To essay the mind: shakespearean character and theories of mindreading

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University of Alabama Libraries

Mindreading is the human ability to look at a person or a literary character and contemplate what that person is thinking, feeling, and planning. In this dissertation I identify two methods of mindreading: inference and imagination. Shakespeare uses both methods, at times constructing characters by referring to theories of human behavior (inference), at times by referring to the particular perspective of a character (imagination). I engage current debates about the usefulness of character criticism, but I begin by addressing L. C. Knights’ tongue-in-cheek question, “How many children had Lady Macbeth?” Knights crystallized discontent with nineteenth-century character criticism, a discontent that was picked up by American new critics and subsequently post-structuralist critics of many stripes. Like Michael Bristol, Jessica Slights, and Paul Yachnin, I argue for a literary criticism that considers characters as if they were real people living in recognizable worlds. I add to this conversation by using terms and concepts from cognitive science that provide clarity to discussions of character. Theories of mindreading offer criticism a language with which to analyze moments of reading and misreading and to consider the mental workings of fictional characters in Shakespeare’s plays.

Electronic Thesis or Dissertation
English literature, Theater history, Philosophy