The Favorability of Textual Analysis In English

Beginning the Journey with WordHoard

I walked into English 203 with the preconceived idea that we would be studying a literary text and analyzing it with the discoveries made by physically reading the text. Instead I was introduced to a whole new world of textual study; digital humanities. Up until the first day of class I was oblivious to the idea that literary texts could be studied using programs on my computer. Being someone who loves to find a “quick route” to any task, this new concept made me doubt all the traditional analysis I had done for other English classes in University.

I began my journey into the tech savvy world of digital humanities with a not so fancy partner by the name of WordHoard. Through our journey we had our ups and downs (the full details can be found in my second blog post); although the downs surpassed the ups in quantity, the advantages of having WordHoard as a tool ready to analyze alongside me helped balance out the negatives. WordHoard is a great starting tool for students like me who are just being introduced to the possibilities of technological analysis. While analyzing Act 3 Scene 4 in  our first phase, I couldn’t help but wonder if the “discoveries” I was making with WordHoard could have just as easily been found if I were to do a close reading of the play myself. Those small seeds of doubt gave way to the growing thoughts of whether digital analysis was even needed to better understand a text. Like all things in life, the rose colored glasses of technological research had to come off and I had to decide if I would ever take part in the digital humanities world after the conclusion of my English 203 class or if the knowledge I attained during these four months would eventually be stored away in the back of my brain.

Distracted by Appearances

We as humans have a tendency to focus on items that have appealing appearances; like children we reach out for the bright object, unconsciously attracted to its shine. That attraction towards a shiny object exists in the digital humanities as well. In Fred Gibbs‘ article Organizing Early Modern Texts he gives an anecdote about the printing press. During the early 19th century, the printing press faced competition from newer sleeker methods of printing such as engraving. In order to cut the competition, printers began to add artistic borders to the pages being print. Were these borders or ornamental designs helpful or necessary in regards to the print? Nope; instead as Gibbs said “the medium had overtaken the message”.

How is this related to Digital Humanities? After working with the various analysis tools in Phase 1 and Phase 2, we became familiar with the many different functions these tools have. While some were useful, others made you wonder what the point of the function was at all. The image above is a screen shot of a word cloud from Voyeur; the larger the word is the more it’s used in the play. While this image helps me conclude that Hamlet is the most used word in the play, I don’t make any great epiphanies by studying it. The image itself is appealing, such that I could use it as an art piece to decorate my room but it would be on the lower end of the scale of its usefulness in analyzing Hamlet. The same information could easily be stated in a window without all the art work. The screen shot below shows us that the word Hamlet was used 85 times in the whole play and goes on to show the dialogues it was used in.

During Phase One, my group and I focused on mastering WordHoard; of course this wasn’t possible in the short time span, but we tried our best to at least know how to run the program! Throughout this phase our main complaint was how WordHoard looked so plain in comparison to the fancy screen shots everyone else had for their tools. It wasn’t until we joined together with other members who had expertise in the different tools in Phase 2 that we came to realize that WordHoard, although lacking in the visual department, had an advantage over some tools when it came to analyzing the text itself.

This brings me back to the point that although the other tools look better or present their data in artistic forms, they are unnecessary for the analysis of the play. A literary text can be analyzed just a well without the multicolored word clouds or line webs. When using digital tools we can fall prey to the appearance of the data being represented but we aren’t really progressing further in our research. Instead the medium, or method in which the data is presented, over shadows the data itself. Digital analysis of texts is useful but I believe that we do not need all the “bells and whistles” which these tools come equipped with in order to better understand a text; instead these functions can sometimes serve as a distraction from what we are really looking for.

Quantitative versus Qualitative

I’ve always enjoyed reading my novels with a pen in hand ready to vandalize the prim and clean pages of the book. You get an odd sense of satisfaction by writing down a note or underlining a specific sentence especially when those scribbles help you read in between the lines of what the author has written. You feel a connection to the author because you uncovered the deeper meaning behind their words. What I missed the most this semester was the connection you have with the text by close reading. That isn’t to say that the Digital Humanities prevent you from better understanding a text or making a connection with the author because it does help you your analysis. Both the traditional method of analysis and digital analysis help you research a text but the only difference is that the traditional method of close reading allows for a qualitative analysis while the digital one is more quantitative in its results. In order to better understand this concept, I will compare the two methods of analysis.

