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.

New Perspective via the Integrated Force of Tradition and Digital Tools


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

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

Traditional Method and Hamlet

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

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

WordHoard and Hamlet

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

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

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

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

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

Traditional Reading with WordHoard

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


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

The Bridge Over Troubled (Digital Humanities) Waters

My Evolving Perspective

Four months ago, I thought I had a sense of how one usually studies a work of Shakespeare: you read the text, read all the footnotes, occasionally pull out the highlighter or scribble some notes down here and there.  After completing English 203, it’s safe to say that I really can’t imagine going back to studying a Shakespearean text by only doing a close reading of the text.

I’ve now been exposed to this new, exciting concept of digital humanities, and in my mind things can go nowhere but up from here.  I’m not trying to be cheesy when I say this, but digital humanities genuinely gets me excited about studying a Shakespearean text.  Although we are still at the beginning stages of this form of study, I truly believe it has so much potential for the future.  I used to almost dread studying a new Shakespearean play because I would usually read the whole thing and often need a lot of external help to grasp the main concepts.  I would borrow study guides from the library, watch the films, everything.  But now with digital humanities tools and the masses of opinions and findings posted online, I can tap into a vast ocean of information that can further my learning effectively with a few clicks of the mouse.

Movement vs. Extension?

Many scholars such as Ted Underwood and Feisal Mohamed have begun to argue, however, that “digital humanities is not a movement” but a “natural extension of the work that bibliographers have always done”. You can find a list of articles and different opinions on this subject by going to Digital Humanities As A Literary Studies Movement: Editors Choice Round-Up. I agree with the statements made by Underwood and Mohamed.  Just because we now have the technological ability to obtain all sorts of data from a text, it does not mean we should completely abandon the text as a whole or forget where the text came from in the first place. We also now have the ability to share our findings online with the world. Mohamed touches more on the role of digital humanities in his blog post, “Can There Be a Digital Humanism?” and I would like to use the rest of this blog post to express my feelings in response to his opinions on this subject and also share what I think the role of digital humanities should look like based on my experiences with it in English 203.

I just wanted to add a comment here about how much the internet truly is affecting humanities. As you can see above, there are at least five different ways in which you can read or respond to Mohamed’s thoughts. These social networking outlets like blogging, Facebook, and Twitter allow so many more minds to be connected and thoughts about humanities to be shared to a wider audience through the power of the internet.

Back to the article, Mohamed speaks in agreement with Underwood in saying that digital humanities is not a movement because “it does not offer to reshape the ideas that we carry into our reading of texts and cultures; it offers instead a new and powerful set of tools available to a broad range of existing critical approaches”.

The Tools of Focus for English 203:

  1. WordHoard
  2. WordSeer
  3. TapOr
  4. Voyeur
  5. Monk

The concepts that we base our hypotheses off of when applying tools such asthese to a play such as Hamlet are not brand new concepts.  The tools do not magically reveal themes to us if we have no prior context or understanding of the play.  These plays have been studied and analyzed for many, many years, and without the help of digital humanities tools such as these.  The sudden incorporation of digital humanities tools should not determine the thoughts we have while reading these original texts, but simply help enhance our understandings and reach further in what we already know.

Our Method in Applying the Online Tools

We decided as a group during Phase 2 of the course that we would each pick a character from Hamlet and use our tools in a collaborative fashion to learn more about them.  I analyzed the Ghost’s character, which was a challenge with WordHoard alone, as I was the so-called WordHoard “expert”, but I was able to use in in combination with the other tools to help me. You can read about what I found in my post here.

For example, analyzing Hamlet by hand versus by, say, WordHoard is not impossible but the time consumption it would take to find every instance the word “mad” is used in the play is exponential compared to the 3.2 seconds it takes WordHoard to do it. It also gives me the context of every instance of the word, so I can read the direct quotes relating to Hamlet’s madness instantly such as Polonius’ quote “that he is mad, tis true” (2.2.97) and Gertrude’s infamous realization, “Alas! He’s mad!” (3.4.106). I talk more about using WordHoard’s efficient word-finding abilities for my study of Hamlet in my blog post here. We are living in a new century of efficiency and convenience, and digital humanities is only building on that, extending the processes that scholars have been using for the past century and enhancing it. It’s just like an automatic door; there’s no reason we couldn’t open the door ourselves, as people have been doing for centuries, but technology has advanced in our world today so that we don’t have to manually do as much.  This of course not necessary, but it’s the world we have grown accustomed to.

Applying the Digital Humanities “Bridge” to the Study of Hamlet

No matter how much data a tool can deliver, it is the human mind that makes the connections and helps create a bridge between the quantitative and qualitative aspects of the tool.  With Hamlet, one has to understand the story before plugging in words or drawing out data from the tools to get results that are of quality interest.

This was something my group learned first hand while analyzing the play and I believe it is a perfect example of why digital humanities is more of a natural extension than a movement.  We had all read Hamlet prior to working with the online tools, so we had some ideas about what we wanted to use the tools for. My group member who was studying Horatio found something with her tool, WordSeer, that she had never noticed while simply reading the text.  It showed her Horatio was related to the word “overlooked”.

