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The WordWeb/IDEM

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The Project

WordWeb/IDEM maps intertextuality in early modern drama by linking thousands of extracts from English Renaissance plays which quote each other.

"WordWeb" refers to the texts, names, phrases and ideas that are linked by our software.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “All minds quote”. The metaphor "a sea of troubles" was used long before Hamlet: our database contains examples from Greek tragedy and Puritan sermons. The dramatic "bed trick", which involves substituting a friend for an unwilling bride on her wedding night, can be found in Boccaccio’s Decamerone as well as in plays by John Marston and Thomas Dekker. “To be or not to be” echoes Marcus Tullius Cicero’s ideas about death. The Roman statesman is not referenced as the author of these thoughts but he is mentioned in several Elizabethan plays as “Tully”. Our interest in phrases and names that recur in different texts is expressed in the word "idem", which is an acronym but also means "the same" in Latin.

"IDEM" stands for Intertextuality in Drama of the Early Modern Period.
The intertextual net which links literary texts was particularly dense in Elizabethan England. The London theatre scene around 1600 was very competitive and interactive, and we can trace rivalry as well as collaboration in quoted phrases. Shakespeare's "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse" appears in at least ten other plays after Richard III. These recyclings include "a boat, a boat" and "a fool, a fool". Hamlet's philosophical "quintessence of dust" was satirized as "quintessence of ducks" by John Marston. Marston's own elaborate language was so striking that a character based on him is given an emetic in a comedy by Ben Jonson and starts vomiting obscure words!

reviving results of historical scholarship

We consulted hundreds of scholarly publications which point out intertextual quotations, sources and popular phrases or motifs in early modern plays. Our earliest source dates from 1744.

sorting and linking the complex data

The WordWeb/IDEM corpus extends beyond the cut-off of 1642 used in resources such as the DEEP Database or Martin Wiggins' British Drama: A Catalogue 1533-1642. Including entries written until 1688 enables users to trace the afterlife of phrases and names across the gap of the closing of the theatres zttzgto the verge of Restoration drama, early journalism and "novels" like The Female Gallant.
Authors range from Shakespeare and Ben Jonson to writers like Anthony Brewer or William Sampson, who are now obscure but participated in the dramatic, public web of words of their time. In addition, we also list the compilers of manuscript miscellanies or scrapbooks as authors. We treat the copying of verse lines into an album as an act of re-writing just as much as the quoting of these plays in a new text. Both re-writings add to the life of a lexia. Thanks to Beatrice Montedoro of DEx for prompting this clarification!

contextualizing results of electronic searches

The rich results of philological scholarship from the 19th and early 20th centuries are complemented by electronic searches in fulltext databases such as LION or EEBO.

making data available and accessible

Thousands of extracts from 16th- and 17th-century texts are available for fulltext searching as well as for browsing by author, title and quoted phrase ("lexias") and additional information such as date or genre.

Search results are made available as lists of text extracts. Pending further funding, a Beta version will offer visualizations of search results and data export into excel sheets.