AIrish: Irish Theater and Artificial Intelligence

AIrish: Exploring Irish Theatre and Artificial Intelligence - UC Berkeley Irish Studies

AIrish is a research project that blends traditional and digital humanities methods to explore Irish drama from the seventeenth to the twenty-first centuries. Led by Professor Catherine Flynn, its current expression is the undergraduate Special Topics Seminar ENGLISH 165 (Spring 2021) which combines methods central to literary criticism (close reading, formal analysis, discussions of historical context, etc.) with elements of computational analysis.

In the course, students read a selection of Irish plays against a corpus of over three hundred years of Irish drama, from William Congreve’s The Old Batchelor (1693) to Emma Donoghue’s Room (2017). (We are grateful to Andy Haas and Jesus Diaz for their work on assembling this corpus.) In the seminar, we’re informing our discussions of the plays on the syllabus with computational analyses of formal, lexical, and stylistic features. In this iteration of the course, the criteria for the analyses are sentence length, speech length, scene length, number of characters, and frequency of individual words of the individual plays on the syllabus and in the other plays in the corpus. We are very grateful to Professor David Bamman and Kent Chang from Berkeley’s Computer Science Department (EECS) for carrying out these analyses.

The course also considers individual plays in relation to scenes generated by artificial intelligence, using a text generator designed by David Bamman. This machine-learning tool has been trained on the corpus as a whole, and we are experimenting with training it on particular playwrights and periods. Our aim is to generate a set of short scenes that we will perform in seminar at the end of the semester.

Throughout the course, we are considering how drama explores the relation of individual and collective identity; we are thinking about how Irish dramatists use and reuse language to represent and reinvent Irish identity. As we move towards plays from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, we will think about how to understand the dramatic medium at a moment in which individual subjectivity and collective life are increasingly routed through and constituted by digital space and subject to surveillance and data collection.

This project is generously supported by the Irish Government Emigrant Support Programme.

Engraving of the screen scene from Sheridan's The School for Scandal (1777)

Engraving of the screen scene from Sheridan's The School for Scandal (1777) (Source: British Library)

Brian & Brendan Gleeson on The Walworth Farce

Enda Walsh, The Walworth Farce (2006)