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A new kind of dictionary for Shakespeare’s plays: An immodest proposal. Jonathan Culpeper Lancaster University, UK. Overview. The point of departure: General Shakespearean dictionaries My proposal in brief

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a new kind of dictionary for shakespeare s plays an immodest proposal

A new kind of dictionary for Shakespeare’s plays: An immodest proposal

Jonathan Culpeper

Lancaster University, UK

  • The point of departure: General Shakespearean dictionaries
  • My proposal in brief
  • General Shakespearean dictionaries and present-day (corpus-based) dictionaries compared
  • Case study (1): ‘horrid’
  • Case study (2): ‘good’
  • Case study (3): ‘and’
  • Case study (4): ‘ah’
  • Case study (5): A glimpse at multi-word units
  • Case study (6): Character profiles
  • Case study (7): Play profiles
  • Methodological issues
  • Conclusions
general shakespearean dictionaries
General Shakespearean ‘dictionaries’

Foster (1908), Onions ([1911] 1986), Schmidt ([1902] 1971), Boyce (1996),Wells (1998), Crystal and Crystal (2002), etc.

Various labels:

  • ‘dictionary’
  • ‘glossary’
  • ‘lexicon’
  • ‘word-book’
  • ‘concordances’ (Spevack 1968-70; Howard-Hill 1969-72)
general shakespearean dictionaries contd
General Shakespearean ‘dictionaries’ (contd.)

With various contents:

Linguistic [e.g.Foster (1908), Onions ([1911] 1986), ?Schmidt ([1902] 1971), ?Crystal and Crystal (2002), etc.]

  • Word
  • Part-of-speech
  • Brief definition
  • Illustrative quotation(s)

Occurrence information [e.g. Spevack 1968-70; Howard-Hill 1969-72]

  • Index of all words (plus textual location)
  • Frequency of word-form (absolute + relative)

Non-linguistic [e.g. Boyce (1996),Wells (1998)]

  • Play summaries (largely plot)
  • Character descriptions
  • Cultural information
  • Biographical information
my proposal in brief
My proposal in brief

My proposal involves better integration of linguistic description, frequency information and non-linguistic information.

  • How often does X occur?
  • How often do the particular meanings of X occur?
  • What kind of words does X tend to co-occur with?
  • How often do the particular ‘grammatical categories’ of X occur?
  • What kinds of register does X co-occur with?
  • What kinds of speaker/addressee does X co-occur with?
  • Is X part of a particular lexical field (semantic category) and how does that field distribute across the plays?
  • How can the above help differentiate X word from Y word?
  • Etc.

(1) a particular theoretical approach to meanings, (2) a particular methodology ….. enter Corpus Linguistics

shakespearean dictionaries and present day corpus based dictionaries compared
Shakespearean ‘dictionaries’ and present-day (corpus-based) dictionaries compared

Some differences in content:

  • Spelling variants (cf. OED)
  • Pronunciation information
  • Contextualised definitions (cf. Collins COBUILD)
  • Sensitivity to multi-word units (cf. Collins COBUILD)
  • Semantic categorisations (cf. Collins COBUILD)
shakespearean dictionaries and present day corpus based dictionaries compared contd
Shakespearean ‘dictionaries’ and present-day corpus-based dictionaries compared (contd.)

Some key differences in approach:

  • Words for inclusion: ‘hard’ words vs. all words in the corpus
  • Word-meanings: etymological meanings and etymological organization vs. meanings based on usage in context and organised according to frequency


(1)Corpus Linguistics has developed since the Collins COBUILD (1987) – other things are possible!!!

(2) No Shakespearean dictionary has treated Shakespeare’s language as relative.

case study 1 horrid
Case study (1): ‘horrid’

Philological approach:

Oxford English English Dictionary

horrid (ˈhɒrɪd), a. (adv.) Also 7 horred, horride.

[ad. L. horrid-us bristling, rough, shaggy; rude, savage, unpolished; terrible, frightful, f. horrere: see horre v. Cf. It. orrido.]

