Reading with the Stars…and Scholarly Peers

There are fewer tools that actually build an archive of live interpretation—as opposed to facts layered and ready for interpretation–around a stable text.“  – Augusta Rohrbach and David Tagnani

That’s where an amalgamation of Highbrow and Voyeur would come in.  The argument against the incorporation of humanities in English literature courses is solid, mainly, that it distances the reader from the text and removes the qualitative perspective only possible through human interpretation.  To replace it are mathematical calculations such as those presented in digital tools like Voyeur.  The creator of Highbrow, Reinhard Engles, describes his developing program as an “experimental genome browser for literary texts.”  Now, friends, genomes are inheritable traits of an organism.  Disbelieving as I was, I turned to the video screen casts and the electronic organism known as Highbrow.

Engles has put forth a set of 5 different tutorial videos, within each are demonstrations of the texts that have been uploaded into the program for use.  As Highbrow is still in its developmental stages, there are yet only 4 literary texts and 1 video to choose from:

Dante’s Divine Comedies

Ralph Waldo Emerson (Multiple Works)

Shakespeare’s First Folio (no references yet)

The Bible (King James Version)


Here are the strength and weaknesses, problems I found while working with Highbrow, as well as a basic “how-to.”  To start with I will mention that I will not be working with the Shakespeare set as it is incomplete and does not show, to the full extent, the capabilities of Highbrow.

“An Interactive Deep Zoom Widget:”

Rohrbach and Tagnani admit in their post “Reading with the Stars: Teaching with the HIGHBROW Annotation Browser,” that although there are plenty of tools available to ‘aggregate and organize existing information for users to interpret,’ these tools more or less become a step between students and the text and distance them from the literature itself.  Students begin to analyze the calculations formed by tools rather than “build an archive of live interpretation” from the text itself.  From this predicament and the partnering of Associate Professor, Augusta Rohrbach; PhD student, David Tagnani and Engles himself: ‘Reading with the Stars’ was born.  In their Washington State University classroom environment, Highbrow became a way for students to build upon both their own thoughts and conceptions about a studied work as well as the ideas and commentary of their peers.  ‘Reading with the Stars’ allows for a class to break beyond the barriers of a physical classroom and allow a ‘relaxed academic’ (oxymoronic in the eyes of many scholars, no doubt) atmosphere housed in a vast digital realm.


Putting it Together:

Aside from providing a digital meeting ground under the pretext of a .. well, a text, Reading with the Stars/Highbrow also allows an exceedingly more organized method for students to collaboratively annotate, highlight and organize ourselves beside the literature.  On an average day a student carries around their own weight in books – the conditions of which are dangerously suggestive of a younger sibling having had at them with a box of stationary.

Only somewhat inconvenient for budgeting students, we cry out for an answer, and Highbrow provides:

Highbrow: a clean and tidy alternative – and more. Click here for Engles screencast on “Interactive Editing.”

The ability to add/subtract “tracks” and edit the names of groups (which, by default, are sorted in chronological order – for the OCD perfectionist in us all) provides a unique experience catering to each individual’s preference.  Highbrow has a clean-cut interface with relatively easy navigation.  Zoom in with the mouse wheel, tapping the arrow key, or simply clicking.  Zooming in on specific segments allows you to view segments from books, to cantos, to verses and line numbers (in the case of Dante’s Divine Comedies):

Once you have registered, you can add your own annotations right next to the elite.  There are over 288,000 “tracks” of commentary, broken apart by centuries by default. It is interesting to see what 7 centuries of annotation looks like alongside each other, which were more interested and which were less interested: 1600 (Clearly everyone was wrapped up in Hamlet.)



Now come the annotations! At first, I had attempted to deselect all commentators aside from the track labelled “English” (seemed like a safe bet) and although it did produce English annotations, this greatly decreased the amount of notes in the right hand column.

My focus aimed at Canto V of Inferno (one of my favourite cantos from my favourite comedy) I decided to play with the “search text” button. As previously mentioned, Engles has designed a very clean interface and so it is quite simply point and click on the blue link in the upper left corner and a window will appear like the one pictured below:

What shall we look for in Canto V?  “Love” of course, although when searching, I would point out that your searches are limited to text only (or so I was unable to disprove) and not to the commentary.  Once you have typed in whatever desired lines or key word(s) preferred, simply click “search.”  Whatever keyword was searched will create a new “track” next to whichever others you had previously selected to the right.

