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Shakespeare, Rhetoric and Cognition.

Shakespeare, Rhetoric and Cognition

By Raphael Lyne

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011

Raphael Lyne's Shakespeare, Rhetoric and Cognition argues that Renaissance rhetoric can be considered a kind of cognitive science, and that Shakespeare's language particularly exemplifies the intimate connection between rhetoric and cognition. To put it another way, Lyne argues that Shakespeare's plays feature characters that think through tropes. Lyne's book thus pursues the connection between rhetoric and cognition primarily through an examination of Shakespeare's dramatic language, particularly the speeches of Bottom, Imogen, and Othello (among others), characters whose language exhibits an affinity between "cognitive crisis and rhetorical extravagance" (9). Lyne mobilizes a series of careful close readings in order to claim that dramatic rhetoric does not simply express thought, but also, at times, does the work of thinking itself. This interpretation of Shakespeare's language constitutes the primary focus of the study; however, through these readings Lyne aims to integrate the distinct fields of rhetoric, literary criticism, and cognitive science. All told, the former succeeds more than the latter.

The idea that "rhetoric might be thought of as a kind of cognitive science, an attempt, often unwitting, to map the workings of the thinking brain" is an intriguing point of departure for a new study of Shakespeare's language (9). As the art of persuasion, rhetoric has always had a practical orientation, aimed at helping would-be rhetors find the best available means of persuasion in any particular case, but this pragmatism inevitably intertwines with theoretical speculation about the operations of language and thought. As an educational program, rhetoric provides a means of disciplining language and thought, training its students to locate and shape the materials of discourse according to the dictates of art. The vast and complicated ars rhetorica, in its classical and Renaissance iterations, thus offers scholars a tantalizing means of reconstructing how thinking happened amongst the literate in the pre-modern world (or, at least, how pedagogues wanted thinking to happen). One might, for example, turn to inventio, the first of the five canons of rhetoric, which guides rhetors towards the discovery of the content of their discourse. Or one might turn to memoria, the fourth part of the art of rhetoric, which provides a means of committing one's discourse to memory. The systematization of both these faculties of rhetoric resulted in what might be called theories of cognition, including most prominently a topical logic that imagines arguments to be located in a series of discrete compartments or places [loci). According to this logic, eloquent men have a mental storehouse abundant with rhetorical copia, which insures that they will never be at a loss for what to say. In its spatialization of discourse and thought as a kind of field or grid, the art of rhetoric indeed might be said to map or pattern thought.

Lyne, however, ignores invention and memory in favor of elocutio, or style. More specifically, he focuses on a small number of tropes. Though this leaves unexplored substantial portions of the art of rhetoric, Lyne's focus on tropes is not in itself unexpected: Renaissance rhetorics confine themselves ever more exclusively on style at the expense of the other parts of rhetoric, beginning the long process of what Gerard Genette called the "tropological reduction," whereby the art of rhetoric was eventually reduced to a theory of tropes. A very small number of "master tropes"--including metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, irony, and metalepsis--have been a particular focus of modern literary theory, posited as the most basic of rhetorical structures and thus constitutive elements of our language. Moreover, such tropes have been a central focus of the cognitive scientists, cognitive linguists, and philosophers of language with whom Lyne engages. Having observed that "interdisciplinary theories of metaphor, conceptions of the brain in cognitive science and cognitive linguistics, and renaissance rhetoric intersect in suggestive parallels, tellingly shared patterns, and momentary flashes," Lyne attempts to isolate and explore a series of what he calls "cognitive tropes" with special salience for Shakespeare's dramatic language. Indeed, after surveying recent work in cognitive science, Lyne concludes that "parts of rhetorical theory have such a pertinent overlap with cognitive patterns that they are, in effect, a kind of cognitive science before such a thing was considered" (49). Even more stridently, he later declares that "rhetoric is a science of the mind, or rather the brain, as well as of speech," though he concedes that this aspect of the ars rhetorica is "covert" rather than explicit (84, 52).

