Digital humanities

Maintained by: David J. Birnbaum ( [Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 3.0 Unported License] Last modified: 2015-10-12T13:45:39+0000

XPath assignment #4 answers

You can find an XML (TEI) version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet at We’ve deliberately damaged some of the markup in this edition to introduce some inconsistencies, but the file is well-formed XML, which means that you can use XPath to explore it. You should download this file to your computer (typically that means right-clicking on the link and selecting save as) and open it in <oXygen/>.

After you’ve completed your homework, save your answers to a file and upload it to CourseWeb as an attachment. (Please use an attachment! If you paste your answer into the text box, CourseWeb may munch the angle brackets.) Some of these tasks are thought-provoking, and even difficult. If you get stuck, do the best you can, and if you can’t get a working answer, give the answers you tried and explain where they failed to get the results you wanted. Sometimes doing that will help you figure out what’s wrong, and even when it doesn’t, it will help us identify the difficult moments. These tasks require the use of path expressions, predicates, and functions. There may be more than one possible answer.

Using the Bad Hamlet document and the XPath browser window in <oXygen/>, construct XPath expressions that will do the following (give the full XPath expressions in your answers, and not just the results):

  1. What XPath will return a hyphen-separated list of all characters without duplicates? The resulting list will look something like:

    Claudius-Hamlet-Polonius ...

    Our solution uses distinct-values() and string-join(). Note that there are several ways to identify the characters in this markup, including the <castList> element, the <speaker> elements, and the @who atribute on the <sp> element. Which should you use and why?

    The simplest solution, which doesn’t actually use distinct-values(), is string-join(//role, '-'). Our original idea was that to find speakers you could round up either the @who attributes on the <sp> elements or the <speaker> children of those elements. Since those values repeat, you would have needed something like string-join(distinct-values(//@who),'-'). As many of you noticed, there’s a cast list at the beginning of the play, and since there are no duplicates there, you don’t need to use distinct-values() at all.

    Our question was worded poorly, since there’s a difference between characters and speakers insofar as there can be non-speaking characters. Additionally, when characters speak in unison, the value of the @who attribute and the <speaker> element will both contain, in various forms, pointers to or names of more than one character. Whatever you wrote that shows an understanding of how to use string-join() (and distinct-values(), if you needed it) is fine.

  2. Most metrical lines (<l>) have an @xml:id attribute with a value like sha-ham101010, ending in a six-digit number. The first digit is the act, the next two the scene, and the last three the line in the scene. Some metrical lines are split across multiple speakers, and in that case the six-digit number in the @xml:id value is followed by I (initial part), M (middle part), or F (final part). In a few places there may be more than one middle part, and in those cases the M is followed by a one-digit number. For example, one of Hamlet’s lines is:

    <l xml:id="sha-ham502277M2" n="277">One.</l>

    which is the second middle part. What XPath will return the number of <l> elements that are middle parts? Our solution uses count() and contains().

    count(//l[contains(@xml:id, 'M')])

    As we explained, any line that is a middle part will have the character M in its @xml:id. To test whether a line's attribute has this character, we use the contains() function inside a predicate. The contains() function checks whether its second argument exists within the first, that is, whether the capital M is anywhere in the value of @xml:id, which is a string.

    To find all of these lines, we search on the descendant axis with the // short hand, and append the predicate [contains(@xml:id, 'M')]. Then, to count them, we wrap everything in the count() function.

  3. Sometimes Rosencrantz speaks by himself and sometimes he speaks in unison with Guildenstern.

    1. What XPath finds all of the speeches by Rosencrantz, whether alone or together with Guildenstern? Our solution uses a single instance of contains().

      //sp[contains(@who, "Rosencrantz")]

      This solution is very similar to the solution to the previous question, except that it uses the function contains() to search for the presence of an entire string instead of just a single character. It is important to know that contains() is capable of doing both. This XPath finds all of the <sp> elements and filters them by determining whether the string Rosencrantz occurs anywhere in the @who attribute, indicating that Rosencrantz is speaking. Where Rosencrantz and Guildenstern speak together, the @who value is instead "Rosencrantz Guildenstern", but that will still be accepted by the filtering in our predicate, because that string contains the string Rosencrantz.

    2. Can you think of an alternative solution that doesn't use any functions (just a predicate)?

      You could also have done //sp[@who = "Rosencrantz" or @who = "Rosencrantz Guildenstern"], but this solution is naive and assumes that no other possible values for @who could have also included Rosencrantz as a speaker. It would even fail if the value were Guildenstern Rosencrantz, since it is looking for the entire string. On the other hand, contains() is sometimes a bit perilous because it will match on a substring, and not just on a whole word. That's not a problem here because there isn’t a character named, say, Rosencrantzenfield, but if there were, the contains() approach would match on him, too. That’s a silly example, of course, but it’s easy to forget about substrings and try to count occurrences of, say, the verb form go, only to have your results contaminated with good and everything else that has the letter sequence go in it.

  4. The string-length() function can be used in two ways. You can wrap it around an argument, so that, for example, string-length('Hi, Mom!') will return 8, the length in character count of the string inside the quotation marks. It can also be used as part of a path expression, so that, for example, if the XPath //sp returns a sequence of all <sp> elements, //sp/string-length(.) returns a sequence of the lengths of all <sp> elements as measured by counting characters. This works by finding all of the <sp> elements and then (next path step) getting the string length of each one. Remember that the dot inside the parentheses refers to the current context node, which is the member of the sequence of <sp> nodes that is being processed at the moment. We need to use this subterfuge because string-length(//sp) generates an error. The problem is that string-length() can take only a single argument, and //sp returns more than one item. Putting the string-length() function on its own path step with a dot inside means that it applies once for every <sp> element, and that each time it applies, it has just a single argument.

    Use this information to identify an XPath that finds the length of the longest speech. What length does it return? Our solution uses string-length() and max().


    What this solution accomplishes is that it generates a sequence of the string-lengths of every speech in the play, and then finds the maximum of those values. Because we cannot find the string-length of more than one item at a time, we navigate to all of the <sp> elements in the play on the descendant axis with the // shorthand, and then take a step to use the string-length() function and use . to refer to the current <sp> for each one in turn. Wrapping the max() function around the XPath that produces this sequence of values will return the maximum value in that sequence, that is, the maximum length of any speech, which is 5248.

  5. Optional, challenging question: Given the preceding solution, how can you use that XPath to retrieve the longest <sp> itself? No fair checking the length and then writing a separate XPath that looks for that number. Your answer must find the longest speech without your knowing how long it is. Our solution doesn’t require any additional functions beyond the ones used in #4, but it does use a complicated predicate.

    //sp[string-length(.) eq max(//sp/string-length(.))]

    Since the previous solution (copied here in blue) is just a numerical value, we can use it in a predicate to compare against the length of any speech that we are looking at. All we have to do is find the speeches, and check one by one whether the length of any speech is equal to the maximum length of all speeches in the play. This works because, even though within a predicate, the expression inside our max() function (//sp/string-length(.)) uses the // to start its search from the root of the document.

  6. Optional, very challenging question: What XPath produces a numbered list of all characters, without any duplicates, which should look something like:

    1. Claudius
    2. Hamlet
    3. Polonius
    4. ...

    There are several possible solutions, each of which raises issues that you may not have seen before. If you get an error message, try to figure out what it means and how to resolve it.

    for $i in (1 to count(//role)) return concat($i, ". ", (//role)[$i])

    The for expression iterates over a sequence and does something once for each member of the sequence. The sequence over which it iterates is a sequence of integers from 1 through however many characters there are in the play (there are 37, which we determine by counting the number of <role> elements). We use the to operator, which we haven’t used before, as an instruction to generate the sequence of integers for us dynamically. If there were, say, only 5 characters in the play, the expression 1 to count(//role) would be equivalent to the sequence (1,2,3,4,5).

    Although for $i in (1 to count(//role)) is just setting the variable $i to a different integer value each time it loops, on each pass through the for loop, (//role)[$i] will point to a different character in the play. On the first pass, when $i equals 1, (//role)[$i] means (//role)[1], so it points to the first character in the sequence returned by //role. On the second pass, the number value is 2 and (//role)[$i] means (//role)[2], and points to the second character. This is what lets us generate our numbered list; both the numbers and the pointers into the list of characters are incremented by one on each pass through the loop.

    You can read more about how this works in, which details specifically how and why you would want to do this. As that page notes, this type of output can also be generated in XSLT, and the XSLT solution may be more intuitive than the pure XPath one.

    Finally, in order to produce a nicely formatted numbered list, for each speaker we concatenate the number, a period and a space, and the name of the speaker, using the concat() function.