Brecht Beats Shakespeare! A Card-Game Intervention Revolving Around the Network Analysis of European Drama

Angelika Hechtl (, Vienna University of Economics and Business und Frank Fischer (, Higher School of Economics, Moscow und Anika Schultz (, Humboldt University of Berlin und Christopher Kittel (, University of Graz und Elisa Beshero-Bondar (, University of Pittsburgh und Steffen Martus (, Humboldt University of Berlin und Peer Trilcke (, University of Potsdam und Jana Wolf (, University of Potsdam und Ingo Börner (, University of Vienna und Daniil Skorinkin (, Higher School of Economics, Moscow und Tatiana Orlova (, Higher School of Economics, Moscow und Carsten Milling (, Higher School of Economics, Moscow und Christine Ivanovic (, University of Vienna

This poster offers a playful introduction to network analysis as a means to study and compare dramatic texts. Its more serious purpose is a didactic intervention in the now well-established methods of literary network analysis, which are not always applied with sufficient reflection. The calculation of complex network metrics is often not followed by a leap to meaningful interpretation. What does it really mean, for example, that the average path length of the social network extracted from Shakespeare’s
Hamlet is 1.69 and the density of the same network is 0.34? However, when we look at these values in relation to the corresponding values of other dramatic texts, such network statistics become much more meaningful.

In order to cultivate comparative sensitivity in the context of literary network analysis, we build on a gamification approach. Unlike other experiments in this direction – such as the Android and web app
Play(s) presented at the DHd2016 (Göbel/Meiners 2016), which encouraged the playful correction and enrichment of literary TEI corpora – we produce a true card game that invites players to explore network-analysis data in a new way.

The poster format is applied in two ways: On the one hand, the poster is a data visualisation based on a minimal canon of European drama. On the other hand, it is a card game that playfully acquaints audiences with the meaning of basic network metrics. This approach is not new in the arts and humanities and reaches back to card games like
Plattenbauten. Berliner Betonerzeugnisse (Mangold et al. 2001), where technical data of different types of prefabricated concrete buildings had to be compared (cf. Richter 2006).

Our drama card game serves to instruct players in literary history, quantitative approaches, and network theory, based on a collection of 32 dramas ranging from the ancient Greeks to the modern age. Instead of a lexicon-like description of such a collection, the descriptive instrument here consists of visual and quantitative values that produce comparability – a type of card game known to English speakers as
Top Trumps – see
–, or as
Supertrumpf in the German context.

Each card presents a visualisation of a social network extracted from one of the 32 plays (very much along the lines of Fischer et al. 2016 and Fischer et al. 2018). Additional information on the cards consists of metadata (author, title, subtitle, year of publication/premiere) and static and dynamic network data (network size, network density, clustering coefficient, average path length, maximum degree incl. the name of the corresponding character, number of scenes). The front card contains an introduction to the project and its background as well as short definitions of network-theoretical terminology.

The poster is generated with the all-in-one drama analysis script
dramavis, which has received a corresponding function in the new version 0.4 (Kittel/Fischer 2017). The collection of 32 plays used for the conference poster is in no way meant to be definitive or canonical, but is intended to present a diverse collection of plays from the history of European drama that feature comparably interesting social network data. Our collection ranges from antiquity (Aeschylus, Euripides, Sophokles, Aristophanes) to modern times (Marlowe, Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Calderón de la Barca, Racine, Molière, Aphra Behn, Goldoni, Goethe, Mitford, Victor Hugo, Pushkin, Gogol, Grabbe, Ibsen, Strindberg, Schnitzler, Chekhov, Lasker-Schüler, Shaw, Pirandello, García Lorca, Brecht, and others).

dramavis tool can be fed with a customisable canon file to create your own deck of cards.

Appendix A

  1. Fischer,
    Göbel, M., Kampkaspar, D., Kittel, C., Trilcke, P. (2016): Distant-Reading Showcase. 200 Years of Literary Network Data at a Glance. Proceedings of DHd2016, Leipzig. DOI:
  2. Fischer,
    Kittel, C.,
    Milling, C., Schultz, A.,
    Trilcke, P.,
    Wolf, J. (2018): Dramenquartett. Eine didaktische Intervention. Proceedings of DHd2018, Cologne. DOI:
  3. Göbel, M., Meiners, H.-L. (2016): Play(s): Crowdbasierte Anreicherung eines literarischen Volltext-Korpus. Proceedings of DHd2016, Leipzig.
  4. Kittel, C., Fischer, F. (2017): dramavis v0.4. On Github, 2017. Repo:
  5. Mangold, C. et al. (2001): Plattenbauten. Berliner Betonerzeugnisse. Ein Quartettspiel. Berlin.
  6. Richter, P. (2006): Der Plattenbau als Krisengebiet. Die architektonische und politische Transformation industriell errichteter Wohngebäude aus der DDR am Beispiel der Stadt Leinefelde. Hamburg, Univ., Diss. URL:

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