#MuchAdo #AboutData

#MuchAdo #AboutData update 4

Emma Pallant writes:

Many intriguing things to respond to in recent postings by Jonathan and Heather, but I’ll begin with the observation that chimes most clearly with the work we’ve been doing in the rehearsal room this week. The strongest note of recognition comes from the increased usage of terms of address that Jonathan  has observed.


To reiterate the point from Jonathan’s post, there is a fairly tight social group presented in Much Ado About Nothing: although we move through the social scale from a don, the Prince of Aragon, down to Hugh Oatcake of the watch, the characters we meet in the play seem fairly comfortable interacting with one another.  By that I mean we don’t see any obvious rift between social groups, there are no real strangers in the midst, no-one truly flouting convention, no licensed fool (unless you count Beatrice and Benedick) and no magical creatures or gods to challenge human hubris. Cupid seems to get name-checked as often as any Christian God and in fact, while we are in that realm, it’s interesting to note that there seems to be very little sense of any higher power at all (save for a few Biblical references and the presence of a fairly worldly Friar).  What we do have in our story is Don Pedro of Aragon and a small group of soldiers, who arrive at the home of Leonato and his family.  They agree to stay a month and everyone seems reasonably comfortable with this arrangement.  The ensuing marriages, friendships, confidences and liaisons (actual and possible) during their stay seem ‘easy’, in the sense that they cause no social ructions or conflicts when they are proposed, discussed or realised.


What we see, instead of a particularly broad social sweep, is that the narrowness of this social group seems to create a culture of anxiety, one of jealousy and rivalry, a place of comparison, ambition and social climbing.  Claudio’s new honours from the wars are glories born of Don John’s overthrow (potentially even thwarting an attempted coup or challenge to the Prince’s authority), and it seems that this resentment fuels, if not causes, Don John’s actions against Claudio in the thwarting of his marriage.  His ally in the plotting, Borachio, is branded as “deformed” (dressing in a way he should not, namely above his social standing) for “going up and down like a gentleman”.   Then of course there are the many other disguises and tricks that are enacted during the play, where characters take on the guise of another person, which from the first creates the chief anxiety in the world of the play, that of being supplanted or more specifically cuckolded.


This for the most part is the great big nothing there’s such an ado about.  Claudio – even though Don Pedro (his Prince, companion and friend) swears he will woo Hero ‘in his name’, is quick to believe that this friend has actually wooed for himself and is seen to be “of that jealous complexion”.   It is therefore no surprise to me that in this world of demob happy men where status is in a state of flux, people are keen to lock down identity where they can and name their roles to one another, to be known by their status or familial connection:  Prince, Count, Cousin, Brother, Signor, Father, Master Constable, Friend.


Even in the town scenes where we meet the watch (or more specifically the Prince’s Watch), where the social scale is further compacted, there are tussles over who’s who.  To write and read gives one some added status, but beyond this – and perhaps the respect that comes with age – there is no end of wrangling with plenty of intricacies amongst the sirs, sirrahs, friends, neighbours and the corrective “I am a gentleman” from Conrad. These can be played and received with varying degrees on sincerity or mocking of course, as we would today with the use of  ‘mate’.


For Beatrice and Benedick and their dance toward marriage, they separately name and reiterate their roles as confirmed batchelors during the first half of the play and spend the second half working out how they might reinvent themselves if they volte face from those roles.  Even so, with the fairly constant titles of Lady Beatrice and Signor Benedick many of their verbal parries involve name-calling or rechristening one another – Signor Mountanto, Lady Disdain, the Prince’s Jester – so that their playfulness parodies the society around them.

#MuchAdo #AboutData update 3

The cast are now well into rehearsals, and you can see photos on @PallantPallant‘s twitter feed.

Meanwhile the data miners are about to get on planes to go to the Renaissance Society of America meeting in New York (#rsa14). Here’s a contribution from @heatherfro on the big pronoun question:

I’m still thinking about the best way to measure characters’ speech by gender, which is turning out to be a very interesting question. In the meantime, I did some poking around the Wordhoard system to see if I could find anything else about your pronoun question, and I think I have.
Leonato, not Benedick, uses the lemma she the most out of all the characters:


Beatrice has a very big decline of her use of the lemma he in the play  – II.i has the most instances, and by the end of the play she doesn’t use the lemma at all…
In Act 5 she mostly talks about herself:

This is really interesting for me, though I can’t yet explain why – I suspect there’s something to be said about agency here.

