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Key Words and Key Sections: Exploring Shakespeare Mike Scott School of English University of Liverpool TALC, Paris 3.7.06 This presentation is at Starting Point Scott and Tribble (2006) studying Romeo and Juliet :

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key words and key sections exploring shakespeare

Key Words and Key Sections:Exploring Shakespeare

Mike Scott

School of English

University of Liverpool

TALC, Paris 3.7.06

This presentation is at

starting point
Starting Point

Scott and Tribble (2006) studying Romeo and Juliet:

  • “All Shakespeare plays” is a suitable reference corpus
  • A large number of KWs are proper nouns: characters in the play
  • Others:
    • theme KWs (love, death etc.)
    • exclamations
    • pronouns
    • copula verbs

KWs of Shakespeare

aims of the paper
Aims of the Paper
  • To investigate KWs in all of Shakespeare's plays
  • To identify proportions of
    • character/place KWs
  • To locate “unexpected” KWs in terms of
    • character
    • distribution

KWs of Shakespeare

  • Obtain all plays (OUP 1916 edition)
  • Convert to .txt
  • Use WordSmith’s WordList tool to compute word-lists
  • Use KeyWords tool to compute KWs for each using all the plays as a reference corpus
  • Export the KWs for each into an Excel spreadsheet
  • Repeat 3-5 for all characters
  • Identify KW types; understand why they are key

KWs of Shakespeare

the html source
the HTML source…

<div class="sp"><span class="ital_speaker">Lys.</span><p style="margin-top: -0.5em;">I am, my lord, as well deriv&#8217;d as he,</p>

<p class="p-no-indent1">As well possess&#8217;d; my love is more than his;<span class="milestone_right" title="Craig1916_line_100">100</span></p>

<p class="p-no-indent1">My fortunes every way as fairly rank&#8217;d</p>

<p class="p-no-indent1">If not with vantage, as Demetrius&#8217;;</p>

<p class="p-no-indent1">And, which is more than all these boasts can be,</p>

<p class="p-no-indent1">I am belov&#8217;d of beauteous Hermia.<span

KWs of Shakespeare

clean up process
Clean up process
  • Convert to XML (Dreamweaver)
  • Custom program:
    • Remove standard headers
    • Convert to Unicode
    • Replace markup such as “deriv&8217;d” with “deriv’d”
    • Find XML markup for Dramatis Personae, build standard list of characters
    • Identify Act and Scene numbers, remove line numbers; separate out stage directions
    • Mark up all speech beginnings and endings
    • Export each speech to a file for each character

KWs of Shakespeare

cleaned up
Cleaned up


I am, my lord, as well deriv'd as he,

As well possess'd; my love is more than his;

My fortunes every way as fairly rank'd

If not with vantage, as Demetrius';

And, which is more than all these boasts can be,

I am belov'd of beauteous Hermia.

Why should not I then prosecute my right?

Demetrius, I'll avouch it to his head,

Made love to Nedar's daughter, Helena,

And won her soul; and she, sweet lady, dotes,

Devoutly dotes, dotes in idolatry,

Upon this spotted and inconstant man.


KWs of Shakespeare

wordsmith processing
WordSmith Processing
  • Wordlists:
    • of all the plays
    • of each play (batch, 37 lists)
    • of each character’s speeches (batch, 1313 lists)

Using the first wordlist as the reference corpus and exporting results to Excel, make KW lists …

    • of each play (batch)
    • of each character’s speeches (batch)
    • and KW databases of the plays & the characters

KWs of Shakespeare

examine kws
Examine KWs
  • Characters:


  • Places:


  • Pronouns:


  • Themes, events:


  • Other (“unexpected”):


KWs of Shakespeare

most of these are uninteresting
Most of these are uninteresting….
  • if you know the play you already know it concerns Hamlet and some other characters, that it’s set in Denmark and that Ophelia goes mad.
  • Approximately 50% are characters or places, compared with 30% in BNC, Scott & Tribble 2006:71)

KWs of Shakespeare

kw databases
KW databases
  • the KKWs of the plays:

I, HER, SIR, YOU, KING, LOVE, SHE, T, THY (6 or more plays each)

  • the KKWs of the characters:

SIR, HER, LORD, YOU, MASTER, THOU, CAESAR, MADAM, THY, LOVE, SHE, A, I, OUR, WARWICK (12 or more characters each)

KWs of Shakespeare

but the others and pronouns may be interesting
but the “others” and pronouns may be interesting
  • Why are such words “key” in this play?
  • “A word which is positively key occurs more often than would be expected by chance in comparison with the reference corpus.” (Help file, definition of keyness)

KWs of Shakespeare

but what about negative kws
but what about Negative KWs?
  • “A word which is negatively key occurs less often than would be expected by chance in comparison with the reference corpus.” (Help file, definition of keyness)

KWs of Shakespeare

all the negative kws
All the negative KWs


  • These are potentially interesting…

KWs of Shakespeare

if the generally negative kws happen to be positive
… if the generally negative KWs happen to be positive
  • Why are IT, LORD and MOST positively key in Hamlet…
  • if they are negatively key in the other plays?
  • Which characters are they most key of?
  • Where are they found, how are these KWs dispersed throughout the play?

