MLA Psychoanalyzes Shakespeare

, Kristin Theresa Jaroma, Leave a comment

Applying modern day psychology to the masters yields some odd results.

Joining thousands of English professors at the 2014 Modern Language Association (MLA) Convention in Chicago was English Professor Julia Reinhard Lupton of the University of California, Irvine, to explain the concept of “affordances” as applied to Shakespeare’s Cymbeline. “Grave, ground, bank, bed, and headless corpse can substitute for each other because of their shared affordances,” claims Professor Lupton, in her paper “Furnitura: Disclosing Shakespearean Affordances.”

The term “affordances” was coined by psychologist James J. Gibson in 1977. The term refers to any “action-possibilities” which exist in an animal’s environment relative to the animal itself. Gibson wrotes “Roughly, the affordances of things are what they furnish, for good or ill, that is, what they afford the observer.”

Affordances are spoken of by Gibson as the “furnishings” of an animal’s surroundings or environment. Thus, the author uses the pseudo-Latin future active participle “furnitura” in the speech’s title.

Shakespeare affords many instances of affordances in Cymbeline, his “most extended reflection on furnitura,” according to Lupton. The character Imogen inhabits two environments of affordances, namely, her bed chamber and a cave. Shakespeare properly calls both “dwellings,” the author notes, because the phenomenological concept of “dwelling” is composed of affordances common to each place.

The bed drapes and the enclosure of the mountain cave, on the one hand, and the cushions of Imogen’s bed and her own arms and hands, the solid ground, and even another person’s corpse, on the other, are a few of the diverse environmental objects in each locale which offer the same affordances that make them both “dwellings.” Lupton calls this “furnitura with a vengeance.”

And so, the concept of “dwelling” in Shakespeare is ultimately composed of affordances. The theater is where affordances get put to the test, and Lupton focuses primarily on the production of Shakespearean dramas. Dwellings relate to both humans and animals, and particularly the residence of the creature. In Shakespearean drama, such setting sets the stage for poetic imagery, Lupton submits, and as affordances create the scenes of dwellings, they are “worthy of our attention.”