Shakespeare Social Networks

Social Networks based on the plays by Shakespeare

William Shakespeare is said to be the world's most performed and admired playwright. He was born in 1564, in Stratford-upon-Avon in England and he spent much of his lifetime creating his ubiquitous and famous plays.

More than 400 years later, we now take a look at these plays in a way never seen before...

Using PieSpy to Detect Social Networks in Shakespeare Plays

PieSpy is a tool designed to infer and visualize social networks on Internet Relay Chat (IRC). It works by applying simple heuristics to work out who is talking to whom. This information can be used to produce a visualization of the social network, essentially showing which users are connected and how strong those connections are.

As PieSpy matured, it became obvious that IRC was not the only suitable testing ground. By feeding PieSpy with the entire texts of Shakespeare plays, it became possible to produce drawings of the social networks present in his plays - it is now possible to visualize the relationships between the characters in his works.

Example of a Shakespeare Social Network

The example below shows a snapshot of the social network near the beginning of The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra.

Frame 138 of Antony and Cleopatra (Click to enlarge)

You can see from this diagram that there is a strong social link between Cleopatra and Mark Antony (as you might expect!). There is also a strong link between Mark Antony and Octavius Caesar. This visualization already shows its usefulness in conveying information that could help someone who is about to start studying the play for the first time. Note that characters who are not linked to anybody are not shown in the diagram.

Temporal Decay of Social Networks

When processing an entire Shakespeare play, a sequence of several hundred drawings will be produced. To ensure that the each frame accurately depicts the current state of the social network, temporal decay is employed to artifically weaken existing relationships. This means that the edges in the diagram will start to fade away after a while.

Frame 596, showing the play focussing around Cleopatra (Click to enlarge)

Animated Shakespeare

With temporal decay taking place, each frame can be pieced together to form an interesting animation of an entire Shakespeare play. You can watch the evolution of the social network and understand the entire social structure of the set of characters in a few minutes, which is a lot quicker than gleaning the information by reading the entire play yourself. Perhaps such an animation is a useful aid when you have to study a play in a hurry?

Example of Animated Shakespeare Social Networks

The following animation shows the evolution of the social network for the entire tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra:

The video is compressed with MS-MPEG4 V2 and should happily play in Windows Media Player or mplayer on Linux. It is encoded at 4 frames per second and lasts for about 2.5 minutes.

Visualizing Shakespeare's Other Plays

I have created full animations for 37 of Shakespeare's plays. Here are some selected still frames:

Download DivX Shakespeare

Thanks to Christopher Schmidt for turning all 37 Shakespeare plays into DivX avi files. The following mirrors are available:

Thanks to everyone else who offered hosting after this page got slashdotted, but I can only sensibly manage a few at a time.

This page got slashdotted on 11 March 2004, with the site getting 250,000 hits per hour. Thanks to Notnet for making sure it all stayed alive!


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