A Brave New (Digital) World

Anyone who knows me well enough knows that I am a purist at heart: Old school Rock ‘N’ Roll/ Punk rather than the mainstream music of today, records rather than digital downloads, and books; old, dusty, classic read-with-a-cup-of-tea-while-it-rains-outside books. But we are becoming (or rather, we have become) a digital society. I currently write this ‘blog’ on a computer while connected to the internet and listening to my ipod. My household holds a television for practically every room with DVD players and Blu-ray players as their companions, along with a multitude of game systems, laptops, tablets, and, of course, cell phones that everyone refuses to part with. Communication has shifted from face-to-face time to social media and online profiles accessible by anyone with access to the internet. If everything else has gone digital, moving up to the ‘next best thing’, why wouldn’t literature?  E-readers are becoming common, replacing the feel and smell of actual books (mine sits unloved while I pay attention to a print copy of ‘Fahrenheit 451’.) Our campus library isn’t simply a library: it is a digital library. And now it seems the study of books has moved to the digital. Copy and paste your text into a program and you are instantly handed an analysis on a silver platter (supposedly), rejecting the old close reading method of reading, re-reading, and then re-re-reading with a yellow highlighter and pen while surrounded by a storm of loose leaf paper on which lay your scribbled notes and questions to explore.

Is this the way forward for literary analysis? Are English classes going to be taught by the click of a mouse rather than with the group discussions? In all honesty, I hope not. And to be realistic, I don’t believe so. But you can’t deny it is happening.

I find my thoughts summed up nice and simply in the title of a blog by Michael Kramer: The Fetishation of Data. In reading the blog, my attention is caught by his discussion of the problem of data vs. reality. As Kramer rightly points out, data is not reality, and accepting it as such (this ‘fetishation’) is dangerous. He reminds us that data is not 100% true; it holds inadequacies and faults (after all, machines, much like their creators, make mistakes. Need a reminder? You need only look back at the phase one blogs of my TAPoR group, where frustration with the program was palpable.) Kramer suggests that we have to bring ourselves into the equation and interpret the data we pull. If we simply take the data and present it as fact we are not only misusing it, but we are taken out of the process, allowing the purely qualitative data composed of pretty graphs (or word lists in the case of TAPoR)  to ‘dehumanize’ us. As Kramer rightly states, there are no “bodies, minds, desires, dispositions, and other extraordinarily concrete qualitative realities” captured in that given data, essentially rendering it moot. What is the point of reading and understanding a text when you are not going to look at what the author himself is expressing?

With digital analysis, it is all data, data, data. Everything is concrete and there is no room to break out of bounds. But the human mind is not to be contained. Shakespeare was a genius. His mind was (I can only assume) constantly flickering with ideas that shifted and evolved and begged to be heard. Ideas shift not only in the mind of the creator, but once it is the public’s to interpret once it is in their hands. What Hamlet says to one generation will not be the same as to the next; what he says to one person will not be the same to another. What it being said is the same, yes, but how we interpret it and how we process its meaning is constantly changing. The possibilities in what you can pull from the text are limitless, and the ideas discussed are far to complex for a machine running on 0’s and 1’s to comprehend. This is something I have discussed, briefly, in a previous blog: simply using digital data restrains my mind and forces me to view a text in a narrow frame of view. I find my focus being pulled away, causing me to miss things and unable to grasp the whole of what is being said. To understand the human imagination, a human mind is needed.

And so, going by what Kramer discussed with the need to interpret data, I turn to Hamlet to see what I can pull from the text, and what a machine (and its data I am to interpret) can say.

New Age Digital Analysis vs. Good ‘Ol Fashioned Human Interpretation

 Every time I come back to Hamlet I find myself coming away with new interpretations. In each new reading I find new meanings; I notice more themes; and I discover more layers to the characters. I can finish the play with the inception of new ideas, or the expansion of older ones. When I enter the text into my TAPoR program, however, it will always come out the same. The data I receive will be the same, time and time again. When I ask for a list of the frequent words used in the play (in a hope to find theme or mood, ETC), it will always come out looking like this:

On the surface, this says nothing to me. To pull anything out of the data received, I have to interpret it; I have to pull out what I consider key and relate that to what I already know of the text.

