Thursday, October 21, 2010

Hamlet As Diagram. As Art.

We've talked about projects to visualize Shakespeare before, in a variety of ways. Here's one I hadn't seen. Via Incredible Things I give you an actual wallsized poster of Hamlet, diagrammed. Suitable for framing.

At almost $300 I'm not going to run out and grab one, but it does fascinate me. It is *very* tight. I'd love something in a big TIFF file that I could peruse at my leisure, to sit down and really see whether the entire story is adequately captured so succinctly.

I'd also like to see whether she's done the other plays! (Her bio lists just the 1 item for sale, so I'm guessing not. But maybe coming soon?)

Seriously, this is the kind of thing that kicks the computer geek side of my brain. I've always dreamed of having this sort of semantic engine that could read Shakespeare's work and then spit back out whatever you asked for it (at least, the objective stuff like "When does Hamlet kill Polonius" or "Who is Tybalt to Juliet?"). Just the other day I saw on a mailing list where somebody asked whether you could programmatically solve "The doubling problem" by making the definitive list of all characters who are on stage with each other. Assuming you've got an accurate representation of enters/exits, then yes, you certainly could, I'd think.


Duane said...

One of the zoom images shows a graph labelled "Hamlet's love", and shows it on the decline from Now to Future, with respect to Ophelia. I'd suggest that this is either wrong, or else grossly oversimplified. He may be upset with her during the play, but would we have the whole graveyard scene if he didn't love her anymore?

Alexi said...

Yeah, that is strange, Duane. Also, shouldn't the graph start with an implied "Past" where Hamlet and Ophelia were much closer?

The "doubling question" really fascinates me. I'm not sure a computer could ever "solve" it, but it would make for a intriguing approach. In my view, no computer-generated answer will be entirely satisfactory because it will be so dependent on the factors entered: whether or not cross-gender doubling occurs, or what the minimum changing time would be for actors. I always find that, in actual performance, some doublings are pulled off that are theoretically impossible: Donalbain/2nd Witch, for example. While not strictly allowed by the text, this double was successfully accomplished by the simple delaying of Donalbain's entrance in 1.2. And that not even bringing up non-traditional cutting of plays to allow for different doubles.

Trying to ascertain Shakespeare's intended doubling (if he had one) would a great academic exercise, but not--necessarily--a useful tool for today's theatre.

Duane said...

Sure, Alexi, you'd have to set some parameters - and then it's implied that your solution only works within those parameters (i.e. this can be doubled if Oberon can costume-change in 30 seconds, and then he doesn't, is not a failure of the simulation).

This is why modeling a universe is so fun, because you can do things like this. You could say "What if I move this character's entrance down here." You could, then, produce a study of all characters who could, within reasonable limits, be doubled. Then it would be up to the historians to play out the different combinations about who may have been, who should have been and so on.

william sutton said...

Do you know about these one page books?

Duane said...

I do! I have two of them, in fact. One (Midsummer) is framed and hanging down in my basement office, the other (Lear) is in its tube, I have not found a good spot for it yet. They are very neat as a work of art, although the font ends up so small it is almost meaningless to call it the script.