3. LATs in Detail: Building Blocks of Shakespearean Comic Language
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 2 Iterative tagging techniques, then, can give us a statistical description of the language of Shakespearean comedy, pointing us toward features that characterize it either in their presence or absence. But few literary scholars will be comfortable simply accepting points on a graph as a reading of Shakespeare. Nor should they be. Digitally-based research is not an end-point: its findings need to be tested back against the texts for two reasons. First, we must return to the text in order to assure that meaningful items are being counted. In early work we realized that speech prefixes were being counted by the program, producing artificially high totals in some Docuscope LATs. This allowed Docuscope to spot a genre like History from ten-thousand miles away instead of, say, a mile a way, and it seemed unfair. Second, we return to the texts because we are, ultimately, interested in how they are read by, and affect, humans. Digital approaches enable us to account for the effects of texts using new types of evidence: they do not create new textual effects, but rather allow us to describe their sources in a different way.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 We have now supplied the names for what Docuscope “sees” when it looks for Shakespearean Comic language. But can we make sense of these results in terms of our own reading of how Shakespearean Comedy “works?” To take the LATs whose presence is characteristic of Comedy first, it is notable that many code for high levels of verbal interactivity: “RefuteThat” and “DenyDisclaim” both pick up active negations within texts. “RefuteThat” strings tend to make assertions using a negative and typically consist of subject + copula verb + negative judgement (“it’s nonsense”) or pronoun + refutative verb (“I deny that…”). They imply or assert explicitly that another statement is false (“but the reality is…”). “DenyDisclaim” strings strongly imply a previous statement that is being negated (“There is no conspiracy”). Similarly, “DirectAddress” categorises strings which challenge or directly call for attention from an addressee: a frequent form is second person pronoun or the same pronoun + modal + verb (“you should consider”) and constructions such as ‘let us….’ This gives us a picture of a Shakespearean comic language which exists mainly in the space between individuals jointly involved in the production of discourse, actively exchanging opinion and information about the world, and actively disputing other versions of the world.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 The following extract from Twelfth Night has been marked up by Docuscope to show the points in the text at which Docuscope registers the LATs that are plotted in Figure 2 above. (Note that speech prefixes are absent here; we have provided the unmarked Moby Text below.) These are some of the main elements that allow us to differentiate Shakespearean Comedy from the other genres purely on the basis of statistics, being significantly more common in Comedy than in History or Tragedy. They include “FirstPerson” (red, “I” “me” “my”); “SelfDisclosure” (red, “I think” “I am” “my passion”); “Uncertainty” (orange, “seem” “perhaps”); “Denial” (cyan, “not” “nor” “no” “that no” “never”); “DirectAddress” (turquoise, “That you” “you right” “have you” “you” “thy” “thou”); and “ReferenceLanguage” (purple, “O” “clause”). Note that these features can be associated with rapid-fire interaction: they cluster at the start of this extract as Olivia and Viola exchange single-line speeches, and drop off in frequency as soon as Olivia begins a prolonged speech:
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Olivia. Stay: I prithee, tell me what thou thinkest of me.
Viola. That you do think you are not what you are.
Olivia. If I think so, I think the same of you.
Viola. Then think you right: I am not what I am.
Olivia. I would you were as I would have you be!
Viola. Would it be better, madam, than I am?
I wish it might, for now I am your fool.
Olivia. O, what a deal of scorn looks beautiful
In the contempt and anger of his lip!
A murderous guilt shows not itself more soon
Than love that would seem hid: love’s night is noon.
Cesario, by the roses of the spring,
By maidhood, honour, truth and every thing,
I love thee so, that, maugre all thy pride,
Nor wit nor reason can my passion hide.
Do not extort thy reasons from this clause,
For that I woo, thou therefore hast no cause,
But rather reason thus with reason fetter,
Love sought is good, but given unsought better.
Viola. By innocence I swear, and by my youth
I have one heart, one bosom and one truth,
And that no woman has; nor never none
Shall mistress be of it, save I alone.
And so adieu, good madam: never more
Will I my master’s tears to you deplore.
Olivia. Yet come again; for thou perhaps mayst move
That heart, which now abhors, to like his love. (3.1/1376-1403)
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 We need to bear in mind when reading this extract that it is presented as typical of Comic language. This is what Shakespeare consistently and persistently does in the Comedies: it is “special” only in as much as it is normal for the Comedies. Can we link these statistically established linguistic patterns with our critical sense of how Comedies work?
¶ 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 In terms of plot, Twelfth Night has three interesting devices — a set of identical twins, a shipwreck, and a disguise, all of which introduce a high degree of unintentional confusion into the action, driving it forward. In a plot that is driven on by accident and what you might call “congruent misunderstanding” (when two people do not realize that they are speaking at cross-purposes), you expect to find a lot of back and forth between characters as they synch-up their erroneous suppositions (which is funny in and of itself) then more back and forth as they backtrack in order to rehearse why they did not understand what was going on when they were so deeply engaged with one another. The first thing we notice about this exchange is that it involves an extended miscommunication, culminating in the wonderful line “I am not what I am.”
