“The Undiscovered Country”: Theater and the Mind in Early Modern England
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As critic Jonathan Gottschall notes, "The literary scholar's subject is ultimately the human mind - the mind that is the creator, subject, and auditor of literary works." The primary aim of this dissertation is to use modern cognitive science to better understand the early modern mind. I apply a framework rooted in cognitive science--the interdisciplinary study of how the human brain generates first-person consciousness and relates to external objects through that conscious framework--to reveal the role of consciousness and memory in subject formation and creative interpretation, as represented in period drama. Cognitive science enables us as scholars and critics to read literature of the period through a lens that reveals subjects in the process of being formed prior to the "self-fashioning" processes of enculturation and social discipline that have been so thoroughly diagnosed in criticism in recent decades. I begin with an overview of the field of cognitive literary theory, demonstrating that cognitive science has already begun to offer scholars of the period a vital framework for understanding literature as the result of unique minds grappling with uniquely historical problems, both biologically and socially. From there, I proceed to detailed explications of neuroscience-based theories of the relationship between the embodied brain, memory, and subject identity, via detailed close reading case studies. In the primary chapters, I focus on what I consider to be three primary elements of embodied subjectivity in drama of the period: basic identity reification through unique first-person memory (the Tudor interlude Jake Juggler ), more complex subject-object relationships leading to alterations in behavioral modes (Hamlet ), and finally, the blending of literary structures and social context in the interpretation of subject behavior (Middleton's A Trick to Catch the Old One ).