Vertical and Distant Reading of Shakespeare with Digital Natives. The Case of ‘The Merchant of Venice’


Over the past decades, the myth of the digital natives being ‘naturally’ fluent in the use of ICT has been repeatedly rehearsed, revised, and eventually challenged (Prensky 2001a, 2009; Thomas 2011), but probably not yet comprehensively explored on the basis of empirical evidence. Especially in a teaching context, such competence has been more assumed than tested, and the gap between imagined and real skills runs the risk of leaving a grey area where neither the potential is fully exploited nor the limitations are fully addressed. With this in mind, the present article reports on the results of a teaching experience carried out with university students – namely, a corpus linguistics/stylistics exploration of Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice in digital format. While the pervasiveness of digital technology in everyday life has been seen as having a significant impact on the interaction with text from a very young age, it seems in fact that new digitally enhanced reading skills still need to be self-consciously developed in learners. The use of corpus linguistics resources and tools in the literature class can therefore be seen as a useful contribution to the development of such skills and a way to raise awareness of shifts occurring in digital reading compared to print-based reading. In particular, by experimenting with vertical (Tognini Bonelli 2001) and distant (Moretti 2013) reading, and by engaging with quantitative and qualitative analysis of language data, students can both attain a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of Shakespeare’s innovative use of language and develop useful digital reading skills that can be profitably exploited in different contexts.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i22390359v45p73

Keywords: Digital natives; Corpus stylistics; The Merchant of Venice.


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