For instance, the most frequent word in Hamlet appears to be ‘Lord’. You would think with so many uses it would be the most important word, but really it is not. The word of focus for many studying the play is ‘madness’, which comes in with only 22 uses (not including lemmas, unfortunately.) Why is madness such an argued topic when discussing the play, when it is lightly touched upon as a frequent word? Because in reading the data, ‘madness’ is a word that may be thought of as having more depth due to the fact that while reading the play, you are able to notice the theme in characters or situations. In the case of Hamlet, you are able to think either ‘yes, he is mad’ or ‘no, he is not, he is playing an act’ based on what you see him say and do.

I personally do not think that Hamlet is mad. I came to this conclusion in my reading of the play and after a comparison between Hamlet’s ‘madness’ and Ophelia’s (which I have discussed in this post.) I compare the madness of the two in act IV because it is this moment in the play where the two instances of madness occur.

In my digital analysis, it does seem Hamlet is mad; I find more references in act IV to him being mad than I do for Ophelia:

Both uses of ‘mad’ are in reference to Hamlet, as are two of the three ‘madness’:

However, in my reading, I find much more references and key phrases of madness used towards Ophelia: Gertrude is told how “She is importunate – indeed, distract”(4.5.2) and how she “says she hears/There’s tricks i’th’ world, and hems and beats her heart,/Spurns enviously at straws, speaks things in doubt/That carry but half sense. Her speech is nothing.”(4.5.4-8) Claudius also refers to madness as he says she is “Divided from herself and her fair judgement” (4.5.85). Her description of madness is not so blunt as simply being called ‘mad’ like Hamlet, but it is still clear that she is indeed mad.

From what I read in the play, the reason Hamlet is thought of as mad is from other characters referencing him as such. The other characters are entitled to say such a thing. Around them (especially Claudius or Polonius), Hamlet certainly does appear mad as he talks about vague nonsense. This ‘nonsense’ talk is itself a hint to his sanity: while no one may understand completely what he is saying, his ‘nonsense’ is true and makes sense. It especially denies his madness when you think back on his declaration “to put an antic disposition on” (1.5.170) So while around others, Hamlet does appear to be insane. But alone, he is thoughtful. When Hamlet is alone on stage he delivers many soliloquies on his thoughts. His most famous speech, “To be or not to be” (3.1.55) is where he is at his most thoughtful, contemplating life and death. Can someone ‘mad’ be that thoughtful? Ophelia does concern herself with life and death in her madness, but nowhere near the sort of depth Hamlet has.

In my readings I find much to interpret and build up new ideas. My digital analysis, however, does not do such a good job. It may be due to my program’s limit to simply list and look for words, but any data I find seems to lack what I find when I read. And of course, I have to interpret the data I find by myself, meaning I am left to look at a fraction of what I am analysing.

My Time Down the Digital Rabbit Hole

What ENGL 203 has done, if anything, is thrown me down the rabbit hole, so to speak. In signing up for the course, I was drawn to take it based on the work to study. I didn’t understand what the ‘digital humanities’ portion of the course meant, but I was excited to find out and excited to try something new. And my excitement has not faded away. While I still don’t have a full grasp of what the digital humanities are or know the full extent of what it can do for my studies, its unique approach holds my interest. I have been thrown into a world of studies I was unfamiliar with, and who held more possibilities than I knew existed. I have seen that there are other methods of analysing a text apart from my chosen method of close reading. With a click of a button you can chart character speaking frequencies and word distribution; you can break lines down into common words and see what characters concern themselves with in their speech and thoughts, allowing more insight into who they are and what they do. What I find absolutely lovely about the use of digital tools is how fast they act to produce results which may point out details which I may overlook in my initial readings. For instance, I was aware of the references to nature throughout Hamlet, but I never noticed how many times the body or mind was referenced until after I sorted through the word lists my program compiled.

However, no matter what sort of bells and whistles and shiny gadgets the digital analysis offers, the data they offer is somewhat empty. Data is purely qualitative; it means nothing if you do not look at it and think and interpret what it is saying. A graph will be a squiggly line unless you say ‘this means this’. A word frequency list is just a list of words, unless you sort through and pick out key words. Not only this, but the data is stagnant. Machines will pull the same results time and time again, where as new thoughts are incepted and old ideas may be expanded further with the human imagination.

I believe that while others are more suited for a digital analysis of text and the interpretation of data, I am more content and comfortable with a traditional close reading. I would rather form my own ideas than have a machine point it out for me. I would rather wear out a book than wear down my keyboard. And I would rather read a text and experience what was written and expressed so carefully by the author. But to each his own. It’s been fun experiencing a new world.

Works Cited
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Eds. Ann Thompson, and Neil Taylor. London: Arden Shakespeare, 2006. Print. Third Series.

