The purpose of this paper is to explore the benefits of using quantitative analytical methods in literature. I chose a passage from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and did some computational analyses on it using Voyant, Flesch Reading Ease test, Flesch- Kincaid Grade Level and Senti-Strength. After consulting Franco Moretti’s “Network Theory, Plot Analysis” and struggling to familiarize myself with the aforementioned digital humanities tools, I concluded that they provide an unexpected insight into the work and they offered me a deeper understanding of Hamlet.
The passage I chose was from Act 3 Scene 4, 42-84. This scene has always fascinated me because of Hamlet’s violent verbal outburst towards his mother, Gertrude. The reasons behind it are complex and very interesting from both a literature and a psychological standpoint. I wanted to see if quantitative analysis could reveal anything more about this scene. I started by omitting stop words. The passage I chose was 225 words and after removing stop words it was reduced to 132 words. Stop words were 41.4% of the text. Voyant reported that the passage’s unique word forms were 113 out of 132. It has a vocabulary density of 0.856, an average word length of 5.9 characters, and an average of 13.2 words per sentence.The Flesch Reading Ease score was 67.8, marking the text as standard/average while the Flesch- Kincaid Grade level reported a 6.8 score that corresponds to seventh grade. To conclude, readability tests showed that Shakespeare’s Hamlet is easily understood by readers aged 12-14 years old (Seventh and Eighth graders).
Finally, Senti-Strength gave a positive sentiment rating of 4 on a scale of 1 (neutral) to 5 (strongly) and a negative sentiment rating of -3 on a scale of -1 (neutral) to (-5 strongly).William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, depicts, among other things, the disastrous unraveling of nefarious family affairs. Hamlet, deeply devastated by his father’s death and disgusted by his mother’s marriage to his uncle, contemplates the possibility that his father was murdered and plots his revenge. Strong feelings of betrayal start to build up, along with a repulsion for women.
Meanwhile Gertrude’s mind is in a precarious state as her obligations as a mother and wife contradict one another. She is presented as a shallow, meek woman, a pawn to her husband’s plans. Gertrude’s character lacks monologues so her thoughts and feelings remain a mystery. As Shakespeare develops Gertrude’s maternal love for her son alongside her lust for carnal desires, Hamlet’s mother employs ignorance as a way to maintain an equilibrium between the two opposing forces. While she acknowledges that her son’s suffering is a result of “his father’s death, and our o’erhasty marriage,” (2.2.57) her secure position as queen and union with the king makes her complacent to change.
In Act 3 Scene 4, known also as the “closet scene”, we can at last see mother and son together, alone, on stage. Here, it was evident that making “a network of a play” (Moretti, 2011) helped me focus only on Hamlet and Gertrude and their communication. By seeing their dialogue out of context, I could see in depth how their characters reacted to each other and what lied underneath. All these emotions that developed slowly in Hamlet come forth in the form of an almost violent outburst.
The passage I analyzed is derived from here. Hamlet’s retaliation to his mother’s offensive suggestion that his actions offended his father gravely. She uses the word father, while she refers to his uncle Claudius, her new husband. This provokes Hamlet’s ire. Hamlet’s response ranks 4 and -3 in positive and negative emotions respectably, as Senti- Strength reported. Indeed, his monologue is full of kind words of adoration for his deceased father and bitter slurs plenty of disgust for his uncle and step-father.
His love for his father, the one that fuels his passion for revenge is somewhat stronger than his hate for his mother’s new husband. Quite interestingly, these words and emotions are expressed to his mother. He feels the need to restore his fathers’ image in her eyes and make her see the wrong in marrying his brother. He accuses her of being incestuous, of being with a man far worse than his father despite the better judgement her age should have graced her with. He claims her reason is servant to her desires. Hamlet’s impulsive and offensive tirade towards his mother hides his deep, almost unnatural affection towards her. Lost in a turmoil of emotions that many years later, Sigmund Freud would identify as “Oedipus Complex”, Hamlet feels that he is his father’s rightful heir in everything, including his mother’s affection.
