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Title: Actions that a (hu)man might play : a cognitive study of gesture in Shakespeare's plays
Author: Seymour, Laura
ISNI:       0000 0004 6352 9614
Awarding Body: Birkbeck, University of London
Current Institution: Birkbeck (University of London)
Date of Award: 2016
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This thesis uses cognitive theory to examine gesture in William Shakespeare’s plays. Cognition involves both thoughts and emotions, and cognitive theory examines thought which is rooted both in the body and its gestures and in the gesturer’s environment. Based on recent neuroscientific findings and laboratory studies into gesture and speech, cognitive theory is a developing discipline that tends to focus on the relationship between gesture, speech, and thought. This was also a preoccupation of early modern writers: theologians, philosophers, and both opponents and defenders of the theatre attempted to understand how gestures could shape as well as be shaped by thought. This thesis examines the similarities and differences between the ways in which Shakespeare and cognitive theory approached these issues. It establishes the ways in which Shakespeare’s plays suggest new ideas for cognitive theorists to study, as well as the ways in which cognitive theory can generate new readings of Shakespeare’s plays. The research for this thesis is based on a database that I made of all the gestures mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays, from the earliest quartos to the fourth folio. From this database, I selected the five most common types of gesture and devoted a chapter to each. The chapters examine handclasps, kneeling, kissing, refusals to gesture (or stillness) and striking. Examining these four gestures and the refusal to gesture shows that being performed on stage gives gesture a particularly complex and rich cognitive quality. Gestures acted out on stage are deliberately performed by an actor, but are often designed to be seen as involuntary or unconscious acts on the character’s part. Gestures performed on the Shakespearean stage are thus sites where the thoughts and feelings of the actor and those of the character are intriguingly blurred, making Shakespearean gestures a rich topic for cognitive analysis.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available