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Passages We Live By: Shakespeare's Hamlet as an example. A new corpus concept for intertextuality research

Applicant Engler Balz
Number 124606
Funding scheme Project funding
Research institution Englisches Seminar Universität Basel
Institution of higher education University of Basel - BS
Main discipline German and English languages and literature
Start/End 01.04.2009 - 30.06.2010
Approved amount 167'023.00
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Keywords (4)

shakespeare reception; cultural studies; intertextuality; discourse analysis

Lay Summary (English)

Lay summary
The project studies how 'Hamlet', Shakespeare's most iconic play, has entered European cultures (with a focus on England), and how it has offered them images and phrases to articulate their concerns. The project also investigates how the cultural status of Hamlet continues to be underpinned by the wide use of phrases like "To be, or not to be", "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark" or "The rest is silence", but how such phrases may also lose any association with their source and become idiomatic. It thus covers issues in several disciplines: literary studies, linguistics and cultural studies.
The project is developing the HyperHamlet database, which makes quotations from the play available in an open-access hypertext edition of 'Hamlet' /( All entries are searchable for linguistic as well as literary features.The structure of the database represents a new model for the study of intertextual relationships, which may also be applied to other works of literature.
The project is associated with the English and German departments of the University and financed by a grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation running from 2006-2010.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants


Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
111993 Passages We Live By: Shakespeare's Hamlet as an example. A new corpus concept for intertextuality research 01.08.2006 Project funding
183259 WordWeb / Intertextuality in Drama of the Early Modern Period - A new way of representing Intertextuality in Drama of the Early Modern Period 01.11.2018 Digital Lives


ZUSAMMENFASSUNGThe application handed in concerns the extension by one year of the project “Passages We Live By” submitted in 2005 and accepted by the National Science Foundation. According to the 2005 research plan (see the abstract below), the aim was to investigate how material from a work of literature, Shakespeare’s Hamlet has become part of English language and culture. Such an investigation is desirable from the perspective of three related disciplines: intertextuality studies, Shakespeare reception studies and historical phraseology. Our work so far has revealed gaps in the data and aims investigated in published research, but also led to a heightened awareness of methodological issues in these fields, which our own interdisciplinary approach has been able to confront-to a considerable extent, but not completely: Problems with software in particular have held us back. The additional year will make it possible for us to address the following issues: Complementing the corpus with focused data sets; refining the software to serve the needs of research adequately; preparing the software for the use by others; ensuring sustainability; and completing studies based on the corpus, among them a doctoral dissertation.Abstract of the 2005 project:Passages We Live By: Shakespeare’s Hamlet as an example. A new corpus concept for intertextuality researchShakespeare’s works have had an enormous influence on Western and, increasingly, world culture; the American critic Harold Bloom has gone as far as claiming that ‘Shakespeare will go on explaining us, in part because he invented us’. Yet this ‘Shakespeare effect’ has only been studied systematically in the fields of theatrical and literary history and criticism. An innovative intertextual corpus concept developed at the English Department of Basel University takes this study into the hitherto neglected field of general culture, by investigating the ‘recycling’ of single phrases and motifs in quotation and allusion, in contexts that are not directly associated with the interpretation of Shakespeare’s works. People who use phrases like ‘mit einem lachenden und einem weinenden Auge’ or ‘to the manner born’ may no longer be aware of where these bits of language come from, but their way of dealing with experience is subtly affected by such phrases. These unobtrusive processes are intimately related to claims by literary theorists such as that there is nothing “hors-texte” (Jacques Derrida) or that “The Author is dead” (Roland Barthes). Both concern the pervasive cultural influence of “texts”, linguistic units and stereotypes, even when we are not conscious of their origin. The Basel Intertextual Corpus Concept makes this insight from intertextuality studies relevant to Shakespeare reception studies. They still concentrate largely on the ‘original text’ and its ‘Great Author’, while the proposed project investigates the later ‘incarnations’ of text fragments in diverse cultural contexts.In a rare instance of close collaboration between linguists and literary scholars, the Basel Intertextual Corpus Concept is worked out in the representative example of Hamlet, Shakespeare’s most canonical play. It develops and refines methodologies for a newly defined field, and provides resources that may be useful to research into other literatures. The project relies on previous work at Basel University, in particular the evolving HyperHamlet database (, an electronic text with hyperlinks to re-uses of phrases in other texts and references to scenes and well-known motifs. Searches and suggestions can be made from the public domain in a process similar to that for online resources such as Wikipedia but are edited centrally. The usefulness of the database has been tested, but the present corpus of quotations needs to be systematically completed, an adequately differentiated classification of entries developed and search facilities adapted accordingly. The project has four objectives:(1) To offer an important resource to the scholarly community. The fully searchable HyperHamlet corpus will cover literary texts in English up to ca. 1920 near-exhaustively and include systematic samples of Hamlet references in other sorts of texts (spoken language, advertising, journalism, contemporary fiction etc.). It will be established in close collaboration between linguists and literary scholars and provide material for a new comprehensive picture of Shakespeare’s manifold cultural presence.(2) To study Shakespeare’s contribution to the English language, filling a significant research gap in the linguistic field of historical phraseology. Long-standing impressionistic claims about Shakespeare’s ‘enriching’ the English language are to be validated by a systematic study of the historical process by which his phrases entered the language and started to be used as idioms, routines, verbal patterns or fixed expressions.(3) To offer a model corpus structure for recording the continued presence of any literary text. The Intertextual Corpus Concept is re-applicable in further innovative analytical work in linguistics as well as literary and cultural studies. (4) To exemplify the usefulness of corpus work in literary research and further substantiate the claim that Shakespeare’s status has come about and been maintained substantially by quotation and re-quotation, by hearsay.