He is a young Hamlet, the younger version of his father, and describing his father’s image serves as a parallel to his idea of himself. He finds it unnerving how his mother’s love turned to his uncle rather than to him. So, stripping this dialogue out of its context gives this psychological perspective of things that wasn’t clear from the start. The shock of Polonius’ murder behind the curtain and the strong feelings in this scene obscured the bizarre level of Hamlet’s fixation with his mother’s love life.
According to Voyant’s report, the passage has a vocabulary density of 0.856, an average word length of 5.9 characters, and an average of 13.2 words per sentence. To me, this signifies that Hamlet’s eloquence, fueled by his anger and hurt, serves him in order to attack his mother while on a second level, expressing his hurt and wounded ego. He uses rich symbolism to compare his father (and subconsciously his own self) to his uncle. A Greek god, embodying the ideals of kindness and beauty, a “kalos kagathos” man, as classical Greeks would describe him, is by far superior to his uncle.
Claudius, described by his nephew as a mildewed corn that corrupts those around him, including Gertrude, is being portrayed as the vilest of men, both inside and out. After this, Hamlet argues that his mother must be possessed, or her senses must be somehow impaired to not be able to understand the fault in her ways. He attacks her female pride and confidence her new marriage gave her “for at your age/ The heyday in the blood is tame, it’s humble. / And waits upon the judgement” (3.4.69-71) and proceeds with his relentless attack on her intellect “and what judgement/Would step from this to this? Sense sure you have,/ Else could you not have motion. But sure that sense,/ Is apoplexed, for madness would not err” (3.4.71-74). His words are carefully chosen, to have the biggest impact on his mother.
On a first reading, he appears to be a considerate son that worries for his mother’s mental state. If we look closer though, we can see his hurt, emanating from every word choice he makes. He accuses her for being blinded by lust and wantonness in such a degree that her senses are weakened. And he does so, in a way that is full of such imagery and delicate insults that really soften Gertrude’s resolve and she appears to see her faults.Hamlet has many qualities that aren’t exactly typical of a hero. Being a protagonist has always been puzzling to me since he is a man of many weaknesses. He appears to be absent-minded, lost in his thoughts and reveries, interested in the philosophy behind every aspect of his life, including his grief. He is quick to judge, quicker even to act, he converses with ghosts, and his emotions lack stability.
Franco Moretti, in his “Network Theory, Plot Analysis” had an answer to that. He describes that, by applying network theory to works like Shakespeare’s Hamlet we can conclude that protagonists, can some times be nothing more than the characters who act as a connective medium for all the other characters of a work of literature or “in other words, the center of the network”. Most of Shakespeare’s tragedies deal with the problems of birthright and heritage that sovereignty creates. Hamlet is a prince that was deprived of his right to rule. His character is plagued by many shortcomings and imperfections. He’s by far not the ideal Prince as described by the contemporary work of Niccolo Machiaveli.
As a conclusion, getting familiar with using quantitative data in literature has opened new horizons for me. Understanding that Shakespeare’s Hamlet, in particular, has so much more to give to so many readers was astonishing. By using these tools, I comprehended that Shakespeare’s language, although poetic and antiquated is in fact very easily read and understood by 12-13-year-old students. This shows the timelessness of Shakespeare’s plays and is a basic reason for his popularity, even today. Turning plays into networks and interconnecting their characters was really fascinating. It stressed the importance of characters I thought were not very useful by showing the interactions with each and every character.
When reading a play or watching it, some things go unnoticed. But with the use of these tools we can re-evaluate their contribution to the plot. Last but not least, taking the dialogues out of their context we can see the hidden meanings and possible implications. However useful though, I remain a little doubtful about them. Literature after all, is more than just data. It creates images, emotions, memories and urges us to reflect on our lives and draw parallels. I believe that technology will never be able to completely map, code and interpret the impact that every work of literature has on an individual.