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No Need To Sit Through Shakespeare, Thanks To Statistical Exegesis

Will Thou Come Good Lord?

One might conclude that this question is the core idea of all the works of William Shakespeare, if one only looked at the treatment of Shakespeare by Exegetic Analysis, the name under which Andrew Collier, who has a PhD in Physics and “enjoys taking raw data and transforming it into something meaningful and useful,” works as a consultant.

Collier’s previous professional experience is in analyzing large amounts of data collected by astronomical observatories.

Collier promises that his consulting as Exegetic Analysis will provide “Sapientia ex numero. Wisdom from numbers.” Then, to demonstrate a sample of that wisdom, Collier takes the data processing skills he learned from studying physics, and applies it to the works of William Shakespeare.

The result of Collier’s extensive analysis of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets is the word cloud you see below. This, apparently, is what wisdom looks like. Why go to the theater and sit through long hours of Shakespeare’s plays, when you have this?

“Not sure that I would like to make any conclusions on the basis of the results above (Shakespeare is well outside my field of expertise!), but I now have a pretty good handle on how the tm package works,” Collier writes.

My understanding of how the “tm package” (Text Mining) works, given Collier’s demonstration, is that it reduces a complex artistic creation that itself is a partial representation of human experience, and reduces it to a piece of highly distilled irrelevance.

Looking back at the beginning of Collier’s explanation of his effort to conduct statistical exegesis of the works of William Shakespeare, we can gain this further tidbit of wisdom: It is essential to have clear research question in mind, and an understanding of which research methods are best suited to answering that question, before attempting to analyze a body of information. Collier skipped that step before seeking to put his “tm package” to work. “I thought I would apply it to the Complete Works of William Shakespeare and just see what falls out,” Collier writes.

The moral of this story is: Your data may be impressively big, but wisdom does not just fall out of it, any more than wisdom just falls out of the night sky.

william shakespeare word cloud

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