Project Background and Connection to my Dissertation
Shakespeare’s Shadows is a digital project that developed as an extension of my dissertation project. My dissertation examines the paragone, which is a category of Renaissance texts authored by writers and visual artists defending their own medium and subsequently discrediting other forms. Paragone writers ask questions regarding the purpose of art, the reliability of art, the boundaries of art, and so on. They work to promote their own medium by theorizing the limitations of other forms. This is done in order to secure economic gain (patronage) and social mobility.

My dissertation looks at the metadramatic function of visual art, specifically portraits, within Renaissance drama. Dramatists I argue, participated in the paragone and yet transformed these debates by subverting the traditional binary purported between verbal and visual. Drama, after all, is both a textual and visual medium. And so my dissertation is built upon the fundamental recognition that Renaissance playwrights often dramatize:

  1. Artistic language—using key artistic terms and theories to illuminate their own rhetoric
  2. The painter as a surreptitious character, who is akin to the dramatist through the representation of his struggle for social and artistic mobility
  3. Artistic stage properties—which are used to examine the potential dangers of fictional representation
  4. The intellectual and physical labor of creating visual art, which is closely linked to the textual; and in turn, creates a reciprocal, inter-media effect

In all, I suggest that Renaissance dramatists understood their undeniable connection to painters and when painters and paintings are staged, they function as mirrors used to reflect drama’s own socially-imposed concerns about its artistic significance given its visual nature.

Historical Background
England witnessed an influx of art theoretical texts published in the late 1500’s-early 1600’s. In response to the earlier Italian Renaissance, English artists sought to establish their own school of artistic theory. During this period, English artistic manuals shift from the practical (guides to mixing colors, etc.) to the theoretical (What is the purpose and meaning of visual art? What are its limitations?). We also see that during this period, English artists desire to be seen as artisans as opposed to mere craftsmen. I argue that in many ways, the rise of the English dramatist takes a very similar course.

References to visual art litter Renaissance plays and such references are inherently negative. In part, this was because English visual art itself was in a time of transition, and especially given England’s new economic growth, the rise of new forms of artistic expression (such as drama) and England’s tumultuous religious landscape, which included issues such as false worship and idolatry, it is no wonder that painting held an unsecured position in English artistic circles.

Artistic Terms
Often signifiers of deception, inauthenticity, and falseness, dramatists made creative use of the double entendre that often accompanied Renaissance artistic terms. My decision to search for terms such as shadow, paint, counterfeit, portrait, image, perspective, picture, and varnish is based on my prior experience working with Shakespeare’s texts through the lens of Renaissance artistic theory specifically. It is perhaps plain to see how these terms—each of which serves as a synonym for Renaissance portraits (or is otherwise related to portraiture) is ripe with meaning when it comes to the verbal/visual staging of plays. While there are surely other artistic terms that would also be worthy of exploration, it is my hope that this webpage at least begins a discussion.

Digital Visualization
In light of my dissertation topic, I wanted to see if I could uncover interesting patterns or trends when searching for artistic terms in Renaissance drama. I chose to focus on Shakespeare for this project and in order to scale the project even further, I chose to examine the plays printed in his First Folio. I wanted to immerse myself in one author’s corpus in order to address the following questions: Does the frequency of artistic terminology increase or decrease over time? Do these terms appear more frequently in comedies, tragedies, histories, or the romances? Do Shakespeare’s co-authors use artistic terms more or less frequently than Shakespeare himself?

After testing several web-based visualization tools, I decided on using Voyant. Voyant allows users to create unique graphs after uploading whatever text they desire to analyse. For me, some graphs worked better than others. Shakespeare’s corpus is rather large, and so I was limited in the graphs I could use and the amount of terms for which I could search. In cases where technology hindered my ability to provide interactive graphs, I included static images.

In order to create this website, I modified a simple Bootstrap template. This project was my first experience writing code, and this is the first website that I have created so please be kind! I do want to thank MATRIX for hosting my webpage and the Cultural Heritage Initiative for supporting me in the learning process. Our CHI fellowship advisor, Ethan Watrall has been especially gracious and generous with his time. In more ways than one, I am exceedingly grateful for this learning opportunity and I hope to continue my coding journey!


Because I work with texts that predate standard spelling practices, my graphs are limited in that they do not search for all of the available variant spellings of individual terms. I tried to search for the most standard of spellings, but I do recognize that variant spellings of specific terms could alter my findings. I also chose to examine Shakespeare’s First Folio only. Undeniably, there is work to be done comparing quartos to one another, looking at other Renaissance authors, examining Shakespeare’s poetry, and so on.

In this way, I recognize that this website is not an exhaustive study, but again, I do hope that users are able to witness the prevalence of artistic terminology in Shakespeare’s work. I encourage users to approach this website as an example of what data/text-visualization tools can do for their own individual research needs.

In short, this project is a start, and certainly not the end of my research in this area. While I hope that this site brings new readings of Shakespeare’s texts to light, there is so much more work to be done. And if you ask me, that’s the fun of it! (Also, see my dissertation, circa 2016 for more on this topic!)

Suggestions for Use

I encourage users to manipulate these graphs; users should click on those that are interactive to be directed to more information. Existing graphs can be altered to search for other related terms, or terms of the user's choice. Users may even create their own graphs using Shakespeare’s works, or any other text.