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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.

Wilson, R. (1987). Othello: Jealousy as Mimetic Contagion. Am. Imago, 44(3):213-233.

(1987). American Imago, 44(3):213-233

Othello: Jealousy as Mimetic Contagion

Rob Wilson

As a tragedy on the destructive and self-destructive power of male jealousy, Othello could more aptly be entitled Iago, because it is the latter who serves as centering agent (mediator) of the sexual/social envy which he engenders in his outwitted rivals: Roderigo, Cassio, Brabantio, and above all the noble Moor, Othello. For it is devilishly brilliant Iago, not the more physical Othello, who authors the recursive labyrinth of triangles-within-triangles which parodically informs the world of this play. The structural analysis of mimetic desire proposed by René Girard as the motive at the psychic origin of that male violence which informs western literature, allows us to can see that Shakespeare offers through Othello's Iago and his tragic victims a critical diagnosis of what is a necessarily triangulated desire.1 Indeed as a critique of the causes and consequences of male jealousy, Othello is still one of the best available to western consciousness.

Through the consummate mimetic artistry of a wholly amoral will, Iago authors no less than five triangles of male rivalry within the play: (1) most centrally he creates in Othello the fantasmatic image that innocuous Cassio is a rival for the passions of loyal Desdemona; (2) he makes the impotent Roderigo imagine that the black General is a (successful) rival for the hand and bed of Desdemona, even after they are married (“She must change for youth: when she is sated with his body, she will find the error of her choice” [1.3.347-348]; he engenders in Brabantio the irrational sense that Desdemona has betrayed his fatherly affection in Othello's “tupping your white ewe”; (4) Iago himself Actively conjectures that Othello has copulated with his wife, Emilia, based on a groundless rumor he treats as fact (“I hate the Moor;/And it is thought abroad that ‘twixt my sheets/H'as done my office” [1.3.380-382];

[This is a summary or excerpt from the full text of the book or article. The full text of the document is available to subscribers.]

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