                Textual Analysis

In Phase 2, my group members and I revolved our research around the theme of madness (more details in my blog post). For my part of the research I searched up how the other actors in the play reacted to Hamlets “madness”. Limited by what I could search up using my tool (WordHoard doesn’t search up synonyms of words) I had to literally go through all of Act 3 and find quotes made by the different actors regarding Hamlet’s madness. This wouldn’t have been possible because the characters do not always use the word madness when they speak of Hamlet; close reading is required to understand their view points. The following are quotes I found from my Hamlet book.

  • Nor what he spake, though it lacked form a little, was not like madness. There’s something in his soul. (Claudius, 3.1.166)
  • O, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown! (Ophelia 3.1.152)

As you can see madness is not the only word used to describe Hamlet’s disposition. I would never have thought of searching up the words “noble mind” or “o’erthrown” therefore I would have missed out on Ophelia’s opinion of Hamlet’s insanity. This would definitely hinder my analysis if I were to solely base my research on discoveries made through digital analysis. Even without the use of a technological tool, I can interpret through close reading that Claudius doesn’t truly believe Hamlet is mad but has a motive behind that insanity. Ophelia’s interpretation is that Hamlet is mad, but this madness is just a phase which he can move out of and eventually be restored to his normal self.

                Digital Analysis

Through the use of WordHoard I made the following discovery in Phase 1:

In the whole play, Hamlet is the one who uses the word madness the most. This can give way to the idea that Hamlet encourages the people to believe he is insane by constantly using the term himself. I can also make the conclusion that madness is a major theme in the play because the word itself is used the most in Hamlet when compared to other Shakespearean plays. Both of these inferences are based on the quantitative data presented by WordHoard. I didn’t have to do the time consuming act of reading through the whole play in order to highlight madness whenever I see it and count how many time sits used, neither did I have to read any other Shakespearean play to compare it to Hamlet.

After my comparison you can see that the textual analysis is qualitative because your interpretations are more in depth and made after you give the words more thought while digital analysis is quantitative because the interpretations made were not truly based on deep thought but rather on the data presented by the digital tool. While I prefer close textual reading even I can admit to the fact that a combination of both traditional and digital analysis is necessary to conduct efficient research in regards to literary texts. Some might believe that the use of technology to make inferences in literature is just another way to accommodate our lazy generation but this is incorrect because as I’ve show the computer cannot make interpretations or develop great epiphanies; it is still the researcher’s responsibility to uncover the message of the text. Fred Gibbs gives a perfect explanation when he says “Digital methodologies leverage the computer’s ability for mindless drudgery to help us do and see more than we would otherwise—and hopefully make discoveries that would otherwise go unnoticed.”

My Train of Thought

The introduction of digital tools to the written world has been an amazing innovation for literary researchers; I won’t deny it because everything needs an upgrade from time to time. During a time when the analysis of texts was long, repetitive and in some cases inefficient, tools such as WordHoard, WordSeer, Tapor, Monk and Voyeur have given those who choose to undertake the task of literary analysis a chance to move past the long tiring hours spent close reading several texts and focus on the actual comparisons being made. The use of digital tools helped me:

  • Compare several Shakespearean plays to Hamlet giving me insight on the various meanings of words in different contexts
  • Easily quantify data found when comparing scenes, acts or even plays
  • Interpret the data found through visuals
  • Analyze Hamlet a lot faster than I would have done through close textual reading alone

I cannot deny that the use of digital tools to dig into Shakespeare’s Hamlet made literary analysis somewhat easier but neither can I say that it helped me make a mind blowing inference that I couldn’t have made through text analysis. Digital Humanities helped me move through the analysis of a play a lot faster than I could have ever done on my own but I also feel that there are certain texts which are just not suited for the technological world. We live in a society where we desire everything to be accessible to moment we want it; we’ve become impatient and this outlook has seeped into all aspects of our life, even the way we read. This need for speed, I believe, is unfair to English literature which with its richness in complexity and meaning deserves for us to spend time thinking over what we have read. For early modern texts and Shakespearean plays, I think it is crucial for us to use our own minds to think critically of the text. Till this day I can reread The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood or Jane Austens’ Pride and Prejudice over and over again because I make a new discovery every time I move through the pages. Digital Humanities will play a role in literary analysis but it can only go so far before the researcher has to turn to traditional textual analysis.

