Dramatic Minds

Performance, Cognition, and the Representation of Interiority

by Werner Huber (Volume editor) Elke Mettinger (Volume editor) Eva Zettelmann (Volume editor)
©2015 Others 306 Pages
Series: Austrian Studies in English, Volume 105


This volume seeks to put drama and its neglected mental dimension into the limelight. While narrative fiction with its intricate ways of rendering consciousness has been deemed an ideal playground for approaches of a cognitivist leaning, the dramatic genre has been all but ignored by cognitive literary studies. Providing insights into such drama-related issues as subject construction, interiority, performativity, empathy, reader manipulation and reception control, the contributions to this collection testify to the richness and variety of the cognitivist enterprise.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Theoretical Approaches
  • Consciousness in Drama: A Cognitive Approach
  • Drama and the Representation of Fictional Minds
  • From Medieval Iconography to Restoration Drama
  • Strategic Communication of Pathos and Suffering in Verbal and Visual Medieval Culture
  • “Now is this golden crown like a deep well” – Richard II from a Cognitive Point of View
  • Othello: Personality and Personality Building in Shakespeare’s Tragedy and Verdi’s Opera
  • The Macbeth Trap: Productions of Shakespeare’s Play in England, Germany, Austria and Switzerland
  • Une Tempête, Aimé Césaire’s Subversion of the Imperial Scripts of Shakespeare’s Tempest
  • The Script of the Body and the Soul in The Country-Wife and Tristram Shandy: the ‘Cognitive Turn’ from Restoration Drama to Sentimental Fiction
  • Modern Drama
  • The (Im)Possible Worlds of Joe Orton: A Cognitive Approach to What the Butler Saw
  • “I understand you not, my lord.” – Problems of Cognition and Perception in Tom Stoppard’s Plays
  • John Arden and Margaretta D’Arcy – A Cognitive Approach
  • Pinter’s One-Act Plays One for the Road, Mountain Language, and Party Time in the Light of Conceptual Blending Theory
  • Between Authenticity and Objectification: Narrating the Self in Contemporary British Drama
  • “Dennis is a Liar” – Mendacity in the Plays of Dennis Kelly
  • Breaking the Boundaries of Narrative: Post-Dramatic Story-Telling
  • Parapsychic Phenomena in Early Twentieth-Century American Drama
  • Tabula gratulatoria


The editors would like to thank Ulrike Zillinger and Gillian Schwarz-Peaker, M.A., for their invaluable support during the preparation of this volume. ← 7 | 8 →


← 8 | 9 →

Eva Zettelmann and Elke Mettinger


The essays collected in this volume have been written in honour of Margarete Rubik, full professor at the Department of English and American Studies at Vienna University, whose life’s work has been dedicated to the British stage. With publications ranging from in-depth studies on early women playwrights to analysing staged interculturality in dramatic works of the twenty-first century, Margarete Rubik has made an essential contribution to the historiography of Anglophone drama, and her academic oeuvre has been instrumental in placing early women playwrights firmly on the critical map. In recent years, her expertise in the performative arts has been complemented by an interest in cognitive approaches to literature, leading her to probe textual affection triggers and emotional reader response.

The range of international contributors to this Festschrift on the occasion of Margarete Rubik’s 65th birthday and her retirement testifies to her renown in the fields of drama studies and cognitive theory. For decades, Margarete Rubik has been a member of the German Society for Contemporary Theatre and Drama in English (CDE), as whose Vice-President she acted from 2001 to 2010. She organised the 10th annual CDE conference in Vienna in 2001 and has (co-)edited several CDE conference proceedings. Publishing widely on 17th and 18th century women playwrights, Margarete Rubik is a member of the Aphra Behn Society Europe, organised the 2011 conference on “Aphra Behn and her Female Successors” in Vienna and is currently preparing an Aphra Behn anthology. A keen promoter of the budding discipline of cognition studies, Margarete Rubik, together with Christa Knellwolf King, has organised several conferences on “Cognitive Studies of Culture”, “Cognitive Science in the Humanities” and “Cognitive Cultural Criticism”; she has also published widely in the field.

