Abstract

This article examines the experiments that A Midsummer Night’s Dream undertakes in three distinct modes of audience imagination: the radical abstraction from the stage required by the visualization of exotic landscapes; perceived alterations of what is materially present onstage; and the “apprehension” of what is materially present onstage. I argue that the range of imaginative production tested by the play reflects the contested nature of psychological models of the imaginative faculty in the period, though the specific functions that Shakespeare foregrounds depart in important ways from these models. Most significantly, the play explores what I call imaginative “presentation,” in which the imagination plays a fundamental role not only in representing fictional scenes or re-presenting stored impressions but also in presenting what is accurately perceived. This last function, especially, raises difficult questions about the ontology of images that theater is uniquely equipped to answer. The play thus makes two important interventions with regard to imagination: first, in its rearrangement of the series of imaginative functions set out in faculty psychology, and second, in what counts as an image. In methodological terms, this essay engages recent models of “distributed cognition” in early modern drama by suggesting that the internal differentiation of psychological faculties may be as important as their external distribution.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-3555
Print ISSN
0037-3222
Pages
pp. 308-328
Launched on MUSE
2015-12-16
Open Access
No
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