After much I/me discussion between Benedick and Beatrice, we want her to be ending with Benedick by saying we, she doesn’t say we after Act Two, Scene I (2.i.45, 2.1.139; previously there’s one instance of we in 1.i.54). Benedick is the one to say it**, declaring:

 Benedick: Come, come, we are friends: let’s have a dance ere we are married, that we may lighten our own hearts and our wives’ heels.

(5.iv.117-118) and this raises more agency questions for me … I wonder what Emma  can say about Beatrice’s role, especially at the end of the play?


**Note by JH: my reading of these lines is that the we here is Benedick and Claudio, not Benedick and Beratrice – though the point stands, as Benedick uses a plural pronoun to refer to himself and Beatrice at 5.iv.91-2:

 A miracle! Here’s our own hands against our hearts!

 He immediately shifts back into the singular as the two re-establish their witty antagonism:

 Come, I will have thee, but by this light I take thee for pity.

 And Beatrice, perhaps true to character, never shifts:

 Beatrice: I would not deny you, but by this good day I yield upon great persuasion – and partly to save your life, for I was told you were in a consumption.


#MuchAdo #AboutData update 2 (scroll down for the intro to these posts)

The previous finding was about the pronoun ‘she’. This one also uses Log-likelihood to identify words used far more frequently in Much Ado than they are in Shakespeare’s other work.

While ‘she’ is the highest scoring word on Log-likelihood, maybe more striking is a run of words that come next:










Aside from the last two, these are all *very* significantly raised: and they clearly share a function/meaning in that they are terms of address. Some (signor, don) might be said to be plot-related, in that they may reflect the particular setting of Much Ado – but that’s not true for most, and the finding is very robust (they are all strongly raised, even those not associated with this particular setting).

My initial explanation for this is that this tracks a relatively unusual format Much Ado has (unusual compared to Shakespeare’s other work): i.e., it depicts a relatively large group of relatively equal social status interacting relatively equally (note the relativelies!) – and does so in lots of prose. My impression is that most other plays focus on smaller groups, and feature interactions up and down the social scale more. There’s an unusually ‘flat’ social structure in Much Ado – and this is reflected in the profusion of address terms. I think there may be a comparison with City comedy to be made here, but that’s for later posts.

I wonder if Emma and the rest of the cast have noticed anything that chimes with this?




#MuchAdo #AboutData update 1

Word frequency findings: Loglikelihood (done with Wordhoard)

Method: this test looks at word frequency in the play, but not simple frequency (which is often not that interesting: words like ‘the’ and ‘and’ are the most frequent in every play).

What it looks for is words that are used more frequently or less frequently in the play than you would expect given Shakespeare’s usage in his other work. The program counts the totals for each word in the play (= ‘the analysis sample’) and compares them to the totals for the same words in all of Shakespeare (= ‘the reference sample’).

It looks for big rises or falls, and adjusts these against the overall frequency of the word to give a score for how unusual the result is, and how likely it is to be due to chance or not (significance). Results unlikely to be due to chance are given stars: highest rating is four stars.

In this test I excluded names, since it isn’t very interesting to find that Shakespeare uses Beatrice more in Much Ado than he does in his other work.


Standout findings

Finding 1.1

The word* with the biggest shift in usage compared to Shakespeare’s norm is the pronoun ‘she/her’ – with a significance rating of four stars, it is raised in this play way over its frequency elsewhere. To give you a sense of how much it is raised, Shakespeare normally uses ‘she’ 53 times every 10,000 words. In Much Ado, he uses it 131 times every 10,000 words.

There are just over 21,000 words in Much Ado. Let’s call that 20,000 for simplicity. This means Shakespeare uses ‘she’ around 262 times in the play. If he was behaving normally, he’d use it 106 times.

This is a big shift – an already frequent word is used two and a half times as often.



It is tempting to wonder if female characters are more prominent in Much Ado: are there more of them? Do they speak more lines? (We’ll ask Heather Froehlich if she has suggestions re this.)

But this result isn’t necessarily telling us that. What it tells us is that women are referred to more frequently in this play. Maybe it’s just that men talk about women a lot – or maybe men and women talk about women.

Anyway: there’s the first finding. Now over to Emma in the rehearsal room…


*I did this search on ‘lemma’, which automatically includes different forms of the ‘same’ word – so ‘she’ and ‘her’ are counted together.

