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The Hundredth Psalm to the Tune of "Green Sleeves": Digital Approaches to Shakespeare's Language of Genre

From: Shakespeare Quarterly
Volume 61, Number 3, Fall 2010
pp. 357-390 | 10.1353/shq.2010.0002



In this essay, Hope and Witmore explore the linguistic matrix of Shakespeare's dramatic genres by using multivariate statistics and a text-tagging device known as DocuScope, a hand-curated corpus of several million English words (and strings of words) that has been sorted into grammatical, semantic, and rhetorical categories. Starting with Heminges and Condell's designations of the Folio plays as comedies, histories, and tragedies, the authors offer a portrait of Shakespearean genre at the sentence level, showing how identifying frequently iterated word combinations (in either their presence or absence) allows new ways to study the integrity and fluidity of Shakespeare's genres. Calling this approach "iterative criticism," they situate their critical practice within both Shakespearean criticism and humanities-centered protocols of reading, concluding with a genre map of Shakespeare's plays compared to nearly three hundred other early modern dramas. Hope and Witmore do not seek to replace subjective, humanistic reading with something more "objective." Rather, they use digital, iterative methods in order to be "consistently subjective"—to extend interpretative strategies across quantities of texts and frequencies of feature that could otherwise not be accommodated.

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