The distributed consciousness of Shakespeare's theatre

Johnson, Laurie ORCID: (2016) The distributed consciousness of Shakespeare's theatre. In: Shakespeare and consciousness. Cognitive Studies in Literature and Performance. Palgrave Macmillan Ltd., New York, pp. 119-138. ISBN 9781137596710


What constituted early modern consciousness? This is of course a question of constitution or of constituent parts, rather than of a whole. To the early modern ear, the universe of meanings associated with the words 'cognition,' 'conscious,' and such were intricately bound up in an elemental worldview—of a universe in which all wholes were comprised of combinations and distributions of parts. While it may be desirable within a particular literary tradition to want to credit Shakespeare with the invention of the modern conscious human mind, this chapter will situate Shakespeare’s language within its historical milieu and, specifically, within Elizabethan theatrical practices. Cultural histories of distributed cognition in the early modern theatre, as in the work of Evelyn Tribble, have revealed the extent to which these theatrical processes operated using collaborative cognitive artefacts, but I will go further here to claim that what we now view as artefact was at the time every bit the 'piece of work' that was actor and stage. It is no coincidence that so many of the speeches in which the nature of the human are presented in Shakespeare are also heavily meta-theatrical. I will argue that the theatrical processes we now know to have been widely used in early modern staging, such as parts scripts, cues, plots, were not simply the products of a contingent economy of the theatre—they are practical expressions of the early modern conception of human consciousness as the bringing into constitution of always fragmentary, distributed pieces of work.

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Item Type: Book Chapter (Commonwealth Reporting Category B)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: Chapter 6. © copyright 2016, The Authors.
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts - School of Arts and Communication (1 Jul 2013 - 28 Feb 2019)
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts - School of Arts and Communication (1 Jul 2013 - 28 Feb 2019)
Date Deposited: 20 Sep 2016 03:42
Last Modified: 28 Jun 2022 23:21
Uncontrolled Keywords: Shakespeare; distributed cognition; Hamlet; consciousness
Fields of Research (2008): 20 Language, Communication and Culture > 2005 Literary Studies > 200503 British and Irish Literature
Fields of Research (2020): 47 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 4705 Literary studies > 470504 British and Irish literature
Socio-Economic Objectives (2008): E Expanding Knowledge > 97 Expanding Knowledge > 970120 Expanding Knowledge in Language, Communication and Culture
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