She took this as a sign that Horatio must have been overlooked in the play, which would in any other context would be a rational assumption.  I had had a lot of success in finding informative details about Hamlet by simply searching certain words and seeing how many times they occurred and where they occurred in the play with WordHoard.  I helped her use WordHoard to search the word “friend” spoken by Hamlet and see how many times he referred to Horatio as a friend, continuing with the idea of Horatio being overlooked.

She gathered the numbers and information she needed, which you can read about in her post here, and used it to prove her hypothesis in our final presentation.  The problem that arose, however, was that we trusted WordSeer as a tool to tell us too much.  The hypothesis she had became discredited when the WordSeer developer, Aditi, and Dr. Ullyot pointed out that the context of the word “overlooked” was not in the way that she had assumed when obtaining her results.

The tools gave her a false impression about the word “overlooked”, and the only way she could have known for sure what the true meaning and context was was to go back to the original text and read it for herself.  I decided to use WordHoard to see exactly what the context of the word “overlooked” was in the play and found the quote to be Horatio reading a letter to himself from Hamlet, it reading “Horatio, when thou shalt have overlooked this, give these fellows some means to the king” (4.6.11).  In my Norton Shakespeare Anthology, there is a footnote on the word “overlooked” and it says it is another word for “read”.  It’s amazing to me that by simply taking things back to the actual book, such confusion could have been easily avoided.

She finishes off a reply to Aditi and Dr. Ullyot after our presentation with a quote that couldn’t be more true: “I suppose this is the first lesson of the Digital Humanities: ALWAYS be sure you are using reliable sources before getting excited!“ I can’t think of a better first hand example displaying the issue Mohamed raises in his blog post than this.

Concluding Thoughts

We directly experienced the importance of the bridge between the human mind and the digital, quantitative aspect of the tools.  We cannot simply trust the computer to tell us what to think.  It can gives us information that allows us to further understand what we already know, but it cannot operate the other way around.  It is a little bit scary to see what the tools are capable of and what problems they could cause in the future.  Writing is an art form, it needs to be understood and interpreted with proper context, and without that one can get a completely false impression about what the text what saying.  This is why we must use this new concept of digital humanities as a stepping-stone, and way to enhance our analysis, rather than abandoning the very text it was originally based on.  To once again quote Mohamed in his blog post, “digital humanities projects often say that they are innovating the way we investigate texts and cultures, though that innovation arises from a set of technological tools rather than an intellectual position” and to that he adds that “the kind of humanism that seems to me to be most valuable at present is that which fully disarticulates innovation and progress; which makes visible the limits of the ideology surrounding technology.” Computers can do incredible things, but they cannot be compared to the human mind.

Again, I do not want to come across as cheesy when discussing my new-found interest in the digital humanities world, but I genuinely believe I learned a lot this semester in English 203.  I was exposed to a whole new aspect of studying literature that I previously had no clue existed, and I am leaving this course hoping to continue my use of digital humanities as an aid my future literary studies.  As my group learned first hand, I am aware that one cannot solely depend on these new digital humanities tools to get you through a course about Shakespeare, or any other text for that matter, but I am 100% certain that collaborating my base knowledge of the original text with these online tools helped me understand way more about Hamlet than I ever would have by only doing a close-reading of the text.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. The Norton Shakespeare Essential Plays and Sonnets. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 2009. Print.

The Darker Secrets of the Digital Humanities

Another semester comes to an end, and for the first time ever I’ve spent more quality time with my computer than with a good old fashioned book in order to complete my English class. Twitter, WordPress, and WordHoard have consumed my life and have completely flipped the world of Shakespeare around for me. I’ve never been a huge fan of the bard and I’m still not super interested investigating him any further than I’m required too. Having the internet there and the various digital tools to aid me definitely made this semester a lot more enjoyable than the fall semester where it was strictly reading Shakespeare’s works (with a hint of twitter).

The way we chose to investigate Hamlet this semester was by strictly looking for answers to our own questions. The problem with this is that we eliminated anything that we found that doesn’t necessarily fit with our hypothesis; we also tended to eliminate things that we didn’t find interesting. Scott B. Weingart (the scottbot irregular), mentioned in his blog entry entitled, Avoiding Traps, the ideas of sampling bias, selection bias, data dredging, cherry picking, confirmation bias, p-values, positive results bias, file drawer problem, and HARKing. I believe that all of the above are crucial to understanding the digital humanities fully and also, so we don’t make broad or incorrect assumptions about Shakespeare’s literature.



(Original Image from

Beware of Biases

Weingart defines a selection bias as “an error in choosing the individuals or groups to take part in a scientific study”, and a sampling bias is “that it undermined the external validity of a test (the ability of its results to be generalized to the rest of the population)”. So, for both of those to make sense in our classroom we would use our digital tools (WordHoard, WordSeer, Monk, TAPoR, and Voyeur) as the individuals taking part in our study and the sampling bias would simply be the results we garner from them. As we learnt throughout the semester some tools are simply not designed to work and analyze specific portions of the text. Some are better at looking at a specific scene and act (Phase 1), others are better at looking at whole scenes (Phase 2), and there are still some, that I get the sense, that are not great at doing work at either phase and would be better suited comparing the whole text to other works.