Imagine my surprise when my search for “love” in the second circle of “The Lustful” produced 0 results. 

Then it hit me.  Oh yes, that’s right, it’s Italian.

Unfortunately, my Italian isn’t that strong otherwise I would have added in my own commentary next to  Alighieri’s own blood – Pietro!  I would imagine that in the near future Engles will be hosting further collaborations with other teachers, classrooms and of course, doing his own weekly adjustments to his program.  That being said, I was disappointed that I could not work further with Dante as I absolutely adore the Divine Comedies.  I would expect more works of Shakespeare will be added at the very least, along with more literature and perhaps a translated version of the Comedies – as the original is difficult to navigate even with a translator.

As this was the only real let down of the program for me, any other “weaknesses” I could possibly comment on an intelligent browser such as this – still so young in development, are few:

  1.  I had noticed that while searching through the text and annotations, I had only the option of scrolling with my mouse/track pad.  This became awkward and occasionally inconvenient when wanting to scroll with speed and precision.  This however, turned out to be strength on the programmer’s behalf as I later found out he added a side-scroll bar into the Emerson text.
  2. Also, searching with the “search text” tool does not search through the annotations: the most unique and intriguing part about Highbrow.


“Immersing into Emerson”

Although I am admittedly, and quite ashamed, not familiar with much of Emerson’s work, I had a lot more fun experimenting with Highbrow at this point.  I also had a lot more opportunity to see exactly why Rohrbach and Tagnani were suggesting that fun in a classroom could be facilitated with Highbrow.  So too, could I juxtapose the use of  Voyeur with it, discovering that the tool pairing make up for many shortcomings of the other and complement one another nicely.

I did not figure out a way of imputing the annotations themselves into Voyeur;  the results of which would have been more than thrilling for me at this point.  However, alternatively, I input the entirety of Emerson’s  “Intellect” into Voyeur and produced the following the results:

It was interesting to see (note: the top right corner of the ‘Word Trends’ chart) the correlation of Voyeur’s trending of truth and the identical spike pattern formed when put into a “track” in Highbrow.  True, data is data, the solidification of cohesiveness between the tools was refreshing given the complications presented throughout Phase II.  A few tools disagreed with one another more than once leaving room for doubt about the effectiveness of one or each tool.  I returned to the Voyant interface and I noticed shortcomings about Voyeur I hadn’t picked up on before.  When coming back to Voyeur again after a long absence and recently experimenting with Highbrow, I found that the Corpus Reader is excruciatingly ineffective in comparison to that of Highbrow’s navigation and heat-map highlighting layout.  Side by side, Voyeur is obviously lacking however, that is just the Corpus Reader.  Voyeur obviously has visual advantages, as best exemplified in my blog post: Singing with the Gravedigger, over Highbrow many of which are not as effective as they could be with Highbrow without first extracting user commentary.  I would love to see how Highbrow could be further taken into the other tools of ENGL203 and how it could match up with the other tools.  The ability to calculate frequencies within the text to then correlate with Highbrow’s human annotations based on activity spikes.


Putting it into Practice: “Reading with the Stars…and Scholarly Peers”

Rohrbach and Tagnani mentioned that what gauged the most reaction from students was an amalgamation of peer interaction and the public stage of the web.  This excitement and student exchange was part of the framework of our own classroom setting in English 203.  At one point in the “Prof. Hacker” blog post, they mention – “Indeed, when our students at WSU found out that they could read comments from a group of students approaching the text from a different context, the excitement was palpable: they wanted to see what students from another school and another kind of class thought about the text.”  Attempting to set Highbrow onto a classroom was probably one of the cleverest things possible for its capabilities and emphasizes each of the strengths that I discovered in my journey with “Reading with the Stars.”  They are as follows:

  • As the writers of the aforementioned blog post eloquently put it, Highbrow is like “reading through the lens of established experts.”   How much more fortunate can any student get?  For academic writing, the ability to have elite annotations from several centuries, alongside hypothesis testing tools such as Voyeur, would improve the quality standard of essays, academic papers and critical thinking as a whole.
  • On top of that, and providing further fuel for student minds, Engles is an actively involved programmer.  Rohrbach and Tagnani proved this in their described discourse with the creator,  illustrating him as delighted to assist and collaborate with them in their effort to establish “Reading with the Stars” at Washington State University.  Engles’ Alpha 2 is a screen cast about the highly enticing concept (and his plan) to incorporate multimedia into Highbrow.  In short, and certainly not doing the theory justice; the video really is a must watch, he is attempting to add the interactivity of annotating into multimedia such as videos as well as adding famous artwork based on literature as new tracks or perhaps timelines.  The video demo is, of course, not without his signature organization strategy of cutting the whole into tidy segments.  Further adding to his dedication, and as a result adding to the strength of the browser itself, Engles mentions that he is devoted to “adding new features every week for the next few months.”
  • We’re not done yet folks!  Highbrow/Reading with the Stars also provides potential benefits for the educators!  Associate Professor Augusta Rohrbach says herself that in her own classroom: “There is simply not time for everyone to contribute every class period, and the less confident and more introverted students find it easy to just hide in the crowd.”  This becomes true for every class discussing a literary work(s) and especially when it comes to analyzing said literary text; tenfold in a humanities lab.  When everyone wants to speak and provide a lengthy explanation, only 5-10 out of 100 get to speak and the hesitant/shy students are left quiet in the back row with their potentially break-through ideas remaining unfulfilled or expanded.  With Highbrow and Voyeur, alongside perhaps a more textual based tool like Wordhoard or Tapor; students can collaborate and build a strong and thorough breakdown of a text using mediums that best suits how their thoughts progress.  As commentary builds on the ever-growing student tree of side notes – the more each thought fuels newer, deeper questions.  Where the previous problem was too many voices and not enough space, the issue evolves into a strength for the classrooms digital environment: the more the merrier.  With so many voices and thoughts flowing via annotations, and with the superior organization of text Highbrow offers, professors can keep “track” of it (pun intended) easily by monitoring separate student tracks and annotation spikes.  More information regarding this and other ideas can be found in Engles’ third installment of his screen cast tutorials: Alpha 3: Interactive Editing.
  • One of the comment reviews about Highbrow I agree with the highest enthusiasm is that of anonymous ‘Tim’ who says “[It] would be wonderful for Buddhist studies which has 2000 years’ worth of commentaries.” This is particularly exciting for collaborating with Voyeur as the view of ancient texts through the lens of modern digital tools would breathe fresh life and doubtless new perspectives for new and old generations alike.
  • Lastly, I would like to point out a particular strength that Highbrow had a high hand over all of the tools English 203 studied: text location and isolation.  The precision Highbrow has displayed remains unmatched by Voyeur and to the best of my knowledge, any of the other tools.  Highbrow, with greater ease than it would be to flip to a chapter in a print book, isolates precise segments (such as cantos and acts) from the rest of the text – ready for examination by eager students.

Highbrow combines both qualitative and quantitative information, whereas Voyeur expands on the quantitative.  As I mentioned in an earlier “Phase I” blog post Voyeur is mainly a hypothesis testing tool – putting words into math-like calculations which may then potentially be further speculated.  Highbrow/Reading with the Stars, as it is peer and comment based, is most likely most useful for hypothesis generating.  Together: THEY WILL BE VICTORIOUS (too much?)


The End?
I think the connected functionality of this program will lead to a more united classroom.  It could potentially further encourage layering peer thoughts creating one or two linear thoughts as opposed to a separated classroom movement. Although English 203 came together, and watching it come together was probably one of the most enjoyable aspects about blogging, I could see a place for Highbrow as an addition to any classroom rather than a replacement altogether. Blog posts would continue to allow students to freely express and layout their personal thoughts on a page, easily a necessity in this course; and Highbrow to draw out the introverts and build confidence in their ideas as well as shine a new light on the same text for everyone to realize ideas they didn’t know they had.  The next logical step for books is digital humanities, evidently, but we don’t want to lose our relationship with the stories, authors and text. Together, we make it stronger instead of simply replicating the effect of annotations by peer commenting and annotating.

