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An approach to characterisation: the case of Katherina in Shakespeare’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew’.

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>11/2000
<mark>Journal</mark>Language and Literature
Issue number4
Number of pages26
Pages (from-to)291-316
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


In this article, I argue that literary characterization can be fruitfully approached by drawing upon theories developed within social cognition to explain the perception of real-life people. I demonstrate how this approach can explain the construction of Katherina, the protagonist in Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. Specifically, I introduce notions from cognitive theories of knowledge (especially schema theory), and impression formation. Using these, I describe (1) the role of prior knowledge in forming an impression of a character, and (2) how various types of impression are formed. Prior to my analysis of Katherina, I outline the kind of shrew schema the Elizabethans might have had knowledge of. Then, in my analysis I argue that the textual evidence in the first part of the play is largely consistent with this schema, and thus Katherina at this stage is largely a schema-based character. However, I show that as the play progresses a number of changes create the conditions for a more complex and personalized character. As a consequence of this analysis, I claim that Katherina is not, as some critics have argued, simply a shrew, or an inconsistent character, or a typical character of a farce.