AntConc Hit File for 'she' in MuchAdo


We’ve posted in the past about advising actors at Shakespeare’s Globe in London on the language of plays they are rehearsing. This is the first in an experimental series of short posts building on that process.

I’m going to be running some analyses on the language of Much Ado About Nothing and discussing the results with Emma Pallant (@PallantPallant), who will be playing Beatrice in a Globe touring production this year (2014).

Emma is an outstanding, and really thoughtful, actor (who crops up on the cover of this book on women making Shakespeare) -so whether I come up with anything interesting or not, the production is sure to be worth seeing. If you are in the UK, or Austria, there’s a chance the production will be close to you at some point in spring/summer (details of venues and ticket booking here).

We’ll also tweet about the data, using the hashtags #MuchAdo #AboutData

As a teaser/taster, click on the image at the top of this post for a quick overview of the distribution of the word ‘she’ across the play. Notice anything?

Jonathan (@wellsheisnt)



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  1. Emma
    Posted March 15, 2014 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    Firstly thanks to Jonathan for his kind words and diligent work, as ever.

    I first came across Jonathan’s research while preparing Titania/Hippolyta in ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ for the Globe and found both his specific finding on the play and his wider work fascinating. I must say here straight away that I am not typical of all actors in this! There are as many working methods as there are performers: we all have our own ways of preparing for a role – some textual, some emotional, some physical. There are varying areas of interest for actors looking at a text for performance and indeed attitudes to scholarship. But for me the text is the initial gateway into a personal relationship with the character I’m playing and with Shakespeare this is all the richer, as the form – as well as the language – leaves a trail of clues to the heart of a possibly – and for me needfully – new version of a character.

    I’m currently rehearsing ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ for the Globe’s 2014 tour and we’ve just finished our first week in the rehearsal room. This has been chiefly spent doing ‘table work’; reading the play, discussing the intricacies of the plot, making the first brushstrokes of characterisation and, in basic terms, finding out (or deciding) what everything means.

    The touring productions are a very particular performance animal: a cast of eight actors plays multiple roles (often cross-gender casting is necessary) and also make the music for the production. In our ‘Much Ado’ this feels is particularly and gloriously tangled: one actor will not only be playing Margaret (with some of Antonio’s text reassigned to her) and Borachio but also the Friar; the actor playing Leonato is also playing (a much cut) Ursula; and Beatrice (me) is also playing Verges.

    Although the full text is edited and has some lines reassigned, the main body and texture of the play remains, so the ‘behaviour’ of the play’s language is still of interest as it informs on the play as a whole and in doing so gives us further clues about what is happening in the particular world of the play and therefore what the audience will be hearing.

    Jonathan’s first observation, a marked increase in the usage of words her/she, is really interesting. There has been a lot of discussion this week around our rehearsal table about the very particular male and female worlds of the play, the way women feel ‘observed’ in the world of Messina, that, as title of the play suggests, their behaviour is ‘noted’ (noting/nothing). This is obviously clearest at the very heart of the Claudio/Hero plot – but it’s seen also in the near obsession woven through the soldiers’ banter: there is an expectation that men will be cuckolded, that women WILL be unfaithful.

    I did a very crude scramble with Beatrice’s words from the play using WORDLE (a site that makes pretty jumbles of words based on the frequency of their appearance in a particular passage) and it seems the word she uses most frequently (other than common words) is MAN. Perhaps the fear of being cheated is just as strong in this world from women to men, but with their typically reduced word count it’s harder to observe?

    I’m already looking forward to the next installment, Jonathan.

  2. Jonathan Hope
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    thanks Emma – more soon, meanwhile, people may be interested in this post http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/parsing-is-such-sweet-sorrow/ which looks at the number of lines Shakespeare’s lovers exchange. Worth reading the comments for some opposing views, though I think a lot of the snark is unfair: this is a post that’s well-aware of the limitations of the method (see the final sections).

    The key issue here is that we count what we *can* count – and we hope that what we count can be linked in some way to what we’re interested in. Here we count lines, because they are easy – but as many point out, lines exchanged do not equal depth of relationship.

    Similarly, I’ve used pronouns above, because they are easy (relatively) to count. But they are (we hope) a proxy for something more meaningful. The hard part is deciding what they are a proxy for.

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