With the addition of Voyeur, visual stimuli would undoubtedly lead “students to think more deeply about those passages, passages that they may have initially ‘took at surface level,’” (as one student had mentioned) – not unlike the realizations of our own humanities course by semester’s end.  Although Highbrow does not at first seem much different than our own classroom blogging method, the ability to annotate alongside the text increases the student relationship with the writer and text (much like writing all over our hard copies has done for us in the past) and decrease writer’s block intimidation and perfectionism.  It’s like building an anthology, complete with graphs, for future classes or perhaps assisting other classrooms and students across the world!


Study Break

In light of upcoming exams, I humbly present to you my fellow classmates, a Hamlet inspired study break:

An e-greeting from Polonius

Polonius is offline... Ophelia is offline... Laertes is offline. Gertrude is offline. Claudius is offline. Hamlet is offline. The rest... is silence.

Solid Essay

Simba? Hamlet? MacBeth? You decide.

Director intended. Legit.

Hamlet...what a nut.

Take THAT Claudius

We can all relate to this one


Happy studying, and good luck on exams everyone!

Singing With the Gravedigger

The song alluded to in Act 5, scene 1 is ‘I Lothe That I Did Loue.’  An excerpt from the song suggests it is a formal song, most likely sung by jesters in court.  The fact that it is sung informally by a commoner/gravedigger (“ah”, “oh”) serves as a parallel to how the rich and the poor become equal in the grave.  This particularly grave (pun intended) scene  emphasizes a key theme in Hamlet: the nature and physicality of mortality.  Hamlet’s soliloquy when speaking of his dear friend Yorick as well as his conversation with Horatio, plays well with the gravedigger’s song. The pairing in this particular scene draws out the meaning in what the other (between Hamlet and the song) is saying.  Evidence in the text suggests it is very likely that while Hamlet was performing both his soliloquy and speaking to Horatio, the gravedigger continued to sing his song in the background.  A performance available on youtube demonstrates how this may have been performed at The Globe; listen closely to the gravedigger in the background as he continues to sing.  This juxtaposition would cement to audiences, of varying backgrounds, the truth in Shakespeare’s tragedy by having it both sung informally atop Hamlet’s formal speech. So too, does this layering balance comedy and tragedy at once, further complicating the mystery surrounding whether Hamlet is a tragedy or a comedy.

Evidence supporting the theory that the gravedigger does in fact continue to sing is the undeniable fact that the song presented in act five of Hamlet is an excerpt from ‘I Lothe That I Did Loue.’ otherwise known as ‘I Loathe that I Did Love.’  That approached, there are obvious huge gaps in verses which, presumably, would have been sung while Hamlet was speaking.  Although the subject matter Hamlet elaborates upon does not mirror the absent verses (from the text) both the voided paragraphs as well as the highlighted paragraphs present enlightening characteristics towards the play’s whole.  For time’s sake, I too shall exclude the verses that were not present in Hamlet – however, their relevance should not be slighted.

Hamlet/Gravedigger’s version:
” In youth, when I did love, did love,
 Methought it was very sweet,
 To contract, O, the time, for, ah, my behove,
 O, methought, there was nothing meet.”
‘I Lothe That I Did Loue’ Original:
“I loathe that I did love,
In youth that I thought sweet;
As time requires for my behove,
Me thinks they are not meet.”

Quick View of Similarities:
thought sweet
time for my behove
methought/thinks not meet

Presented above are the first verses of the two songs discussed, back to back, giving way to many mysteries.  Evidently, there is a repetition of love as well as an informal jaunty-like verse used by the gravedigger: “o, the time, for ah, my behove.”  Both deviations from the original song are perhaps to properly fill the Shakespearean meter.  A further mystery of the changes present in Shakespeare’s edit of the song is a questionable changing of “me thinks” to “methought” to which I can give no proper reasoning for.  Another curious change: from “youth” to “loathe” to only later resubmit “youth” in the preceding line. What can be salvaged from this chain of mysteries, and especially from the concordances between the two different songs, is the combination of “youth,” “sweet” and “love.” In my view, these three words are presented in a fashion that dictate the incapability of sweet young love having any accordance with time – being that, young love is doomed to fail. This reflects almost certainly on Hamlet and his dearly departed Ophelia.