I worked with WordHoard for the entirety of the course and personally I felt like it was able to work well during both phases. I was able to gain information that I need relatively quickly; however, I did notice that when I presented my findings to other users who were not using WordHoard they were confused with my findings and screenshots (I even tried kicking it old school and presenting my findings on sticky notes, as seen in my fourth blog post, with no avail). My findings fit perfectly into the concept of sampling bias since it’s unreadable to non-users of WordHoard, making it hard for my finding to reach a wide audience.


To use all the Information, or to not use all the information, that is the question

The Internet is filled with more information than one person will ever need. With our work with the digital humanities we’re just expanding the information that is out there and for me this is a terrifying idea. When I first started elementary school, which was only in 1997, we still did all our research with books, the Internet was still considered “new”. Now, we live in a digital age where anything we want or need to know can be typed into nearly any device and we’ll receive an answer in seconds or less. We must be weary of the answers we receive from the Internet, as a good portion of it is misleading or false. The Internet is full of “trolls” (which Urban Dictionary users define as “Someone who is purposefully posting on a forum/message board/site with the sole aim to irritate the regular members”); in a sense Hamlet could be considered the troll of his day.

(Image from

So what do we do with all this information? Are we just adding fuel to the fire without even realizing it? Are our assumptions and conclusions trolling the digital humanities community and Shakespearean aficionados?

Weingart’s concern about data dredging resonates with me a great deal. For me, this was the most terrifying part of the process. Data dredging is the idea that with all the information out there for us it’s “tempting to find correlations between absolutely everything”. I fell victim to data dredging when I trusted Monk’s findings (HA, why did I ever trust Monk?). In my most recent blog post I talked about using April’s results and testing them in mine. I guess Monk scoured its database and came up with the results below but when I tested them in my tool it came up with zero results.

(April’s Results) 
(My Results)

Weingart was talking about human data dredging but in the case of Monk versus WordHoard, I fell victim the data dredging of Monk and it giving me false-positives. Monk trolled me.


Information Everywhere!

We all want to come off as intelligent individuals who know what they’re talking about so we tend to only share are solid and most interesting information. We are all victims of being a cherry picker (cherry picking isn’t just for sports anymore); we continuously cut away information until we get the strong hypothesis or conclusion that we were searching for.

For example, I looked up the word “love” in WordHoard and it told me that it appeared 65 times in the play. Great! Now I could make the general assumption that love was used in the Oxford English Dictionary definition of “a feeling or disposition of deep affection or fondness for someone” in all 65 occurrences if that would strengthen my argument, cherry picking. However, looking further into the results I see it’s not always used in that context:

Hamlet: As love between them like the palm might flourish, (5.2.40) ✔

Gertrude: For love of God, forbear him. (5.1.276) ✖

Hamlet uses the word love in the proper context of the OED definition, but Gertrude simply uses it as an expression with no significance behind it.

After you’re done cherry picking and data dredging you’re left with about 5% of all the information you’ve collect because that is al you’ve deemed worthy enough to be presented and shared. This is called the positive results bias. All the other information that is left over from your research is discarded, creating the file drawer problem.

The file drawer problem is an issue because without sharing our failures, or inconclusive results, we’re leaving other people to go down the same path. If we worked together as a community and published all our results, the good and the bad, we’d be able to see what works and what doesn’t and be able to provide better feedback and support.


Going Forward

Going forward, new and old digital humanists need to be aware of what their work is doing and how it’s helping or not helping others. Acknowledging the biases that are being formed when we do our research and being conscious to try and strop them is important. If we can stop only publishing our positive results and start sharing our other trials too, which the majority of English 203 did this semester in their blog posts due to all the frustrations and headaches our tools created, we can help and foster one another’s learning.

Data dredging and cherry picking is harder to stop doing because we’re drawn to those results. They’re the ones that bring us closer to our goal and our purpose of research. Sometimes other alleys and opportunities should be looked into before sticking simply to those first positive results.

Weingart also mentioned confirmation bias, p-values and HARKing, which I did not touch on either because I don’t have enough knowledge on the subject (p-values), or I felt that they didn’t quite fit into our classroom (confirmation bias and HARKing). However, from what I read, I do believe they are still important and vital to sustaining and fostering the growing digital humanities. As an individual who is addicted to her computer and the Internet, I hope they’re here to stay and get worked into more of the University’s courses.

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

Tediously Gaining Results

Since my last post, where I blindly searched words that I thought resembled those most likely found in Shakespeare’s comedies and tragedies, I’ve done some further investigation thanks to my lovely group members. They provided me some words that their programs deemed tragic or that they noticed in their past readings of Shakespeare’s tragedies. This was exactly what I needed to help me investigate further because WordHoard requires you to know exactly what you’re looking for.


I used April’s previous blog post to start off with. Monk generated her a list of words that were most often seen in tragedies and with her investigation of the word ‘justify’ I had high hopes for the results I would get in return. My hopes began to dwindle around search number ten where I still had zero results in my lemma search and search number twenty-five crushed me, as I still had no results. I painstakingly built thirty-four searches in total to find lemmas that were associated with April’s results, they were all returned to me stating that there were zero results.

Lovely. How come with Monk it showed that it was super confident that the word ‘justify’ appeared more in Hamlet than all of Shakespeare’s other tragedies, but yet when I searched lemmas or just the simple spelling of it in WordHoard it yielded zero results? This caused me to bring up the entire Hamlet text on different sites on the Internet to just do a simple ctrl+f, or ⌘+f in my case, to look for the word ‘justify’ but still no results…strange.


Next, I moved onto the comment that Dane had left me in my previous blog post about words that he though resembled the tone of a tragedy. Thank goodness some of his words garnered me results or may have gone mad just like Hamlet. I searched for twenty-three different lemmas from the words Dane had provided me; from those I got seven that had matches, 9 total appearance in act five.

Beast(n), duty(n), fall(n), fall(v), revenge(n), slay(v), and wretched(j) were the golden tickets I need to start making my conclusions.

All but one of them appear in 5.2, which leads me to assume that the first part of the act is more light, or comedic than the second scene which is dark and tragic (but I could assume this already since everyone dies in this scene….). But if I had not read Hamlet before and was simply going off WordHoard’s answers to my queries that’s what I would assume.


This led me into thinking about how unique these words were to act five, turns out only fall(n) is unique. The other six words appear more frequently. These “tragic” words appear seventeen times in act 4, fifteen times in acts one and two and nine times in act 3. So if I were not accounting for the amount of words and the actual context they were used in I would assume that act 4 was the most tragic, acts one and two were in the middle making it possibly a tragic comedy and acts three and five were the least tragic possibly even comedic. Strange isn’t it?

Action Words in Relation to Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



time to wrap this thing up!

It’s hard to believe we are already at our last blog post for Phase 2! The fact that we’ve all had access to 5 different tools for the digital analysis of Hamlet makes me feel like we’ve only just scratched the surface.  There are so many intricacies to these tools we are using (more than any of us can really understand with the limited amount of time we’ve been able to work with them) and it’s difficult to try and reach real in-depth results when we are simply familiar with the tools, not full-out experts.

It has been extremely helpful, however, to have 4 other teammates who can quickly answer the random questions that I throw up in the air just hoping someone will have a solution to.  Because each of us has extra practice with our own tool, we have found that we can help fill in each other’s tools where they seem to be lacking.  For example, Kate will ask, “can anyone search all the lemmas of this word?” and I can eagerly tell her that yes, indeed, WordHoard IS useful for something and that YES, it can search up lemmas!

It has been pretty cool to see where some of our tools align, and where some of them overlap.  We used a GoogleDoc to write down all of the things our individual tools are able to do, so that when we come across a specific need in our research we can check out the GoogleDoc and find out if any of the other tools can help us with our problem.  We have found this to be a pretty helpful way of going about things because without these lists of functions, I would have no idea what to even ask or who to ask about anything, and then we’d be getting nowhere.

So the subject I have been using the tools to study over the past week was how the aspects of the Ghost’s character may have changed from Act 1 to the rest of the play.  Because the Ghost only speaks in 2 scenes total (I figured that out nice and quick thanks to WordHoard) I realized I would need to branch out into the other tools to get some kind of information from these few appearances.  Turns out that Richelle’s tool, WordSeer, and Ruby’s tool, Voyeur, seemed to be of most use to me in addition to my own tool, WordHoard.

To start off, I used WordHoard to see how many times Hamlet talked about/talked to the Ghost.  I got six matches total.

From there, I decided to get help using WordSeer to get some visuals going for myself.  Richelle helped me create a Heat Map for the word “ghost” to see how many times the word even came up in Hamlet.  I got the following result:

As you can see, not only does the Ghost not appear in the last third of the play, but it is not even mentioned.  I got a sense of this from my WordHoard findings, but this visual helped me grasp the effect it had on the rest of the play.  I think the Ghost’s heavy involvement in the first Act really shows what kind of role it played in the story.  The Ghost comes in initially to give Hamlet a mission, lots of conversation is had about the Ghost between Hamlet and his friends, and the Ghost pops back in to check up on Hamlet, reminding him what it was he was supposed to be doing.  After that, the Ghost basically disappears.  Hamlet becomes consumed with what he needs to do, not for the Ghost, but for himself.  The Ghost almost seems to be irrelevant to his thoughts or topic of conversation after that.

Voyeur also gave me a similar result as the Heat Map, further enforcing my inference.  The Word trends function shows that all conversation had about the Ghost completely subside near the end of the play.

As far as the content of conversation surrounding the Ghost is concerned, WordSeer gave me lists of words of nouns, adjectives, and verbs that often occurred nearby the word “ghost”.

As you can see, words such as “life” and “death” occur most often out of any.  “Dead” and “blood” also seem to appear often.  By using this function that WordSeer possesses, it allows readers to find trends through the subjects that would be near impossible to discover without the tool!

Examples such as this have really helped me see what a fresh and important spin digital humanities has on the world of literature.  Tools such as WordHoard, WordSeer, Voyeur, TapOr, and Monk really do open so many doors in terms of research possibilities., things that close reading couldn’t ever really do. I realize this is a fairly new and ever-evolving concept, but I’m excited to see what else can be discovered in years to come in the digital humanities world.

WordHoard’s Take On the Ghost

Our Plan of Action is lifting off!  Since our last meeting, our team has further developed our POA and it now feels a lot more streamlined and purposeful. I’m excited to see where it leads us!  To fill everyone in, we had originally decided to use our individual tools to analyze one main subject (you can find that in my first post), and slowly begin to collaborate with our tools to be more effective.  Today, we decided to expand on that idea.  We are now each going to use our tools to study the growth of a specific character in Act 1. From there, we will share with each other our struggles and shortcomings that our own tool caused and then use each other’s tools to help us achieve better results.  I’m so happy to have Ruby, Richelle, Kate, and Amy in my group for Act 1! Each one of them brings so much insight to our project and I completely trust all of them to help me through in the coming days when WordHoard’s limitations begin to be a bigger issue!

So now, on to my responsibilities in the group.  I am studying the change in character of the Ghost throughout the play by using WordHoard.  I am now going to spend the next few paragraphs sharing with you a bit of what WordHoard has taught me about the development of the Ghost’s character and some things I wish I could have found!

First, I needed to see how many times the Ghost even speaks in the play.  I ran a search through WordHoard of just the speaker “Ghost”, without specifying any lemmas or any extra requirements.  I got this result:

So WordHoard automatically tells me that the Ghost speaks in two scenes in the entire play: Act 1, Scene 5 and Act 3, Scene 4.  Evidently, the Ghost speaks a great deal more in its first appearance than its second.  I could already infer from this simple finding that the Ghost’s character was very instrumental in its first appearance seeing as it spoke 641 words in this scene.  We all know that Act 1, Scene 5 is where the Ghost and Hamlet have their first meeting.  I wondered what it was that caused the Ghost to speak so much at the beginning and begin to be less vocal later on.

Because WordHoard only allows me to search all of the words spoken by the ghost, I had to manually go through the text and locate how many “speeches” the Ghost has.  I found there to be three, one of them being very large.  WordHoard can’t exactly tell you how many lines a character speaks either, it just locates the words spoken for you and then you have to go and look at it for yourself to obtain anything further.  Later on in Act 3, Scene 4 the Ghost basically has one line.  This is a very big contrast to the powerful demeanor the Ghost relayed earlier on in the play.

I often just find myself at a loss of what to search when it comes to lemmas with WordHoard.  I scan the text and look for words that seem to pop out or seem to be an underlying trend and then search those, but the fact that I can’t use related words almost defeats the purpose of that.  I think by pairing up with tools such as Voyeur could really help me expand my horizons when learning about the development the Ghost has made as a character, because at the moment there isn’t a whole lot to go on.

I thought I’d  search how many times the Ghost refers to the word “mother” in both scenes, yielding only two results:

The word was said once in each scene.  This evidently does not tell me very much about the Ghost’s character.  What I am taking away from this little experience is definitely the fact that WordHoard is not an effective stand alone tool.  I Could definitely make use of things such as word clouds and heat maps to see the trends in the Ghost’s words and then draw further conclusions from there.  So once we do bring all of our tools together, I believe I will grasp a better understanding of the Ghost!

Hamlet: Tragic or Comical?

Is Hamlet truly a tragedy or can it be considered more of a comedy? We’ve noticed, as a group, that when we ask Monk to predict the classification of Hamlet in either Comedy or Tragedy it continually deems it comedic.

But why is this? To further investigate this we’ve decided to compare Hamlet to Macbeth, Titus Andronicus, Merchant of Venice and As You Like It.   Macbeth is a tragedy through and through, while Titus Andronicus was Shakespeare’s first tragedy making them two good candidates to be comparative texts. Comedy on the other hand, we chose As You Like It because it’s a classic comedy and very well known, the choice of Mechant of Venice provided us with a bridge between comedy and tragedy since it is commonly known as a tragic comedy…maybe Hamlet can be a tragic comedy too?

I’m not really a huge reader of Shakespeare so the only thing  that I knew that differentiate a tragedy from a comedy was that a tragedy ended in death, normally numerous deaths, while a comedy normally ended in marriage or marriages. I looked on Wikipedia….which I know it’s not the most reputable source but I just need a quick reference on the differences between the two. They describe a tragedy as linked to “Aristotle’s precept[ion] about tragedy: that the protagonist must be an admirable but flawed character, with the audience able to understand and sympathize with the character.” A comedy has a “happy ending, usually involving marriages between the unmarried characters, and a tone and style that is more light-hearted than Shakespeare’s other plays”. Worhoard isn’t capable of showing me a relationship or qualities in a person to help me un-code a tragedy, however I can look at key words, adjectives and the use of the negative to gain the tone of a comedy.

Knowing the limitations of my tool I turned back to my last analysis where I searched the lemmas of love and death, as well as the use of the negative. I used this method in the 4 additional plays, as well as Hamlet as a whole and just Act 5. I soon realized that the results I received could be misleading because I just got the number of results back and not a percentage. Since not all the plays are the same length if the word love appears 200 times in play X and play Y it will not be the same percentage or concentration. So I also had to get Wordhoard to calculate the total number of words in each play.

These are the results I got (organized on paper so it’s easy to understand and follow):

The results weren’t overly surprising; “love” had a higher appearance in comedies, while “death” had a higher concentration in tragedies. The negative seems to appear more often in comedies than tragedies and this may be a linguistic choice of Shakespeare, but I’m not sure.

My findings that as a whole play, Hamlet, as a whole, falls in the middle between tragedy and comedy when it comes to the lemma “love”, it’s right in-line with tragedy with the lemma “death”, but when you look at the negative it appears to be a comedy. Making it as a whole play a confusing mix of tragedy and comedy, a tragic comedy…

When you single out just Act 5 I can see that it lends itself more to tragedy in both lemmas categories and is in between the two categories when we look at the negative. Since tragedy appears twice, I can label Act 5 as a tragedy.

I think some help from my other group members about synonyms or other words that are comedic or tragic will help me utilize my tool further in uncovering this mystery. Maybe different scenes are more comedic and others are more tragic?




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.

Coming Together for the Sake of Madness

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

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

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


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

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

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

Phase 2 and still no light on the capabilities of WordHoard

So begins a new adventure in phase 2, trying to uncover a deeper meaning to Hamlet. I’m very interested to see how well the blending of tools will aid the understanding of the play and in specific if my tool will actually become useful.

To begin the process my group decided to each do our own general search of Act 5 so we have starting off points for an analysis. Playing around with WordHoard is always fun….ha! Not quite sure what to start looking for I played around with lemmas and decided that death and love are more than appropriate for this act as there is a funeral and well, everyone dies thanks to Shakespeare’s classic tragedies. Surprisingly ‘death’ is only seen eight times in both scenes and ‘love’ is seen ten times. One thing that was annoying when searching for the ‘love’ lemma was that I had to do two individual searches; once for it as a noun, and once for it as a verb. Nothing surprising came up when I searched these lemmas though, so that was a dead end for deeper exploration from my aspect

So I turned my searches towards looking at negatives and adjectives. I already knew the anger, sadness, and death that occurred so the fact that there were fifty-nine instances of the word not (or the negative) in the act was not surprising. What it did cause me to notice was that this program calls the gravediggers, clowns. Weird I know, they are given the description of clowns in the character list in our hardcopies but their role is of gravediggers. It would be interesting to see what play source this program pulled the text from because I’ve never read an edition with clowns in it. Anyways, Hamlet leads the way with his use of the negative by saying it 35 times, which just reiterates my analysis of him from act 3.4.

Adjectives on the other hand surprised me. Knowing that the act was a darker one I figured it would be hard to find good or positive adjectives but it was the contrary. The beginning was filled with positive adjectives and it was hard to find negative ones. In the middle there was a constant wave of positive and negative adjectives used amongst the characters. Finally at the end my initial thoughts were confirmed and the negative adjectives poured out during the final battle.

The last thing I looked into was the amount the speakers spoke in the act. Hamlet spoke 44% of the words, while the gravediggers (or clowns according to WordHoard) spoke an astounding 17% of the act. The other nine players spoke the remaining 39% of the act but none of them spoke more than 8% of those remaining words. I hope that makes sense and isn’t overly confusing….

Anyways, I still had the same annoying problems with WordHoard, having endless windows open, having to tediously build my searches because I’m not special enough to have an account. Hopefully my group members can help me find a use for my tool because my initial findings aren’t very helpful or deep.

(only half of the windows I had opened, scary)

The Game is Afoot…

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

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

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

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

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

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

New phase, new group, new perspective!

I’m feeling really positive about Phase 2.  I’m not sure if it’s just the excitement of actually being able to reap the rewards that the other tools offer or what, but I am feeling a lot less limited with our opportunities this time around and I’m ready to get down to business!

The main thing that was on my mind before our first group meeting was the act itself.  We have been assigned Act 1.  Everyone knows the standard outline for Plot Development.  You’ve got your exposition, initial incident, rising action, climax, etc. In my mind, it’s super difficult to analyze the first act because it’s kind of like the appetizer to the meat and potatoes of the play.  All the good stuff happens in the middle, so it would seem, and the first act is more about establishing the characters, the back-story, and the setting than giving us anything really juicy to actually analyze  (and now I’ve made myself hungry by talking about Shakespeare, great).

Sorry, I had to.

It was much to my relief that my fellow groups members had also been feeling skeptical about having Act 1 as our text to analyze, you can read Richelle’s post about it (written before we had our first team meeting) here.  As soon as we started discussing the situation as a group, we collectively came up with a solid game-plan by which we would tackle Phase 2. We like to call it our POA (plan of action). I know, we are pretty cool. There’s no need to be jealous of our POA.  I’m sure you have a great one too!

Basically our Plan of Action is this: we are going to focus on how the characters have developed throughout the play, but apply a comparison of these changes to our initial reactions to the characters in Act 1.  We are going to attempt to work our tools into a cohesive relationship in which they can all pick up each other’s slack, if you will.  By having this theme or question as an overall “umbrella” as Ruby described it, it really helps us narrow down what we will want to be searching for and determining as Phase 2 ensues.  We discussed as a team that staying strictly to Act 1 and nothing else makes it a bit impossible to analyze anything.  Concepts such as foreshadow and character motives can’t be pointed out if we do not know what happens later on in the play.  Since we obviously do know what happens later on, it’s not like we are going to just turn a blind eye and act oblivious to the rest of the play! If we take what we know about whom the characters develop into and compare it to Act 1, we can use our tools to analyze the journey from where they started and try to pinpoint the roots that lead to their fate later on in the play.