The ‘cognitive turn’, which first emerged in the fields of psychology, anthropology and linguistics in the late 1950s, began as a refutation of behaviourism, with scientists of a cognitivist leaning insisting that directly observable behaviour be analysed for its cognitive underpinnings. Not satisfied with limiting their research to material phenomena and with exclusively relegating determining factors to the environmental or cultural realm, cognitivists shifted their attention to the neurobiological determinants of human activity (Chomsky; Dember). The same years also saw the related fields of Artificial Intelligence and Computer Studies ← 9 | 10 → take their first tentative steps towards digitally emulating human intelligence for use in sophisticated computer software (Newell and Simon). Failing in its attempts to produce a holistic model of the human brain, AI revealed the shortcomings of traditional models of the mind, showing them to be wanting in complexity and plasticity and calling attention to the need for a theoretical grasp of the body-mind-world nexus (Searle; Dreyfus).1

Today, human cognition is perceived as the product of a massively interconnected system of neurons with cognitive operations firmly rooted in the human experience of living in a body (Lakoff and Johnson). Emotion and cognition are no longer understood as separate and potentially opposing operations; instead, modern cognitive science sees perception placed in a constant feedback loop between mind, brain, body, and environment. Due to its biological and embodied nature, rather than functioning according to a finite system of serial logics, human cognition makes extensive use of an interrelated array of biased, vague and flexible mechanisms, employing for instance metaphors, prototype categorisation or narrativisation for the purposes of world creation, adaptation and the construction of a unified self (Gardner).

As a branch of science addressing the material and conceptual conditions of perception, cognition studies have been attributed the potential to act as an all-encompassing ‘meta-science’. With their relevance far extending the biological realm, cognitive approaches have provided innovative stimuli to such core humanist fields as aesthetics, ethics and philosophy. Focussing on innate and universal physical parameters of language and perception, cognitivism has acted as an important counterbalance to schools of thought which see human meaning-making as a purely constructivist endeavour determined by the strictures of cultural discourse. For literary and cultural studies, the cognitivist refutation of Saussure’s central claim of an all-pervading arbitrariness governing the relation between sign and referent – a thought providing the basis for many modern approaches to language, text and culture – has brought with it a new interest in diverse forms of iconicity. Recent neuroscientific discoveries have corroborated classical philological theorems and provided them with empirical underpinnings.2 In other ← 10 | 11 → areas of literary criticism, cognitive studies have opened up important new angles of investigation and have led to a renewed interest in issues such as creativity and imagination, the reader’s identification with fictional characters, or literature’s emotional and ethical impact.

To date, cognitive literary studies have shown an overwhelming bias towards narrative fiction as the one corpus whose features are submitted to cognitivist scrutiny.3 Lyric texts have attracted far less attention, with studies mostly concentrating on the cognitive impact of imagery and sound effects. Drama, however, has been all but ignored by cognitive literary studies. This may partly have to do with the allure of such intricate narrative techniques as internal focalisation, free indirect speech or thought report, none of which conventional drama has at its disposal. A further reason for cognitive poetics steering clear of the dramatic stage may lie in the common perception that performative art is unable to render consciousness in a convincingly mimetic manner. Aristotle’s dictum of the priority of action over character is at the root of a genre construction which sees social mechanisms and not the individual’s psyche as drama’s native concern.

Earlier book-length studies devoted to a cognitive analysis of drama were published nearly a decade ago now, with a special issue of College Literature dedicated to Cognitive Shakespeare and the collection of essays contained in Performance and Cognition: Theatre Studies and the Cognitive Turn, edited by Bruce McConachie and F. Elizabeth Hart, both appearing in 2006. A special issue of Theatre Journal entitled Cognition and Performance followed a year later. Of the more recent cognitive studies on drama, many apply themselves to a cognitive reappraisal of the works of a single playwright. Amy Cook has devoted a monograph to a cognitive reading of Shakespeare (Shakespearean Neuroplay: Reinvigorating the Study of Dramatic Texts and Performance through Cognitive Science, 2010), Evelyn B. Tribble investigated mnemonic devices used by players of the original Globe Theatre (Cognition in the Globe: Attention and Memory in Shakespeare’s Theatre, 2011), and the contributions to Embodied Cognition and Shakespeare’s Theatre (2014) edited by Laurie Johnson, John Sutton and Evelyn B. Tribble are centred on the mind-body issue in Shakespeare’s dramatic oeuvre.

