Shakespeare's Brain: Reading with Cognitive Theory

By Mary Thomas Crane | Go to book overview

1
No Space Like Home: The Comedy of Errors

A RELATIVELY old-fashioned critical commonplace about The Comedy of Errors is that it begins to transform the flat characters of Roman comedy and farce into three-dimensional individuals. Anne Barton, for example, contrasts ancient comedy, where “identity … is principally a matter of establishing parentage and social class,” and Shakespeare's new focus in this play on “the inner life” and feelings of psychological incompleteness. 1 Critics have, however, traditionally seen Shakespeare's representation of the individual in this play as incomplete either because it was written early in his career, before he had learned to represent such characters in their full depth and complexity, or, according to a more recent view, because of a historicist argument that the concept of “inwardness” was only beginning to be developed when this play was written. 2 In an influential article written in the early 1960s Harold Brooks notes that although the Antipholi and Adriana “do not develop in the sense of being felt to change in character as a result of the action, their attitudes of mind develop, so that each is felt to have an inner self. That is, they are not wholly flat characters, such as might be fitting protagonists of pure farce. They are simple, but have just enough depth for the play.” 3 By 1991 Barbara Freedman could argue that the characters lack fully rounded depth and individuality because the play as a whole represents an almost postmodern sense of “the impossibility of self-presence.” 4 It would be more accurate to say that in the course of this play Shakespeare “thinks through” some of the issues at stake in fashioning such a self-present individual, in society and on the stage, and that in doing so he explores how characters are fashioned by the words they speak and also how, within the shifting semantic fields of those words, there can be space to imagine different versions of subjectivity.

Critics' persistent references to “depth” in their discussions of these characters reflect a commonplace metaphorical concept—that the relative resemblance of fictional characters to real people can be described as a progression from “flat” one-dimensionality, like a drawing or photograph in a text, to “round” three-dimensionality, with an interior space capable of containing a complicated inner self. Cognitive theorists such as George Lakoff or Jean Mandler would derive a cultural metaphor of this kind from a preconceptual image schema based on the developmentally crucial

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