During this semester friends and family frequently asked what I was studying in English.Â I knew that the response â€œdigital humanitiesâ€ would mean nothing to them, much as it had meant nothing to me until a few months ago.Â I could explain that the field of digital humanities is an innovative method for textual analysis, which utilizes computer based tools to research pieces of literature, but that explanation is a bit wordy.Â In the end I just responded with â€œHamlet,â€ at least that they can understand.
Specifically, my English 203 class used the five digital tools, Monk, Wordhoard, TAPoR, Voyant, and WordSeer to study William Shakespeareâ€™s Hamlet.Â These tools perform a variety of functions, from compiling word frequency lists, to identifying specific words, nouns and adjectives, to using complex algorithms to classify a text.Â This method of research is both fast and easy.Â With a click of the button, I can find all instances of the word â€œdeathâ€ in Hamlet.Â With two more clicks, I can look at that word in the context of all of Shakespeareâ€™s plays.
During the course of my studies, I began to wonder as to the future of the Humanities.Â Will high school students read Romeo and Juliette through a series of charts and graphs, as opposed to worn paper copies? As a book lover, the thought of losing the art of reading is scary, but this new method of digital scholarship is not without its advantages.Â Digital analysis broadens the area of research by compressing information, while also allowing humanists to observe qualities of a text that cannot be found through traditional reading and analysis.
On the other hand, the computer is imperfect and lacks the understanding of a human reader.Â For instance, it is difficult for programs like WordSeer to recognize the different lemmaâ€™s of a word.Â Likewise, the computer cannot make qualitative assumptions about a text, such as the tone or mood.Â Thus, the results of digital analysis have the potential to skew oneâ€™s interpretation of literature.Â Without a thorough understanding of elements like plot, characters and setting, graphs and charts have little meaning for the casual observer.Â In this method of digital analysis, it is still important to read a text to comprehend the themes and context of the literature.Â Only then can one create questions for further analysis.Â Thus, the digital humanities is a method of study to be used in conjunction with traditional analyses to expand the field of research and test established hypotheses.Â Â
The Pros and Cons of Exploratory Analysis
AditiÂ MuralidharanÂ is the developer of the text analysis program WordSeer.Â Aditiâ€™s program integrates the works of Shakespeare for analysis using a variety of visualization tools, such as heat maps, concordance diagrams, and frequency graphs.Â These tools aid the user in what Aditi calls â€œexploratory analysis.â€Â In her blog post, â€œMen and Women in Shakespeare,â€Â Aditi addresses the question, â€œHow does the portrayal of men and women in Shakespeareâ€™s plays change under different circumstances?â€ Using this question as her guide, Aditi exercises â€œexploratory analysis.â€Â This term essentially means establishing a hypothesis based on investigation with the digital tool.Â In other words, Aditi is using WordSeer as a hypothesis-generating tool.
Aditi begins by searching words that are â€œpossessed byâ€ both â€œhisâ€ and â€œher.â€Â In general, she found the language referencing women to be more â€œphysical,â€ because of its association with male family members and body parts, including â€œhandâ€ and â€œheart.â€Â A comparison to â€œhisâ€ showed a similar occurrence with the addition of â€œsentimentalâ€ abstractions, like â€œlifeâ€ and â€œfavor.â€Â Closer examination with heat maps led Aditi to the conclusion that body parts are more prevalent in histories than tragedies, but family relations is unchanged across the two categories.Â Therefore she created a hypothesis that body parts have a greater role in plays where love is a prevalent theme, as they are often a symbol of a characterâ€™s affections.
Though this hypothesis has merit, it is a very general observation of all plays.Â When applying the exact same search to a specific text like Hamlet, the results stray slightly from Aditiâ€™s hypothesis.
One immediately notices that family members are still common possessed objects in both genders.Â However, in the â€œpossessed by herâ€ results, body parts are not as common as they were in Aditiâ€™s search.Â They are still present, but mentioned only a few times.Â Furthermore, these body parts differ from the initial â€œeyes,â€ â€œlips,â€ â€œcheeksâ€, and â€œfaceâ€ that Aditi searched, as they include â€œbosom,â€ â€œneckâ€ and â€œwaist.â€Â As such, these new words were excluded in her heat map search, causing Hamlet to fall under the â€œnot-loveâ€ category of plays.Â However, as one who has already read the play extensively, I am aware that love is, in fact, a major theme within Hamlet.
As a reader, I can then find a broader range of data than Aditi found with her general approach.Â For instance, there are only two females in Hamlet, Gertrude and Ophelia.Â As such, these women are referred to as â€œherâ€ very little, because they are present in the majority of the scenes.Â An example of this is when Hamlet and Gertrude are alone in the closet scene of act 3.4.Â In this scene, the possessive pronoun â€œyourâ€ is often used by Hamlet, but not to complement Gertrudeâ€™s beauty or proclaim his love.Â As I talk about in my second blog post, this informal address by Hamlet is actually a method of insulting Gertrude, and therefore body parts are not used in association with Hamletâ€™s love and affection for his mother.
A â€œpossessed by yourâ€ search of act 3.4 immediately shows a larger variety of words than the â€œpossessed by herâ€ search.Â In this instance, we see the presence of words like â€œhandâ€ and â€œheart,â€ but the context of these words does not insinuate love.Â For example, after killing Polonius, Hamlet says to his mother, â€œLeave wringing of your hands.Â Peace, sit you down/And let me wring your heartâ€ (3.4.32-33). Â In this instance, â€œhandsâ€ and â€œheartâ€ are not indicative of love, but of Gertrudeâ€™s conscious.Â Consequently, Hamletâ€™s motive is to change the subject away from Poloniusâ€™ death, and accuse her of contributing to King Hamletâ€™s death.Â These body parts in context have little correlation with love and therefore do not fit with Aditiâ€™s hypothesis.
