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  • Shakespearean Neuroplay: Reinvigorating the Study of Dramatic Texts and Performance Through Cognitive Science by Amy Cook
  • Rhonda Blair
Shakespearean Neuroplay: Reinvigorating the Study of Dramatic Texts and Performance Through Cognitive Science. By Amy Cook. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. Cloth $79.00. 218 pages.

As its subtitle states, Shakespearean Neuroplay uses research in cognitive science to provide reinvigorated readings of text and performance. Drawing on conceptual metaphor theory, conceptual blending theory (two major approaches in cognitive linguistics), and research in situated cognition, among others, Amy Cook reconsiders Hamlet within its historical and contemporary contexts; this case study models how to apply the science, providing tools for both performance scholars and theatre practitioners. This book is ultimately about the profoundly embodied nature of thought, and the inseparability of thought from its organic sources. Because theatre from the perspective of spectator or performer involves bodies, the use of these sciences is apt, since they address the biological ground out of which Hamlet and our response to it arises; as Cook writes, "meaning comes from the transaction between storyteller and audience; the stage needs the bodies and the story needs the audience. The focus becomes what happens between performer and spectator: a neurological transaction, or neuroplay, that is both performed and received, staged and housed, you and me, at the same time" (153). The theories open up ways of understanding how text and performance make meaning, going beyond the typical question of "what does the text mean?"; cognitive linguistic analysis moves us away from objectivism toward what Cook calls "the 'experiential realism' of embodied, metaphoric thinking" (2). Read through a cognitive lens, theatre exemplifies how linguistic and conceptual categories "slip, expand, constrict, and change" (2), constructing meanings by which we live and perceive the world.

Cook's first two chapters, "Who's There?" and "Linguistic Synaesthesia," survey the cognitive science principles she uses, introducing approaches and terms such as conceptual blending theory (CBT) and compression in depth, connecting this to and drawing analogies to theatre and performance. A synopsis of Lakoff and Johnson's argument about metaphor's roots in embodied experience prepares the way for considering Fauconnier and Turner's conceptual blending theory. These lay the groundwork for the close reading of Hamlet taken up in the third and fourth chapters, "Mirror / Mirror; Mirror / rorriM" and "Meaning Superflux—A Cognitive Linguistic Reading of Hamlet."

Examining in chapter three the different ways in which "mirror"—as a word and a concept—manifests in Hamlet, particularly in how it troubles conceptions of self and other, Cook shows how metaphor and the constructed nature of linguistic categories dynamically shape our thought and understanding about the play. Her readings have particular depth because they are informed by historical [End Page 183] contextualization that includes an overview of Shakespearean scholarship over the centuries. She studies "how conceptual blending theory informs our understanding of the literary, technological, and conceptual structure of Shakespeare's mirror" (19), incorporating CBT into theatrical inquiry. Chapter four develops this further, building on, expanding, and deepening the study of "mirror" by looking at the relationship between cognitive linguistics and rhetoric.

Chapter five examines the relationship between cognitive linguistics and practical issues of staging. "Play's the Thing—A Cognitive Linguistic Performance Analysis" applies principles of embodied and situated cognition, in addition to those of cognitive linguistics. Cook shows how textual strategies play out and are embodied through specific strategies of staging and performance in Ingmar Bergman's BAM production with Peter Stormare (1988) and Liviu Ciulei's production with Kevin Klein at the Public Theater (1986). She then shifts to a consideration of the ways in which the body and presence of a particular actor who has a rich history of associations in the public mind affects the construction and inflection of our engagement with Hamlet; Sam Shepard's performance as the ghost of Hamlet's father in Michael Almereyda's 2000 film offers a useful case study for examining the complexities of celebrity and character; Cook further uses the tools of cognitive science performance analysis to illuminate choices in film technique. A subsequent section on gesture explores how gestural choices—which create and color meaning—are part of the construction of...


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pp. 183-185
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