The Consequences and Reactions to Death

For the overall analysis of act IV my group has narrowed down our sights to one central question: what are the actions and consequences in relation to life and death demonstrated by the characters? I am quite satisfied with this question, as it acts as a sort of progression from my last post and the inquiries I was making in regards to the actions undertaken by the characters. In the process of answering this question, it is my program of TAPoR which works as a starting point, giving me room to have an open mind with my results. I start by looking at the speaking frequency of each character, to then go and list out their common words.

I start with Claudius because he is very central in this act and holds the most lines. The results I pull from him are very enlightening towards what I am looking for. From his words, I see very a formal and careful way of speaking:

These words give off a sense of careful manipulating and a sort of plotting. Claudius is also familiar in what he says such as the reference of ‘friends’, the personal use of ‘thou’ and the use of ‘good’:

Finally, a common reference he makes is towards such themes as truth and knowledge, leading me back to the actions of manipulation and lying he undertakes:

The word usage of Claudius suggests to me that his reaction to the death of Polonius is that of becoming manipulative and plotting towards the other characters, all in order to regain control of the situation.

Laertes’ use of words is similar to that of Claudius; his speech is very action related, mainly in regards to revenge:

Laertes’ words show that he is spurred to take vengeance, and his references to ‘father’ and ‘sister’ highlights the reason for this action.

Hamlet, as opposed to Laertes, uses his speech to convey a focus on thoughts:

However, as is seen in his meeting with Fortinbras, he stumbles onto the idea of death, which in the end provokes him to become inspired (finally!) to take his revenge.

Gertrude is a bit odd in her usage of words, with her focus differing from the usual focus of revenge:

As seen, she ends up focusing on other characters and their situations, seen in her defense of Claudius, Hamlet’s murder of polonius, and Ophelia’s drowning. Mainly, her usage of words is very emotional, using words such as ‘cry’ and ‘weep’.

Finally, there is Ophelia, who I focused on in my last post. It is seen in her word list that she is focused on life and death as seen in her use of ‘come’ and ‘gone’. As opposed to the other characters in the act, Ophelia does not act as a demonstration of the actions in regards to life and death. Rather, her focus is on the consequences of these things, seen clearly in her development of madness, and subsequent death.

In looking at the frequency of words of the characters in the whole of the act, I pull out two general answers:

  • The main action (or reaction) to life and death is that of plotting, lying, or vowing to take revenge.
  • The main consequence of life and death is madness and death itself.

Life Is Madness

As I do another read through of Act IV of the text of ‘Hamlet’ I find myself with a good couple of pages of notes broken down into what I find interesting or relevant. I know I don’t have everything the text has to offer and so I have produced a few questions in a hope to retrieve some more info.

The part of act IV that catches the most of my interest is the character of Ophelia. It is here where she goes off the deep end, losing herself in madness to go skipping around the castle while singing and passing around dead flowers. I really love this part of the scene because it is so poignant and poetic; I am immediately drawn to the visual and metaphorical niche she hold in regard to nature. In thinking of this I become curious if TAPoR itself is able to pull anything of depth out of what Ophelia does in the act.

At first, the results I pull are a bit disappointing. But then I see the first two frequent words: ‘come’ and ‘gone’. Looking at their context, I see Ophelia uses these words in reference to her father’s death. I think over the connection of the words and I can’t help but think about their reference to life and death. Reading the text, it is clear that Polonius’ death is the reason for Ophelia’s madness, but I come upon the impression that it is also caused by the thought on the futility of life…

Thinking back to 4.3 when Hamlet encounters Fortinbras’ army, I see that this is the answers my question as to why Hamlet is inspired at that moment: Fortinbras is invading Poland for nothing; he is sending his men to die for nothing. Hamlet sees the futility in this and is inspired to do something. TAPoR even demonstrates this answer  in Hamlet’s most frequent words:

Noticing the similarity between Ophelia and Hamlet questioning futility, could it be that ‘madness’ provokes this sort of existential questioning? This is something I may have to return to at a later time.