With the present volume we propose to continue the endeavour of looking at both drama and performance through a cognitivist lens. After a brief section on general theory, contributions are placed in chronological order. Historically, their ← 11 | 12 → scope ranges from an investigation of medieval performance culture to a cognitive analysis of 21st century drama. The Anglophone corpus under investigation is equally broad, encompassing works for the British, Irish and American stage. Providing insights into such drama-related issues as interiority, performativity, subject construction, conceptual metaphors, cognitive frames, decoding strategies, empathy, reader manipulation and reception control, the contributions to this Festschrift testify to the richness and variety of the cognitivist enterprise.

Monika Fludernik’s contribution “Consciousness in Drama: A Cognitive Approach” elucidates modes of consciousness and their representation within the dramatic genre. In its first part, the study centres on dreams and memories, analysing the manifold ways mental processes have been staged since the Renaissance period and placing a particular focus on the modern experimental stage. Drawing on Alan Palmer’s theories on intermentality (i.e. the mind’s social dimension), the latter part of the study is concerned with linguistic and mental collectivity as instanced in staged group gatherings (such as the ‘citizens’ in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus) and investigates the diverse ways collective opinion or thought are represented on stage.

In her contribution “Drama and the Representation of Fictional Minds”, Eva Zettelmann explores the manifold ways in which drama stages its characters’ mental dimension. Cognition is viewed as an eminently dynamic and social phenomenon which, contrary to common belief, lends itself well to being presented on stage. Playgoers are shown to be expert mind readers who are highly proficient in forming complex flexible models of character mentation. Drawing on evolutionary cognitive theory, cognitive psychology and cognitive narratology, the study is a plea for a reconceptualisation of traditional characterisation theory.

Gabriella Mazzon in her contribution “Strategic Communication of Pathos and Suffering in Verbal and Visual Medieval Culture” focuses on pathos as an important element within the medieval ‘rhetoric of persuasion’. Basing its findings on the age’s pronounced preference for seeing over hearing, the study demonstrates the parallels between the means and rhetorical functions of medieval drama and the visual arts. Through specific postures, types of interaction, structures of dialogue and repetitive figures of speech which aim to maximise affective intensity, the audience is made to experience the importance of suffering on their quest for spiritual salvation.

Elke Mettinger’s contribution “‘Now is this golden crown like a deep well’” analyses Shakespeare’s history play Richard II from a cognitive point of view. The author sets out to demonstrate how a cognitive approach may help to shed light ← 12 | 13 → on the play’s dominant topic: Richard’s fall and Bolingbroke’s rise. Thus the first part of the paper is dedicated to metaphor, in particular to balance, which works on many levels in the play, but also to the mirror as a crucial material object in the deposition scene. The second part looks at performance and audience reception. Based on McConachie’s embodied cognition in the theatre, the essay intends to show the validity of a cognitive approach for Richard II both as a history play and as a contemporary political allegory.

Sabine Coelsch-Foisner’s “Othello: Personality and Personality Building in Shakespeare’s Tragedy and Verdi’s Opera” explores the construction of Othello’s mind with special regard to a particular author’s choice between free will and biological determinism. Applying Walter Mischel’s concept of personality building to the construction of fictional characters, Shakespeare’s tragic protagonists are shown to exhibit cross-situational variability in their behaviour, a fact which is seen to account for their heightened credibility, lifelikeness and emotional appeal. The study traces the transformation from the original play’s tragic rift in Othello’s psyche to the portrayal of a melodramatic hero who succumbs to the forces of nature.

Michael Raab’s contribution “The Macbeth Trap: Productions of Shakespeare’s Play in England, Germany, Austria and Switzerland” analyses the numerous often controversial and vastly different Macbeth versions and interpretations on stage: in Germany, for example, by Heiner Müller, Luc Bondy, Katharina Thalbach, Calixto Bieito or Jürgen Gosch, in England by Trevor Nunn, Gregory Doran and Max Stafford-Clark. Raab poses the question why so many productions of Macbeth fail so miserably and delivers an answer in the form of twelve typical pitfalls – among them the ‘actor manager trap’, the ‘Brecht trap’, the ‘trash trap’ and the ‘feminist trap’. The essay is rounded off by an outline of rare successes with the play.