KWs of Shakespeare

some are unsurprising
Some are unsurprising
  • “LOVE”:
    • Midsummer Night’s Dream – Helena, Lysander
    • As You Like It – Rosalind
    • Love’s Labour’s Lost – Armado
    • Much Ado About Nothing – Benedick
    • Two Gentlemen of Verona – Julia, Proteus, Valentine
    • Romeo & Juliet – Juliet, Romeo

KWs of Shakespeare

    • Measure For Measure – Abhorson, Elbow, Pompey
    • Merry Wives of Windsor – Bardolph, Ford, Rugby, Simple
    • Henry IV part 2 – Bullcalf, Davy, Shallow
    • Comedy of Errors – Angelo, Dromio of Ephesus, Dromio of Syracuse
    • Two Gentlemen of Verona – Speed

KWs of Shakespeare

    • Merry Wives of Windsor – Evans, Falstaff, Ford, Mistress Quickly, Shallow
    • Henry IV part 2 – Falstaff
    • Comedy of Errors – Dromio of Ephesus

KWs of Shakespeare

but some are puzzling
But some are puzzling
  • Why is IT key in the speeches of Hamlet?
  • In the plays 0.95% (1 word in 100) but in Hamlet’s speeches 1.48%: a 50% increase in this one character’s speeches…
  • Or in the speeches of Horatio in the same play?
  • In the plays 0.95% but in Horatio’s speeches 2.33%: nearly 250% of the average in this one character’s speeches!

KWs of Shakespeare

it in hamlet
IT in Hamlet
  • In Hamlet’s speeches, distributed evenly:
  • In Horatio’s speeches:

KWs of Shakespeare

do in othello
DO in Othello
  • Nearly twice as frequent as in the other plays
  • Characteristic of Iago (nearly twice as often) and Desdemona (more than 3 times as often)
  • DOST characteristic of Othello (more than 6 times as frequent)

KWs of Shakespeare

iago commanding
Iago commanding

KWs of Shakespeare

desdemona and conditionals
Desdemona and conditionals

KWs of Shakespeare

othello s dost suspicion
Othello’s DOST: suspicion

KWs of Shakespeare

  • Traugott (1990) points out that diachronically, the meaning of an item may evolve:

propositional ((> textual) > (expressive))

(Traugott, 1990:496)

KWs of Shakespeare

very in hamlet
VERY in Hamlet
  • Adamson & Gonzalez-Dias (forthcoming) show that very moves from an adjective (“true”) and develops adverbial uses in the 14th - 15th Centuries. By the 16th Century, we get
  • VERY+N formal
  • VERY+ADJ formal, informal
  • VERY+ADV more informal

KWs of Shakespeare

very in hamlet30
VERY in Hamlet
  • VERY+N high status characters (Iago, Macbeth, Othello, Antony, Hamlet)
  • VERY+ADJ medium-low status (Mercutio (R&J), Beatrice (Ado), Fluellen (H5), Touchstone (AYL), Osric (Ham), Iago (Oth), Parolles (AllsW))
  • VERY+ADV low status (Pompey (MM)

Adamson & Gonzalez-Dias (forthcoming: table 3)

KWs of Shakespeare

osric hamlet
Osric & Hamlet

KWs of Shakespeare

very adv

KWs of Shakespeare

hamlet s kws
Hamlet’s KWs
  • It, woo’t, very, phrase, the, t, could e’en, why, sense, of, a, or, whereto, this, let, how
  • … a questioning role

KWs of Shakespeare

  • Approximately 50% of the KWs are predictable names of characters and places, a higher ratio than in the BNC…
  • … because these are dialogues in plays.
  • The high-frequency KWs investigated will naturally vary in use from character to character and from play to play
  • but methinks they do vary too much for this variation to be mere chance
  • KW patterns can illuminate diachronic study of language
  • and understanding of character and role
  • but there is a long way to go …

KWs of Shakespeare

a warning to us all
a warning to us all…
  • <COUNTESS>Marry, that's a bountiful answer that fits all questions.</COUNTESS>
  • <CLOWN>It is like a barber's chair that fits all buttocks; the pin-buttock, the quatch-buttock, the brawn-buttock, or any buttock.</CLOWN>
  • <COUNTESS>Will your answer serve fit to all questions?</COUNTESS>
  • <CLOWN>As fit as ten groats is for the hand of an attorney, as your French crown for your taffeta punk, as Tib's rush for Tom's forefinger, as a pancake for Shrove-Tuesday, a morris for Mayday, as the nail to his hole, the cuckold to his horn, as a scolding quean to a wrangling knave, as the nun's lip to the friar's mouth; nay, as the pudding to his skin.</CLOWN>
  • <COUNTESS>Have you, I say, an answer of such fitness for all questions?</COUNTESS>
  • <CLOWN>From below your duke to beneath your constable, it will fit any question.</CLOWN>
  • <COUNTESS>It must be an answer of most monstrous size that must fit all demands.</COUNTESS>

KWs of Shakespeare

  • Adamson, Sylvia & Victorina Gonzalez-Dias, “Back to the very beginning: the development of intensifiers in English”. Paper presented at 13th International Conference of English Historical Linguistics, Vienna, Aug. 2004.
  • Aston, Guy & Lou Burnard, 1988. The BNC Handbook. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
  • Crystal, David & Ben Crystal, 2002. Shakespeare’s Words: a glossary and language companion. London: Penguin.
  • Scott, Mike & Chris Tribble, 2006. Textual Patterns: key words and corpus analysis in language education. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
  • Traugott, Elizabeth, 1990. “From Less to More Situated in Language: the Unidirectionality of Semantic Change” in S. Adamson, V. Law, N. Vincent & S. Wright, Papers from the 5th International Conference of English Historical Linguistics, Cambridge, 1987. Benjamins: Amsterdam, pp. 497-517.

KWs of Shakespeare