The Mind Transfigur'd: Brain, Body, and Self in the Drama of Shakespeare and Marlowe
The Mind Transfigur’d argues that the early modern period’s fascination with embodied experience primed authors to experiment with literature’s effects on their audiences. The rise of permanent theaters in London coupled with a broader interest in the philosophy of mind encouraged playwrights to attend to the dynamics of audiences’ experiences. Accordingly, early modern plays, particularly those of William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe, reveal a pronounced degree of self-aware "metatheatricality" that predicts how an audience will respond to a dramatic work. Beyond simply reminding playgoers of a play’s fictional nature, this form of theatrical self-awareness folds an audience’s experience into the dramatic work itself, incorporating it into the play’s thematic concerns. This project suggests that we might understand Shakespeare and Marlowe as conducting experiments on their audiences, prodding and manipulating the minds of individuals in order to reveal hidden aspects of the audience’s selves. Extending beyond their historical moment, these experiments continue to work upon our minds today and offer us new forms of self-experience. To elucidate these experiments and explain their significance for audiences both modern and historical, this project analyzes early modern drama through the lens of three disparate archives: historical writing on the embodied mind, phenomenological philosophy, and findings from the cognitive sciences. This approach, known as neurophenomenology, aims to trace the complexities of aesthetic experience and offer scientific explanations for it, while also remaining attentive to way historical individuals described their experiences. In drawing connections between the minds of early modern individuals and our own, this project argues that the embodied self is a product of evolutionary forces as well as social and cultural ones, and this allows us to appreciate what parts of our selves we share with historical individuals. Each chapter focuses on one aspect of embodied selfhood and examines how Shakespeare and Marlowe’s plays manipulate our self-experience. Analyzing famously self-aware plays such as Edward II, Richard II, Doctor Faustus and Hamlet, the chapters of The Mind Transfigur’d demonstrate how early modern drama reveals parts of our minds that might otherwise remain hidden, performing a kind of cognitive science before its time.
English literature; Phenomenology; Shakespeare; Cognitive Science; Drama; Self; Renaissance
Kalas, Rayna M.
Dubreuil, Laurent; Mann, Jenny C
English Language and Literature
Ph. D., English Language and Literature
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis