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Type: Thesis
Title: An Algorithmic Criticism of Audience Manipulation in Christopher Marlowe’s The Massacre at Paris
Author: Cuthbertson, Galen Mereki
Issue Date: 2017
School/Discipline: School of Humanities : English and Creative Writing
Abstract: In this thesis, I apply computational stylistics methods to investigate the structural underpinnings of audience manipulation in Christopher Marlowe’s The Massacre at Paris. By engaging an iterative process of re-reading underpinned by novel methods taken from computational stylistics and algorithmic criticism, I argue that formal features of The Massacre evince an intricate and intensely practical approach to the manipulation of audience response. This reading casts new light on the theatrical viability of the play itself, while simultaneously asserting the strength of digital methods in the analysis of neglected, ambiguous, and so-called corrupt or mangled playtexts. I engage this project of algorithmic criticism in three stages. In Chapter 1, I begin with a traditional reading of the multiple audiences of The Massacre. Building on Julia Briggs’ reading of “ritualised violence” (259), I identify a structure of ‘fractal’ self-similarity across the scenes of the play. With particular attention given to the spectatorial inset of scene xxi, and the critical effects of such metatheatrical modes of presentation across the entire play, I suggest that key features of the surviving text gesture towards a self-conscious realisation of genre and theatrical artifice. Moreover, I argue that this self- conscious realisation is fundamentally intertwined with, and energised by, the risk of theatrical failure. The apparent effect, I argue, is a mode of neutrality and double vision on the part of the text itself: the generation of an audience which, far from being overtly manipulated, is encouraged to freely interpret the play’s action. In Chapter 2, I deploy methods of computational stylistics to detect patterns of sentiment and syntactic fracturing in a time-series analysis of the playtext. Looking first at the presence and absence of basic syntactic coherence surrounding stage events, and later at the shifting status of positive and negative ‘sentiment’ language across the many character utterances, I suggest that the apparent audience freedom identified in the previous chapter may, in fact, be severely curtailed by subtler linguistic trends. Drawing on Evelyn Tribble’s notion of the “cognitive ecology” of the theatre (151), I argue that the clusters of linguistic fracturing evince a deeply pragmatic approach to the sociality of audience and stage. In Chapter 3, I engage with the play at its most abstract level. By setting aside the analysis of spoken utterances entirely and examining character interactions, I develop a model of the play’s changing social network. Here I find evidence that the structural features of the playtext’s character network(s) is itself vital to the strategic manipulation of audience response. Looking first at the shape of the network—its density, clustering, and the relative centrality of its key characters—and then at the dynamics responsible for the shifting dynamics of this network over time, I argue that the violent action of the play has a decisive impact on the generation, direction, and manipulation of audience response. Even in the mangled form in which the playtext survives, I argue that the social network of The Massacre exhibits complex structural features that suggest a project of audience manipulation that is at once pragmatic, Machiavellian, and deeply Marlovian. In spite of the mangled state in which The Massacre has come down to us, and in spite of the neutrality that appears to sit at the heart of the play, I contend that a set of the play’s structural features work to curtail and control the set of responses available to an audience in performance. This project of manipulation is at once intricate, invisible, and typically Marlovian. Thus figured, this thesis offers an effective case study in the application of digital methods to literary studies. It casts new light on the theatrical viability of The Massacre, refigures the relation between it and other plays in the Marlovian dramatic canon, and gestures towards a productive reading practice that can be scaled to analyses of other mangled, corrupted, and forgotten plays of the early modern period.
Advisor: Potter, Lucy
Dissertation Note: Thesis (MPhil) -- University of Adelaide, School of Humanities, 2017
Keywords: Algorithmic criticism
computational stylistics
digital humanities
early modern theatre
spectacle violence
social network analysis
Provenance: This electronic version is made publicly available by the University of Adelaide in accordance with its open access policy for student theses. Copyright in this thesis remains with the author. This thesis may incorporate third party material which has been used by the author pursuant to Fair Dealing exceptions. If you are the owner of any included third party copyright material you wish to be removed from this electronic version, please complete the take down form located at:
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