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Romeo and Juliet: A Facebook Tragedy

Page history last edited by Alan Liu 5 years, 9 months ago

Romeo and Juliet: A Facebook Tragedy

Romeo and Juliet Facebook project team


Team Members: Helen Skura, Katia Nierle, Gregory Gin



Project Outline and Objective


Originally, our group wanted to explore how the popular online social networking website Facebook.com could be used to adapt the classic Shakespeare play Romeo and Juliet into a more interesting, easily-accessible form. We chose the play because it would be familiar to a majority of users and because it has a significant number of characters to utilize. Also, because it is a play, Romeo and Juliet is based almost solely on dialogue, and we felt that this form of fiction would be the easiest to translate into the dialogue-based Facebook realm. In an age where most people are familiar with online social networking sites, we thought Facebook itself would be especially relevant and engaging for web-savvy readers. However, since the site has a very simple, user-friendly design, readers who are unfamiliar with the program will also be able to explore the text as we have created it.


This project was intended to be an exploration of nonlinear storytelling and character development. Since Facebook has such a variety of different forums for interaction, we felt that using those forums for different parts of the play would cause the text to appear more interactive for users. Also, we assumed from the beginning of the project that, due to the limited descriptions offered of the characters, a certain amount of inferences about their likes/dislikes/etc. would be needed in order to fill out profiles which ask for information such as "Favorite Books," "Favorite Movies," etc. We saw this as a means of creating more complete personas for the characters based on their dialogue and actions within the text. We felt that this would allow users to become more invested in the characters.


We also intended to take advantage of the Facebook program and the optional applications it offers in order to model and map the social network of the characters in the play. Facebook tracks social relationships through "friend" connections, and therefore provides at-a-glance means of gleaning which characters know and/or interact with others. The virtual social sphere we created was meant to mirror the city of Verona and the events that take place over the course of the play. We were interested to compare this means of performance to experiences readers have had with real-world performances where a stage would represent Verona, and a group of actors would represent the characters and perform their actions. We wanted to use applications such as the "Friend Wheel" to provide a visual map of character relationships at various points throughout the play in order to track how the relationships changed over time.



What are Social Networking Websites? 


Social networking websites are "web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others withint the system" (Boyd). 


What is Facebook?


Facebook.com, which labels itself a "social utility," is one such example of this type of web-based program. The site is available free to any user with a valid email address. The site is available to everyone and reports 64 million active users, with "active user" defined as being one that has logged on in the past thirty days. The site claims to be "the second most-trafficked PHP [Hypertext Preprocessor] in the world, and one of the largest MySQL [multithreaded, multi-user Structured English Query Language] installations anywhere, running thousands of databases."





Because Facebook requires an email address for activation of profiles, our group began by creating individual character emails. After, we were able to sign each character up on the site. This initial stage of the project turned out to be more difficult than the group originally imagined. Facebook would not allow us to create characters with certain names, such as Romeo Montague. We were forced to slightly alter some of the character names. For example, we called Romeo Montague "Ro Montagues." We also had problems receiving some of the activation emails from Facebook but ultimately created twenty-one profiles for the characters listed further down the page.


We tried to choose emails and create profiles that would best match the personalities we interpreted for the characters based on their actions and dialogue in the play. For example, Romeo is consistenty portrayed throughout as being a sensiromantic who becomes depressed and withdrawn because of the difficulties in his obsessive attachments to various female characters, ie: Rosaline and Juilet. We tried to recreate this by making the profile for "Ro Montagues" filled with depressive and romantic books, music, and activities.


Creating the profiles presented a challenge for us because the play offers very little in the way of character development. Individual characters are never fully fleshed out, and instead functioin only in their roles throughout the play. For most characters, the dialogue does not give many clues to a larger, more complete personality, leaving us with the challenge of creating them ourselves. All twenty-one Facebook bios, as well as their corresponding characters from the play are as follow:


Romeo - Ro Montagues

Montague, his father - Papa Montagues

Montague's wife - Matriarch Montagues

Benvolio, Montague's nephew - Benvolio Montagues

Abram, Montague's servingman - Abram Monty

Balthasar, Romeo's servingman - Bal Thasar

Juliet - Juliet Capulet

Capulet, her father - Lord Alphonsus Capulet

Capulet's wife - Missy Capulet

Tybalt, her nephew - Tybalt Capulet

Juilet's nurse - Dolores Nurse

Peter, serving man of the Capulets - Peter Cap

Sampson, servingman of the Capulets - Sampson Capu

Gregory, servingman of the Capulets - Gregory Let

Escalus, Prince of Verona - Escalus Prince

Mercutio,  the prince's kinsman - Mercutio Prince

County Paris, the prince's kinsman - Paris Prince

Friar Laurence - Laurence Friar

Friar John - John Friar

An Apothecary - Cary Apothe

Rosaline, Romeo's initial love interest - Rosa Line



After these profiles were created, we set out to translate the social relationships between the characters from the play to Facebook. We assumed that all family members and servants for the Capulets would be "friends" and that all family members and servants for the Montagues would be "friends." We came to realize that the relationships between lesser characters or characters with no obvious allegiance to their the Capulets or Montagues were at times hard to interpret. This problem was especially troublesome with characters such as Friar John, who has very few lines and does not speak at all during the first several acts, and Rosaline, who has no lines and never appears directly in the play. We allowed their relationships to be limited and largely undefined. Due to the social natures of their respective jobs as the prince of the city and a friar in the church, we decided that the characters Prince Escalus (username: Escalus Prince) and Friar Laurence (username: Laurence Friar) would have universal social contacts with all other characters. When we had translated the social connections from the play into Facebook, we used the "Friend Wheel" application on the Escalus Prince persona to capture a visual representation of the Verona social sphere:





