Shakespeare’s theatrical openings

Authored by: James R. Hamilton

The Routledge Companion to Shakespeare and Philosophy

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  October  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138936126
eBook ISBN: 9781315677019
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9781315677019-40

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Abstract

The framework of this chapter is Shakespeare’s theater understood as consisting of theatrical performances, rather than as play-texts that happen to get performed. The aesthetic features of most plays are different when considered as theatrical performances or as play-texts. One difference, at the heart of the present chapter, is that we need to analyze how a play ‘opens.’ Using material from current theories in the rhetoric of theatrical openings, I propose that what needs explaining in the openings of theatrical performances are (a) attention-capture and attention-management as oriented towards actions and (b) the guidance that attention to actions provides towards relevant spectator inference-making in time. And I propose that a Bayesian model of inference-making and learning appears to be the most promising line of explanation for both these items. Moreover, I show how such a model also allows for an account of the rational reassessments that spectators actually engage in. This case is made especially with respect to witnessing Shakespeare’s plays which, themselves, were immersed in rhetorical strategies – wherein the strategies involved using what rhetoricians call ‘strands of action’ – because they were aimed to entertain audiences and bring them back into the theatre.

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