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Network Theory, Plot Analysis

About the project

Status: archive

Project team: Franco Moretti;

End date: May 1, 2011


This project aimed to build out methods for using quantitative evidence, looking at plot through the lens of network analysis -- specifically, networks of characters. Using several of Shakespeare's plays, the project examines the roles of individual characters (such as Horatio), using their position within the network as a way to draw out their function within the text.

The project finds symmetry within the character network of Dickens's Our Mutual Friend, attributing it to his use of binary pairs (e.g. husband and wife), and extends this observation to a Chinese play, The Story of the Stone, linking it to guanxi, a "distinctive keyword of Chinese culture", meaning something like "connections".

Ultimately, the project discovered the limits of using visualizations of character networks, as many of the results were difficult to interpret at best. For future work, it turned towards network metrics and statistical analysis.