segunda-feira, outubro 05, 2015

Going Through the Numbers: Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing"

(John Gielgud and Margaret Leighton in the 1959 Broadway production of Much Ado About Nothing)

Through reading "Much Ado About Nothing", Beatrice is the character which I have been impressed most, as everyone else. I wanted and tried to imagine how she affected people, especially women, at that time.  

So I decided to go on with the word "woman" deciphering how many time it is used, how it is used, by whom it is used, when it is used, etc. I used 3 different tools for that.

I started with the Google Books Ngram Viewer, and searched "woman" between the dates 1500 and 1800 (basically till when First-Wave Feminismstarted). This is how it looks like: 

Then I searched between the dates 1800 and 2008, and that is how it looks like:

Wayyy big difference, isn't it? But let’s come to this later.

After that, I got an impulse to search for the word "woman" in Much Ado, and of course I did! Ha! :) I used WordHoard for that (I don't know much how to use it, because I was too impatient to figure out.)

What I've found in this search is very interesting. It is not a play which the word "woman" used most. Actually, it is quite the opposite, one of the plays which "woman" used least. But it differs in a way that how it is used. For example, all of the female characters use it at least one. And, of course, it's not a surprise that Beatrice is the one who use it most. Apart from female characters, and this is the most shocking fact in this search for me, Benedick is the only male character who uses the word "woman". While I was thinking that I started to understand Shakespeare and to recognize his genius, this happened to be a big huge staggering slap onto my face. When I think about Benedick, despite his claims about women, he is the only male character who believes, supports, and stands for women, without any apparent reasons. (Friar also believes Hero, but he has sort of reasons for that, like the gestures of Hero). He believes that just because they're women, people shouldn't accuse them without thinking twice. He believes that women are not just marriage material, or a sex object, but they're friends, a person you can talk to and they can be as clever as men, maybe even more. Unlike the other male characters, he doesn't look at women only regarding their "fairness", but also regarding other virtues. How can a brain create such an algorithm that people can observe this through some technological devices and tools which people in that era can't even imagine? One word: Fascinating!

Then I searched "women" in all of Shakespeare plays grouping by speaker gender:

It looks like male characters use it more than females. It has been always the case, isn't it? Men always has more to say about women, more than women have. This can be another finding about the women issue at that era. But why do we limit it, right? :)

This is a grouping by speaker mortality:

This was, again, quite interesting for me. Immortal or supernatural characters doesn't look like caring about the concept of genders, like Puck from "Midsummer Night's Dream".  

Lastly, I searched it grouping by publication decade:

This made me go back to my first search on Ngram Viewer. You can also go back and take a second look at them. The same sharp increase in mentioning women in literary works can be observed there, too. One can conclude that Shakespeare may be the one who encouraged putting "woman" in literary texts. I wouldn't be surprised by this fact, though. Why doesn't a writer who influenced centuries later influence his own era, right?

I wanted to go on with Voyant tool this time. Since our focus is on Much Ado, I'd like to analyse the lines which include the word "woman". It is great tool for that. Unlike the Wordle, it gives you the chance to observe which words are emphasized and why. (To analyse word clouds, hit the "Analyse it!" button below the pictures.)

I got an impression from these word clouds that everyone has a point of view regarding genders. Everyone has a perception of himself/herself and the other people/gender. Maybe the problem starts here. We can't look at things from a mutual point of view. We can't accept that humans are just humans. We must categorize them all the time! Men or women, upper class or working class, old or young, black or white, etc.. And everyone is forced to take sides. Against what? Against another human being? Against humanity? 

I'm glad that I've made this search and looked at the play through an individual word. It really made me go after the notion I had while reading the play. 

I hope you read this till the end…  

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