The main question I pull from Ophelia and her madness is its relation to the supposed madness of Hamlet. It is obvious that Ophelia is much more extreme in what she does. There are similarities I notice between the two, but I still wonder why she is more far gone than Hamlet when they both have the same trigger of death. This thought leads me to question weather Hamlet is genuine in madness, or is putting on an act. I resort to answering this query by searching the word madness and other related references. Here, I find that Ophelia is referred to as mad much more than Hamlet. The references to Ophelia being mad are more to do with her odd actions and speeches, as well as having lost her ‘wits’, where as the only references to Hamlet are in the use of the words ‘mad’ or ‘madness’, despite him having just killed a man…

In my exploration of some of the questions I found while reading, I have found that TAPoR has the ability to make me notice details I hadn’t seen before. In my results, I find a common connection having to do with the states the characters are in in regards to their situations, which just so happens to be the route my group is choosing to go down for our exploration of the act.

Unto the Analysis Once Again…

I go into the second phase of the analysis of Hamlet with a tad more anxiety than the first. I had grown comfortable in my tool group, what with the support and shared understanding of the TAPoR tool. But now I am thrust into another group with new people, while being expected to be the authority in how my tool works. I have to say that this is the source of fear; I don’t know how useful TAPoR will be along side any of the other tools, and I don’t know how much info I will be able to pull out of the text. However, I must move past this anxiety and proceed in my analysis.

I have been tasked in this phase to pick apart Act IV, something to which I am excited to do. I find act IV to be one of the more interesting acts, as it is here where things begin to come together. The characters begin to come face to face with situations they must deal with, full of anger and pent up emotion, which will lead into the fall of act V. My group’s intended route of progress is to begin comparing our interpretation of the act as we read it for ourselves and then compare what we pull from that open minded close reading to what our tools may give us.

To begin, In re-reading the act, a thought passes through my mind: I think that act IV may be seen in itself as a small, condensed version of the play; there are situations of confrontation, declarations of revenge, plotting, with everything to be wrapped up with a profound instance of the relation between madness and death.

The themes presented seem to be common enough to notice: there is reference to nature- as seen in relation to Ophelia, and even in the questioning of where Polonius’s body is- as well as references of blood and revenge, life and death and, of course, madness.

With a rough idea of the scene in my mind, I go to TAPoR and see what it can pull out. To be honest, at this early stage, there isn’t much. The list words tool (with which I use as a starting point) doesn’t show much in the way of pointing out the themes and references I notice while reading. In fact, the three most frequent words are a bit dull and have nothing to do with the things I found while reading:

Although, these results do give me a mood: it seems this act is one with much confrontation and planning, both building up towards the end of the act. What the distribution shows me is that these moods begin especially around (as is shown in the distribution of the words ’come’, ’let’ and ’shall’) the centre of the scene, when Hamlet has his conversation with Fortinbras which motivates him to take action.

As with my analysis of Act III.iii, TAPoR leaves something more to be desired with the analysis of the act. So far, it only gives me a limited view, having me miss everything that is being said if I only were to analyse using the tool. The frequent words used do not really give me a good insight: the distribution visual of the common words is lacking after the first five which are listed, leaving me lost in the significance of the other words used through the act.

My next steps will be to play with other tool in TAPoR, after going again through the text to pull out some more things to compare. It is my plan to break the act down into scenes and analyse them individually so that in the end I may stitch the individual results together to find something more significant than the general results I have pulled as of now. I realize that this may also be achieved by working with the other members of my group; with all the results we pull individually, we will be able to fill in the gaps each of us encounters with our tools, hopefully allowing us to have a successful insight into the whole act.

A Slight Success With TAPoR

*Edited to correct a mistake in interpreting the use of ‘thou’ and ‘you’. My apologies, and thanks to jenniferbist for pointing out my flaws.*

In my last post, I did a bit of complaining on the subject of how I find TAPoR restricting and limited in its use of word lists. I’ve tried to move past my initial frustration and to proceed with an analysis of Act 3 scene 4 of Hamlet in an attempt to find what I have decided to set out to do, mainly:

  • What is the theme/ mood of this scene?
  • What is the relationship between Hamlet and Gertrude?

To find answers, I launched right into entering the scene into the list word tool to isolate and sort through the words used and their frequency. From my own reading of the scene, it became apparent that the main focus is based on a confrontation. The list of words gives me a result that lives up to this idea:

As is shown, the word ‘thou’ (and its related ‘thy’) is the most used. I find this relevant because the usage of ‘thou’ is one with a sort of personal note, with a sense of being involved in closer relations than ‘you’ gives. This use of ‘thou’ is something that already gives me a feel for a mood- it is a serious conversation where there is an attempt to be personal in pleas.

A frequent word which points me to a possible theme is the use of the word good:

What I first notice is its distribution: not only is Hamlet the only character to use it, but it is used in higher frequency near the end of the scene.

