Simulating Hamlet: Questions, Cautions, and Critique

Simulating Hamlet: Questions, Cautions, and Critique

Tim Haslett
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/ijsda.2012100104
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This paper explores the implications of the use of System Dynamics to model dramatic works and examines the model used in Pamela Lee Hopkins’ “Simulating Hamlet in the classroom.” This paper addresses this issue from both a literary and a modelling perspective. It begins by discussing the use of System Dynamics modelling in literature within the framework established by Forrester. Two aspects of the model, motivation and evidence revelation, are then examined against evidence from the text, supported by historical information. Some difficulties inherent in modelling drama are highlighted and the paper concludes that the model does not adequately capture the complexity of the play because System Dynamics modelling is not an appropriate tool for literary analysis.
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This paper has been developed in response to the conjunction of two quite disparate disciplines: System Dynamics and Shakespearean criticism. At the heart of the discussion in this paper are two fundamental contradictory assumptions. Shakespearean criticism aims to broaden the understanding of the plays but not necessarily produce consensus whereas System Dynamics aims at consensus through an understanding that is based on experimentation with the fundamental structures and dynamics of the system in question. In relation to Shakespearean criticism, Maynard Mack (1952) observed:

“I know too well, if I might echo the sentiments of Mr. E. M. W. Tillyard’s, that no one is likely to accept another man's reading of Hamlet (and) that anyone who tries to throw light on one part of the play usually throws the rest into deeper shadow.”

It is with this warning in mind that the paper explores the challenges inherent in combining System Dynamics modelling and Shakespearean criticism.

It is appropriate and natural that the use and application of System Dynamics modelling in the school curriculum will inevitably lead to its application in areas where it has not previously been used. In literature, applications have included William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (Joy), Romeo and Juliet (Radzicki, 1991) and Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind (Leslie, 1998). However, these applications need rigorous intellectual examination from the standpoint of the discipline of System Dynamics and from the perspective of literary criticism. Its use in literature raises the question of whether the conditions for the application of modeling (Forrester, 1961) can be met or whether a new framework of application can be designed. In suggesting that there are central questions to be answered in the application of System Dynamics to literature, the paper is designed as a cautionary note.

To begin the discussion, it is helpful to return to some fundamental principles of System Dynamics modeling. In “Industrial Dynamics,” Forrester (1961) outlined “an industrial dynamics approach to enterprise design (which) progresses through several steps”:

  • 1.

    Identify a dynamic problem,

  • 2.

    Isolate the factors that appear to interact to create the observed symptoms,

  • 3.

    Trace the cause-and-effect information-feedback loops,

  • 4.

    Formulate acceptable formal decision policies,

  • 5.

    Construct a mathematical model of the decision policies,

  • 6.

    Generate the behaviour through time of the system,

  • 7.

    Compare results against output and available knowledge about the actual system,

  • 8.

    Revise the model until it is acceptable as a representation of the actual system,

  • 9.

    Redesign, within the model, the organizational relationships and policies which can be altered the actual system to find the changes which improve system behavior,

  • 10.

    Alter the real system in the directions that model experimentation has shown will lead to improved performance. (Industrial Dynamics, p. 13)

Similar steps were reiterated, nearly 40 years later, by Sterman (2000) in Business Dynamics where the principles for successful use of System Dynamics were outlined. Sterman included two caveats relevant to modelling Hamlet:

  • 1.

    Force the “why do we need it” discussion,

  • 2.

    Use expert modelers not novices [modeling requires a disciplined approach and an understanding of business, skills developed through the study and experience] (Business Dynamics, p. 79)

Clearly, there are a number of fundamental assumptions in the application of System Dynamics modelling:

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