This week the ACL was at the annual meeting of the Shakespeare Association of America, where Michael presented this paper, “Language Use and Cognition: Shakespeare’s Gradatio in Context” in a workshop on Form, Complexity, and Computation—co-organized by Advisory Board member Anupam Basu.
Next June, Michael will be in Stratford, Ontario, sharing the ACL’s latest research in two papers.
First, at 9 am on June 20, he’ll join colleagues Cass Morris and Janelle Jenstad on a panel called “Mark(up) the Play: Best Practices for Digital Tagging of Rhetorical Devices” at the 2015 Shakespeare Theatre Conference:
Rhetorical Schematics in Theory and Practice
In Figuring Style: The Legacy of Renaissance Rhetoric (2014), Nancy Christiansen describes early modern language as a web of rhetorical figures. This resonates with our experience as readers of that language, particularly in dramatic texts where we encounter self-consciously artful usage. But is that usage necessarily artificial? Might it be, instead, behaviour that reflects the writer’s natural habits of thought? This paper analyzes the output of the Rhetorical Schematics Project‘s custom-built algorithm—an output that includes all 114 instances of gradatio or incrementum from a corpus of 400 early modern plays. These instances are not the definitive set of every instance of this figure in this period, but they get us closer than more selective analysis to understanding the link between convention and cognition, theory and practice. I’ll address these questions and how we plan to publish them as marked-up texts in the Internet Shakespeare Editions and the Digital Renaissance Editions.
Later that evening (5:30–6:30 pm), Michael will participate in the Stratford Festival Free Forum on Augmented Criticism in the Festival Theatre lobby:
Shakespeare and the Problem of Abundance
Shakespeare’s plays and poems are about 865,185 words long. It sounds like a lot, but that number is a fraction of 1% of the billion words that were printed in English before 1700. If you printed those billion words in a 400-page book, Shakespeare’s contribution would be just over a third of a page. And most experts in Renaissance literature could expect to read about four of those pages in their careers.
What do the other pages tell us about Shakespeare’s language? Is it more beautiful, more creative, more sophisticated? Is it exceptional in any intrinsic way, beyond its attribution to a famous writer?
The Rhetorical Schematics Project starts to answer these questions by comparing Shakespeare’s use of rhetorical figures to those of his contemporaries. Consider gradatio, a figure that repeats words at the ends and beginnings of successive clauses, like in the nursery song: “She swallowed the bird to catch the spider, | She swallowed the spider to catch the fly…” How does Shakespeare’s usage differ from wider patterns of usage? I’ll present the results of our study and raise these broader questions about his exceptionality.