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A Statistical Analysis of Genre Dynamics: Evolution of the Russian Five-Act Comedy in Verse in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries


My research examines the following questions: 1) Did Russian five-act verse comedy evolve similarly to French five-act verse comedy? 2) Were Romantic features present in the nineteenth-century Russian five-act verse comedy? 3) Was Russian four-act verse comedy distinct from the Russian five-act verse comedy in terms of its formal features, such as the number of dramatic characters, the mobility coefficient, the predominant type of dialogues/polylogues, etc.? I elaborated on Boris Iarkho’s quantitative features and methodology, which I modernized by automating data processing and calculations, replacing his transgression coefficient by statistical significance testing and his synthesis (i.e., the aggregated curve of the evolution of all features) with open-form scores that measure how experimental a tradition or a author is in terms of “openness” (high variability) vs. “closeness” (low variability) of their formal features. I discovered that, unlike French five-act verse comedy, Russian five-act verse comedy did not evolve in a wave-like manner with alternating closed and open forms. Instead, I found a quantitative basis for Iurii Tynianov’s and Mikhail Gasparov’s earlier claim that the closed and open styles co-existed and mixed in Russian literature (Tynianov 1969, 52-3; Gasparov 1997, 434-455). In Russian five-act verse comedy of the first half of the nineteenth century, Romanticism did not supersede Neoclassicism; instead, some comedies manifest Romantic features, whereas others remained faithful to Neoclassical style. The evolution of French five-act verse comedy corresponds to Heinrich W�lfflin’s model of alternating closed and open forms, which Boris Iarkho had also observed in the case of the French five-act tragedy. As regards four- vs. five-act verse comedies, Russian four-act verse comedy tended to be more experimental than the contemporaneous French and Russian five-act verse comedy.

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