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Course structure

Read what lies ahead on this course.

Each of the weeks ahead has a different focus and indeed often a different mix of materials. Taken as a whole, the course covers a wide range of interests from more linguistic to more literary (with even some light use of computers in between).

The emphasis of Week one is on Shakespeare’s linguistic backdrop. All writers of that period were drawing on roughly the same linguistic resources. What were those resources? That is the question we will address. In particular, we will draw attention to salient differences between the English of today and that of Shakespeare’s time, incorporating examples from Shakespeare. The mix of materials will be video-talks, quick practice exercises, and quizzes(so that you can assess your own learning).

The emphasis of Week two is on methods, broadly understood. We begin by discussing the methods of early modern printing and how they mediated Shakespeare’s language. We also briefly note some of the dangers in choosing modern edited texts as ways of accessing Shakespeare’s language. We then turn to research methods, and in particular ways of analysing large sets of language data or corpora (singular, corpus). We introduce some relevant corpora, notably relating to Early English Books Online and the Enhanced Shakespearean Corpus. As an illustration of the advantages corpus-based analyses afford, we compare traditional Shakespeare dictionaries with the potential of a corpus-based Shakespeare dictionary. We then begin to introduce the key tool of this course, CQPweb, and teach you some key search methods. Finally, you explore some aspects of meaning in Shakespeare’s texts. The mix of materials differs somewhat from that of Week one, in that there are some articles to read, and in particular discussion pieces which guide you in performing searches on CQPweb for yourselves.

The emphasis of Week three is on myths about Shakespeare’s language. Several of those myths revolve around a poor understanding of what a word is and what a neologism (new word) is, and so we cover those topics first. We then introduce you to some more search and analysis techniques on CQPweb (for all CQPweb video-talks on the course, you are encouraged to enact the instructions in CQPweb for yourselves whilst watching the video). We then tackle a variety of the myths including that Shakespeare coined a huge number of words, he had a huge vocabulary, his language is universal, his language dominates the English language and that he knew little Latin. The mix of materials is somewhat similar to that of the previous week.

The emphasis of Week four is on broader styles, including styles that construct characters and styles that give particular plays their distinctive flavour. The key technique we will be focusing on here is that of keyword analysis (not keywords in the sense of Raymond Williams, but words that occur unusually frequently or infrequently relative to something else). These words are statistically derived style markers. We will show you how to use CQPweb to interrogate Shakespeare’s text and derive such keywords. Needless to say, you have opportunities to put this into practice yourself, both with respect to characters and plays. This week the materials have rather more emphasis on you putting it into action. In fact, you will realise that you can extend keyword analysis to many other notions (e.g. you could examine the set of plays deemed to be tragedies and see what keywords arise). Indeed, this applies to all of the techniques you will learn on the course, especially with respect to CQPweb. The limits really are just your imagination!

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Shakespeare's Language: Revealing Meanings and Exploring Myths

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