This example is not to say the Aditiâ€™s method of exploratory analysis is ineffective, for it does have a place in digital humanities.Â I am simply suggesting using traditional methods of comprehension and annotation to guide digital searches, rather than progressing from computer generated results to text annotation and hypothesis.
Expanding on the Traditional (From Close reading to Digital Analysis)
Traditional analysis through close reading is a focused and unbiased way for an individual to begin working with a text.Â As seen in the picture above, I will write questions and observations in the margins while I am reading.Â I will also make note of rhetorical devices, unusual word choices or significant lines.Â This annotation is my way of getting to know Hamlet, and gaining a comprehensive understanding of plot, characters and themes within the story.Â Through close reading, I create questions and observations which I then use as a guide when working with the digital tools, thus expanding my research in an effective manner.
My team members and I used this approach in phase two while analyzing act five of Hamlet.Â With our annotated copies of the text and our understanding of the play, we noticed a number of comedic aspects to Hamlet that conflicted with the tragic genre of the play.Â Particularly in act five, the characters of Osric and the gravedigger are very comedic in nature.Â Hamlet says of the gravedigger, â€œWe must/speak by the card or equivocation will undo usâ€ (5.1.129-130), because the gravedigger makes many puns during his banter with Hamlet.Â Â Likewise, Osric uses an absurd pattern of speech by excessively addressing Hamlet as â€œlordâ€ and â€œlordshipâ€ (5.2.76, 80, 83, 86).Â As a reader, I recognize these men as clown-like figures.Â Knowing that that the final act is often where tragedy culminates, I then find it their presence in act five very unusual.
To further investigate these comedic attributes, I divided the final act into four parts. On each part, I then used the â€œList Wordsâ€ tool in TAPoR to determine word frequencies (See myÂ Blog Post).Â Using my background knowledge of Hamlet, I objectively analyzed the results.Â I determined that the comedic relief is concentrated in the middle of the act, as there are a higher number of comedic words used in the dialogue of part two and three.Â Through a knowledge gained by reading Hamlet, I identified comedic characters and created an effective research method to further my investigation and test my assumptions.
During phase two our group also came to the realization that the digital tools are sometimes inaccurate. For instance April, as our resident MONK expert, used the classification toolset of MONK to classify the genre of Hamlet in comparison to other Shakespearean plays (April’s blog post).Â However, the results she received were inconsistent with our knowledge of the play. Paige further investigated (Paige’s blog post)Â using Wordhoard and determined that many of the words that MONK used to classify genres were not present in Hamlet at all.Â Thus our group was able to rule out the inaccurate results that could taint our analysis of the act.
Combining Exploratory and Traditional Analysis
Though our work in phase two was largely text based, we did use Aditiâ€™s method of exploratory analysis to compare Hamlet to other Shakespearean tragedies.Â Dane used a very similar search to Aditiâ€™s while investigating the tragic genre during our presentation (Slide 9 ).Â In his search, Dane used the heat map function of WordSeer to visualize the words â€œvillain,â€ â€œkill,â€ â€œhateâ€ and â€œdeathâ€ in the fifth act of Hamlet and three other tragedies, including Othello, Macbeth and Titus Andronicus.
Though these words are very general, Dane chose them because he thought they were particularly representative of the tragic genre, as based on Aristotleâ€™s definition.Â Interestingly enough, the combination of these four words occur less often in the fifth act of Hamlet than they do across the other fifth acts of different plays.
Daneâ€™s search was a great way to begin our analysis of the fifth act because it reinforced our hypothesis that the fifth act does not completely fit the definition of a tragedy.Â Daneâ€™s exploratory analysis tested what we already assumed about the act from reading.Â From that point on, we could look at the specific reasons as to why Hamlet does not resemble other Shakespearean Tragedies, so our research remained focused.
Daneâ€™s search is just one example of how an individualâ€™s results would influence the rest of the group.Â Often another teamâ€™s blog posts would inspire new questions, or ideas for further investigation.Â This ability to collaborate is a strength of the digital humanities.Â One does not have to travel far to discover what a colleague is working on and contribute to their research.
Before this class I had already read Hamlet twice, and I was not looking forward to studying it again.Â However, analyzing Hamlet through a computer offered an entire new perspective on the traditional story.Â By using digital tools I identified nuances of diction that I previously overlooked.Â By breaking down the complex tale of revenge, love and deceit in Hamlet, I realized the importance of the words themselves.Â The words chosen by Shakespeare and the frequency of select words took on an entire new level of importance.Â They defined compliment and insult, as well as comedy and tragedy.Â Without these tools I would have been unable to make such discoveries, but my skills as a reader were also invaluable.Â Like any good scientist, my group members and I read Hamlet, and had a thorough understanding of elements in the text before we conducted searches with our digital tools.Â Therefore it was easier to test our hypotheses because we had a focused approach, and the ability to identify significant factors in our results, while excluding the inaccurate.Â Sometimes our findings contradicted, but often the results of a team member would spur new question and new searches.Â Thus, with our knowledge of the text, we expanded into new avenues of understanding while reinforcing what we knew.
Shakespeare, William.Â Hamlet.Â A Norton Critical Edition. Ed. Robert S. Miola. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 2011. Print.