A. adj.

1. Bristling, shaggy, rough. (Chiefly poetic.)

1590 Spenser F.Q. i. vii. 31 His haughtie Helmet, horrid all with gold.

1621 Burton Anat. Mel. i. ii. iii. xiv. (1651) 125 A rugged attire, hirsute head, horrid beard.

case study 1 horrid contd
Case study (1): ‘horrid’ (contd.)

2. Causing horror or aversion; revolting to sight, hearing, or contemplation; terrible, dreadful, frightful; abominable, detestable.

In earlier use nearly synonymous with horrible; in modern use somewhat less strong, and tending to pass into the weakened colloquial sense (3).

1601 Shakes. Twel. N. iii. iv. 220, I wil meditate the while vpon some horrid message for a Challenge.

3. colloq. in weakened sense. Offensive, disagreeable, detested; very bad or objectionable.

Noted in N.E.D. as especially frequent as a feminine term of strong aversion.

1666 J. Davies Hist. Caribby Isls 281 Making horrid complaints that treated them ill.

case study 1 horrid contd10
Case study (1): ‘horrid’ (contd.)

Corpus-based approach:

Collins COBUILD English Language Dictionary (1987)

horrid /hɒrɪd/; a rather informal word. 1. Something that is horrid is very unpleasant indeed. EG Tea always tastes horrid out of Thermos flasks… We had to live in a horrid little flat… Something horrid is going to happen… …a horrid dream.

[ADJ QUALIT, = nasty, ≠ nice]

2. Someone who is horrid behaves in a very unpleasant, nasty way towards other people. EG She would give her horrid parents one more chance… …a horrid pimply boy… I don’t mean to be horrid to you.

[ADJ QUALIT, = beastly, ≠ nice]

case study 1 horrid contd11
Case study (1): ‘horrid’ (contd.)

(1) Nasty (entity, condition),

(2) nasty (people, behaviour) [not mutually exclusive with (1)]

Examples from the British National Corpus (BNC) (random)

Before long he "could not stand the horrid hotels all by myself …

Marcus out of the flat (which she agreed to be horrid) perhaps to

their tiny heads heavy, their tiny limbs trailing, rather horrid, a little

When it came to sleeping on the horrid, plastic bed in the sultry room

one day could take over from Morgan. A horrid man.   

really glad to be on there to dispense with all those horrid people.

the horrid male instructor drills you as if you're in the Green Berets)  

Smith being beaten by spotty, horrid little Nails tickled Nutty's imagination.   

the tramp! He's horrid!" Shirley's cheeks had turned pale at the thought

will be giving the editor of New Scientist the full horrid details without delay.

recent research suggests that lead isn't as horrid in its effects as the

How many reviewers or (horrid word) critics actually listen to a recording

case study 1 horrid contd12
Case study (1): ‘horrid’ (contd.)

  Top-40 rank-ordered most frequently occurring nouns within 5 words to the right of ‘horrid’ (in the BNC)

things, man, thing, creature, stuff, truth, people, feeling, word, beast, phrase, teeth, girls, flat, day, child, place, state, time, blighters, imprecations, defilement, deodorants, cruelties, malady, apparitions, weasels, double-glazing, panoply, sunflowers, bungling, separateness, puns, premonition, shreiks, jingle, hairstyle, imaginations, blasphemy, oozing

case study 1 horrid contd13
Case study (1): ‘horrid’ (contd.)


‘Horrid’: Distribution in the British National Corpus

(graph generated by Mark Davies’s VIEW website: http://view.byu.edu/)

case study 1 horrid contd14
Case study (1): ‘horrid’ (contd.)

Feminine term of strong aversion?

Spoken part of the BNC (approx. 10 million words)


Female = 21

Male = 5

Unknown = 9

Only 35 words in total!

[All figures here retrieved via the BNCweb, a web-based interface developed in Zurich, see: http://homepage.mac.com/bncweb/home.html]

case study 1 horrid a glimpse at shakespeare
Case study (1): ‘horrid’- A glimpse at Shakespeare

Dictionaries (in brief):

  • Foster (1908): (1) Awful, hideous, horrible. (2) Terrific. (3) Horrified, affrighted.
  • Onions (1911): No entry.
  • Crystal & Crystal (2004): horrifying, frightful, terrifying.

Nasty [= Foster (1)] +

horrifying [=all other definitions]

case study 1 horrid a glimpse at shakespeare contd
Case study (1): ‘horrid’- A glimpse at Shakespeare (contd.)

Appeare in formes more horrid) yet my Duty, As doth a Rocke

Vp Sword, and know thou a more horridhent When he is drunke

And cleaue the generall eare with horridspeech: Make mad the guilty

heard and seene, Recounts most horridsights seene by the Watch.

shall breake his winde With feare and horridflight. 1.Sen. Noble,

To. I wil meditate the while vpon some horridmessage for a Challenge.

armes. Macd. Not in the Legions Of horridHell, can come a Diuell

deformitie seemes not in the Fiend So horrid as in woman.

all the sparkes of Nature To quit this horridacte. Reg. Out treacherous

Such sheets of Fire, such bursts of horridThunder, Such groanes of

Curriors of the Ayre, Shall blow the horriddeed in euery eye,

on is Of thy deere Husband. Then that horridAct Of the diuorce,

to themselves Beene deathes most horridAgents, humaine grace

I yeeld to that suggestion, Whose horridImage doth vnfixe my Heire

case study 1 horrid a glimpse at shakespeare contd17
Case study (1): ‘horrid’- A glimpse at Shakespeare (contd.)

The beginnings of a contextualised definition:

Something that is horrid causes fear; it refers to supernatural or unnatural acts, sights and sounds. Distribution: All = 16 (1.8); Tragedies = 10 (3.9), Comedies = 2 (0.6), Histories = 4 (1.5); Male = 14 (1.9), Female = 2 (1.4). Comparisons: Plays = 187 (0.17), Fiction = 0, Trials = 0, Handbooks = 0, Scholarly works = 1 (0.14). EG ‘Whose horrid Image doth vnfixe my Heire’, ‘I wil meditate the while vpon some horrid message for a Challenge’

Frequency limitations – a cut-off threshold?

implications of a frequency cut off
Implications of a frequency cut-off ?

Onions: covers some 3,000 words (cf. Crystal and Crystal 2004: Introduction).

Crystal and Crystal: 21,263 entries under 13,626 headwords.

implications of a frequency cut off contd20
Implications of a frequency cut-off (contd.)?
  • All words change meaning. Therefore, all of Shakespeare’s words have changed meaning.(cf. the Case study 3 on ‘and’)
  • John F. Burrows (1987: 1): ‘It is a truth not generally acknowledged that, in most discussions of works of English fiction, we proceed as if a third, two-fifths, a half of our material were not really there.’
case study 2 good adj
Case study (2): ‘good’ (adj.)

Dictionaries (in brief):

  • Foster (1908): (1) Not bad, worthy of praise; (2) Fit, adapted; (3) Trustworthy, genuine; (4) Kind, benevolent; (5) Proper, right; (6) Substantial, safe, solvent, able to fulfil engagements, (7) Real, serious; (8) Favourable, propitious, (9) Abundant, rich, (10) Skilful, clever, (11) Adequate.

+ phrases and compounds.

case study 2 good adj22
Case study (2): ‘good’ (adj.)

Dictionaries (in brief):

  • Onions (1911): (1) Conventional epithet to titles of high rank, (2) comely, (3) Financially sound; (hence) wealthy, substantial.

Notes quasi-adverbial usage, e.g. ‘good easy man’.

+ phrases and compounds

case study 2 good adj23
Case study (2): ‘good’ (adj.)

Dictionaries (in brief):

  • Crystal & Crystal (2004): (1) [intensifying use] real, genuine (‘love no man in good earnest’). (2) kind, benevolent, generous. (3) kind, friendly, sympathetic. (4) amenable, tractable, manageable. (5) honest, virtuous, honourable. (6) seasonable, appropriate proper. (7) just, right, commendable. (8) intended, right, proper. (9) high-ranking, highborn, distinguished. (10) rich, wealthy, substantial.

+ phrases and compounds

case study 2 good adj24
Case study (2): ‘good’ (adj.)

Frequency: 2711 (in all Shakespeare’s plays)

Pretend some alteration in good will? What's heere? I haue vpon

My selfe, and my good Cousin Buckingham, Will to your Mother,

she is low voic'd. Cleo. That's not so good: he cannot like her long.

Goodmorrow (good Lieutenant) I am sorrie For your displeasure:

Father Frier. Duk. And you good Brother Father; what offence

an enuious emulator of euery mans good parts, a secret & villanous

she shall be there. Ro. And stay thou good Nurse behind the Abbey wall,

Mar. Patience deere Neece, good Titus drie thine eyes. Ti. Ah Marcus,

Anthonio; that I had a title good enough to keepe his name company!

the singlenesse. Mer. Come betweene vs good Benuolio, my wits faints.

Enter Count Rossillion. Par. Good, very good, it is so then: good, very

nightes meete him. 1.Knight. Good morrow to the good Simonides.

a troublous world. 1. No, no, by Gods good grace, his Son shall reigne.

signe of Feare. 1 Cit. The Gods bee good to vs: Come Masters let's home,

case study 2 good contd
Case study (2): ‘good’ (contd.)

Top 14 collocates of ‘good’ (5 word span, left and right)

case study 2 good contd27
Case study (2): ‘good’ (contd.)

Frequent collocating words to the right of ‘good’ in Shakespeare’s plays include:

‘(my) good friend(s)/sir/Lord/master/man/Lady/etc.’,

‘good old man/friend/etc.’,

‘good morrow/night/even’,

‘(in) good faith’,

‘good will/wish(es)’,

‘good god(s)’,

‘good luck / hap’,

‘good news/report/words’,

‘(in) good time’

case study 3 and
Case study (3): ‘and’

Dictionaries (in brief):

  • Foster (1908): Cross-references Abbot.
  • Onions (1911): (1) Coordinating conjunction (nouns, adjectives and phrases); (2) Subordinating conjunction: if, even if, though, as if, whether.
  • Crystal & Crystal (2004): [also spelling variant ‘an’] (1) if, even if; (2) as if; (3) if, whether.
case study 3 and contd
Case study (3): ‘and’ (contd.)

‘And’ – 2nd most frequent word in Shakespeare

  • What would you haue mee be, and I bee not a woman? (Pericles)
  • Noting this penury, to my selfe I said, An if a man did need a poyson now, Whose sale is present death in Mantua, Here liues a Caitiffe wretch would sell it him. (Romeo and Juliet)
case study 3 and contd30
Case study (3): ‘and’ (contd.)?
  • Duke. Shee should this Angelo haue married : was affianced to her oath, and the nuptiall appointed: between which time of the contract, and limit of the solemnitie, her brother Fredericke was wrackt at Sea, hauing in that perished vessell, the dowry of his sister: but marke how heauily this befell to the poore Gentlewoman, there she lost a noble and renowned brother, in his loue toward her, euer most kinde and naturall: with him the portion and sinew of her fortune, her marriage dowry: with both, her combynate-husband, this well-seeming Angelo. (Measure for Measure)

Case study (3): ‘and’ (contd.)?(From Culpeper and Kytö 2000; data from the Helsinki Corpus of English texts and the Corpus of English Dialogues 1560-1760)

case study 3 and contd32
Case study (3): ‘and’ (contd.)?

Citizen2 […] Who's that that beares the Scepter?

Citizen1 Marquesse Dorset, And that the Earle of Surrey, with the Rod.

Citizen2 A bold braue Gentleman. That should bee The Duke of Suffolke.

Citizen1 'Tis the same: high Steward.

Citizen2 And that my Lord of Norfolke?

Citizen1 Yes. (Henry VIII)

case study 4 ah
Case study (4): ‘ah’

Dictionaries (in brief):

  • Foster (1908): No entry.
  • Onions (1911): No entry.
  • Crystal & Crystal (2004): No entry.