After seeing the groups in Phase 1 present all of the pros and cons of their tools, I’m really interested to see how everyone is able to make things work in Phase 2.  I wonder if all of the teams will use very similar tactics, or if the methods we all decide to use to combine our tools will be extremely varied.  I am crossing my fingers in hopes that we can find a happy medium between all of the tools so that each one finds its own role in our analysis. I think this way of approaching Act 1 by attempting to combine all of our tools will really set us up for success.  We are bound to run into some snags here and there, but hopefully putting our 5 minds together with knowledge of 5 different tools can really work to our advantage and help us analyze Hamlet to the best of our abilities.

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.



Moving Forward With WordHoard

Blogging, in my mind, has always been an activity that is done individually.  It is a way to express one’s thoughts and opinions to the world and in turn allows people to respond.  This is why taking on blogging assignments as a team is a tricky and new experience for all of us!  I have to be thinking about how my individual blog post can contribute to the overall findings of the group. The subjects I choose to talk about in my blog posts should be interconnected with my 4 other group members’ posts in order to create some consistency in the team’s results.  In order to achieve this, my team decided to focus our analysis on one main subject.  The subject we chose to analyze in Hamlet 3.4 was the nature of the relationship between Hamlet and Gertrude.  We each picked an aspect of 3.4 that could potentially tell us something new about the mother/son relationship of Hamlet and Gertrude, and are attempting to use WordHoard to help us obtain new understanding on this subject.  Heavy on the word attempt.  Once we have all analyzed our individual parts, we plan on bringing our findings back together and smoothing it out into one cohesive idea.

The aspect of Hamlet and Gertrude’s relationship that I am using WordHoard to help me analyze is whether or not Gertrude really believed Hamlet was mad.  How did Gertrude react to Hamlet when he began speaking to the ghost?  Did Gertrude know the ghost was there, or did she really believe her son is crazy?

WordHoard, in all honesty, doesn’t do a whole lot in comparison to some of the other tools.  Its main function is to look up word frequency and shows you when the words and their lemmas are used.  Since my initial experience with WordHoard, I have made an intentional effort to be more careful with my word searches.  I talked a lot in my last blog post about how irritating it was that every time I wanted to change a little part of my search, I had to start over from scratch.  By being more careful and specific with my queries this time around, I’ve managed to save a bit of time while submitting information.

The relationship between Hamlet and Gertrude in 3.4 is very complex.  But because Polonius was only present for the first few lines of the scene, it made it easier to make inferences from my WordHoard searches because I knew most of the results would be from conversation between Hamlet and his mother (with the exception of the Ghost’s lines) and so I didn’t have to be as specific with my search.

My first instinct was to search for the word “mad”. This yielded one result in 3.4, a line in which Gertrude blatantly states “Alas, he’s mad.” as soon as the Ghost enters and Hamlet begins speaking to him.

This line alone makes it fairly clear that Gertrude believes her son is crazy.  WordHoard found the word, gave me the exact line from which it came and also gave me the context.  What I do wish WordHoard could do that other tools can is to search for synonyms.  By searching a word such as mad, I also could have found places that Gertrude continues to question her son’s sanity.  For example, when she tells Hamlet “upon the heat and flame of thy distemper sprinkle cool patience!”, distemper means to have an unbalanced mind.  This would be a synonym for mad.

Another thing I decided to search was the ratio of words Hamlet says compared to Gertrude.  WordHoard doesn’t require you to enter an actual word to incur results, instead you can simply ask it how many words a certain speaker says in a certain scene and it can retrieve a number for you (however it can take a long time loading).


Gertrude spoke 303 words in 3.4, and Hamlet spoke 1343 words.

In my own personal opinion, if I were having a conversation with someone whom I believed to be crazy, I wouldn’t be saying very much either.  This extreme ratio that WordHoard have given us could argue that in Gertrude’s eyes, Hamlet was rambling on and on, talking to “ghosts”, and just not making a whole lot of sense so she stayed fairly quiet.

I know there are several theories floating around saying that maybe Gertrude just didn’t want to see the Ghost, and maybe Hamlet wasn’t actually crazy.  But from what I can see from the few examples that WordHoard has given me, I do think Gertrude feared the sanity of her son.  WordHoard paired with some other tools could really allow this theory to be analyzed deeper, and I look forward to being able to do such things when we get to Phase 2 in the semester.

WordHoard, simply not a fan

WordHoard is very misleading at a first glance. It presents itself as this tidy, little, program that is going to super easy to use and will be a powerful tool to help you prove your arguments and thesis’. However, under closer inspection I found out that it’s in fact a limited and temperamental program. The more I dig into it, the more I feel like I’m becoming loss in an endless maze, not being able to find the information I require.

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Battle with WordHoard? Challenge Accepted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




About the Developers

A few people have asked about the contact information for the developers of our various tools. As I said in class, remember a few things before you contact people for help:

  1. Describe your problem in detail, and ask clear and focused questions. Tell them what steps you have taken to try to resolve it yourself.
  2. Be polite and deferential. They are not customer service agents, but professors and experts who have devoted a lot of time to developing these tools and making them freely available to us.
  3. Give them at least 48 hours to respond; if you have nothing by then, take that as your answer or just keep waiting. Don’t send a follow-up for at least a week.
  4. Thank them for their time.
  5. Link to the course blog in your e-mail.

