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Working with a small group of graduate students at the Stanford Literary Lab, English professor Franco Moretti fed a digitized text of Hamlet into a database in order to create and examine the play’s character-network :

Most recently Moretti has turned his attention to what might be the most familiar text in English literature: “Hamlet.” Using the play as a kind of test case, Moretti diagrammed and quantified the plot, charting the relationships among characters as a network based strictly on whether they speak to one another at any point in the play. He published the results in an article, “Network Theory, Plot Analysis,” in the March/April 2011 issue of the New Left Review.

Seen through Moretti’s network diagrams, “Hamlet” often seems brand new. One notices, for example, that of all the characters who speak to both Hamlet and Claudius, only two manage to survive the play (Moretti calls this part of the network the “region of death”). Or one notices that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the most famous pair of minor characters in all of Shakespeare, never speak to each other.

Here is a PDF version of Moretti’s article . And here is a chart of the network in Hamlet, with the “region of death” highlighted in red:

I’m intrigued by the possibilities of what could be called “algorithm-enhanced close reading” and interested in seeing the effect of such quantitative analysis on literary studies.

What do you think? Will this prove to be a useful approach to literary analysis or is it just another English department fad?

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