Depictions of deception: A corpus-based analysis of five Shakespearean characters

Dawn Archer, Mathew Gillings

Publication: Scientific journalJournal articlepeer-review


Drawing on the Enhanced Shakespearean Corpus: First Folio Plus and using corpus-based methods, this article explores, quantitatively and qualitatively, Shakespeare’s depictions of five deceptive characters (Aaron, Tamora, Iago, Lady Macbeth and Falstaff). Our analysis adopts three strands: firstly, statistical keywords relating to each character are examined to determine what this tells us about their natures more generally. Secondly, the wordlists produced for each of the five characters are drawn upon to determine the extent to which they make use of linguistic features that have been correlated with, or linked to, acts of deliberate deception in real-world contexts. Thirdly, we make use of the results identified during the two aforementioned strands by using them to identify particular (sequences of) turns that are worthy of more detailed analysis. Here, we are primarily interested in (a) whether these keywords/deceptive indicators cluster or co-occur and (b) whether these interactions are the same as those identified by other scholars exploring depictions of deception in Shakespeare from a literary perspective. The findings indicate that deception-related features are indeed used collectively/in close proximity, by Shakespeare, at points where a character speaks to other characters disingenuously. They also suggest that Shakespeare’s deceptive depictions do change stylistically, from character to character, in line with those characters’ different characterisations and situations, that Shakespeare draws on atypical language features – such as self-oriented references – when it comes to some of his depictions of deception and that Shakespeare uses these various stylistic features to achieve a range of dramatic effect(s).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)246 - 274
JournalLanguage and Literature
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Austrian Classification of Fields of Science and Technology (ÖFOS)

  • 602004 General linguistics
  • 602011 Computational linguistics

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