William Shakespeare's Sonnet 130: A Conceptual Integration Analysis of Parody

By Kedra-Kardela, Anna | British and American Studies, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

William Shakespeare's Sonnet 130: A Conceptual Integration Analysis of Parody


Kedra-Kardela, Anna, British and American Studies


1. Introduction

The aim of this paper is to develop a cognitive analysis of William Shakespeare's Sonnet 130 (see Appendix), believed to be a parody, by using the Conceptual Integration Theory (CIT) as proposed by Fauconnier and Turner (2002), combined with Langacker's (2008) theory of the Current Discourse Space (CDS). The parody developed in the sonnet's quatrains is inverted in the sonnet's final couplet, which, unexpectedly, offers a conventional ending, in agreement with the Elizabethan sonnet convention.

2. Fauconnier and Turner's Conceptual Integration Theory-CIT

CIT is based on the idea of mental spaces, defined by Fauconnier and Turner (2003:40; henceforth F&T) as

small conceptual packets constructed as we think and talk, for purposes of local understanding and action. [...] Mental spaces are connected to long-term schematic knowledge called "frames," [...] and to long-term specific knowledge [...]. Mental spaces are very partial. They contain elements and are typically structured by frames. They are interconnected, and can be modified as thought and discourse unfold. Mental spaces can be used generally to model dynamic mappings in thought and language.

According to F&T, conceptual blending involves the construction of two or more input spaces, a generic space, which contains elements the input spaces have in common, and the blend. The blend includes selected elements from the input spaces which, when combined, ultimately create a new conceptual structure.

It is important to note that not all elements of the input spaces are projected onto the blend, which, being an emergent structure, recruits only some elements of the input spaces.

One of the most important cognitive processes involved in conceptual integration is elaboration, also known as running the blend, a process which creates a parody effect. Figure 1 shows a conceptual integration network for the expression smog (the box in the blend contains new information, absent in either of the input spaces):

The capacity of the blend to be "run" accounts for the dynamicity of categorization: the blend can be modified, or elaborated, after it has been created. As we shall presently see, the running of the blend process applies to Sonnet 130 and can be viewed as a principal mechanism accounting for interpretation processes, in the case at hand - for a parody effect.

Sonnet 130 is no doubt a parody and it is precisely this 'sense of parody' that, I claim, appears as the emergent structure of the blend and is recognized as such by the sonnet's reader. Although the reader's recognition of parody is legitimate here - the sonnet's three quatrains appear to support the reader's conjecture - the lines "And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare / As any she belied with false compare" appear to "undo" the parody effect. The question is: how to account for this "interpretational inversion"? In my attempt to do this, I will make use of the Current Discourse Space, combining it with the Conceptual Integration Network.

3. Current Discourse Space

The term CDS is used by Langacker to refer to all facets of a situation which are "shared by the speaker and hearer as the basis for communication at a given moment" (cf. Langacker 2008: 466; also see Langacker 2008:59, 281). CDS comprises a wide body of background knowledge and when the discourse unfolds, the successive utterances are interpreted, continually updating CDS (Langacker 2008:281). The CDS, can be presented diagrammatically as follows (Langacker 2008:466):

As the discourse develops, its interlocutors, the speaker (S), and the hearer (H), negotiate the content of the discourse frames, each of which is the actualization of the preceding frame. For example, in Sonnet 130, each new aspect of the lady's appearance evokes a new frame. The information accumulates, ultimately yielding a "complete" portrait of the woman. (See Section 5; for a discussion of the CDS, see Langacker (2008:466; cf. …

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