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Sixta Quassdorf (Univeristy of Basel)

“you are quoting Shakespeare” – a corpus-based study on Hamlet quotations


Claims about Shakespeare's influence on the English language are numerous, yet not always based on empirical research. The questions of what, when, where, why, to what an extend and how does a poet's phrase leave its original context calls for linguistic investigation. Therefore, a number of digitally available text collections, such as The British National Corpus, Literature Online or the House of Commons Parliamentary Papers to name only a few, were searched for verbal traces of Hamlet, Shakespeare's most famous play. The data are brought together in a specialised corpus of quotations and allusions.
The proposed paper focuses on three lines from Hamlet: "A little more than kin, and less than kind" (I, ii, line 65), "It is a custom more honour'd in the breach than the observance" (I, iv, lines 15-16) and "For 'tis sport to have the engineer hoist with his own petard" (III, iv, lines 206-207). In my presentation, I will concentrate on the description of the what, where and when these lines occur outside its original context. While honoured breach and hoist petard are frequently used in the language of world affairs, the kin/kind contrast occurs more often in cultural domains. While hoist petard and the kin/kind lines are popular for titles, honoured breach occurs nearly exclusively within a text. While the kin/kind line appears to have become more popular only in the second half of the 20th century, honoured breach and hoist petard had gained phraseological status already in the 19th century. Suggestions are made which evaluate these finding in view of the semantic field of the keywords, the rhetoric make-up of the phrase and the historical and social contexts of their application.

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