11 Shakespeare Tragedies Mapped Out with Network Visualizations


Every sto­ry has its archi­tec­ture, its joints and cross­beams, orna­ments and deep struc­ture. The bound­aries and scope of a sto­ry, its built envi­ron­ment, can deter­mine the kind of sto­ry it is, tragedy, com­e­dy, or oth­er­wise. And every sto­ry also, it appears, gen­er­ates a network—a web of weak and strong con­nec­tions, hubs, and nodes.

Take Shake­speare’s tragedies. We would expect their net­works of char­ac­ters to be dense, what with all those plays’ intrigues and feasts. And they are, accord­ing to dig­i­tal human­i­ties, data visu­al­iza­tion, and net­work analy­sis schol­ar Mar­tin Grand­jean, who cre­at­ed the charts you see here: “net­work visualization[s] in which each char­ac­ter is rep­re­sent­ed by a node con­nect­ed with the char­ac­ters that appear in the same scenes.”

The result speaks for itself: the longest tragedy (Ham­let) is not the most struc­tural­ly com­plex and is less dense than King LearTitus Andron­i­cus or Oth­el­lo. Some plays reveal clear­ly the groups that shape the dra­ma: Mon­tague and Capulets in Romeo and Juli­et, Tro­jans and Greeks in Troilus and Cres­si­da, the tri­umvirs par­ties and Egyp­tians in Antony and Cleopa­tra, the Vols­cians and the Romans in Cori­olanus or the con­spir­a­tors in Julius Cae­sar.

Grand­jean’s visu­al­iza­tions show us how var­ied the den­si­ty of these plays is. While Mac­beth has 46 char­ac­ters, it only achieves 25% net­work den­si­ty. King Lear, with 33 char­ac­ters, reach­es 45%.


Ham­lets den­si­ty score near­ly match­es its num­ber of char­ac­ters, while Titus Andron­i­cus’ den­si­ty num­ber exceeds its char­ac­ter num­ber, as does that of Oth­el­lo by over twice as much. Why is this? Grand­jean does­n’t tell us. These data maps only pro­vide an answer to the ques­tion of whether “Shake­speare’s tragedies” are “all struc­tured in the same way.”

But does Grand­jean’s “result speak for itself,” as he claims? Though he helps us visu­al­ize the way char­ac­ters clus­ter around each oth­er, most obvi­ous­ly in Romeo and Juli­et, above, it’s not clear what a “den­si­ty” score does for our under­stand­ing of the dra­ma’s intent and pur­pos­es. With the excep­tion of the most promi­nent few char­ac­ters, the graph­ics only show var­i­ous plays’ per­son­ae as name­less shad­ed cir­cles, where­as Shake­speare’s skill was to turn most of those char­ac­ters, even the most minor, into anti­types and anom­alies. Per­haps as impor­tant as how they are con­nect­ed is the ques­tion of who they are when they con­nect.

You can view and down­load a com­plete poster of all 11 of Shake­speare’s tragedies at Grand­jean’s web­site.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

74 Ways Char­ac­ters Die in Shakespeare’s Plays Shown in a Handy Info­graph­ic: From Snakebites to Lack of Sleep

Read All of Shakespeare’s Plays Free Online, Cour­tesy of the Fol­ger Shake­speare Library

A 68 Hour Playlist of Shakespeare’s Plays Being Per­formed by Great Actors: Giel­gud, McK­ellen & More

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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