In the screenshot above, I have outlined the basic comparison of both the original and the Hamlet version of the song.  The first stop in examining the songs through Voyeur was to sort the word count from highest frequency to lowest.  This, squared off in green, reflected the above (underlined) key words in the corpus: i, did, love, behove, for… The highest frequencies interestingly begin to form a phrase of their own to describe the raw meaning of the submitted verses.  Surprisingly, “love” squared off in blue in Cirrus, ranks high in usage however, “i” typically has no place in songs about love. Not getting ahead of ourselves (“i” will be further examined later) “love” also plays as strong of a role as “youth” and “sweet” whereas “loathe” (squared off in a teeny-tiny little orange box) plays a barely significant role in the songs.   This fact alone is interesting given “loathe” is found in the title.  As a side note, it may be interesting to note that out of 52 words, 33 are unique in placement.  Simply decoded: over half of the words present in the songs submitted back-to-back into Voyeur, are inconsistent with one another.

Putting these findings aside, I pursued the use of “i” within and between the two songs…

I submitted the two songs separately into Links, a tool in Voyeur that provides a visual stimulus of the links between words within a literary corpus, and received almost identical results – an example shown above.  The results, identical to one another, were also similar to the earlier Cirrus and Word Count results: “i” is undoubtedly the focus.  These tools being simple and similar in function, I finally decided to brave… Mandala.

Yeah, it’s intimidating.

I hoped for the best when selecting the option to remove all magnets and “surprise me!”  There is no room for internet memes and vernacular (word of the day: that one’s for you Act 5 group,) however in this case my reaction was no less than an internet blog appropriate: “LOL.”  I proceeded to “remove all magnets” sans-surprise.  Lo-and-behold, Mandala became my favourite and potentially most useful tool (move over Word Frequency Chart) as I slowly developed what you see before you.  Allow me to explain:

The aim: “i” – squared off in orange and bubbled in pink.  I added “magnets” for each key term (the biggest bubbles mapped around the circle) and “i” attracted the most ‘mini-bubbles’ – staggeringly so.  The fact that it produced a total of 23 matches in both songs and 17 unique matches is not even the most impressive part.  All of the sectioned magnets with multiple colours are the matches “i” produced with the other key word magnets.  Translation: “i” found a match within the songs with every key word with the exception of “death” (I put in the full version of both songs for Mandala when the singular verses produced uninspiring results.)  After this find, I added the opposing magnets “you,” “thou” and “thee.”  “Thee” produced nothing, so I removed the magnet, while “thou” produced one match and “you” produced 7… not even half of the attractions “i” produced.  Both added to the total matches of “i.”  What this all potentially means is that the personal affect of “i” is a very intentional use of the song for Shakespeare in writing Hamlet, and especially in writing this scene.

I decided to dig deeper… Could this perhaps be a very personal scene or act for Hamlet and perhaps Shakespeare, the man? Can the overpowering use of “i” over “you” in the context of these two songs have a similar impact on act five and the entirety of the play?

Well now, isn’t that interesting…

Moving on.

