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Tip: Understanding Rank

PEP-Web Tip of the Day

When you do a search, you can sort the results bibliographically alphabetical or by “rank”. What is Rank?

Rank refers to the search engine’s “best guess” as to the relevance of the result to the search you specified. The exact method of ranking used varies a bit depending on the search. In its most basic level, when you specify a single search term, rank looks at the density of the matches for the word in the document, and how close to the beginning of the document they appear as a measure of importance to the paper’s topic. The documents with the most matches and where the term is deemed to have the most importance, have the highest “relevance” and are ranked first (presented first).

When you specify more than one term to appear anywhere in the article, the method is similar, but the search engine looks at how many of those terms appear, and how close together they appear, how close to the beginning of the document, and can even take into account the relative rarity of the search terms and their density in the retrieved file, where infrequent terms count more heavily than common terms.

To see a simple example of this, search for the words (not the phrase, so no quotes):

unconscious communications

Look at the density of matches in each document on the first page of the hits. Then go to the last page of matched documents, and observe the density of matches within the documents.

A more complex search illustrates this nicely with a single page and only 15 matches:

counter*tr* w/25 “liv* out” w/25 enact*

There are a lot of word forms and variants of the words (due to the * wildcards) above that can match, but the proximity (w/25) clause limits the potential for matching. What’s interesting here though is how easily you can see the match density decrease as you view down the short list.

The end result of selecting order by rank is that the search engine’s best “guess” as to which articles are more relevant appear higher on the list than less relevant articles.

For the complete list of tips, see PEP-Web Tips on the PEP-Web support page.

Rudat, W.E. (1981). Ernest Jones' Hamlet Interpretation and Nevile's Translation of Seneca's Oedipus. Am. Imago, 38(4):369-387.

(1981). American Imago, 38(4):369-387

Ernest Jones' Hamlet Interpretation and Nevile's Translation of Seneca's Oedipus

Wolfgang E. H. Rudat, Ph.D.

This article compares Shakespeare's Hamlet with one of the elaborations of the Oedipus myth, Alexander Nevile's translation of Seneca's Oedipus, published in 1581. It specifically addresses itself to J. Philip Brockbank's critique of Jones in his 1977 Shakespeare Survey article, “Hamlet the Bonesetter.” Brockbank argues: “The postulated nature of the ‘unconscious’ being what it is, … there can be no accessible evidence to demonstrate Shakespeare's complicity, as it were, in Ernest Jones' understanding. We are left to assume some obscure collaboration between the unconscious responses of playwright, of character and of audience … I would suppose this too intimate and too non-political an interpretation of the play, and the point may be pursued further through a comparison with [Sophocles'] Oedipus Rex.”

The difficulty with Brockbank's approach is that, while it ingeniously tries to read Hamlet in terms of the ancient sacrificial tragedy which he sees represented in Oedipus Rex, it neglects textual data which might indeed suggest Shakespeare's own “complicity” in the oedipal conflict. Brockbank deals with Sophocles' version of the Oedipus myth and not with that of Seneca and his Renaissance English translators, even as he frequently makes reference to the Senecan tradition and to Seneca's Oedipus in particular.

Let us first look at the closing lines in Nevile's rendering of Seneca's play:

O cursed head: O wicked wight, whom all men deadly hate.


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