Franco Moretti, English professor at Stanford, has diagrammed and quantified the plot of Hamlet, charting the relationships among characters based solely on whether they speak to one another during the play. The network analysis, he hopes, can point a way out of the reader’s limited perspective, or at least help acknowledge that such limits exist.
At Boston.com, Moretti explains:
Literary critics tend to think in terms of all or nothing. “This is interesting or not.” “This is right or wrong.” But in fact what you learn is that there is such a thing as being partially right. And this seems common sense, because in everyday life we know what that means, but in a field that is used to thinking differently, it is perhaps the hardest thing to recognize: that while you may have found something, you have not found everything. Or that when you realize that you have not found everything, that doesn’t mean you have found nothing.
Interviewer Richard beck adds
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.
This is what it looks like:
Sometimes we need computers, sometimes we need to publish scholarly articles, and sometimes we just need to read a book, on paper.
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