There are a couple more verses also taken from ‘I Lothe That I Did Loue,’ as the gravedigger continues to sing:
“But age, with his stealing steps,
 Hath claw’d me in his clutch,
 And hath shipped me into the land,
 As if I had never been such.”
(HUGE gap in song)
“A pick-axe, and a spade, a spade, (symbol of cosmic tree: life and death)
 For and a shrouding sheet:
 O, a pit of clay for to be made
 For such a guest is meet.”
           [Throws up another skull.]
“O, a pit of clay for to be made
For such a guest is meet.”
*The full song for the original is available here for comparison.
Here too, is an example of repetition: “O, a pit of clay for to be made/For such a guest is meet.”  These lines, to me, reflect the opening verse “me thinks they are not meet.”  Coming full circle, at least within the scope of Hamlet, from ‘not meeting’ to “meet”.  What perhaps allows this and also gives reasoning to why Shakespeare may have cut off the original song at this point is the suggestion of passing time.  In the first line “but age, with his stealing steps” suggests that the youthfulness of the love first discussed has dissipated and age has overcome the initial problem of youth breaking sweet love.  Unfortunately, what seems to replace “youth” as love’s antagonist is it’s cure: age.  What appears to be implied is age grabbing the lovers and sending them to their grave (“a pit of clay for to be made/For such a guest is meet.”)  The emphasis on the last pair of lines in the gravedigger’s song is undoubtedly a foreshadowing of Ophelia’s funeral and the irony of Hamlet’s ignorance of his lover’s death as he laments over “poor Yorick.”  The evidence of the song’s relevance to the play’s whole is provided in the screenshots below.  Using Voyeur I separated the play into 5 segments and submitted both youth and age into the word trends chart.  Clearly visible is the sharp incline of the usage of “age” nearing the play’s end and the sharp decline of the use of “youth.”  As reader’s of Hamlet all know, the love between Ophelia and Hamlet is exaggerated nearer to the beginning of the play, and death envelopes the end.

As a final thought towards these verses and their singer, the inserted stage direction to throw up another skull perhaps alludes to the circle of death.  The gravedigger had earlier mentioned in his riddle that he builds the most permanent houses as his are for the dead and last until judgement day.  However, while he sings he is clearly unearthing bodies to make way for new ones: rendering his houses impermanent.  For Hamlet’s part, he too circulates dead bodies but within his heart.  As he laments the death of beloved uncovered Yorick, he soon will be grieving heavily over the death of the body of Ophelia – soon to be replacing Yorick in the same grave.  All of these events, irony intact, insulate Hamlet’s soliloquy in act five.

Sound of Mind

I have struggled an incredible amount with my personal direction and how I wished to attack act five of Hamlet given the “endless possibilities” I have previously mentioned in blog posts, that Voyeur offers. That being said, it is surprisingly difficult to come to any concrete resolution about the fifth act of Hamlet because of Shakespeare’s wide vernacular and thus hard to draw comparisons with my tool. What I’ve decided to focus on for this blog post, lest I go insane with “endless possibilities,” is the questionable ambiguity surrounding Ophelia’s so-called suicide. I would also like to lead into the relationship of Ophelia’s death to Hamlet’s and how Ophelia’s death laid the groundwork for Hamlet’s final speech.
The rhetoric surrounding Ophelia’s death is very passive. Heavy usage of words that give way to her surrender to death, such as “incapable of her own distress” and “creature native…unto that element,” (4.7.2) suggest a far more unintentional death rather than suicide. The proceeding line “heavy with their drink” allude to act five when heavy is used only once more in the rest of the play when addressing the duel between Laertes and Hamlet.

Although this hypothesis is highly subjective, the intentional use of “heavy” in conjunction to “drink” when a multiplicity of words could have been used, can be regarded as an element of foreshadowing as “drink” is mentioned 10 times so closely to “heavy” and envelopes the death of the cast. Shakespeare may have intentionally threaded these words together so the connotation when the words presented themselves again would provide the same feeling of inescapable fate when they are each “pull’d…to muddy death.” (4.7.2)

Although Laertes and Hamlet exchange forgiveness and understanding and meet one another’s demise by poison tipped sword, Claudius’ intention of getting Hamlet to drink the poison as a backup plan is evidence once more of the inescapable design of his demise for even if he survived the duel he would be forced to be swallowed up by the drink. So too, does Gertrude meet her demise by said poison-filled cup and Hamlet’s insistence for Claudius to drink. Although each of these deaths can be viewed as murder, it is due to the play’s progression that it may just as well be viewed as each a suicide because of each character’s inability to move passed their pursuit of revenge. As a result, the deaths of surrounding characters that have no desire to revenge are mere casualties in male driven inertia to a damned fate. Ophelia’s death, although similar in vernacular to Hamlet’s death scene, is unjust and unintentional due to her secondary status and distance from the play’s central theme.
However, Hamlet cannot just be viewed as strictly evil in his blind rage towards revenge of his father’s death. He too, in many ways, surrenders himself to death just as Ophelia does as both are complacent in light of potential knowledge of their fate. Hamlet knows he will die if he were to but look at the circumstance in which he falls, much like Ophelia when she “fell in the weeping brook.” It is evident, however, that their misery was more inescapable than their death and so death is sweet because of it’s “silence.” The connection here becomes clearer in the table below.

“The rest is silence” finishes Hamlet’s life. King Hamlet dies with poison dropped into his ear. Ophelia continues to sing while she is drowning right up until she reaches her death…
In the image presented above, one can see that the final point in which Ophelia is mentioned in the play is also at the precise point in which “silence” is mentioned in conjunction to her name as well as with “good,” but not with “bad” nor with “music” or “sound.” Although this may seem loosely connected, the few times “silence” is mentioned throughout the play (5 times) it is mentioned always within the larger circle of “good.” This could prove the importance of Hamlet’s final speech as his life (from the start of the play) is filled with the ghost and the overwhelming flow of Hamlet’s contemplation being constant “noise” in his mind. Although he claims his madness is feigned, his contemplative nature suggests his mind is never quiet especially in times of distress, which would play heavily on even the most sound of mind. When Hamlet says “the rest is silence,” (5.2.370) there is a peace that he seems to embrace – King Claudius is dead, the man who poisoned the ear’s of men in more ways than one. In connection with his significant last words, Ophelia’s death is harolded with her singing melodious tunes and is finally silenced by death. Her singing, especially at a point when she is drowning and singing is clearly inappropriate, is perhaps metaphorical of her innocence which is in essence who she is and what she represents to each character in their affiliation with her. In hanging on to singing right up until the bitter end, she is defined mad. much the same as Hamlet’s defining characteristic is easily his contemplative nature which in displaying throughout the play has played a key in revealing to others his madness. He too, is contemplative right up until his death: until silence. the silence of death after so many words used to describe the chaos of noise is perhaps what makes this a comedy in the end term because everyone ironically is put to peace with silence. “Silence” although a selectively used word, is the key in this play.

Seeing Eye to Eye

After a bumpy road of fiddling, frustrations, and findings – I believe I have broken through the surface of being worthy of the title “Voyant,” or perhaps as the french may call it: “voyeuse.”   Cheap jokes aside, I feel I have molded my mind enough around  Voyeur to be able to call it my specialized field above others.  Although I initially lacked this confident resolve in my previous post, continued meetings with a constructive team has seen me through to viewing Voyeur and Hamlet with a fresh set of eyes.
The tool enables a broad look at word connectivity within the text. Visual tools like “knots,” “word trends” (as examined in “Getting Off on a Bad Foot”) and “lava” provide a variety of mediums through which to display evidence in a specific fashion or equally varied to appeal to a broader user base. For each and ever self-contained “side tool” there is the option to either play or to read further into it so previous knowledge of any tool is completely unnecessary.   Our group met with more than a little confusion when attempting to analyze the mystery surrounding  knot interpretation.  After both playing with it individually and within group meetings we have come to a semi-understanding of the somewhat erratic knotting patterns.  Without the Hermeneuti information page, we would not have had any clue where to start in comprehending the tangling mess.  Any  way you choose to slice it, Voyeur is undoubtedly user friendly and that is potentially the key to what sets this apart from both its predecessor TAPor and as well from all other digital analysis aids.

As far as analyzing 3.4 has gone, the only obstacle I have encountered has been my own stubborn preference.  As a group, we have come up with several ways in which to tackle interpretation using our tool.  No matter which hypothesis we might have selected, we would have an ample amount of evidence supporting it due to our new understanding of Voyeur.
Some examples have been*:

  • Is Hamlet truly feigning madness or is it deeper than he fully understands?
  • Sexual tensions and the relationship between Gertrude and Hamlet – strictly familial?
  • What is the purpose of Polonius in this scene and why did his death come about in such an under-exaggerated manner?
  • Analysis of the presence of the ghost and the only tender picture painted for Hamlet and his dysfunctional family.

