The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1053  Tuesday, 16 April 2002

From:           Al Magary <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Monday, 15 Apr 2002 17:02:03 -0700
Subject:        Gibson, Branagh, or W. Bradford Paley as Hamlet?

For a view of a Hamlet that is unique, see the visual representation the
text, including d.p., speech prefixes, and stage directions, gets at
http://www.textarc.org  You might want to read the description of the
TextArc endeavor in the
NYTimes--http://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/15/arts/15ARTS.html--before you
go to the site and load the Java applet.

If your threshold for experimentation on Shakespeare is low, click on
Alice in Wonderland instead.

Al Magary

A Word Map for Wonderland? Curiouser and Curiouser

New York Times, April 15, 2002


Now that Oprah Winfrey has put her book club on a diet, W. Bradford
Paley has invited everyone to join his reading circle. But this is no
kaffeeklatsch where participants sit around gabbing about the latest
best seller. Instead, it is the words themselves that form the circle.
Mr. Paley has created an Internet site, TextArc.org, that uses computer
technology to put a new spin on the written word. Visitors to the site,
which went online today, can pick from among 2,000 literary classics and
watch as each work's complete text is etched clockwise, line by line, in
a wide oval on the computer screen.

The texts, which range from Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in
Wonderland" to Balzac's "Z. Marcas," are too tiny to read around the
perimeter. Behind the computer glass, though, Mr. Paley's online
software is counting each word and noting its location every time it is
used. The oval's black center soon fills with legibly larger versions of
every word from the source text. Different stories look different. As a
result, Mr. Paley's software effectively turns any prose into concrete
poetry in which a word's size and location are as important to its
meaning as how it is used.

Once TextArc slices and dices a story, the most frequently used words
are the brightest. So in the Carroll work, "Alice" glows at the center.
And each word's location in this linguistic constellation is determined
by its exact locations in the story text. "Cheshire," for instance, is
near the bottom, close to the two middle chapters in which the cat
materializes. Roll the cursor over a word, and lines pop up that connect
it to all the points in the outer circle where the word is used.

"I am trying to create an agar in which meaning will grow," said Mr.
Paley, a New York software developer who specializes in converting
complex data into visual maps.

What meaning could possibly emerge from software that truly reduces
"Hamlet" to a screenful of words, words, words? It seems unromantic to
think of a Shakespeare play as a linguistic database, akin to love being
measured by physiologists through pulse rates and pupil dilation. But as
more literature is put into digital form, computers are successfully
being called upon to analyze its content and structure.

Although Mr. Paley has called TextArc a toy, it is sophisticated
software that turns a linear narrative into an interactive map in which
the relationships between words that may be pages apart can be perceived
at a glance. New interpretations may also be suggested. Viewing "Alice,"
for instance, one can immediately see that the novel's second most
significant word is "know," a paradoxical choice for a work in which
neither the protagonist nor the reader ever fully understands what is

During a test of the site, Mr. Paley conducted his own
comparative-literature exercise with Bram Stoker's "Dracula" and Mary
Shelley's "Frankenstein." The more prosaic Stoker novel yielded a circle
with a few key words clustered hotly in the center; the elegant Shelley
novel generated a circle with 50 words of moderate intensity that faded
toward the edges.

"I've never read either book," Mr. Paley said, "but I got the sense that
Dracula was just a story, while Frankenstein is meant to be a metaphor."
He learned later that Shelley's novel was subtitled "Or the Modern

Taking a term from film criticism, Mr. Paley said his goal was to create
a program that displayed the mise-en-sc 

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