Theseus, Phantasia, and the Scientific Renaissance
This chapter offers a reading of the most famous Shakespearean lines on imagination, a speech by Theseus in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, arguing that this speech presents not a unified but a pluralistic idea of what imagination is—a story; a section of the brain; a shape; a substance. To account for this variegation, the chapter summarizes the long intellectual history of imagination, emphasizing the cognitive or psychological tradition founded by Aristotle. The chapter then examines the complex and often confused early modern discourse of imagination, arguing that these confusions indicate the ways in which proto-scientific fields were destabilizing faculty psychology. To understand Theseus’ polysemic idea of imagination, and Shakespeare’s more generally, we must explore the various contexts in which imagination’s earlier philosophy was tested or recast by the early modern history of science; these contexts will be explored in subsequent chapters.
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