Current Projects

A printed character list with annotations from Philip Massinger’s Fatal Dowry. Call number STC 17646 Folger copy 3
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On the Surface of Shakespeare’s Characters

I am completing a monograph, in which I argue that previous scholarship has distorted early modern conceptions of character by linking characters too closely with modern questions of depth, subjectivity, and individuality. No one doubts that Shakespeare’s characters are not real persons, yet critics continue to treat them as though they are despite repeated attempts over the past three decades to dismantle character criticism. Recent critical work resurrects some of the tenets of traditional character criticism by offering theoretically sophisticated claims for reading Shakespeare’s characters as naturalistic. My approach presents an alternative model of character that disentangles how we talk about characters from how we talk about actual persons. Unlike previous critiques of character studies, I contend that characters matter a great deal, but that the ways they make and convey meaning have gone largely unacknowledged by scholarship preoccupied by what characters can supposedly tell us about early modern persons or subjectivity.

My work explores what Shakespeare’s characters demonstrate about early modern character on the page and stage, and on what they reveal about Shakespeare’s plays when modern notions of fictive personhood do not obscure our perspectives. Chapter one constructs a new model of character types and applies it to Shakespeare’s Richard III and Iago in order to show the explanatory power of typicality for even the most complex villains. The next chapter reassesses crossdressing heroines such as Viola, Rosalind, and Imogen. Disguise, I argue, operates counterintuitively to our modern expectations by eschewing a sense of concealment or interiority and emphasizing character as pure surface. Chapter three investigates the characters in two of Shakespeare’s late plays, Cymbeline and The Winter’s Tale, in order to show how metadrama undermines the genre conventions that those characters initially seem to represent. My last chapter revolves around Shakespeare’s tragic protagonists, especially Hamlet. By building on my early chapters’ considerations of typicality, surface, and metadrama, I argue that Hamlet does not invent the human (as Harold Bloom claims) but rather distances its protagonist from the human. Considering the textual variants among the three early print editions of the play, I conclude that some of Hamlet’s speeches most often read in terms of inwardness are better understood in terms of the theater’s mimetic limitations and the tendency of Shakespeare’s drama to flaunt those limitations.