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

To be or not to be Insane?

The concept for our Phase 2 Presentation has been finalized!

Our game plan for the group meetings was to come up with themes within Act 3 which we could use our individual tools to analyze; from these themes, we would choose the one major subject which all of our tools would be able to analyze effectively. During our first few group meetings we came up with different themes that occurred throughout Act 3 of Hamlet; amongst these were: the relationship Hamlet has with Ophelia, Hamlet’s mannerisms towards the female characters: Gertrude and Ophelia, and Hamlet’s madness. Being a self-proclaimed relationship analyst (credentials still pending), I was hoping to do an analysis of the relationship between Ophelia and Hamlet. After some work with our tools, we felt that it would be best to work with Hamlet’s madness. Luckily, we did spend some time analyzing the relationship between Ophelia and Hamlet, which I will be using for my final blog post in Phase Three.

Madness is a thought-provoking concept because how can one truly categorize who is actually insane and who’s not? At some point in our lives have we not acted insane in some way? One could say that everyone is insane when it comes to a certain aspect in their life, the only difference is that we all vary in our insanity; some insane quirks are accepted, others aren’t. Our objective is to find out whether Hamlet is truly mad, or if his “insanity” is just quirk in his personality that he intensifies for his own purposes. To find the answer, I asked myself the following questions:

  • What is insanity?
  • How does Hamlet behave which makes others believe he is mad? Are there certain parts of his speech that indicate he is insane?
  • What are some of the factors that can be attributed to his insanity?
  • Can his behavior just be a cause of his anger/sadness of everything that has occurred in his life so far?
  • What role does the ghost play in Hamlet’s insanity?

Through our group projects and this class in general, I have learned that you cannot possibly do an analysis, a decent analysis that does justice to the author’s writing, with just the tools. The questions listed above cannot easily be found by just using WordHoard; it would only be a complete analysis if I used other methods as well as WordHoard to make a solid conclusion on Hamlet’s madness. For my analysis I combined WordHoard, a close reading analysis of the text and my favorite site of all time, YouTube. I won’t share my final conclusion yet for I’ll save it for our presentation! Instead I will share some of my results which I found quite intriguing.

Through the use of YouTube, I found countless clips of Act 3; some made by professionals and others made by high school students for their English projects. After watching a couple of videos I found that this clip of act 3.4, showed the point that I was working towards. In the video, Hamlet (I found it funny that he is blonde in this clip as I have always imagined him to have black hair!) is agitated and angry, irrational when he kills Polonius and overall in a fit of passion. If you were to remove the seed of doubt already placed in our head that questions Hamlet’s sanity, you could easily compare this to when any sane rational person has a fit of passion and acts deranged; does this mean that the person is insane because they had a moment of madness? It might be that Hamlet is suffering from a moment of madness; albeit the moment becomes a series of ‘moments’ in the play. Can ones sanity be judged by their behavior when they feel like they are in a whirlwind of emotions?

This idea helped me think of what I wanted to uncover through the use of my tool. Using WordHoard, I decided to search for words used in Hamlet, specifically Act 3, which would explain what madness is. Obviously my first search word would be madness itself. The following are some of my findings:

  • The word madness is said eight times by Hamlet, most of which were spoken in Act 3. Compared to all of Shakespeare’s plays, this is the most times any character has ever used the word.
  • In line 144, Hamlet says “That not your trespass, but my madness speaks” but then in line 185 he contradicts himself and says “That I essentially am not in madness, but mad in craft”. Both lines, said in scene 4, portray this dual persona of Hamlet; one that is mad, and one that isn’t.

