and comparing them to characters in other Shakespeare tragedies. Ayesha is going to to then look at the words as they are used in each scene for act 4 and see the correlation between mine and Hannah’s findings and her own. Hannah and I are dividing up the work because it was a lot for me to do, but there will be some small discrepancies because WordHoard finds lemmas, not exactly specific words. This gives WordHoard a slight advantage when finding how relevant certain words are.

To start my portion of the assignment, I took the list of most frequent words (provided by Katy and Kira’s collaboration) and searched on the most active words. I chose to look up words such as: death, revenge, I’ll, come, stand, gone, shall, away, etc. I omitted words like: lord, father, blood, sister, daughter, saint, king, etc. By searching mostly verbs or words associated with actions and leaving out relationship describing words, I not only narrowed down my search, but also was able to get a better idea of relationships through context. After searching the action words and clicking to view context, I could better see how characters act in relation to others.

So far, I have investigated Laertes and Ophelia. For Laertes, I searched: death, revenge, I’ll, come, stand. Apparently WordHoard doesn’t like contractions, because it refused to find “I’ll”. When I searched the other words, I noticed an interesting trend. The four words I searched (come, stand, revenge, death) were all said by Laertes to the king at least once. Two of the words were said exclusively to the king:

Of the other two words, Laertes used the word “revenge” when talking to Ophelia and “stand” when talking to the Danes. The other times he said these words, it was to the king.

From this evidence, I can draw the conclusion that Laertes and the king have a very close relationship, almost like a substitute father-son relationship. I’m going to be exploring this relationship more in depth once I have searched up Claudius’ action words to see if there is a similar correlation and what conclusions can be drawn.

In regard to Ophelia, I searched: gone, pray, rue. Well, WordHoard doesn’t like the word “gone”. First, When I clicked “complete” after lemma, it changed my word “gone” into “Goneril” (who is a character from “Twelfth Night”).

After retyping in “gone” and adding “(v)” after it to mimic what the complete function usually does, I got this message:

This was mildly frustrating, as I knew the word “gone” did appear. Then I remembered the WordHoard searches lemmas, and tried the word “go” instead.

There we go, much better. The rest of the searches were easy, and I got the following results:

When I look at these results, I notice two things. First, while I identified “pray” as an action word, every time Ophelia says it, her context is not really active or helpful. Second, all Ophelia’s actions words are spoken in act 4, scene 5, and not later when she talks to her brother, who does use an action word when speaking with her. This strikes me because, going back to her suicide again, she does not appear to be particularly active right before dying, an interesting detail when committing suicide is an action.

Anyway, that’s all I have for now, but it’s a pretty good place to start. From here I will look up Claudius’ most frequent action words and then compare the three characters to each other and to outside characters. I’m especially interested to see how Ophelia and Lady Macbeth compare, given they both “commit suicide” right before the end and off stage. Also, I think comparing Laertes and Claudius’ relationship to the one between Iago and Othello will also produce something of note.

 

 

Coming Together for the Sake of Madness

Group meeting number two has passed, and now I have a better direction of where to go. Unfortunately, I will not be able to follow up on my thoughts written in my last blog post ( http://engl203.ucalgaryblogs.ca/2012/03/16/the-game-is-afoot/ )  because it was too specific to incorporate all my groups’ tools to explore. But that’s okay, hopefully I can use it for the final project.

Luckily, I figured out I had gone slightly too far in one direction after reading my group members’ blog posts and did look for more general information. After a ridiculous fight with WordHoard-in which I experienced several error messages and ended up moving the program into the recycle bin on my desktop, deleting said recycle bin and also going in to my control panel and deleting WordHoard from my computer’s hard drive only to re-install it- I was able to find something. Two somethings.

First, I randomly clicked something and found out I can separate speakers with WrodHoard and so search specific words specific characters use. This will be helpful for the group project. Also, I found that Claudius talks a lot. I searched- in three separate windows- thoughts, words, whispers. Claudius was the only character to use all three words, while Laertes, of the three words searched, only used “thoughts”.

 

This finding makes perfect sense. Throughout the act, Claudius is talking to everyone about what everyone else is doing/thinking and generally portraying people in a bad way, but being sneaky and manipulative about it. Laertes, on the other hand, is only worried about what people will think in relation to his family- his father’s death and rushed burial, his sister’s madness and death. But he also talks of action, doing something about what people think, while Claudius is changing what people think, but more subtly. This leads me to wonder what else of either/ both characters can be uncovered with the text analyst tools, which leads me back to our group work.

Like I said earlier, my group got together for our meeting and we hashed out a pretty good direction for our assignment to go. After discussing in our meeting general things we’ve found about act 4 using our tools, we set about figuring out how our tools can work together. As mentioned in my phase 1 presentation, WordHoard is better suited to be an intermediate step in an analysis process, so working with other tools is great. We’ve decided to use Tapor first, then Voyeur, which will generate words for my to search with WordHoard, and then Monk and Wordseer. This process means that all our work is intertwined with each others’ because it is also circular, linking back to Tapor again. And what, may you ask, is the point of this elaborate web of analysis? Well, we have decided to look closely at the relationship between action/consequence and life/death as experienced by individual characters. The characters we will be focusing on are: Hamlet, Ophelia, Claudius, and Laertes.

