Bridging the Gap Between Melville and Shakespeare

Document Type

Student Presentation

Presentation Date

April 2016

Faculty Sponsor

Steven Olsen-Smith, Jessica Ewing


In the 1940s, descendants of American author Herman Melville donated his personal copies of a seven volume Shakespeare set to the literary world. The set was heavily marked and annotated by Melville, and this marginalia provides insight to the influence Shakespeare had on his writing of Moby-Dick and other works. Many literary critics have theorized about the connection Melville had with Shakespeare, but few have looked at the marginalia itself for evidence. Our research supports that connection by thoroughly analysing the marginalia to expose direct parallels between Moby-Dick and Shakespeare's works. The parallels discussed in our exhibit include: the role of divine beings as they relate to mortals, the lack of reward in virtuous behavior, and the individual's inherent capacity for evil. The marginalia highlighting those topics reveals Melville's often meticulous and labored writing process, as well as his tendency to lean on Shakespeare for inspiration. To expose patterns and frequencies in Melville's marginalia, our exhibit features new methods of quantitative analysis and data visualization, in addition to high resolution images and commentary. These technical approaches are made possible through collaboration between English students and Electrical and Computer Engineering faculty.

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