William Shakespeare’s plays survive not only because of their inherent dramatic and linguistic qualities, but also because each era has found its own way of imagining and reimagining them. The technology involved in stage production has changed over the last four centuries, of course, but so is the technology involved in the art itself. A few years ago, we featured here in Open Culture an archive of 3,000 illustrations of Shakespeare’s complete works dating back to the mid-nineteenth century. The site is the PhD project of Michael Goodman of Cardiff University, who recently completed another digital Shakespeare project, this time using artificial intelligence: Paint the Image for the Word.
“Every image collected here has been generated by Stable Diffusion, a powerful text-to-image AI,” Goodman wrote on the new project’s About page. “To create an image using this technology, users simply type a description of what they want to see into a text box and the AI will then generate multiple images that match that initial textual prompt,” as is the case with the new AI-based one. DALL-E art generator.
Each of the many drawings Goodman created was inspired by a Shakespeare play. “Some of the illustrations are expressionist (King John, Julius Caesar), while some are more literal (Happy Windsor Wife).” All “offer a visual idea or gloss to the drama: Henry VIIIwith the central character represented in a hazy, very ironic nuance, while in Perikel Mariana and her father are seen through the watery prism, echoing the drama’s attention with sea imagery.”
Selecting one of the many images generated per play, Goodman has created an entire digital exhibition whose works never repeat style or sensibilities, either with a dog-centered nineteen eighties collage representing Two Lords Veronavery abstract vision of MacbethWeird Brother or Lots of Ado About Nothing translated as modern rom-com. The theater company couldn’t help but notice the potential of these images as promotional posters, but Paint Image to Word It also points to something even bigger: Shakespeare’s plays have long stimulated human intelligence, but they have also worked on artificial intelligence. Visit Paint Image to Word here.
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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcaststs about the city, language and culture. The project includes a Substack newsletter Books about the City, book The Stateless City: Stroll through 21st Century Los Angeles and video series City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.