We will start by looking at how their own actions affect themselves, then how they affect those around them. (example: how does Ophelia’s drowning- assuming it is a suicide- affects her life, and how does it affect Laertes?). Once we have solid character traits and tendencies established, we will use Monk to compare these characters to ones in Macbeth and Othello just before the climaxes of those plays. We hope that this will shed some light on the theme of madness as a consequence to actions which affect life/ death. By comparing Hamlet to outside plays by Shakespeare, we can see not only if this theme in Hamlet is found in other texts, but also, if it is, if the characters in those plays are expressly defined as mad themselves.

The Game is Afoot…

Phase two, phase two! Yay! Alright, I’m already pretty excited about this. For one, my group is awesome! We all showed up for our first meeting, and are in agreement about how everything should be handled during this assignment. The only disappointing thing about this is it means that I don’t think anyone will be punished into buying coffee for everyone else. I am always up for free coffee. But it’s good that I’m confident everyone will be participating fully. Also, for this phase, I’m excited to finally get to use WordHoard in conjunction with other tools- this can only yeild better results.

What I’m not too happy about is that this blog post is due tonight. Because of work and school, I don’t have time tonight to really explore act 4 with WordHoard. (I am in fact writing this blog between school and work right now). What our group decided to do was to reread act 4 and try to draw some conclusions about it or a specific aspect of it on our own. With only our brains! And once we have these ideas formed, we are going to put them into our programs and see if they give us the same results or different. Everyone will have done this for our next group meeting so we can discuss how it’s going and share ideas about which tools should be used in which order to explore which aspect. It sounds a little complicated and roundabout, but this seems like the best idea to get us started- seeing as how we aren’t sure about the other tools yet.

Because- as I mentioned earlier- this post it due tonight and I’m pressed for time, I haven’t actually started exploring act 4 with WrodHoard. I’m really sorry about this, but during my break earlier today I was feverishly studying for a midterm this afternoon. But I have gone over act 4 with my brainpower and I have formed some conclusions.

There is a lot going on in act 4. I could tell you, but that would be rather redundant, as I’m sure you’ve read it before. Did you notice, however, that almost every character makes an appearance somewhere in act 4. except the ghost. This is curious, and I could explore this, except that I don’t really know where to go other than harp on about the question of how mad Hamlet is. No, I want to focus on something else. Ophelia. She’s rather interesting in act 4. She talks to Gertrude and her brother, but not Hamlet. She appears as mad, and then dies. Alright, this is something.

I don’t want to question whether she is mad- I want to see if I can determine if she alludes to committing suicide anywhere in the act, prior to dying. When she first comes in, she is singing a song about her father’s death, but then quickly switches to one about a girl spurned by a man she wanted to marry after she slept with him out of wedlock in an attempt to keep him. Did this happen between her and Hamlet? In any case, as soon as she’s done the song, she seems quite in control of herself and says “I hope all will be well.” (4, 5, 68), not implicating that she intends to kill herself, rather- so it seems to me- saying she will get over her father’s death with her brother’s help. At the end of the same scene (act 4, scene 5), Ophelia enters again, back to being upset at her father’s death. This time she ends with a “good buy you” (4, 5, 192), which could point to her saying a permanent goodbye to her brother, but doesn’t particularly feel like one as it lacks a certain emotion I would expect her to exhibit. After becoming so distraught with her father’s death, I would expect Ophelia to also be distraught at her own coming death and to have been more communicative with her brother. At this instance, she seems to flit into the scene, then flit out just as quickly. She never come again. We learn of her death through Gertrude, who tells us she has committed suicide, and who everyone takes at her word. This is suspicious to me because: a) if Gertrude witnessed what she said she did (Ophelia singing while drowning herself) why didn’t Gertrude try to save her or intervene in some way? and b) the king and Laertes both believe her without asking questions.

I think there may be something more happening behind the scenes here. After Ophelia leaves from her first appearance, the king and Gertrude discuss her, and it seems to me like the king is pretty much telling Gertrude it would be better for everyone if Ophelia wasn’t around anymore. This is quite interesting. I’ve rambled on quite a bit now, and I really have to get going, but I know where my searching is headed now. I’m going to use WordHoard to explore if there is sufficient evidence to assume Gertrude killed Ophelia under the king’s orders or not. I’m really hopeful about what my search can reveal- especially because the whole host of characters present will make the traits and tendencies of each character able to be compared to each other and more easily verified than if few were present. This will give me better evidence to suggest whether or not Ophelia was suicidal and whether or not the king wanted her dead.

Battle with WordHoard? Challenge Accepted

I rescind my earlier statement. The greatest limitation to WordHoard is not its user. It is definitely the fact that to get any results, you almost need to know exactly what you are looking for. This is problematic when you have a big, general question to ask and are trying to find smaller threads of thought to follow.

