English Majors Rejoice: WolframAlpha Does Willy

April 11, 2012

I know that quite a few search engine optimization wizards, most MBAs, and probably two thirds of the attorneys love William Shakespeare. From the wonderful days in those teen years all the way through English 410 at a top-notch school like the University of Phoenix. Willy’s passion is that which passes show to the glass of fashion, text mining. Ah, analytics, how use doth breed a habit in a man.

wolfram rape of lucrece

Well, not the entire corpus of Shakespeare. “Rape of Lucrece” warrants a “WolframAlpha doesn’t understand your query.” So for my own part, it was Greek to me.

Navigate to “To Computer or Not to Compute—WolframAlpha Analyzes Shakespeare’s Plays.” I thought immediately about Vivisimo’s academic vertical search demonstrations. These were great fun, but I am not sure that academic subjects hit the Instagram jack pot. The service may be useful to those trying for figure out which character was Desdemona’s mother’s maid, and I think the service helps educate some graduate students into the virtues of doing close reading by scanning outputs from a set of algorithms little understood. Here’s the passage in the write up I noted:

Entering a play into Wolfram|Alpha, like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, brings up basic information, such as number of acts, scenes, and characters. It also provides more in-depth info like longest word, most frequent words, number of words and sentences, and more. It’s also easy to find more specific information about a particular act or scene with queries like “What is the longest word in King Lear?”, “What is the average sentence length of Macbeth?”, and “How many unique words are there in Twelfth Night?”.

Literature teachers will face essays in which words fly up. What is below is a numerical recipes. And close reading? We have heard the chimes at midnight.

Stephen E Arnold, April 11, 2012

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