One of the rapidly developing fields in literary studies nationwide is Digital Humanities. Larger schools, such as Kansas State University, have dedicated centers from which they can use computer tools and ever-developing methodologies on all types of literature to whatever ends they choose. As a student at a regional university, the access to cutting-edge technology is hard to come by with budget constraints and feasibility issues. What we can do, however, is to do simple, “distant” readings of literary works. The kind of information that we get from these types of readings can be used to validate centuries’ worth of research on authors like William Shakespeare. These macro-level studies of literature may offer insights that had previously gone undetected and lead to new developments into how we interpret and study classical texts.
The works of William Shakespeare have been studied in very way imaginable. As one of the most recognized authors of all-time, each of his works has been gone over by literary enthusiasts with a fine-tooth comb with countless close readings and heated discussions about the true intent of his plays and poems. Over the past 400 years, there are certain plays of Shakespeare’s that are commonly thought to be constructed with love as their central theme and imbued with language to that effect. What I have yet to come across in my studies is a distant reading of some of Shakespeare’s works. In particular, I wanted to look at the types of words used most frequently in his plays Romeo & Juliet, Antony & Cleopatra, and A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Love certainly plays itself out in each of these three plays, but in varied ways. In looking at the language of these plays I wanted to see if Shakespeare used the same type of writing in his sonnets. Is nearly five centuries of close research validated by a distant reading? Or is there something in the research that shines a new light on any of the above mentioned works? Methods/Materials Using the websites voyant-tools.org, tapor.ca, and wordle.net, I ran the three plays and all of the Shakespeare’s sonnets through text analysis programs that generated individual word clouds, concordances, and word trends. The graphs, charts, and tables that were produced from these computer simulations allowed for interpretation and study how Shakespeare used love as a theme in his plays, and how the language of the plays compared to the that of his sonnets.
The data of the text analysis programs I ran showed conclusive results that love is in fact the central theme of each of the plays I chose and overwhelmingly so for the sonnets. One interesting result from my simple distant reading of Shakespeare’s plays is that love did not always equate to affection between two people; it carried negative connotations in both Romeo & Juliet and Anthony & Cleopatra. More in-depth studies in the future would, in my opinion, result in more detailed results.
Storey, Richard Glenn and McDaniel, Jamie, "Language Usage and Thematic Roles of Shakespearean Plays & Poems" (2015). Paper Presentations. Paper 10.