This paper explores the development of the Personæ tool, an interactive resource for exploring patterns of speeches by and mentions of characters in dramatic texts. Initially developed to examine works by Shakespeare, the tool has broad application to dramatic texts.
Visualising the frequency, extent, and position of dialogue relating to a particular character presents users with a simple and immediate measure of that character’s prominence within the play. The Personæ tool enables users to select and visualise individual characters’ involvement, producing a novel means of exploring large-scale structural, narrative, or character-focused patterns within the text.
The tool is intended to facilitate character-based analysis and reveal structural patterns at the scale of the play. The tool was conceived with exploratory potential in mind, and is designed to allow users to customise the visualisation according to their particular interests or to follow a more speculative and disinterested reading of the play’s character-based features.
This deliberate aim emerged from the heuristic development process described below, and a desire to produce an extensible exploratory tool for dramatic texts. From an initial focus on using digital tools to visualise the tangling and disentangling of character names and identities in The Comedy of Errors, our interest broadened into exploring the potential for using character data to visualise larger structural and narrative patterns.
We were also motivated by the use of network analysis and visualisation for scholarship on Shakespearean and other literary texts, including work by Yose et al (2016), Grandjean (2015), Moretti (2011), and Stiller, et al. (2003). These analyses are similarly character-based and have yielded many interesting insights. But in the reduction of the textual data to nodes and edges (characters and their interactions), network analysis has obscured the temporal. The work of Xanthos, et al. (2016) maintains this temporal dimension, while exploring the dynamics of the character networks as they evolve. In contrast, by visualising the characters at the level of the play as a whole, we aim to preserve characters’ locations within the space of the text, thereby enabling analysis of the dramatic time and structural duration of the play.