Shakespearean Neuroplay: Reinvigorating the Study of Dramatic Texts and Performance through Cognitive Science by Amy Cook, and: Knowing Shakespeare: Senses, Embodiment and Cognition ed. by Lowell Gallagher and Shankar Raman, and: Why Lyrics Last: Evolution, Cognition, and Shakespeare's Sonnets by Brian Boyd (review)
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by
Shakespearean Neuroplay: Reinvigorating the Study of Dramatic Texts and Performance through Cognitive Science. By Amy Cook. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. Illus. Pp. xii + 206. $79.00 cloth.
Knowing Shakespeare: Senses, Embodiment and Cognition. Edited by Lowell Gallagher and Shankar Raman. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. Pp. x + 270. $84.00 cloth.
Why Lyrics Last: Evolution, Cognition, and Shakespeare's Sonnets. By Brian Boyd. Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press, 2012. Pp. xii + 228. $25.95 cloth.

The energy emanating from the field of early modern cognitive cultural studies is much to be appreciated and encouraged. The project of charting the concrete, nonconceptual aspects of knowing and feeling is well underway, as illustrated by Shakespearean Neuroplay by Amy Cook, and Knowing Shakespeare, edited by Lowell Gallagher and Shankar Raman. Both depend on a set of first-generation studies that they work to expand and deepen. The earlier books were innovative in two distinct directions: one set learned from the new historicists to investigate the contemporary extensions of the semantic fields of early modern words, on the reasonable assumption that these were not coextensive with their modern ones. They [End Page 594] also learned to refer to a new range of demographics in their historical research in which they could resettle their newly contextualized words. Gail Kern Paster set a high standard in her pathbreaking studies The Body Embarrassed: Drama and the Disciplines of Shame in Early Modern England (1993) and Humoring the Body: Emotions and the Shakespearean Stage (2004). She demonstrated the explanatory power of an engagement with early modern theories of emotions and personality. Bruce Smith extended this work with two studies in which he attempted to conjure the early modern experience of sense data (The Acoustic World of Early Modern England: Attending to the O-Factor [1999] and The Key of Green: Passion and Perception in Renaissance Culture [2008]).

The contributors to Knowing Shakespeare search for evidence of older meanings of words for emotions and senses in sources from the period roughly contemporary with, or (more usually) within a hundred years after, Shakespeare's life. In spite of the book's subtitle, none of the essays makes sustained use of current cognitive science or embodiment theories, although there are references to literary historians who do. Since it is hard to know when one begins such an investigation whether nuances of difference one finds will turn out to be consequential, the writers probably should be forgiven if the distinctions they uncover are sometimes too subtle to be very interesting. A larger problem is that whatever semantic variants and distributions are discovered have to be explained in today's language, so it is hard to make a strong argument while avoiding recontamination from present perspectives. Limited by the chapter format, only the most experienced contributors manage to avoid these difficulties. However, although there is little that is revolutionary here, many perceptive and interesting readings emerge. It is well worth reading them all.

Amy Cook's Shakespearean Neuroplay works in a tradition of literary cognitive studies that begins from the opposite direction. Her precursors typically start from one of a mixed bag of current cognitive hypotheses (including evolutionary developmental psychology, theory of mind, brain modularity, the mirror neuron hypothesis), which they explain to their readers. They then argue from a literary example that the cognitive theory allows either a new perspective, a new interpretation, or a justification for an old one. Cook's attention is given mostly to a hypothesis called conceptual metaphor theory, a theory of the production and understanding of metaphor developed by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, and conceptual blending theory, formulated by Giles Fauconnier and Mark Turner in the 1980s within the larger field of cognitive linguistics.

As a literary scholar, Cook is well aware of the need to understand the historical meaning and settings of the words to be interpreted, and does a fine job here of historical research on early mirrors. Her goal is to unpack Shakespeare's use of the image of a mirror at several crucial places in Hamlet, and to use that as a measuring rod for the relative success of two performances of the play...