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The hundredth psalm to the tune of 'Green Sleeves'' : digital approaches to the language of genre

Hope, Jonathan and Witmore, Michael (2010) The hundredth psalm to the tune of 'Green Sleeves'' : digital approaches to the language of genre. Shakespeare Quarterly, 61 (3). pp. 357-390. ISSN 0037-3222

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Abstract

In this essay, we explore the underlying linguistic matrix of Shakespeare's dramatic genres 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 have been sorted into grammatical, semantic and rhetorical categories. Taking Heminges and Condell's designations of the Folio plays as comedies, histories and tragedies as our starting point, we offer a portrait of Shakespearean genre at the level of the sentence, showing how an identification of frequently iterated combinations of words (either in their presence or absence) can allow us to appreciate the integrity and fluidity of Shakespeare's genres in new ways. Calling this approach "iterative criticism," we situate our critical practice in the context of both Shakespearean criticism and more general protocols of reading in the humanities, concluding with a genre map of Shakespeare's plays in the context of 282 other early modern plays. In basing our re-reading of genre on statistical descriptions, we do not seek to replace subjective, humanistic reading with something more "objective." Rather, we want to use digital, iterative methods in order to be "consistently subjective"-to extend prosthetically our interpretative strategies across quantities of texts, and frequencies of feature, which we could not otherwise accommodate.