Author Information

Ryan Engley


From childhood, most of us have been taught that our “identity,” both how we see ourselves and how others see us, is shaped at least in part by our friends: “you are the company you keep,” as the cliché goes. Experience will teach us that not all friendships are the same, much less equal, even if we never hear of Aristotle and his tripartite scale of friend-types. His categories were of course born of the classical world but, true to fashion, remain valuable barometers for measuring individual identity and desire in friendships. They’re useful, too, in understanding Shakespeare’s characters and their motivation. Traditional, formalist readings of his plays have long offered us neat and clean ways to understand a character’s dramatic function—a foil, an adversary, a confidant, and so forth—and further, to see the role one character plays in the development of another. The drawback, though, is the rigidity of the approach: once a character is assigned a function or a label, it sticks. Shakespeare’s best characters, though, are not static. More recent critical opinion, specifically that advanced by practitioners of Queer theory, suggests that we look less at structural function and more at process, or “performativity,” in character relations. The drawback here is that characters can appear to have no defined formal function, and Shakespeare’s best characters do. In Much Ado, Claudio says that “Friendship is constant in all other things / Save in the office and affairs of love” (II.i.175-6). He seems to know more than we do as readers: friendship is both fixed and fluid, and so too is individual identity within the relationship.

Note on the Author

Ryan Engley is a senior majoring in English. The initial research for this project was undertaken during the summer of 2010, as part of the Adrian Tinsley Program. Ryan worked under the mentorship of Dr. James Crowley. Ryan presented this piece with his mentor in attendance at NC State’s “Manifest Identity” Graduate Symposium in February of 2011.

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