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Fission-fusion cognition in Shakespearean drama: The case for Julius Caesar

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)154-168
Number of pages14
JournalNarrative
Volume23
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2015

Abstract

This paper examines how Renaissance notions of the mind and the subject, as constrained and constituted by social means, are narrated and staged in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. This analysis is supplemented by a few references to Montaigne’s Essays, whose influence on Shakespeare and concern with the nature of the mind and self are long established. To further ground the case, it begins with two brief overviews: firstly, on narratological approaches to drama and their particular relevance to Renaissance drama, and secondly, on various current approaches to social cognition. I focus on what I argue are the linked concepts that a multiplicity of agents can operate within a single human being, and conversely that multiple individuals can form a cognitive unit. These related notions of the mind as social, both in Renaissance fictional and factual narratives and in current cognitive science, are understood to be due to human psychophysiological capacities. These capacities both afford and require boundaries and flow between the constituent parts of the self, both as regards those within skull or skin, and as regards those in the world. As I want to highlight the issue of divisions, as well as sharing, between individuals and within an individual I have adopted the physics term “fission-fusion,” which has been used by ethology to describe dynamic social networks that periodically merge and divide, and I have reapplied it specifically to cognition in order to capture the malleable and shifting nature of the cognitive units formed.

    Research areas

  • social mind, social cognition, extended mind, distributed cognition, Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, collective intentionality, group mind

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