A body of suffering: reading Shakespeare's tragedies through cognitive theory

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In this thesis I attempt to build and use a cognitive theory of tragedy. I base this theory upon the work of George Lakoff, Mark Johnson, and Mark Turner, whose studies of embodied metaphor and conceptual blending offer a new linguistic understanding of the way human beings think. When applied to tragedy, these cognitive theories enable a radical rethinking of the tragic hero, catharsis, and suffering itself. My thesis contains three major sections. In the first, I lay out the foundation of my theory, describing the basic processes of embodied metaphor and conceptual blending and linking these processes to theoretical accounts of paradigm shift and pattern, specifically those of Thomas Kuhn and Daniel Dennett. I then describe cognitive theory's relationship to traditional tragic theorists, including Aristotle, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Terry Eagleton. Finally, I offer a cognitive reading of two plays: Romeo and Juliet and King Lear. Throughout, I hope to illustrate the links between thought, metaphor, and human action. Metaphors are not simply linguistic expressions: they are tools of the mind, and our use of those tools can bring great success or great tragedy. As such, tragedy is not merely an aesthetic genre. It is a cognitive event, a presentation of metaphor and of the consequences of metaphor.

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English literature, Cognitive psychology, Language, Linguistics