October 1, 2010, 11:52 am
By Tim Roy
Earlier this week, I was speaking with Nancy Duarte about her new book Engage and comparing notes about our respective explorations of literature and drama over the past few months. With the help of a dear friend, I had set out on a course of reading some of the great works of drama in order to help develop my skills in creating better narratives for our clients.
I recently came across this site: Understanding Shakespeare, a project undertaken by Stephen Thiel and the University of Potsdam. His goal was to “extract and visualize the information found within the text to reveal its underlying narrative algorithm.” Using a variety of inquiry paths (dramatic structure, summary, enter/exit, and Google results), Thiel has produced a series of static visualizations illustrating objective findings about the Bard’s work.
While the results of this work have produced these not-surprisingly dense visualizations, it remains unclear how useful this type of data exploration might be. We often speak to our clients about first understanding the needs of an audience — what do you want them to think, feel and do after experiencing your story — in this case, what are the benefits of knowing these narrative patterns or the word count of a specific character?
To be fair (and offer Thiel the benefit of the doubt), this close analysis might prove helpful to Shakespearean scholars and others looking for specific linguistic patterns. Yet for the rest of us, it would seem that the art of A Midsummer Night’s Dream or the nod towards symbolic communication in Sonnet 23, cannot be divined by a visualization.
Shakespeare would have agreed that no objective structure could explain how we experience art. Despite the best efforts of scholars like Thiel (and there have been many), it eludes our best attempts to map it out and predetermine it. As Shakespeare wrote:
“When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see.”
Posted by Lucetta Boit on October 2, 2010 at 8:46 pm