Is it a word?

case study 4 ah contd
Case study (4): ‘ah’ (contd.)

Depends on your definition of a word.

Orthographic word = ‘a string of uninterrupted non-punctuation characters with white space or punctuation at each end’ (Leech et al. 2001: 13-14)

case study 4 ah contd35
Case study (4): ‘ah’ (contd.)

Does it have meaning?

Halliday (1978, 1985) functional components:

  • Ideational (informational; logical)
  • Textual (informational structure)
  • Interpersonal (pragmatic)
  • Interactional (discoursal)
case study 4 ah contd36
Case study (4): ‘ah’ (contd.)
  • Speaker attitude/state: sorrow, emotional distress

Des. To whom my Lord? With whom? How am I false?

Oth. Ah Desdemona, away, away, away.

Des. Alas the heauy day: why do you weepe? Am I the motiue of these teares my Lord? (Othello)

  • Speaker attitude/state: pity

Glou. Canst thou blame him? His Daughters seeke his death: Ah, that good Kent, He said it would be thus: poore banish'd man: Thou sayest the King growes mad, Ile tell thee Friend I am almost mad my selfe. (King Lear)

case study 4 ah contd37
Case study (4): ‘ah’ (contd.)
  • Speaker attitude/state: Surprise, realisation

Enter Adriana and Luciana.

Adr. Ah Luciana, did he tempt thee so? (Comedy of Errors)

  • Discourse marker: preface to the correction / rejection of the previous speaker’s proposition(s), emotions or actions

Men. These three World-sharers, these Competitors Are in thy vessell. Let me cut the Cable, And when we are put off, fall to their throates: All there is thine.

Pom. Ah, this thou shouldst haue done, And not haue spoke on't. In me 'tis villanie, In thee, 't had bin good seruice: […] (Anthony and Cleopatra)

case study 4 ah38
Case study (4): ‘ah’

Distribution across play genres:

Distribution: All = 179 (19.9); Tragedies = 54 (21.3), Comedies = 32 (8.9), Histories = 93 (35.4); Male = 121 (16.1), Female = 59 (41.9).

Comparisons: Plays = 1573 (14.4), Fiction = 9 (10.9), Trials = 1 (2.9), Handbooks = 11 (11.2), Scholarly works = 0.

(Remarkably, the density for a sample of five present-day plays is 94.27).

case study 6 character profiles cf culpeper 2001 2002 forthcoming
Case study (6): Character profiles (cf. Culpeper 2001, 2002, forthcoming)

Rank-ordered keywords for Romeo and Juliet (raw frequencies in brackets)

case study 6 character profiles contd
Case study (6): Character profiles (contd.)


  • She hath, and in that sparing makes huge waste; For beauty, starv’d with her severity, Cuts beauty off from all posterity. She is too fair, too wise, wisely too fair, To merit bliss by making me despair: She hath forsworn to love, and in that vow Do I live dead that live to tell it now. (I.i)
  • If I profane with our unworthiest hand This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this; Our lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss. (I.v)
case study 6 character profiles contd42
Case study (6): Character profiles (contd.)


  • If he be married, / Our grave is like to beour wedding-bed (I.v.)
  • If they do see thee, they will murder thee (II.ii.)
  • But if thou meanest not well (II.ii.)
  • Is thy news good, or bad? answer to that; Say either, and I'll stay the circumstance: Let me be satisfied, is 't good or bad? (II.ii)
  • Tis almost morning; I would have thee gone; And yet no further than a wanton’s bird […] (II.ii.)
case study 7 play profiles cf archer culpeper rayson forthcoming
Case study (7): Play profiles(Cf. Archer, Culpeper & Rayson forthcoming)
  • Thematic profile: Semantic categorization (‘lexical fields’)
  • Each word assigned to a semantic category
case study 7 play profiles contd
Case study (7): Play profiles (contd.)

‘Love’ tragedies:

  • Othello, Anthony and Cleopatra and Romeo and Juliet

‘Love’ comedies:

  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Two Gentlemen of Verona and As You Like It
case study 7 play profiles contd45
Case study (7): Play profiles (contd.)