This isn’t enough evidence to declare whether Hamlet is indeed insane, but it gives us a starting point to develop the idea that maybe Hamlet isn’t mad. Our group’s conclusion on the matter will be discussed during our presentation which we look forward to. For now I wish you the reader all the best of luck in your search of Hamlet.

“All are lunatics, but he who can analyze his delusions is called a philosopher.”
Ambrose Bierce

Over-Analyzing??

I’ve always wondered whether we over analysis texts; so much that we make premises and conclusions which maybe the author had no conscious thought of evoking in the minds of his or her readers. Take for example the meme above (Yes, I am a shameless follower of the University of Calgary memes on Facebook!). Could we possibly be reading too much into Hamlet’s speech or the color of Gertrude’s dress when Hamlet verbally abuses her in Act 3.4? Maybe Hamlet saying “to be or not to be” simply meant to be or not to be.

As I start off my analysis in the second phase of our group projects, this thought reoccurs in my head once more. What if Shakespeare, who is considered an undisputed genius of his time, had no deeper meaning to his works but wrote his lines solely for the sake of giving a voice to his characters? Is he lounging on a lazyboy in some other world, laughing at our struggle to analyze his plays?

This brings me to my second thought; would any text be worth reading if you didn’t have to use at least half of your brain to analyze the plot, characters, moods and settings? Maybe the author didn’t have a specific reason to make her protagonist wear blue all the time; but does this really matter? I feel that analyzing allows us to give life to the characters we are reading about; we feel connected to them because we have tried to understand them. Without analysis, words would just be words; insignificant and not worth remembering. I’ve read Pride and Prejudice so many times that now I can start reading from any part in the book and still feel comfortable with my knowledge of the plot. This wouldn’t be possible if I didn’t analysis Mr. Darcy’s reactions to Elizabeth’s remarks or Elizabeth’s conversations with Jane. Analyzing is the reason you feel engaged enough to finish a book, play or poem and in turn enjoy the experience.

Coming back to the realm of Hamlet, I have been assigned Act 3, which in my opinion is the trigger of the action that proceeds after Hamlet confronts his mother in scene 4. I find that from all of the characters in Hamlet, Ophelia is the one that I would like to better understand. This statement might sound odd for why would someone choose to do an analysis on Ophelia’s submissive and mostly predictable character when the analysis of Hamlet, good old crazy Hamlet, or the mercenary Claudius would prove to be more interesting? It’s because Ophelia is that submissive woman character that usually has a part in most of Shakespeare’s plays; it makes one wonder what the reason is for her to be that way. For my final Blog post in phase 3, I plan to do a character analysis of Ophelia using WordHoard.

Oh WordHoard, my old friend. Once again I find myself having to use WordHoard but this time it is to analyze all of Act 3 and I must say, this time around it is much easier than I expected. Maybe it’s because I’ve (1) suddenly acquired a talent which enables me to understand WordHoard, (2) have such low expectations of the program that even the slightest successes are magnified or (3) it’s just easier to analyze a whole Act rather than just a scene (I’m hoping for number 1!). My group members and I have decided to start off with a general theme which all of us will analyze using our individual tools. Seeing as I had to dissect Gertrude’s and Hamlets relationship in Phase 1, I was quite happy that this time we would look at Hamlet’s behavior and feelings towards Ophelia. As I plan to do a character study of Ophelia I find that this will be a great starting point for starting my research. As for our progress in Phase 2, we are still working on achieving the same results from all of the tools; a task which isn’t going too well. I had written in my older blog posts that the use of all five tools to analyze a text will be more beneficial because the shortcomings that one tool has can be filled in by another tool. I still hold true to this statement and hope (cross my fingers) that our research is indeed more insightful than that of Phase 1.

The End of Things: WordHoard Presentation

For our group analysis of Act 3.4 we decided the best way to go about was to pick an overall subject in the scene and then divide that into specific questions. Each group member was assigned one question that she was responsible for analyzing. The end result would be the group members combining their results to give an overall analysis of our main subject; the relationship between Hamlet and Gertrude. Phase One gave us great insight into our tool as well as the other tools. Can’t wait to use multiple tools in Phase Two!