Christa Knellwolf King’s “Une Tempête, Aimé Césaire’s Subversion of the Imperial Scripts of Shakespeare’s Tempest” concerns itself with Césaire’s 1969 adaptation of Shakespeare’s Tempest using recent cognitive studies to emphasise Césaire’s techniques of subversion. Concentrating on Césaire’s transformation of the key characters of the Tempest, she asks to what extent they act out the scenario of Shakespeare’s play and to what extent Césaire’s characters are positioned in the twentieth-century context of colonisation. Introducing the concept of the cognitive script, Knellwolf King reads the dramatic dialogue with a view to identifying the typical actions, beliefs and emotions of Césaire’s characters in order to shed new light on his endeavour to liberate his audience from the forces of colonisation.

Dieter Fuchs’s article “The Script of the Body and the Soul in The Country-Wife and Tristram Shandy: the ‘Cognitive Turn’ from Restoration Drama to Sentimental ← 13 | 14 → Fiction” focuses on the substitution of the feudal aristocratic by the bourgeois representational system in the 17th and 18th centuries – a cognitive shift or conceptual change which replaces the materiality of the human body with the spirituality of the mind as a cultural chief signified.

Restoration drama – and Wycherley’s The Country Wife in particular – is obsessed with bawdy humour and the sexualised human body. In contrast to Restoration drama, the sentimental novel as a bourgeois mode of cultural production focuses on the interiority of the human mind and excludes the human body – an aspect which Fuchs illustrates by means of Sterne’s Tristram Shandy.

Caterina Grasl’s paper “The (Im)Possible Worlds of Joe Orton: A Cognitive Approach to What the Butler Saw” sets out to investigate the inner workings of Orton’s distinctive humour and the cognitive challenges that the audience face upon entering the incongruous, irrational and intriguing universe of his most famous play, combining Possible Worlds Theory, cognitive and linguistic theories of verbal humour and works on viewpoint in drama. Orton’s oeuvre is remarkable not only for his black humour and for his breaking of social and sexual taboos, but also for his distinctive use of language, resulting not only in passages of brilliant repartee, but also in exchanges which defy logical interpretation, and in which words are de-contextualised and given new meanings. Orton’s dialogues create a succession of (im)possible worlds that serve as counterparts to, and comments on, extradiegetic reality, but occasionally bear little resemblance to it in terms of logic, causality and conversational rules.

Bernhard Reitz’s paper “‘I understand you not, my lord.’ – Problems of Cognition and Perception in Tom Stoppard’s Plays” claims that from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead onwards problems of cognition and perception are central to the tragicomedy of Stoppard’s major plays as well as to the farcical structure of one-act pieces such as The Real Inspector Hound (1968), After Magritte (1970) or Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth (1979). These one-act plays illustrate Stoppard’s interest in the cognitive intricacies of dramatic genres. Reitz demonstrates how Stoppard bolstered his dramaturgical conclusions with scientific references which help to underscore that uncertainty and ambiguity rather than causality and logic are the constituting forces of cognition and perception, a fact which applies to drama and to life alike.

Wolfgang J. Lippke’s article “John Arden and Margaretta D’Arcy – A Cognitive Approach” sets out to demonstrate the benefits of a cognitive approach to the study of drama and theatre performance by concentrating on John Arden’s play Pearl, one of this playwright’s major literary contributions. Lippke also gives a detailed ← 14 | 15 → critical account of Arden and D’Arcy’s performance on a 1984 reading tour in Siegen. The two authors’ particular style of delivery is taken as an example of their typical literary strategies and is discussed in the light of recent studies in cognitive theory. The focus here is on their collaborative works Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance and The Waters of Babylon.