It is surely worth dwelling on the fact that the modern sciences of cognition rely so heavily on the technical terminology of the ancient art of rhetoric. This has resulted in a curious alignment in the history of knowledge whereby literary critics and cognitive scientists seem to share the same terms of art. But what does it mean to re-enter the art of rhetoric via a detour through cognitive science in order to identify particular tropes as "cognitive" as opposed to merely (Lyne, to his credit, would want me to say, simply) figurative? This distinction, one that is crucial to Lyne's argument, makes sense only if one initially thinks of figures of speech exclusively as linguistic adornment. This is, in fact, how Renaissance rhetoric viewed the figures of speech: as a means of ornamenting a preexisting idea. The Renaissance art of rhetoric presumes the separability of meaning and expression, or res and verba, whereby figuration constitutes a secondary operation on a prior thought. (Though in practice, as many scholars have observed, verba had a tendency to overtake res in articulations of rhetorical art.) As the term "ornament" suggests, not only are figures secondary to thought, they are also oriented towards outward display. Lyne takes this notion as axiomatic, distinguishing his so-called "cognitive tropes" from the more conventional ornaments of rhetoric in what he describes as their "inward" orientation: such tropes are co-extensive with thought itself, making visible that which is usually hidden "behind" or "underneath" language. In its core arguments the book thus relies on a series of interconnected oppositions between surface and depth, outward and inward, speaking and thinking, which enable Lyne to distinguish tropes that are "heuristic" (i.e., exploratory, aimed at discovery) from those that are exclusively "persuasive" or "expressive." In insisting upon this alternative potential for tropes to do the work of thinking, Lyne is able to provide fresh readings of, for example, "Hamlet's tropes [which] at times seem not to persuade anyone, even himself, and instead they seem to be devoted to mustering and arranging thoughts" (52).

My difficulty with this part of Lyne's argument isn't that I disagree, it's that I agree so wholeheartedly. Indeed, I could be persuaded that nearly any figure of speech has "heuristic" or "cognitive" potential, in part because one legacy of the rhetorical tradition in our own era is the deconstruction of any assumed priority of thought over language. A definitive conviction of modern literary theory is that tropes are fundamental structures of our linguistic system and, moreover, comprise our basic mechanisms of thought as well as expression. This has resulted in a corollary claim that literature offers a privileged vehicle for access to the problems that language poses for understanding. I'm not yet sure how the methods and conclusions of cognitive science deepen or complicate such notions. One way in which they might do so is by revising and reframing the meaning of concepts like "mind" and "thought," concepts that are frequently central to our arguments about literary texts and literary history. However, in this instance, it's not clear that Lyne actually requires the work of cognitive scientists in order to execute his close readings of Shakespeare.

One important way in which an engagement with cognitive science gives this work a distinct flavor is in Lyne's yoking of what he calls "cognitive rhetoric" to a consideration of dramatic character. Lyne's analysis of Shakespeare's rhetoric treats individual characters as coherent and unified fictional persons who speak fictional thoughts, thus implying that a concept of dramatic character properly belongs at the center of any analysis of Shakespeare's language. Lyne's polemic in this regard is expressed in rather mild terms, no doubt because character criticism has been so thoroughly attacked by poststructuralist critics since the 1970s; however, he observes that he sees in recent criticism "an encouragement to responding to what look like manifestations of character--as momentary, distinctive, emphatic, disoriented, challenged, and so on--in spite of doubts about treating them as having a sort of coherent reality to which the play is merely testifying" (6). In fact, this interest in the coherence of dramatic character is one of the most distinctive aspects of Shakespeare, Rhetoric and Cognition, and was thus worthy of further elaboration.

After surveying studies in cognitive science and the history of rhetoric, the second half of Shakespeare, Rhetoric and Cognition follows the implications of the idea that certain characters' speeches represent thoughts as well as words. Lyne devotes a chapter each to A Midsummer Night's Dream, Cymbeline, Othello, and the Sonnets. No one who has read Lyne's previous scholarship will be surprised to learn that the readings display marvelous skill, frequently attesting to the "discrepancy" between the pedantic technical terminology of the art of rhetoric and the fluency of Shakespeare's poetry (15). Lyne shows us how characters draw on rhetoric to apprehend their own shifting reality, which results in poetry that grapples with emerging events rather than communicating a coherent idea. "The slippages when human cognition is out of kilter with emerging experience can be disastrous. The special predicament of Othello is that Iago invades the cognition of the hero and removes his capacity to think productively in tropes. The result is extraordinary compression, where words, like black holes, draw everything in with enormous expulsions of energy" (197). In moments such as this, Lyne fulfills his aim to produce "a greater understanding of Shakespeare's works, and how they may reward close reading" (49). Such readings do not, however, alter our field's already rich understanding of the Renaissance art of rhetoric, nor do they demonstrate the claim that rhetoric is a cognitive science.
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Author:Mann, Jenny C.
Publication:Shakespeare Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2014
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