How much do female characters in Shakespeare actually say?

Recently I suggested there might be 147 female characters in Shakespeare. If we are to trust that, how do they break down by play? I used the Open Source Shakespeare genre distinctions to categorize each play and the female-character categorizations from WordHoard to produce the following:Screen shot 2013-02-17 at 9.16.43 In this graph, green represents comedy, black represents history, and red represents tragedy. As you will recall from my previous post, The Winter’s Tale has the most female characters, and 1H4, Julius Caesar, and Tempest have the least amount of female characters.

17 out of 37 plays have four female characters. This makes sense, as the Early Modern theatre could hire two boys to cover all female roles, although this would obviously limit the characters who could then speak to each other. More female characters required either more boys, or for each boy-actor to take on more parts (which would again limit the amount these characters could speak to each other).

But how much do these characters talk? Or, in other words, how much of each play is made up of words said by female characters? To do that, I’d first have to find how many words were in each play, and how much of those words were said by female characters. I already had made note of how many words were said by female characters in each play from my previous post, but I didn’t have the total number of words in each play.

I returned to WordHoard’s find words function to get a word-count according to the software’s own encoded edition of each play:Screen shot 2013-02-19 at 2.12.20 With this information, I was now able to produce the following graph. Again, green represents comedy, black represents history, and red represents tragedy; the shapes of each mark on the graph represents how many female characters are in each play:

Screen shot 2013-02-19 at 3.34.54

Female characters in As You Like It say the most out of all the female characters in Shakespeare (but that number includes Rosalind/Ganymede) with 8,643 words spoken out of 21,298 total words in the play. Female characters in Timon of Athens say the least, with 61 words out of 17,744 total words in the play. On the whole, while there may be slightly more female characters in comedies, the amount of words they actually speak is highly variable, whereas the histories seem to show the least amount of variation. I had also taken the average of all female characters in each genre and found that comedies had an average of 4.07 female characters; histories, an average of 4.083 female characters; and tragedies had an average of 3.72 female characters – suggesting that the history plays may be the most stable out of the three categories for female characters, which is interesting. If you are interested in which female characters say the most words, please click here for the relevant image.

A number of people have asked me if Shakespeare passes the Bechdel test: I’m working on it! Stay tuned…

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