Ewald Mengel’s article “Pinter’s One-Act Plays One for the Road, Mountain Language, and Party Time in the Light of Conceptual Blending Theory” focuses on Pinter’s tendency to construct nondescript ‘closed’ institutions where the relation between society and the individual is characterised by various forms of violence, oppression and control. Deliberately scarce in individualising elements, Pinter’s prototypical scenarios illustrate the ways in which human interaction is distorted under the influence of violence. Pinter’s disconcerting mental blends, which draw on the on-stage action, the performative situation and the audience’s political knowledge, make watching these plays a harrowing emotional experience.

Merle Tönnies’s paper “Between Authenticity and Objectification: Narrating the Self in Contemporary British Drama” analyses four British plays from the 1990s and 2000s and compares their diverse strategies of dramatising the self. Martin Crimp’s The Treatment (1993), Rebecca Prichard’s Yard Gal (1998), Mark Ravenhill’s Product (2005) and debbie tucker green’s random (2008) construct selves of varying degrees of authenticity, using metadramatic devices, narrativisation or visual media to either create a heightened reality effect or demonstrate the impossibility of authentic representation. Taken together, the four works represent the wide range of approaches and techniques contemporary British drama has at its disposal for its dramatic explorations of the instable, incoherent, and objectified postmodern subject.

Eckart Voigts’s essay “‘Dennis is a Liar’ – Mendacity in the Plays of Dennis Kelly” provides an analysis of contemporary British playwright Dennis Kelly’s After the End (2005), Love and Money (2006), Taking Care of Baby (2007), Orphans (2009) and The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas (2013). It argues that Kelly’s theatre explores varieties of untruth, thus addressing a core problem of a contemporary culture which – as a result of reproductive media technologies and the rampant expansion of visuality – is obsessed with questions of authenticity, mendacity, simulation and reliability. Taking up the cognitivist exploration of emotionality and subjectivity in this volume, the paper looks at the varying belief frames of Kelly’s characters and the emerging belief frames supposedly generated in his audiences. This shows how the emotional side of theatre can help to re-orientate the audience’s belief frames. ← 15 | 16 →

Christopher Innes’s “Breaking the Boundaries of Narrative: Post-Dramatic Story-Telling” considers innovative features of staged narration in the recent Irish plays The Pillowman (2003), The Weir (1997), and The Walworth Farce (2006) and shows them to be the latest examples of an important trend in contemporary Anglophone drama. The essay discusses Beckett’s canonical monodrama Krapp’s Last Tape (1958) as an important reference point in the history of dramatic narrativity, and traces its most recent developments from dramatic works consisting entirely of story-telling to texts where stories take centre-stage and become the protagonists of the play. Staged narrativity is seen to challenge the traditional dramatic staples of character and action, raising issues of ‘post-narrativity’, which the study posits as an equivalent to post-dramatic theatre.

Peter Zenzinger’s essay “Parapsychic Phenomena in Early Twentieth-Century American Drama” analyses several plays written between 1895 and 1911, viewing them in the light of the new ‘psychical’ (i.e. parapsychological) theories of the period. The study explains the age’s predilection for plays centring on the subject of parapsychological phenomena, while demonstrating how Freudian theories were all but ignored by the American stage before WWI. With the genre of melodrama on the wane, the melodramatic potential of the paranormal is presented as an important seedbed for new plays in which the prevailing stage realism blended with the Gothic and the sensational.

Works Cited

Bal, Mieke. Narratology: Introduction to the Theory of Narrative. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1985.

Blumenberg, Hans. Paradigmen zu einer Metaphorologie. Bonn: Bouvier, 1960.

Chomsky, Noam. Language and Problems of Knowledge: The Managua Lectures. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1988.

Cook, Amy. Shakespearean Neuroplay: Reinvigorating the Study of Dramatic Texts and Performance through Cognitive Science. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

Dember, William N. “Motivation and the Cognitive Revolution.” American Psychologist 29.3 (1974): 161–168.

Dreyfus, Hubert. What Computers Still Can’t Do. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1992.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (November)
drama cognitive literary theory literary mind consciousness literary character
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 306 pp., 8 b/w fig.

Biographical notes

Werner Huber (Volume editor) Elke Mettinger (Volume editor) Eva Zettelmann (Volume editor)


Title: Dramatic Minds
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
book preview page numper 39
book preview page numper 40
309 pages