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date: 05 August 2020

Abstract and Keywords

In Shakespeare’s comedies, sensation is both a problem and a solution. It is the source of division and the grounds of unity. This paradox is consistent with the early modern period’s mixed conception of the senses. If antitheatrical tracts and clerical literature denounced sensory experience as an impediment to truth and spiritual understanding, printed defences of theatre and a variety of medical and psychological tracts treated the senses as a powerful source of knowledge and judgement. This essay traces how Shakespeare’s treatment of the senses relates to both of these traditions. It addresses the connection between this double rendering of sensation and comic form and concludes by considering the ethical implications of sensory experience in the theatre. Examples are drawn from a variety of plays, including The Comedy of Errors, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice, and As You Like It.

Keywords: Shakespeare, comedy, senses, knowledge, performance, phenomenology, ethics

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