Hundredth Psalm

Case Study #1
Title: “The Hundredth Psalm to the Tune of ‘Green Sleeves’: Digital Approaches to Shakespeare’s Language of Genre”
Principals: Jonathan Hope and Michael Witmore
What is it: collaborative scholarly essay, the subject of an open peer review experiment in 2010 at Shakespeare Quarterly.

Abstract: In this essay, Hope and Witmore explore the underlying linguistic matrix of Shakespeare’s dramatic genres using multivariate statistics and a text tagging device known as Docuscope, a hand-curated corpus of several million English words (and strings of words) that have been sorted into grammatical, semantic and rhetorical categories. Taking Heminges and Condell’s designations of the Folio plays as comedies, histories and tragedies as our starting point, we offer a portrait of Shakespearean genre at the level of the sentence, showing how an identification of frequently iterated combinations of words (either in their presence or absence) can allow us to appreciate the integrity and fluidity of Shakespeare’s genres in new ways. Calling this approach “iterative criticism,” we situate our critical practice in the context of both Shakespearean criticism and more general protocols of reading in the humanities, concluding with a genre map of Shakespeare’s plays in the context of 318 other early modern plays. The essay explicitly compares its quantitative methodologies with traditional literary interpretation, outlining the payoffs of a dual approach.

Issues raised:

  • collaborative authorship (see authorship statement below)
  • new methodologies (text mining, machine reading, scalable “iterative criticism”)
  • published in multiple versions over several years:
  • blog entry, see also comments linking to other blogs which carry on the conversation.
  • online essay reviewed in open venue at MediaCommons:;
  • traditional print, Shakespeare Quarterly 61:3 (2010).
  • new modes of peer review (non-anonymous, public review process that should be understood as “partially open” in that non review comments were determinative for publication but the publication decision was, as traditionally, made by the Editor). The Guest Editor’s column and the archived open review site document this innovative process of review. The process was itself peer reviewed by Larry Cebula at Northwest History.

Authorship statement: “This paper is the result of an ongoing collaboration: its intellectual content is shared between the authors, which has led us to alternate first author status in all of our publications. Witmore designed the experiments and generated the data, providing the initial readings of the results on his blog, Hope drafted the paper, provided extended readings of passages, and introduced the linguistic context of its discussions. Both authors are responsible for the conclusion. We want to thank Kate Fedewa for her assistance in preparing the image file for the large diagram appearing at the end of this essay.”

sponsored by the MLA Committee on Information Technology