Hugh Craig and Brett Greatley-Hirsch have redefined the scope of computational analyses of early modern drama and set an impressive standard for distant reading approaches to the canon. Previously associated with authorship studies, stylistic data can be deployed to make informed claims about a host of interests across a wide array of texts, as the authors demonstrate. This approach complements traditional literary studies by elucidating that which cannot be deduced readily by human eyes and cross-referencing a myriad of texts that cannot be processed as readily by the human mind. In this way, they respond to and work through the various critiques of distant reading to arrive at a model of analysis that provides scholars at the intersection of early modern studies and digital humanities with an informed and balanced means to conduct large-scale computational analyses, acknowledging their limitations along the way. As they express in their Coda, the authors’ aims in this book are to merge earlier literary analysis with new computational methods, to see the forest and the specific details of its individual trees, and to create a work that makes the technical terminology accessible and interesting to scholars who might have no desire to conduct such tests themselves. Craig and Greatley-Hirsch achieve all of these goals in their engaging and enlightening book. While all of the chapters detail important discoveries, this reviewer highlights the particularly masterful studies that manage to meet and exceed the parameters the authors have set. The book is accessible to a general readership insofar as the authors make the computational methods of their study comprehensible and transparent to a Shakespearean scholar or an interested student. Craig and Greatley-Hirsch provide a succinct overview of their various methods, ranging from principle components analysis (PCA) to Random Forests to Shannon Entropy, among others. Their explanation of the mathematics, processes, and limitations of these applications is comprehensive and lucid with analogies that allow a literary scholar to grasp the process and calculus. The authors achieve this lucidity without being overly reductive, thereby striking a balance that should appeal to all readers. They utilize earlier catalogues, such as Harbage and Schoenbaum’s Annals of English Drama, 975-1700, and their data are standardized through using the digital tool VARD, which modernizes the spelling in corpora of texts. The book’s strongest chapter focuses on stage properties, and the reviewer regards it as such because of the authors’ ability to engage thoroughly with recent criticism on stage properties in early modern studies to elucidate the ways in which their findings contribute to this conversation and offer new insights. Exposing the limitations of Frances Teague’s six categories of stage properties and applying PCA to their data, Craig and Greatley-Hirsch utilize Martin Wiggins’s Catalogue to confirm the previous quantitative findings of Douglas Bruster, show that ‘genre has a significant effect’ on prop-type usage (p. 133), and draw conclusions concerning bizarre findings, such as the occurrences of the baby stage property in history plays. As elsewhere in their book, the authors draw attention to the limitations of the data of their study, which excludes the number of stage properties used because this variable is often ambiguous at best; they assert that their findings are not absolute or concrete, as playwrights could very well manipulate the conventions to challenge audience reception; they acknowledge that their research is open to further discoveries. In this chapter, the authors do an exceptional job at illustrating how computer-based analysis augments and complements traditional humanities scholarship rather than marking a break from it, making it an exemplary model of the scholarship they have aimed to provide. The other chapters in the book achieve this feat as well. The authors’ examination of prose and verse, for example, revisits the work on this subject by T. S. Eliot to illuminate its lingering importance, namely, the possibility of conceptualizing ‘a system where prose or verse could be neutral’ while also recognizing that their juxtaposition could result in ‘an intense awareness of different orders of being’ (pp. 77–78). In this chapter the discussion of dramatic orientation with ‘locus’ and ‘platea’, however, could benefit from engagement with more recent work from Erika T. Lin or Robert Weimann. Likewise, Paul Yachnin and Jessica Slight’s more recent study of character is not cited in the chapter on this topic. These oversights do not infringe upon the quality of the authors’ findings or the importance of their claims; rather, these chapters are merely less masterful than the segment on stage properties, which situates provocative statistical discoveries within a current and elaborate body of scholarship. Nevertheless, Craig and Greatley-Hirsch’s examination of character allows for a reconceptualization of qualitative research by allowing us to lose Hamlet ‘in the middle of a cloud of data-points’ and see beyond our preconceptions of character (p. 108). Their observations of the data have important ramifications for future studies of early modern drama that challenge current critical understandings of style. These include that ‘dramatists conformed to a pattern in the playwrighting of their time, rather than inheriting language characteristics from their generation’ (p. 159); ‘that recent theatre historiography and textual criticism has exaggerated the extent to which repertory companies constrained the authorial habits of the playwrights they employed’ (p. 200); and that the plays of Brome and Shirley are the natural precursors to Restoration comedies and tragicomedies, respectively (p. 223). As in previous chapters, some of these sections could benefit from further attention to the body of scholarship on the texts in question, particularly the substantive amount of work on Middleton’s A Game at Chess. The play is regularly addressed in Chapter 5 and is only referenced in relation to G. K. Hunter’s earlier work on allegory. This is all to say that the authors consistently provide their readers with informed, valuable, and provocative conclusions based upon rigorous computational analysis and that these readings are met with equally impressive critical engagement in a selection of chapters. Craig and Greatley-Hirsch have thus provided a book whose case studies vary from important to masterful. Regardless, they have established a precedent for future computational studies of early modern drama. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press 2018; all rights reserved This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/open_access/funder_policies/chorus/standard_publication_model)
The Review of English Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Nov 1, 2018
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