Quantification and the language of later Shakespeare

Hope, Jonathan and Witmore, Michael (2014) Quantification and the language of later Shakespeare. In: Société Française Shakespeare Actes du Congres 2014. Société Française Shakespeare, Paris, pp. 123-149.

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    Abstract

    In this paper we consider the status of quantitative evidence in literary studies, with an example from our own work using the software package Docuscope to investigate chronological ‘periods’ in Shakespeare’s career. We argue that quantitative evidence has a function in literary studies, not as an end in itself, but as a starting point for traditional interpretative literary analysis. In our example, we show that linguistic analysis suggests three periods in Shakespeare’s career, defining a ‘period’ as a group of plays with similar linguistic features. We focus on the latest period, as this is the largest, and suggest that the ‘late style’ of Shakespeare may begin much earlier than traditionally thought. We analyse the features that the later plays share, and argue that from the late 1590s Shakespeare can be seen to be adopting features which are (a) closer to speech, and (b) indicate a shift from real-world denotation to a focus on communicating the subjectivity of the speaker.