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Keywords and plays (part 2)

What Jonathan Culpeper further explain how a keyword analysis can shed light on the style(s) of a play.
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In this talk, we’re going to look at some play keyword results and suggest ways of interpreting them. The play we’re going to look at is Henry IV, Part 1, famous for the characters of Prince Hal, Falstaff, and Hotspur, amongst others. If you’re not familiar with the play, you might like to read the plot summary provided in the supplementary materials folder before continuing. We are going to use Halliday’s metafunctions of language– ideational, interpersonal, and textual– as an analytical framework to group our keyword results. Let’s begin with ideational keywords. A number of these relate to nationality. Nation and nationality words are necessary for the plot. They may also reflect contemporary attitudes and stereotypes.
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On the positive side, collocates of Scot include “ever-valiant and approved,” “noble,” and “sprightly.” On the negative side, we find “bold,” “haughty,” “vile,” and “hot termagant,” savage. Other collocates of Scotland include “word” and “power,” suggesting that what is said and done in or by Scotland matters. 75% of references to Wales are to the Prince of Wales, Prince Hal. Most occurrences of Welsh occur in Act 3, scene 1 and refer to Lady Mortimer speaking the language. We find collocates of Welsh, such as “sweet,” “pretty,” and “sing.” These suggest an appeal to positive stereotypes. However, Hotspur says, “Now I perceive the Devil understands Welsh,” which serves as a humorous counterpoint. Maybe this comment reveals more about Hotspur’s character than Elizabethans’ attitude to Welsh.
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The same, perhaps, can be said of Hotspur’s comment
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at the bottom of the table: “I had rather hear Lady, my brach,” hound, “howl in Irish.” Other collocates of Irish suggest associations with wars and expedition, a pressing concern during Elizabeth I’s reign. The keyness of nation and nationality keywords looks ahead to Henry V, in which such words are used more extensively.
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Moving on to interpersonal keywords, let’s look at oaths. Falstaff, the Prince, and Hotspur are all soldiers and given to swearing. They use the oath “by ‘r Lady,” by our lady.
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Falstaff describes himself: “his age some 50, or, by ‘r Lady, inclining to threescore.” Another oath, “in good sooth,” truth, is repeated by Hotspur to mock his wife Lady Percy for using this very mild oath. He would prefer “a good mouth-filling Oath.” Now let’s look at the keywords “hang” and “gallows.” These appear to be ideational rather than interpersonal. They suggest a preoccupation with execution. Gadshill, who sets up the robbery in Act 2, scene 2, says, “If I hang, I’ll make a fat pair of Gallows; for, if I hang, old Sir John hangs with me.” As they’re both heavily overweight, the two gallows will bow outwards and appear fat. A literal case of gallows humour, you might say.
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Certainly the use of hang in this case is ideational. However, if we look at all instances of the lemma “hang,” we find that over 60% occur in oaths. This is especially true of the insult “be hanged.” Falstaff says, “Give me my Horse, and be hanged.” So “hang” is mainly used as an interpersonal keyword.
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Finally, let’s look at an example of textual keywords. This is interesting because it is precisely the type of keyword not usually discussed by literary critics or even linguists. The keyword here is the article “a” or “an.” The keyness of “a/an” partly comes from oaths used by Falstaff and Hotspur,
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both plain-talking soldiers: “a plague of all Cowards” and “a plague upon it.” Another frequent collocate of “a” or “an” is “like.” It is used 35 times in inventive comparisons. “Beads of sweat– like bubbles in a late-disturbed Stream” and “why, my skin hangs about me like an old Lady’s loose Gown.” A further frequent collocate of “a” and “an” is “of,” which occurs 124 times. Again we see linguistic creativity. The 28 examples with “a” after “of” include “the current of a heady fight” and “the forced gait of a shuffling Nag.” There are 66 instances of “a” before “of.” For example, “a foolish hanging of thy nether Lip” and “a deal of skimble-skamble Stuff,” ridiculous talk.
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The verbal dexterity given to Falstaff accounts for many of these instances. Perhaps, though, overall these forms also indicate an increasingly confident and ingenious author. The play’s first production was probably in 1598 as Shakespeare was approaching the peak of his career. So let’s wrap up by summarising some of the points we’ve been talking about. We have classified keywords as ideational, interpersonal, or textual though we’ve seen that some words, such as “hang,” may fit more than one category. The advantage of this sort of analysis is it allows us to group keywords in meaningful ways. And because our results are statistically derived, we can investigate often-ignored linguistic forms, such as the indefinite article “a” or “an.”
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Careful and detailed analysis combined with interpretation helps us produce linguistic profiles for plays.

This video-talk, though voiced by Jonathan Culpeper, incorporates the words of Sean Murphy.

Armed with our knowledge of keywords and how to group them in particular ways, we now examine the play King Henry IV, Part One. Having (1) extracted the keywords, (2) grouped them (according to Halliday’s metafunctions) and (3) looked at the collocations of those keywords, we reveal how ideational keywords can reflect contemporary attitudes and stereotypes towards nation and nationality; how interpersonal keywords, notably oaths, capture the nature of particular characters; and how textual keywords – often overlooked by literary critics and linguists alike – may reflect characterisation, but also possibly Shakespeare’s authorial style.

Are there particular results that struck you? Do you have alternative interpretations for these results? Put your thoughts in the comments.

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Shakespeare's Language: Revealing Meanings and Exploring Myths

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