Criticism and the Blending Mind

  • Michael Booth
Part of the Cognitive Studies in Literature and Performance book series (CSLP)


While the field of literary studies has long adopted a posture of agnosticism about the mind, other fields have been accumulating insights into human cognition and support for them. Shakespeare is interesting to me not as a figure to be aggrandized in the old tradition, nor reduced to a product of his culture, as in the newer tradition, but as a writer manifesting capacities that animate us all. To understand what is intellectually rewarding in his works is to better understand the workings of thought in general, and vice versa. With its interest in scalar relationships as much as in binarisms, and its attention to conceptual relations besides undifferentiated “difference,” blending theory enlarges Theory. If historicism and poststructuralism are two idioms for constructing and unpacking meaning, cognitive theory differs only in focusing our attention on these mental acts themselves. Two key instances of the “cognitive turn” in literary studies are Mark Turner’s 1991 Reading Minds and Mary Thomas Crane’s 2001 Shakespeare’s Brain. Nicholas Moschovakis and Eve Sweetser were early explorers of blend-related literary criticism. Now that cognition is officially one of the “primary scholarly and professional concerns” of the MLA, I hope that the time is right for the present wide-ranging analysis of Shakespeare’s art.


  1. Barsalou, L. W., Simmons, W. K., Barbey, A. K., & Wilson, C. D. 2003. “Grounding conceptual knowledge in modality-specific systems,” Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 7.Google Scholar
  2. Churchland, P. M. 1989. A Neurocomputational Perspective. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  3. Churchland, P. S., & Sejnowski, T. 1992. The Computational Brain. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  4. Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. 1905. Shakespeare and the Elizabethan Dramatists. Edinburgh: John Grant.Google Scholar
  5. Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. 1959. Coleridge’s Writings on Shakespeare, ed. Terence Hawkes. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons.Google Scholar
  6. Cook, Amy. 2010. Shakespearean Neuroplay: Reinvigorating the Study of Dramatic Texts and Performance through Cognitive Science. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  7. Crane, Mary Thomas. 2001. Shakespeare’s Brain: Reading with Cognitive Theory. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Costello, F. J., & Keane, M. T. 2000. “Efficient creativity: Constraint-guided conceptual combination,” Cognitive Science, 24.Google Scholar
  9. Dayan, P., & Abbott, L. F. 2001. Theoretical Neuroscience: Computational and Mathematical Modeling of Neural Systems. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  10. Easterlin, Nancy. 2012. A Biocultural Approach to Literary Theory. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins.Google Scholar
  11. Eliasmith, C., & Anderson, C. H. 2003. Neural Engineering: Computation, Representation and Dynamics in Neurobiological Systems. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  12. Emerson, Ralph Waldo. 1929. “The American Scholar” (1837) in The Complete Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. New York: Wm. H. Wise.Google Scholar
  13. Fauconnier, Gilles, & Mark Turner. 2000. The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Mind’s Hidden Complexities. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  14. Harbage, Alfred. 1947. As They Liked It: An Essay on Shakespeare and Morality. New York: Macmillan. Google Scholar
  15. Hart, F. Elizabeth. 2006. “The view of where we’ve been and where we’d like to go,” College Literature 33.1.Google Scholar
  16. Hawkes, David. 2012. “Against idealism too” Early Modern Culture, Issue 9.Google Scholar
  17. Howard, Jean E. 1984. Shakespeare’s Art of Orchestration: Stage Technique and Audience Response. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
  18. Lakoff, George, & Mark Turner. 1989. More Than Cool Reason: A Field Guide to Poetic Metaphor. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  19. Modern Language Association. 2015. “Division Executive Committees for 2015 Convention Year.”
  20. Moschovakis, Nicholas. 2006. “Topicality and conceptual blending: Titus Andronicus and the case of William Hacket,” College Literature, 33/1.Google Scholar
  21. Moulton, Richard G. 1966. Shakespeare as a Dramatic Artist: A Popular Illustration of the Principles of Scientific Criticism. New York: Dover.Google Scholar
  22. Rumelhart, D. E., & McClelland, J. L. Eds. 1986. Parallel Distributed Processing: Explorations in the Microstructure of Cognition. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press ⁄ Bradford.Google Scholar
  23. Shelley, Percy Bysshe. 1986. “A defense of poetry” (1821) in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Fifth Edition. Volume 2. New York: W.W. Norton.Google Scholar
  24. Spurgeon, Caroline. 1935. Shakespeare’s Imagery, and What It Tells Us. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Sweetser, Eve. 2006. “Whose rhyme is whose reason? Sound and Sense in Cyrano de Bergerac,” Language and Literature, vol. 15 no. 1.Google Scholar
  26. Thagard, Paul, & Terrence C. Stewart. 2011. “The AHA! experience: Creativity through emergent binding in neural networks,” Cognitive Science, 35.Google Scholar
  27. Turner, Mark. 1991. Reading Minds. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Turner, Mark, & Gilles Fauconnier. 1995. “Conceptual integration and formal expression,” Journal of Metaphor and Symbolic Activity 10, no. 3.Google Scholar
  29. Wolpert, D. M., & Ghahramani, Z. 2000. “Computational principles of movement neuroscience,” Nature Neuroscience, 3.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Booth
    • 1
  1. 1.CambridgeUSA

Personalised recommendations