Academic journal article Multicultural Shakespeare

Book Reviews

Academic journal article Multicultural Shakespeare

Book Reviews

Article excerpt

Multicultural Shakespeare: Translation, Appropriation and Performance vol. 13 (28), 2016; DOI: 10.1515/mstap-2016-0010

Cefalu, Paul. Tragic Cognition in Shakespeares Othello: Beyond the Neural Sublime. London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2015. Pp. viii + 124. ISBN: 978-1-4725-2346-4.

Reviewed by Baisali Hui

Critics down the line have always attempted to untangle the complex web of intentionality, disembodied cerebration, discontent and desire in the cognitive-psychological workings of Iagos mind. Psychoanalysis has further opened up possibilities to analyze the intractable urges of the unconscious disguised in, yet manifested through the words and behavior of characters. Detachment and involvement, intellectual ideation and sadistic gratification seem to coexist in the character of Iago or, to be more specific, in that part of his unfathomable mind that he/his creator lets us a glimpse of through dialogues, asides and strategic silences. A.L. Rowse attempts to address the ambivalent aspects of Iagos character:

There is always something to be said for what Iago says; nothing for what he does. On the pros and cons of morality he is an able and plausible reasonernotably in the remarkable scene with Othello in which he sows suspicion against Desdemona. One might suppose that Iago was more rational than other men, as certainly he considered himself, besides being much less of a fool. But such is Shakespeares intuitive, as well as conscious knowledge of human nature that Iago, too, is as much in the clutch of his complex as Othello is in his. Othello is driven mad by suspicion and jealousy; perhaps Iago is already madhe is certainly not sanewith envy, hatred and contempt. (269-71)

In Tragic Cognition in Shakespeares Othello, Paul Cefalu attempts a cognitive study of the characters of Iago and Othello and interestingly intersperses his reading with insights from Senecan stoicism (2009), Freudian psychoanalysis (1962) and Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) (Robertson 2010). Cognitive sciences postulates that human behaviour is an external manifestation of human

Associate Professor of English, University of Kalyani, Kalyani, West Bengal, India.

Book Reviews


Book Reviews

thought process and the subpersonal workings of the brainwith its privileges and limitations, obsessions, insights and blind spots. Our sense of reality and the world around us are creations of our individual perceptions and sensory assumptions encoded as well as decoded by cognitive understanding. Thus in our relationship with and assessment of others, cognition plays a significant role guiding, understanding and developing a Theory of Mind(Cefalu 11-12) to handle the wide orbit of experiential and experimental materials available to us.

Cefalu analyses the character of Iago from the cognitive point-of-view as one having an exceptional capability of mind-reading, as one who in practicing his Theory of Mind (ToM) becomes a victim of its limitations, one who in tracking the thought process of others and predicting their behaviour is carried away by his own theorization. The apparently motiveless malignity (262), as Coleridge would have it, of Iago is traced back not just to his unfulfilled social ambitions but to the complex workings of his brain. The author shows how Iago evinces an exceptional ability of mind-reading and thus manipulates the future course of events to his own will. His hypotheses about the other characters, their expected reactions in given situations or specific circumstances hold him enthralled. But ironically enough, he himself gets enmeshed in the trap he had laid carefully for others. Iagos mind-reading when presented side by side with the mindblindness of Othello gives him an extra edge in the combat of wit.

The cognitivist theory places Iago at an extreme end of the autistic scale as an individual who is not hypo but hyperattuned to the ToM with regard to the other characters. …

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