The literary and critical discourse about characters and characterization in Anglophone drama and fiction since the Renaissance shows a persistent but underrecognized presence of three idioms and vocabularies, two highly developed and one nascent, that either derive from the rhetoric of mathematics in classical antiquity or participate in its modern afterlife. Those discourses—which this article studies in detail—are, first, an explicitly Theophrastan one, in which taxonomies of character are constructed; second, an explicitly Euclidean one, in which characterization is discussed and accomplished in relatively conventional or commonsensical geometric terms; and third, a non- or post-Euclidean one, in which characterization is discussed and inchoately accomplished in the terms of the “new geometries” that emerged during the nineteenth century. What taxonomy in the Aristotelian mode (Theophrastus was Aristotle’s student) and geometry in the Euclidean mode have in common is that when their vocabularies are applied to characterization, they delimit characters in terms of established categories—whether of ideal shapes or statistically probable types—while discounting whatever features may be unique to individuals. An obliviousness to these three discourses can limit seriously what can be said about, and what can be said on behalf of, the literary and critical texts framed in their terms and also, most importantly, what can be said about the nature of literary characters.
Adir H. Petel; Moral Geometries: Theophrastan, Euclidean, and Non-Euclidean Discourse About Characterization, c. 1600 to the Present. Common Knowledge 1 August 2020; 26 (3): 453–551. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0961754X-8521645
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