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    William Shakespeare's plays are among the best known and loved in the entire canon of English literature.  This fact is one reason why scholars often find it difficult to create new and interesting criticisms about his plays.  For example, an internet search of Shakespeare's anti-semitic meanings regarding the character of Shylock, or the homosocial bonds between Antonio and Bassanio, will return thousands of results, not to mention the numerous published volumes on these subjects.  The quest for new meanings in a four-hundred year-old dramatic work has the literary community committing something akin to Freud's repetition compulsion.  The Venetian Project is something new, a fresh cut on the proverbially beaten horse.  Our entire method of criticism is based on the interpretation of data, rather than concepts, themes, or emotions.  This is achieved through the consideration of three devices: single character word frequency analysis, dual-comparative tragic character analysis, and character interaction mapping.  The logic behind this approach can be summed up by the following quotation from the historical figure who has had more influence on the world than anyone before or after his birth; "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matt. 12:34).

    The Merchant of Venice is one of the many theatrical masterpieces composed by William Shakespeare.  The play is thought to have been written sometime between 1594 and 1596, making it the earliest of Shakespeare’s comedies.  The work takes place in two settings: Venice and Belmont.  Venice, a romanticized land of waterways, is where the majority of the action takes place.  Belmont is where Portia, the heroine of the play, lives and attempts to find a suitor.  Her father has died and left her with a fortune.  His instructions stipulate that in order to find a proper suitor, an unconventional test must be administered.  It involves the suitor picking from three chests; one gold, one silver, and one lead.  Two princes who sought Portia's hand in marriage failed the test.  A  young man named Bassanio wishes to marry Portia, but in order to do so, he must secure the monetary means to travel to Belmont and win his bride.  This is where the plot unfolds.  Antonio, a dear friend of Bassanio, provides his comrade the necessary funds.  However, he does not directly lend Bassanio the ducats.  Instead, the money is obtained from a Jewish moneylender named Shylock.  As collateral for the loan, Antonio will pledge a pound of his own flesh to the Jew.  Bassanio, who Portia really wishes to marry, arrives at Belmont and picks the correct leaden chest, winning her hand in marriage.  Despite a seemingly fairytale ending, one of Antonio's merchant ships has gone missing!  This spurs Shylock to demand the pound of Antonio's flesh, seeing as repayment now appears impossible.  The usurer is very vengeful due to his mistreatment by Antonio and other Christians.  He is also extremely upset that his daughter, Jessica, has run away to marry the Christian Lorenzo, also a friend to Antonio and Bassanio.  Upon hearing news that the Jew seeks a pound of Antonio's flesh, Portia gives Bassanio the money to repay the debt.  By this time however, Shylock wants revenge more than monetary gain.  There is a trial held in Venice to determine whether Antonio must provide Shylock with the pound of flesh.  The Duke attends, and although he dislikes Shylock, he recognizes the importance of upholding contracts.  It is not until Portia arrives dressed as a male lawyer and outsmarts Shylock that Antonio is pardoned.  As a result of the trial, Shylock is commanded to give up his property and religion, since his blood-lust is considered a threat to a Christian life.  The play concludes with Portia and her maid, Nerissa, playing a trick on their lovers, Bassanio and Gratiano.  Still in disguise, the women request the rings they had given their lovers.  At first, the men are reluctant, but eventually hand over the rings.  Later on, when all lovers are reunited at Belmont, Portia and Nerissa slyly ask to see the rings.  The two men are forced to admit they had given them away.  After a bit more trickery, the ladies come clean with the truth, that the legal counsel who received the rings was actually themselves in disguise.  Bassanio and Gratiano realize the importance of remaining faithful to their women. 


    In the single character analysis section of the site, a selection of each character's most frequent words is provided in graphic form alongside a criticism based on those findings.  This method is an obvious departure from the long-standing technique of close reading.  Click on the name of any character below to see the findings.

    

    Any effective method of criticism should be applicable across multiple works.  In the character analysis portion of this site, one sees how a basic word frequency analysis lends itself to a new form of criticism.  In the page below, a similar approach of word frequency analysis is taken.  Only this time, rather than allowing each graph to stand on its own, two comparative graphs are placed side-by-side, allowing for a more comparative approach to data-based analysis.  Let us see what these comparative graphs can illustrate about tragic characters across plays. 


    Graphs are an effective visual representation of numerical data points.  Human interactions however, cannot be bound by such terms.  In the Relationship Display section of The Venetian Project, character interactions are presented through another non-classical method: character interaction maps.



Organization is an important factor in any collaborative project.  Take a peek at our team's Gantt chart and our annotated bibliography to see how we kept it all together.


Great ideas develop over time.  The two links below will take you to the initial site model for our project and some rough concept sketches.


Background image by Charles Kean www.kent.ac.uk/.../19CShakespeare/Index.html
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