¶ 8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 The doubled first person is emblematic of the doubling of Viola’s person in Cesario (or in Olivia’s apprehension of Viola as Cesario) and we can see from the underlined strings in Figure 3 how the comic jousting over identity results in a high frequency of “FirstPerson” and “SelfDisclosure” strings. As mentioned above, the other type of strings that characterize Comedy are “Uncertainty” (orange); “Denial” (cyan); “DirectAddress” (turquoise); and “ReferenceLanguage” (purple). These LATs too would seem, when examined in context, to support the idea that comedy is built on a linguistic matrix of dialogue that is in a certain sense, “talk to another about talk.” “Denials” are required to call into question previous statements, “DirectAddress” strings identify the origins of those statements, and “Uncertainty” strings cast mark the speaker’s inability to see those statements through to a communally shared reality. “ReferenceLanguage” strings are partly intelligible in this mix: speakers want to call attention to the means of communication in order to comment on its failure (“clause”), although the exasperated “O” that has been so famously tied to Othello may not be tied to comedy for its power of reference to language (as the LAT category would suggest).
¶ 9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 To a certain extent, then, we can see here what it is in the language that makes it Comic in the eyes of Docuscope. But as we mentioned at the outset, definitions within PCA are built on absences as well as presences: what’s missing from Shakespeare’s comedies, statistically speaking, are strings that make reference to the physical world. The entire component that characterizes Comedy, then, is one in which “FirstPerson,” “SelfDisclosure,” “DirectAddress,” “Uncertainty,” “ReferenceLanguage” and “Denial” strings are mutually elevated from the mean score of all plays, while “Motions,” “SenseProperty,” “SenseObject,” “Inclusion” and “CommonAuthority” strings are (simultaneously) below the mean. (These strings are best seen in Figure 8 below, which shows a particularly typical History fragment from Richard II.)
¶ 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 We should pause at this point to note that there is no obvious linguistic reason why a text should not have high frequencies of “FirstPerson,” “SelfDisclosure,” “Uncertainty,” “DirectAddress,” “Denial,” and “LanguageReference” strings while also having high frequencies of Motions, “SenseProperty,” “SenseObject,” and “Inclusion” strings. We can imagine a text or genre where characters argue energetically about the nature of the physical world around them, exchanging alternative and opposing theories about things—perhaps Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia. But this is not what happens in Shakespeare. In Shakespeare’s dramatic works, for some reason, rapid personal exchange and argument seem to preclude an interest in the physical world — and vice versa.
¶ 11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Perhaps there is a reason a linguist could provide that would explain this pattern as a general feature of the language. That is, someone might be able to show that our language is something that can only “bend” in certain ways, making it quite difficult to use a lot of concrete descriptive nouns and words describing motion or changes in states of objects while simultaneously juggling lots of I/you, my/your strings. But this would not be enough of an explanation for us. We need to say why this type of language pattern — whether or not it is constrained by limits in our grammar, cognition, or underlying semantic maps — coincides with genre classifications made by discriminating humans (Heminges and Condell, Shakespeare’s editors). It is the overlap that is most interesting, even if that overlap suggests some underlying constraints on language use and narrative that we have not really considered in literary critical work.
¶ 12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Returning to the passage above, we would point out two things. First, the quick trading of I/you, my/your strings in comic dialogue suggests a world in which predicates are being attached to subjects from two and only two points of view. This is not a universe of one, nor is it a crowd. It is not surprising that comic plotting — built as it is on sexual pairings — would favor this type of bivalent, perspectival tagging of action by speakers. But there is something else going on here. Olivia is trying to make something happen in this exchange. She says, “do not extort thy reasons from this clause,” and earlier, “I would you were as I would have you be.” The “thy” and “you” are important because the speaker is trying to create or assert a particular interpretation of how these two individuals relate to one another (and the words exchanged between them). The essential drama in this situation is the asymmetry of desire that obtains between the two characters, an asymmetry that keeps Viola from assenting to Olivia’s advances. That resistance is actually what forces Olivia to make these statements that are rich with I/you, me/my, since she is using these words as anchors for a broader interpretation that does not yet obtain. She really wants to say we. And Cesario doesn’t, so they remain in I/you dialogue.
¶ 13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 We can now offer a preliminary hypothesis. Shakespeare writes comedies in which characters, sometimes quite perversely, find the wrong way to the ones they love. Often it is chance or an onstage helper who sorts this out. Shakespeare is actually quite reserved when it comes to showing love as naturally progressing through its obstacles unassisted. But given that in the initial stages of courtship Shakespearean lovers almost never meet and join in a perfectly symmetrical way — they don’t start out as stones set in an arch, leaning perfectly on a keystone — we should expect this asymmetry to show itself in the language. Where does it show up? It appears when a resistant individual, a “you,” prevents another “I” from arriving at an interpretation of a relationship that might be referred to as a “we” before others. Let’s call this the “resistant you” hypothesis. Linguistically the effect manifests itself in the assertion of the self (“FirstPerson”) and the rejection of suggested mental and emotional realities (“DenyDisclaim”).