Click here WordHoard to view the PowerPoint we used during our presentation. Cheers!

WordHoard: Meant for Something Bigger

When I first started using WordHoard, I was excited. Who wouldn’t be when it came to using a program with so many possibilities? As I mentioned in my previous blog, WordHoard has numerous functions which break down even further to other functions which give very specific results for analyses. This concept of subdividing from a major function was implemented into our group analysis.

Our group took the broad question: what is Hamlet’s relationship with Gertrude and came up with more specific questions which each group member would analysis using WordHoard. I took on the task of analyzing the question; does Hamlet blame Gertrude for the murder of his father? My initial plan was to search Hamlets speech for words and phrases which show resentment towards Gertrude and phrases where Hamlet tries to make Gertrude feel guilty for what had transpired between the king and Claudius. This line of thought was not easy to analyze.

Before I list my endless problems with WordHoard, I will begin by explaining what the main purpose of WordHoard is; the collection of words. WordHoard is great for someone who is searching for the amount of times Hamlet says love or the number of times Ophelia uses the term madness. This is great for someone who is analyzing different plays of Shakespeare and comparing the results of the two, but it doesn’t compare just the one act or scene from the play; this my friends, is one of my major limitations.

While doing my research I tried unsuccessfully to analyze Hamlets speech in 3.4; this was unsuccessful because WordHoard either (1) takes the reference play and compares it to another Shakespeare book or (2) compares the wording throughout the one play. I believe that our program would be great if we took Hamlet and compared it to Romeo and Juliet or Othello. Trying to compare the tone change within the one scene is unfortunately unavailable.

Going back to my research, I decided to see how many times Hamlet actually uses the term mother when referring to Gertrude; the result wasn’t very insightful for my purposes. Instead of the information I was looking for I got the following data for the historical occurrence of mother in all of Shakespeare’s tragedies.

WordHoard is a great program for people who want to search up a specific word and compare it between two separate texts. It will easily show which words are nouns and verbs or when they were first used; unluckily it will not explain why the character uses the word or the tone in which he delivers his lines. In order to start my analysis I had to look up the lines I wanted to study from my text and then search them up on WordHoard.

WordHoard is still, at least in my view, a great program which should be used for broader research. In phase 2 I believe our program will be more effective when we must analysis the entire text.

 

 

WordHoard: overcoming the adversity

Sweet are the uses of adversity, which like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in his head.

How better to describe my experience of using Word Hoard to analyze Hamlet, then to use the words of Shakespeare himself? Although I, as well as my group members, faced some difficulties when trying to use WordHoard, the results were worth it.

One major grievance for myself was that every time I wanted to connect to WordHoard, I got the following message.

It wouldn’t be so bad if I could open the program after the second, third, maybe even the fourth time, but unfortunately I wasn’t that lucky. I did finally get to the database but only after I (1) uninstalled WordHoard, (2) downloaded it once again and (3) saw the above message two more times. By this point I wasn’t very happy with the WordHoard creators.

Once I finally connected to the database and chose my literary text and Act, I found that I was completely and utterly lost. Although I had attended the workshop on WordHoard and even read the “Getting Started” article, I had no idea where to start. Word Hoard has countless options when it comes to analyzing a text; so many that one would almost prefer having a program that’s limited but more straight forward and easy to manage.

My original objective was to analyze Hamlet’s anger towards his mother by finding a difference in his speech when they are alone or in public with others. My thoughts were that his true emotions would be revealed by comparing the words he uses to describe his mother in Act 3 to other Acts. Instead what happened is that I got sidetracked by the many other functions of WordHoard.

One of them happened to be the function where you can take a word, any word, and find out how many times it comes up in Hamlet as well as other Shakespeare plays. I found this very interesting as I tried to figure out WordHoard. Unfortunately the occurrence of ducat was insignificant to my objective.

I’m quite happy that I got WordHoard as the program that I get to work with because regardless of some of its difficulties and my wandering thoughts, I believe our group will get interesting results from our analysis. Once I better understand the majority of the functions in WordHoard it will be a lot easier to direct my analysis.