Another interesting thing I found is that Hamlet’s primary use of ’good’ is to refer to the night:

Now, these discoveries bring up new questions for me about the scene: why is the adjective used frequently near the end of the scene? Why is Hamlet the only character to use it? What is the purpose of this repetition of ‘good night’. I don’t have an answer to this from the tool alone, but it has allowed me to find these details which I had not previously noticed. With these results in mind, I may go back to the text in a hope to find more there.

For the analysis of the relationship between Hamlet and Gertrude, I resort to comparing how these two characters address one another.

In looking at how Hamlet addresses his mother, he never refers to her directly by her name, but rather by her titles of ‘Mother’ and ‘Lady’:

An interesting thing I notice (again) is Hamlet’s use of the word ‘good’; he uses it twice to refer to Gertrude:

These results show me that Hamlet is communicating to his mother in a formal way.

Gertrude is informal in her adressing Hamlet at the start, using ‘thou’:

She is the character who uses the lemma ‘thou’ the most, being the personal character in the scene. The distribution drops off and it seems she becomes much less informal, communicating to her son in pleas and using his name personally. Gertrude’s use of adjectives towards Hamlet are few, using ‘sweet’ and ‘gentle’:

Also shown is that Gertrude does refer to Hamlet in addressing him with an “Oh!”, in a voice which reminds me of plea. What she communicates in those lines shows that indeed, she is making a plea:

The results I pull from the scene are lovely to find. They are limited, yes, but the word lists provided allow me to focus on specific words and results I will look at again in another close reading of the scene, allowing my mind to be enlightened a little more than it was before. I can see that the scene does start out rather formal in the relationship between the two characters, shifting slowly to a more personal tone.

Initial Frustrations and the Hopeful Search for Results with TAPoR

For the analysis of Hamlet 3.4, I have been tasked to work with the tool TAPoR in order to pull out some results. To be perfectly honest, I am not happy with this tool so far (as you may have guessed from the title…). I suppose I should start by explaining that I am not a computer person; I prefer doing a close reading of a text with my own mind rather than with a tool. But then again it is nice to try new things, so I figure I may as well try. Granted, not all new things go over well. This is one of them. The limitations I am finding in the tool far outweigh the things it allows you to do. So far, the limitations I am noticing are:

  • The obvious lack of the human imagination. It’s all data, data, data when it comes to a machine, meaning you will miss out on a sort of open minded analysis. I am noticing that the tool is pulling my focus away from the text I am analysing. I am focusing on the results I pull rather than pulling out my own ideas from the text. This makes me feel as if I have blinders on and I’m only able to view the text in this narrow frame of view, unable to grasp everything that is being said by the play.
  • This is a tool which is very user unfriendly, making it a very frustrating thing to work with. I am not saying this simply because the layout is a tad bit dated, but it is sometimes incapable of processing the analysis you want, and instead gives you many error messages.
  • When I am able to have results produced I am unable to save them. I know saving is possible to do because there is a space on the work bench for saved results, but I can’t find anyway of saving my results. What I’ve had to do so far is copy and paste the results into a document and save it like that.

The tools you are able to work with have their own problems, in that they do not do much in the way of analysis results.

  • The tools I have been fiddling with are the word cloud as well as a listing of words, both of which are useful in pulling out key words and themes, but that their extent. I am given a list of words and I am left sitting here thinking “okay now what do I do with these?” I would find it better to go through my text with a highlighter, where I could pull out the same results.
  • The number and distribution with the list of words is lovely, but unfortunately it only shows a distribution chart for the first few terms listed.
  • Searching words is a tedious task, as it does not search through lemmas. Rather, I have to search related words individually. Which, needless to say, is a pain. But I’ll say it anyway.

In general, TAPoR is very much a qualitative tool. It can analyse a text with various tools which produce a list and number of words. With these words I am tasked to sort through the list and find similarities in usage. In the end, I must go to the text and pull out quantitative thoughts with what the text is saying. The one obstacle I have to overcome is that of shifting my mindset away from my own close reading, and letting the tool pull out the key terms for me. From there, I suppose I would go to the text with those results in mind and attempt to pull out a deeper meaning.

It is my plan in analysing scene 3.4 to use my tool to answer two queries:
1. What is the mood and theme of this scene?
2. What is the relationship between Hamlet and Gertrude?

It is my task to figure out how I will go about answering these questions using my tool and hopefully it will produce results that are less frustrating than the tool itself. Wish me luck!