Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Shakespeare Search Tool


I've done a little concordance work in my commentary this year – "honor" and "dishonor" in Titus Andronicus, "vegeance" variants in 3 Henry VI – and to do so I used MIT's complete works web site, searching each word by using the "Find" feature in my web browser. Sort of a pain, but lately I've found a tool I wish I'd had earlier and which makes the process faster and more effective: Shakespeare Searched

Briefly, this web site allows you to search any word in any play, and it displays the results in the context of entire speeches. For example, put "coward" into the search field, select "All Characters" and the play Macbeth, and the search engine reveals two occurrences, Lady Macbeth and Macduff, both of whom use the term referring to Macbeth.

Put the same word in and search in the play Hamlet and you'll find three occurrences, all Hamlet essentially referring to himself.

Northrop Frye comments in On Shakespeare that A. C. Bradley saw Shakespeare's tragedies as "tragedies of character." "The tragedy," he writes, "comes about because a particular character is in the one situation he can't handle" (4). With this one word, "coward," we find an example of this character difference. In Hamlet, part of his problem is that he worries he does not have the resolve to follow through on his fatal task. In the milieu of honor and vengeance (chivalry), to not act is cowardice. Thus his self criticism. With Macbeth, his problem is that he makes rash and self-destructive decisions. He is a man of tremendous power, but he is vulnerable pyschologically to the goad of being called a coward. If he weren't, Lady Macbeth's challenge could easily have been laughed off in favor of a wiser choice than killing Duncan.

Word searching, I have found, does not always lead to enlightenment, but it does often point to interesting correlations. And for fun, or when I have papers to grade, I occasionally put random words into the Shakespeare Searched search engine and see what turns up. Searching for "coward" in two texts took all of 20 seconds. The pleasure of your discoveries may last a lifetime.

Bookmark it if you like it,

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