Luckily, I didn’t have a really big general question. My group and I started out by thinking of a general question from which we could each follow individual questions and then compile our results to answer the big question. Solid plan. If only it was that easy.

I’m exploring if/how Gertrude acts differently towards Hamlet when Polonius is in the scene vs when he’s dead. After tackling WordHoard until it submitted to my searches, I became quite hopeful about getting results. Before sitting down in front of my laptop, I compiled a list of words to search, thinking it would be easy. Type in the words, select gender, scene, etc to narrow down my search, get some good results, go to my group meeting this morning shining with pride at my achievements and masterment of WordHoard. Nope. Every word I had brainstormed about being helpful to find yielded no results. I became quite familiar with the “0 results” screen.

Okay, time to get creative. I started randomly messing around on WordHoard (clicking buttons and searching for things under the dropdown menus that I didn’t understand, such as the “xx”, “vv”, etc.). This also gave me zilch. Right. Got to start deeper thinking. I refuse to let this program stymie me.

How to see if Gertrude reacts to Hamlet differently? I could look for tone. Alright. How do I search for tone when WordHoard only searches words? I need positive and negative words. Yes, this makes sense. However, there are no really distinguishing words for being positive used in Shakespeare. But I can search “not”, and I did.

By comparing these results, I can tell that Gertrude is neither more or less negative before or after Polonius dies, as is Hamlet. So her son being a murderer does not send her into despair. Good that I’m finally getting somewhere with WordHoard, however this isn’t particularly helpful, as reading the text tells me much the same. Only here it is broken down into exact numbers.

On to another vein of thought. What happens when I search how many times someone says “Hamlet”? I get this:

Except for the highlighted line (said by the Ghost), Gertrude is the one saying “Hamlet”. So she says it five times. Not particularly great results on its own. But, WordHoard does provide context for every searched word. Now, looking at how Gertrude addresses Hamlet/ speaks to him around saying his name, there is a better idea of how she feels towards him. When Polonius is still alive, she questions him, as Polonius expects her to. After Hamlet kills him though, it is interesting to see that she refers to him as “sweet Hamlet” or “O, Hamlet!”. Not the words of a mother horrified about what her son has done, which corroborates my earlier findings with “not”. So far, so good. Also, to answer my question, there is a definite difference between how she treats him with Polonius in the room and with him dead. Without him in the room, she seems to be more openly affectionate with him. The question now is what type of affection? This is hopefully going to be answered by the corroboration of mine and my group members efforts.

 

 

 

The Greatest Limitation to WordHoard is its User

This has been quite an adventure- figuring out wordhoard and  blog posting. Firstly, I had the worst time ever getting to post this. I couldn’t find the blog once I’d signed up for it. Thankfully I did find it. So I was trying to use wordhoard and thinking about how Hamlet’s mood changes in act 3 scene 4, and decided I would use that question to try to figure out wordhoard and how it really works. That would’ve been great, had wordhoard loaded right away. It did not. I was stuck looking at:

 

For about half an hour. Quite frustrating. Once wordhoard did load, I went ahead searching my lemmas “love”, “brother”, “husband”, “mother”. I hoped that if I could find these and how often they were said, I could then narrow my search down into who says which words as best as can be done ( “man”/ “woman”/ “immortal”) and then continue on my merry way. Except I couldn’t figure out how to limit it to just Hamlet. I manged to open the Hamlet document from the table of contents, but I couldn’t get much farther than that. So far I have established that it is probably me and my computer ineptitude that is limiting wordhoard, not wordhoard limiting my searches. Once I had my searches typed in and had managed to limit everything to only Shakekspeare, I got this page:

This is about as far as I’ve got in searching with Wordhoard. I could not click on anything. Or rather, I could click on it, but nothing happened. So I couldn’t open up the search results to see where the findings were. I did not realize until then just how bad I am with technological tools. I was fine with it in the workshop, remembered it as being easy, and have failed miserably. I also couldn’t further limit by gender speaker and have that open with different lemmas or words and am seriously questioning if part of my failing with this is my computer itself. In any case, it is way to close to the deadline of this post for me to fight with wordhoard and/ or my computer tonight and come up with a brilliant blog post about my brilliant success. Needless to say, I will be spending all day tomorrow locked in epic battle with wordhoard to figure it out. I promise a much better blog post once I have slayed the beast (fellow group A members, I will be severely bothering you tomorrow if I cannot figure anything out). As of yet, I can see that the possibilities of using wordhoard are fantastic- what with all the drop down menus to select things and narrow down the search questions. As for the limitations, I am going to conclude that the biggest one will be myself (I believe I have been doing something drastically wrong to have gotten such little results), which is not an element belonging to wordhoard exclusively, but will pose a problem. I thought wordhoard was the most straightforward, simple tool of them all. How wrong I have been. Either that, or I would have been floundering even more helplessly had I been in a different group. I apologize for being computer challenged. However, I did successfully figure out how to take screen shots and upload them into the blog with minimal suffering. I give myself kudos for this.