*Stay tuned to find out where we went with our brilliance…Coming to you, this Monday at 9AM (MT)!
On my own, I have played around with both aspects of scene versus entire corpus analysis and I far prefer examining the entire play and other plays/literary works in conjunction with  Hamlet. Although Voyeur has proven more than useful and enlightening to examine a specific scene and its advantages are obvious – my specific tastes lead me to seek wider horizons.  Perhaps my eyes are bigger than my stomach, however phase one has but whet my appetite for the main course next phase.
On another note, one of phase 1’s project requirements realized with the highest has been having been part  of such a reliable and hard working group.  There has been plenty I, and each one of us for that  matter, have put forward individually.  However, it would have taken a considerably longer time if we had not all pushed forward in united effort.  For every discovery that I have personally made using Voyeur, such as seeking out connections of good and evil and their escalating value within the play, I have had at least one peer add their discoveries to my own creating more concrete conclusions rather than theories. Past academic experience has proven a particular rarity in being placed in a group of such high work ethic and dependability.  Our communication is solid both inside and out of meetings and peer brainstorming is equally distributed and all opinions examined with respect.  Aside from newly acquired expertise, I would certainly  bring the copacetic nature that this group has exhibited forward into phase two.

Getting Off on a Bad Foot

Admittedly, my first taste of Voyeur was tainted by it having been the only tool tutorial I had missed out on.  That having been said, I learned what I could from the video and web tutorials available online.  This was an immediate drawback to the tool for me as it all seemed very relative to previous text analysis tools and was presented it in somewhat of a bland fashion. In addition, the online tutorials created an image of an overly complex application of which the payout was not worth its difficulties.  In light of this, it seemed all too unfortunate that Voyeur, irony of ironies, was the tool assigned to me.
Post contract discussion and signing with fabulous Group D, I set about that very evening devoted to Voyeur and determined to unravel its bland mysteries…
As it turned out, Voyeur (formerly known as “Voyant”) has and continues to contribute to my more complete understanding of Hamlet.  Moreover, I was taken off-guard when I realized how entirely mistaken I was by labeling the program as “bland.”  As began to immerse myself into the aid and although it was a bumpy road in trying to understand how to achieve any analytical directives, I found myself enraptured with the endless possibilities of “word trends” and similar word frequency monitors and charts.  In the screenshot provided below, one can easily see how much you can read from the simplicity of searching the word “or.”  Squared off in red is the “segments” option where the user can select the amount of segments in which to stretch or squish the specific “revealed text,” in our case: Hamlet.  I have chosen 5 segments so as to better view my search results within the chart as Hamlet has 5 Acts, the math is pretty straight forward.
Additionally, squared off in blue in the same screenshot below, deeper exploration of the text is at the users fingertips as the “corpus reader” is open directly beside all of the companion exploration tools.  Aside from providing visualizations of the word frequencies, side blue bars of varying strengths guide you to the heaviest densities of your searched word.  Clicking on one of these bars (located to the left of the text) brings you directly to the specific segment in the play and highlights each searched word within the text.  Using the provided example “or,” in the blue square, a perfect example of the juxtaposition of the usage of the word.  Especially with the use of “or,” contrasting words like “heaven” and “hell” are set against each other and provide scrumptious brain-food for thought.  In my case, I was spurred on by this specific search and borrowed many of the opposing words I found and came up with some of my own, to discover what other secrets lie within the play.

When I met with Group D, we Voyeur’s shared our personal findings and experiences with the tool that we had discovered independently.  This added even more intrigue to Voyeur and its flexibility as  members of my group taught me additional pros, among them: it is completely customizable!  Aside from the website of origin, Voyeur has a site that allows users to blend their own skins depending on what you want to play around with or favoured gadgets (such as “bubblelines.”)  In the second screenshot, a simple breakdown of how this works is shown: just drag and drop!

As we’re all still experimenting with Voyeur, not all is uncovered yet.  However, as of yet the pros far out-weigh the cons.  Such cons being the bumpy road to discovery and some text visualizations rely heavily on java script: a highly fallible script reader, this shortcoming falling more so on Java and less on the program Voyant.
The experimentation has been more than entertaining with Voyeur, and as a result has already become my favourite tool, to my pleasant surprise.  Personally, I have a high preference for critical writing and analysis, and so the ability to broaden my own understanding of each play, act and/or scene is boundlessly amusing.  I look forward to discovering more independently and with my group.