 With this image for future reference, we began to "act" out the play within the Facebook realm. Facebook is mainly geared towards user-to-user interaction, so for scenes with multiple-character interaction, we created a "Group" called "The Streets of Verona." It is in this "Group" that we began with Act I, scene i, using the message board forum to allow a large fight to break out between the Capulets and Montagues. Other means of translation included the "Wall" feature, which characters use to speak directly to one another, and "Photos," which characters use to comment on pictures of supposedly "real-world" events we could not adequately transfer into Facebook. For the Capulet Masque which takes place during Act I, scene iv, we had Capulet (username: Lord Alphonsus Capulet) create and "Event," which is meant to reflect a "real-world" party. He then invited other users with which he had friend connections. This "Event" was also used to facilitate the first meeting of Romeo and Juliet by use of pictures posted within its page.


At the conclusion of Act I, the "Friend Wheel" application on Escalus Prince's profile page was refreshed to show how the social connections of the characters had evolved throughout the action. Characters who interacted during Act I or who expressed liking, kindness, or tolerance towards one another were "friended." A problem arose when the application rearranged the names of the characters around the edges of the wheel, making comparison more difficult. The names were reordered to match the first capture and the result is as follows:

The web of relationships is far more diverse than those represented in the first capture. Although our group did not have time to complete all five acts of the play, our hope would be to be able to track similar trends throughout. We would be interested to know what the map of the Verona social sphere would look like at the culmination of the action in the play.





Reading the story as we have created it requires users to navigate through various Facebook features such as the "Wall," "Groups," "Photos," and "Events." Following the story in this way is similar to a work of hypertext fiction. However, the advantage offered by Facebook is that the interactions are ordered and timestamped, allowing for users to more easily discern which interactions come first in which progressions. We feel that this means of presenting a story offers a benefit of hypertext, forcing users to interact with the text, but at the same time it cuts down on much of the confusion by clearly communicating the progression of the overall plot.


Manufacturing character profiles based on the limited information in the text was difficult. We relied on individual interpretation and key themes surrounding each character. We supplied interests, books, movies, music, etc. that individuals with those character traits and personality types would be likely to enjoy. Character development was further facilitated by use of various applications and groups which we had characters add or join in order to reflect what we interpreted as their key traits. We feel we have provided somewhat more complete profiles for each character, hopefully to them aim of making them more relatable and providing more depth.


The project also unexpectedly became an exploration of how virtual role-playing could potentially produce a simulations or model of events in plays and/or novels. Despite the limited nature of the character profiles offered in the original text, enough detail was present to conclude certain character types and the ways that certain characters would act. With close reading, we were presented with certain constraints (ie: character traits, personalities, and relationships), and we had to make sure that these constraints were incorporated into our simulation aside from use in the creation of the profiles. For example, Tybalt in the play is an angry character. Therefore, he was permitted to only perform angry actions and have angry interactions with others on the site. With these constraints, group members attempted to play out the rest of the story while keeping in mind that certain actions or interactions needed to occur for the plot to move forward. For example, a fight between the Montague and Capulet servingmen had to take place in order for another fight to break out between Benvolio and Tybalt, as well as between Montague and Capulet. Both fights needed to take place for the prince to step in and warn his subjects that further fights would be met with swift discipline. This action was especially important because it influences further events in the play when Romeo is threatened with death and then exiled after he slays Tybalt. Certain non-essential plot points were deleted because they were too difficult to translate into the Facebook medium and other actions in the play did not stem from them. Since we did not start the project with this role-playing/simulation aspect in mind, further study would need to be done for us to more thoroughly understand the implications of our observation. We would research massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), as well as explore the possible use of NetLogo and Scratch from the course toy chest in order to better explore how character traits can be interpreted as constraints and how the play might progress when entered into a computer computer simulation.



For Further Reference


Ang, Chee Siang et. al. "A model of cognitive loads in massively multiplayer online role playing games."

Interacting with computers. 19.2 (2007):167-179.


Boyd, Danah M. and Nicole B. Ellison. "Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship." Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. 13.1 (2007) http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol13/issue1/boyd.ellison.html.




Research Report by Helen Skura

Research Report by Katia Nierle

Research Report by Gregory Gin


Bibliography by Helen Skura

Bibliography by Katia Nierle

Bibliography by Gregory Gin



Interpretive Essays:

"Romeo and Juliet: Test of Bonds" by Gregory Gin

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