Emotions in Drama

Katrin Dennerlein & Christian Wolff


Although the depiction and evocation of emotions are at the heart of dramatic production and poetological reflection since Aristotle quantitative drama analysis has neglected them so far. This is why the project aims at extracting emotions of characters and analyzing their appraisal with sentiment analysis. As emotions are highly depended on cultural and historical circumstances we chose to look at the historical phase starting from the end of Thirty Years’ War up to restoration period in the 19th century during which German drama was established. This is a story of developing various subgenres which vary with respect to their thematization and presentation of emotions, mostly termed ‘Affekte’ in that period. The project relies on a corpus of German drama which is significantly enlarged compared to the available one for that period, the Textgrid corpus. It now comprises another 25 libretti of the Hamburger Gänsemarktoper from the period between 1678 and 1730, another 20 libretti from around 1800 as well as 20 texts from the strolling players. This enables us to research the most important dramatic (sub-)genre for the development of affect expression, the libretti of musical theatre, in its influences on spoken theatre. In a first step models for the analysis of emotion in dramatic texts shall be evaluated with regard to their use for digital analysis. Retrievable linguistic as well as rhetorical means are specified and extracted for whole texts as well as for elements of dramatic texts specifically dedicated to the depiction of affects: stage directions, soliloquies, arias and endings of drama. Human annotators will specify for genre-specific subcorpora which emotions are mentioned (for example happiness, love, sorrow, envy). They will also annotate if these emotions are evaluated positively or negatively. In a next step algorithms of sentiment analysis shall be trained on this material. It is an important goal of the project to approve the method of sentiment analysis for its use on historical, especially fictional, corpora. Having done all this work we should be able to identify pathos-strategies, id est passages of texts with a high arousal of emotions and to give first hints as to which emotions are thematized with which appraisal. Another objective is the revision of the history of the comic character and its relation to the emotion of happiness.

Emotion set:

(+ marks rather positive emotions, - negative)

  • Emotions of affection / Zuneigung
    • desire / Lust (+)
    • love / Liebe (+)
    • friendship / Freundschaft (+)
    • admiration, reverence / Verehrung, Bewunderung (+)
  • Emotions of pleasure / Freude und Glück
    • joy / Freude (+)
    • Schadenfreude (+)
  • Emotions of anxiety / Angst und Sorge
    • fear / Angst (-)
    • despair / Verzweiflung (-)
  • Emotions of rejection / Ablehnung
    • anger / Ärger (-)
    • abhorrence / Abscheu, Wut, Hass (-)
  • Emotions of suffering and empathy / Leid
    • suffering / Leid (-)
    • compassion / Mitleid (-)
  • no main class
    • being moved / emotionale Bewegtheit (undetermined)

Annotated Plays

  • Andreas Gryphius: Katharina von Georgien (1657), tragedy
  • Der Welt Erschröckende Attila (nach 1682)
  • Christian Weise: Massaniello (1683), tragedy
  • Christian Weise: Ein wunderliches Schau-Spiel vom niederländischen Bauer (1669), comedy
  • Die getreue Sclavin Doris (1720)
  • Luise Adelgunde Victorie Gottsched: Das Testament (1745), comedy
  • Johann Elias Schlegel: Canut (1746), tragedy
  • Christian Fürchtegott Gellert: Die zärtlichen Schwestern (1747), comedy
  • Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Pfeil: Lucie Woodvil (1757), tragedy
  • Joachim Wilhelm von Brawe: Der Freigeist (1758), tragedy
  • Gotthold Ephraim Lessing: Minna von Barnhelm, oder das Soldatenglück (1767), comedy
  • Cornelius von Ayrenhoff: Der Postzug (1769), comedy
  • Friedrich Schiller: Kabale und Liebe. Ein bürgerliches Trauerspiel in fünf Aufzügen (1784), tragedy
  • Ferdinand Eberl: Kasperl' der Mandolettikrämer (1789), comedy [Libretto]
  • August von Kotzebue: Menschenhass und Reue (1790), comedy
  • Friedrich Schiller: Wallensteins Lager (1800), tragedy
  • Johann Wolfgang Goethe: Faust. Eine Tragödie (1807), tragedy
  • Daniel Caspar von Lohenstein: Ibraim Sultan (1653), tragedy


In the first half of the project EmoDrama I, we advanced the research areas of CLS, NLP and German literary studies by:

