At the Axis of Reality: Melville's Marginalia in The Dramatic Works of William Shakespeare

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Although it is one of the most important resources to survive from his library, Herman Melville's seven-volume set of The Dramatic Works of William Shakespeare has received little systematic analysis from scholars owing to the scope and complexity of the evidence. With the aid of computation and digital text analysis, this essay brings into relief hitherto unanalyzed and under-appreciated aspects of Melville's marginalia in the Shakespeare set. The essay's illustrations and figures indicate Melville's varying forms of engagement with the plays; word frequencies point the way toward ideas and themes that interested him; lexical uniqueness and word-sentiment values of marked passages shed light on the rhetoric and perspectives to which he gravitated. In connection with Melville's recorded statements about Shakespeare's craft and genius in his essay, "Hawthorne and His Mosses," the visualizations of reading evidence help to illustrate his conception of the Bard's profundity in brevity and his association of Shakespeare's greatness with philosophically "dark" themes and perspectives. Providing unprecedented access to evidence of Melville's reading, computation and digital text analysis offer new reference points for close analysis of the marginalia and fresh prospects for influence and source study.