The most overused items in comedies relative to tragedies

case study 7 play profiles contd46
Case study (7): Play profiles (contd.)

S3.2 = intimate/sexual relationship

case study 7 play profiles contd47
Case study (7): Play profiles (contd.)

Some metaphorical patterns:

  • L3 = plants

Silvius So holy and so perfect is my love, And I in such a poverty of grace, That I shall think it a most plenteous crop To glean the broken ears after the man That the main harvestreaps : loose now and then A scattered smile, and that I'll live upon. (As You Like It)

Cf. Oncins-Martinez (forthcoming) SEX IS AGRICULTURE and its sub-mappings (e.g. A WOMAN’S BODY IS AGRICULTURAL LAND)

case study 7 play profiles contd48
Case study (7): Play profiles (contd.)
  • X3.1 = sensory: taste

Julia Nay, would I were so angered with the same! O hateful hands, to tear such loving words! Injurious wasps, to feed on such sweet honey And kill the bees that yield it with your stings! (Two Gentlemen of Verona)

Cf. Barcelona (1995: 672-3)LOVE IS FOOD (see also Oncins-Martinez forthcoming)

case study 7 play profiles contd49
Case study (7): Play profiles (contd.)

The most overused items in tragedies relative to comedies

methodological issues
Methodological issues

Comparative texts in electronic form:

  • Partially solved: Helsinki Corpus of English Texts, Corpus of English Dialogues 1560-1760, etc.

Spelling variation:

  • For example: would, wold, wolde, woolde, wuld, wulde, wud, wald, vvould, vvold, etc.
  • Solution: Variant Detector (VARD), primarily devised by Dawn Archer (University of Central Lancashire) and Paul Rayson (Lancaster University)
methodological problems contd
Methodological problems (contd.)

Grammatical annotation:

  • Lancaster-developed CLAWS part-of-Speech annotation system adapted for EModE, but still not accurate enough.

Semantic annotation:

  • Lancaster-developed USAS semantic annotation system adapted for Early Modern English, but far from accurate.
  • Issue of what categorisation system to choose (world view).


  • All ‘words’ treated equally (e.g. not just ‘hard’ words).
  • Meanings are not restricted to semantic or ideational meaning.
  • Meanings based on usage in context (e.g. not etymology).
  • The context includes linguistic aspects (e.g. collocations) and non-linguistic aspects (e.g. registers, social properties of the speaker).
conclusions contd
Conclusions (contd.)
  • The dictionary includes linguistic profiles of characters and plays.

Problems and limitations

  • The methodology is not suitable for items below a certain frequency.
  • Social annotation, including information about, for example, gender, status, age, has not yet been applied to Shakespeare.
  • Grammatical and semantic annotation need further development (manual correction), if they are to be deployed.
sources used for the figures in slides 17 and 38
Sources used for the figures in slides 17 and 38

The Shakespeare frequencies given in this paper are based on The Nameless Shakespeare (2003), a joint project of the Perseus Project at Tufts University, The Northwestern University Library, and Northwestern University Academic Technologies. It is derived from The Globe Shakespeare, the one-volume version of the Cambridge Shakespeare , edited by W. G. Clark, J. Glover, and W. A. Wright (1891-3). There is no claim here that this constitutes the ideal edition of Shakespeare. It is searchable via ‘WordHoard’. The comparative ‘Plays’ corpus is the 'Korpus of Early Modern Playtexts in English' (KEMPE), initially compiled by Lene B. Petersen and Marcus X. Dahl, University of Bristol, 2001-2003. It is searchable via ‘Corpuseye’. Note: a particular problem with the Corpuseye search engine is that it only searches the whole corpus and that corpus includes Shakespeare. Nevertheless, given the great size of the corpus – 10.7 million words – the results will still mean something. The samples for early modern prose fiction, trial proceedings and handbooks are sourced from the Corpus of English Dialogues 1560-1760, and the scholarly works comprise half history writing and half science writing, sourced from the Helsinki Corpus of English Texts.