The Developers

Feel free to add other names of helpful people you’ve contacted in the comments; just make sure you tell us which program they were helpful about.


  • Geoffrey Rockwell has a contact page on his blog. He is also on Twitter.
  • Stéfan Sinclair also has a contact page with a form, and here is his Twitter profile.
  • Martin Mueller is the contact person; you can e-mail him directly from the home page.
  • Rockwell, above, is listed as their main/only contact.
  • Kamal Ranaweera <kamal.ranaweera {at}> manages user accounts.
  • Aditi Muralidharan’s blog has her e-mail and Twitter details.

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.

The Greatest Limitation to WordHoard is its User

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


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

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

Minor Inconveniences with WordHoard

After attending tutorials on how to use all of the tools I’m very thankful I ended up with WordHoard. It has Hamlet loaded into it already and the rest of Shakespeare’s works, as well as works from Spenser, Chaucer, and Early Greek Epics. It allows me to (somewhat) easily look up:

  • Which parts of the text are narration and which parts are speech
  • Whose speaking
  • Identify the difference between male and female voices
  • Speaker mortality (I think it’s really cool for a program to single out supernatural figures from moral figures, perfect for Greek Epics)
  • If it’s written in prose or verse
  • Lemmas (which I had to look up what this meant…)

Other than that everything is a whole lot more complicated.

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Unlocking the Mystery That Is WordHoard

From my experience with learning how to use all of these digital humanities tools in Ullyot’s workshops, I found WordHoard to be one of the most straight-forward options. It has a simple interface and no extra flashy features.  While trying to come up with some sort of clever anecdote to start this blog post off with, I decided to take myself back to the actual WordHoard website to find more information about the tool.  One thing the site mentioned was what “WordHoard” actually means.  It turns out that the tool is named after an Old English phrase for “unlocked”.  I thought this was an extremely fitting name for the tool seeing as it almost feels like an intricate maze that needs the correct key to “unlock” answers in order to use it effectively.  Knowing how to correctly submit queries is like the “key” to the treasure.   Without the right knowledge of how to operate the tool, WordHoard can seem like a mysterious abyss filled with unreachable answers.

If you have a specific idea for something you want to find, Word Hoard allows you to fill in all of the criteria and run a search through any body of Shakespeare’s work (or the work of Chaucer, Spenser, and Early Greek Epic) to find an answer. This is a great asset to the tool because you have every text in its entirety right there in front of you to use if you need, without having to import any texts of your own.  All of the textual data stored in WordHoard is deeply tagged, allowing for people to explore their queries thoroughly. But the searches unfortunately don’t always come up with good results, and sometimes you end up with no results at all. You have to play around with the criteria until you can find something close to what you were looking for, and this can be limiting for the user if they cannot figure out how to properly enter their query.   The annoying thing about fiddling around with the query is that you have to restart every single time; you can’t just edit one part of it. For example, I tried to search for the amount of times Hamlet spoke about “love” in Act 3 Scene 4.  I wanted to see the amount of times he used it as a noun versus a verb.  So I entered the first query to look like this, selected “noun” first:

But my original search window disappears as soon as I click the “Find” button to give me the results, pictured below:

So in order to go back and see how many times Hamlet spoke of love as a verb in Act 3 Scene 4, I’d have to fill out the entire query again but this time selecting “verb”.  This tends to be very inconvenient if you’re trying to find answers quickly.

The interface of WordHoard includes a lot of drop down menus, which can lead you to exactly what you are looking for in a text query.  The one issue I find with the drop down menus is that there are just too many of them.  If I didn’t click on a certain menu, then I wouldn’t be led to numerous other options branching off of that one.  This is where the “mysterious abyss” description comes into play.  There are just so many ways to submit a query on WordHoard that it is difficult to know which ones to use and how to find them amongst the other options.  See the image below for an example of the numerous options WordHoard offers.  One can continuously click the “+/-“ buttons on the left hand side of the window and bring up more and more options, all of which have their own drop down menus to select from.  This can be very overwhelming for users to grasp if they are not already knowledgeable with the tool.

As you can see in the image above, the “Find Words” function allows you to submit a query on any word in Shakespeare’s texts.  You can select everything from the lemma down to the parts of speech, spelling, major word class, which specific work, the part of a specific work, author, publication year, narration or speech, speaker, speaker gender, prose or verse, or speaker mortality.

All in all, WordHoard has a lot of potential to be a very useful and effective tool when studying something such as Hamlet.  This important thing to remember about the tool is that you need to have a really good feel for its numerous menus and options so that you can effectively find the best answers possible for the queries you submit.  Otherwise, you will be wasting time restarting your query every time you want to fix one part of your search, which could prove to be a little frustrating!  In my opinion, it’s practice makes perfect with WordHoard.  The more you use it, the better results you will receive.



WordHoard basics

This Wednesday, in TFDL 440A, is the first of five scheduled workshops on text-analysis tools in English 203. I’ll be joined by two research assistants for the course, Sarah Hill and Sarah Hertz.

We have a few goals for the workshop. After you finish reading this post, click on the 5 links in this numbered list for answers to these questions, and our required readings for Wednesday. Continue reading