  • Extending preexisting corpora for plays of the time frame 1650-1815 with non-canonical works in machine readable TEI format,
  • operationalizing the variety of historical emotion terms, emotion concepts and aspects of emotion presentation for a drama-historical question,
  • defining 13 historical emotion concepts in a historically adequate way,
  • providing comprehensive annotation guidelines with numerous complex examples from drama texts on the individual emotion concepts, on source and target, on negation and on the distinction between expressed, attributed and pretended emotion,
  • annotating 17 plays that can be used for analysis and machine learning,
  • analyzing the annotations of plays and reflect upon the usage of quantitative annotation analysis for literary studies,
  • evaluating multiple baseline and state-of-the-art methods for single-label emotion classification (Schmidt, Dennerlein, Wolff 2021b)
  • training models optimized for our specific task (Schmidt, Dennerlein, Wolff 2021b, Dennerlein, Schmidt, Wolff 2023)
  • exploring the classified data with regard to
    • the correlation of emotions and plot developments (Dennerlein, Schmidt, Wolff 2022a; Dennerlein, Schmidt, Wolff 2022b)
    • the distinciton of tragedy endings from comedy endings on the basis of their emotional footprint (Dennerlein, Schmidt, Wolff 2023)
    • the frequency distributions of emotions in the overall corpus and the major genres comedy and tragedy: anger shows up to be one of the most prominent emotions in comedies (Dennerlein, Schmidt, Wolff 2023)
    • Emotions which are already discussed more frequently in stage directions from 1730 onwards, and not only since 1770 (Dennerlein, Schmidt, Wolff in print).


  • Dennerlein, K., Schmidt, T. & Wolff, C. Computational Emotion Classification for genrecorpora of German Tragedies and Comedies from 17th to 19th century. Digital Scholarship in the Humanities (DSH). https://doi.org/10.1093/llc/fqad046
  • Dennerlein, K., Schmidt, T. & Wolff, C. (in print). Emotions in Stage Directions in German Drama of the Early Modern Period: Explorations via Computational Emotion Classification. In: Melanie Andresen/Nils Reiter/Benjamin Krautter/Janis Pagel (Hg.): Computational Drama Analysis: Achievements and Opportunities. Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, S. 166-194.
  • Brandes, Ph., Dennerlein, K., Jacke, J., Marshall, S., Pielström, St., Schneider, F. Modelling and Operationalizing Concepts in Computational Literary Studies. In Book of Abstracts DH 2022. Tokyo, Japan 2022, S. 70–73.
  • Dennerlein, K., Huber, M. (2022). Reports on Modelling dramatic metadata. With examples of communicative relevance of female playwrights in the second half of the 18th century. In Book of Abstracts, Digital Humanities Nord 2022. Uppsala, Sweden.
  • Dennerlein, K., Schmidt, T. & Wolff, C. (2022). Emotionen im kulturellen Gedächtnis bewahren. In DHd 2022 Kulturen des digitalen Gedächtnisses. Book of Abstracts, DHd 2022. Potsdam, Germany. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.6327957
  • Dennerlein, K., Schmidt, T. & Wolff, C. (2022). Figurenemotionen in deutschsprachigen Dramen annotieren.< Zenodo. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.6228151
  • Schmidt, T., Dennerlein K. & Wolff, C. (2022). Evaluation computergestützter Verfahren der Emotionsklassifikation für deutschsprachige Dramen um 1800. In DHd 2022 Kulturen des digitalen Gedächtnisses. Book of Abstracts, DHd 2022. Potsdam, Germany. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.6328169
  • Dennerlein, K. (2021). Materialien und Medien der Komödiengeschichte. Zur Praxeologie der Werkzirkulation zwischen Hamburg und Wien von 1678–1806 (Studien und Texten zur Sozialgeschichte der deutschen Literatur 152). Berlin/New York: de Gruyter. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110691191
  • Schmidt, T., Dennerlein, K., & Wolff, C. (2021). Emotion Classification in German Plays with Transformer-based Language Models Pretrained on Historical and Contemporary Language. In Proceedings of the 5th Joint SIGHUM Workshop on Computational Linguistics for Cultural Heritage, Social Sciences, Humanities and Literature (pp. 67-79). https://doi.org/10.18653/v1/2021.latechclfl-1.8
  • Schmidt, T., Dennerlein, K., & Wolff, C. (2021). Towards a Corpus of Historical German Plays with Emotion Annotations. In 3rd Conference on Language, Data and Knowledge (LDK 2021). Dagstuhl, Germany: Schloss Dagstuhl-Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik. https://doi.org/10.4230/OASIcs.LDK.2021.9
  • Schmidt, T., Dennerlein, K. & Wolff, C. (2021). Using Deep Learning for Emotion Analysis of 18th and 19th Century German Plays. In: Burghardt, M. et al. (Edt.). Fabrikation von Erkenntnis: Experimente in den Digital Humanities. Esch-sur-Alzette: Melusina Press. https://doi.org/10.26298/melusina.8f8w-y749-udlf

Talks and further material: