Erotic Language as Dramatic Action in Plays by Lyly and Shakespeare

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Knoll, Gillian
Leinwand, Theodore B
This study closely examines the language of desire in the dramatic works of John Lyly and William Shakespeare, and argues that contemplative and analytical speeches about desire function as modes of action in their plays. Erotic speeches do more than express desire in a purely descriptive or perlocutionary capacity distinct from the action of the play--they incite, circulate, and create eros for characters, exposing audiences to the inner workings of the desiring mind and body. For many of Lyly's and Shakespeare's characters, words come to <italic>constitute</italic> erotic experience. My approach to dramatic language draws from the work of cognitive linguists such as George Lakoff and Mark Johnson who argue that our basic conceptual system, according to which we think, speak, and act, is metaphorical in nature. My focus on primary metaphors, which are based on sensorimotor experience, foregrounds the interdependence of erotic language and early modern notions of embodiment. Since language, thought, and action are all subject to this embodied metaphorical system, conceptual metaphors allow Lyly and Shakespeare to dramatize the often invisible, paradoxical, and potentially unknowable experience of erotic desire. My understanding of language as dramatic action derives from a theory about the attribution of human motives that Kenneth Burke, in <italic>The Grammar of Motives</italic> (1945), called dramatism. Burke uses five key terms to address human motivation--Act, Scene, Agent, Agency, Purpose--and I in turn use each of these terms to make sense of erotic desire on the early modern stage. I begin my study by exploring conceptual metaphors of physical motion that characterize desire as an action rather than a state of mind. In my second chapter, I investigate metaphors of permeability that dramatize erotic desire as a rupture between "agents" and their "scenes," between self and world. My third chapter analyzes "purpose" and "agency"--the ways characters make intimate relationships--by exploring metaphors in which eros is conceptualized as a dynamic process of creation.