The Cognitive Revolution in Western Culture
  • Publication Date: February 8, 1996
  • ISBN: 9781551110813 / 1551110814
  • 382 pages; 5½" x 8½"

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The Cognitive Revolution in Western Culture

  • Publication Date: February 8, 1996
  • ISBN: 9781551110813 / 1551110814
  • 382 pages; 5½" x 8½"

Why are the plots of Shakespeare and his contemporaries so different from those of his predecessors? This book argues that the answer is in part that certain forms of expectation were largely undeveloped in the medieval period. More broadly, it suggests that many of the causal and temporal thought processes that are second nature to us operated very differently or had not been developed in the minds of most medieval people. And conversely, it suggests that other mental faculties (such as the ability to respond to some of the elemental appeal of poetry) may have become dulled by the post-renaissance rationalist emphasis in our culture.

In addition to drawing on a broad range of etymological and literary evidence (from the 10th century Gnomic verses to 16th-century drama) the book delves into medieval history, and draws many anthropological parallels. This is a significant study in the nature of narrative and an important investigation into the mental and cultural worlds of Shakespeare and his predecessors.


“Maintains that the Renaissance did not just introduce new ideas into Western culture but radically changed cognitive processes, the way people thought…raises enormous issues…rich and interesting.” — Studies in English Literature

“Fascinating ideas…succeeds in demonstrating the emergence of a new cognitive faculty in Western culture.” — The Toronto Star

“Intriguing, interesting and original!” — American Historical Review

“Startles and compels attention…impressively detailed.” — The Kingston Whig-Standard


Part I: The Issue of Cognitive Processes

  1. Anthropological Perspectives
  2. Historical Perspectives
  3. Literary Perspectives

Part II: The Roots of Expectation

  1. Expectation
  2. The Dawn of the Artificial Day: Medieval Temporal Thought Processes
  3. Thinking Across the Past
  4. Thinking into the Future
  5. Causation and Probability

Part III: Literary Expectations

  1. Expectation and Literary Plots
  2. The Ways of Thought of Medieval Literature
  3. Shakespeare and the Revolution in Literary Plotting
  4. Illusion: Expectation’s Dramatic By-Product
  5. Simon Forman’s Expectations

Postscript: Zimbabwe, 1985
Notes and References

Don LePan is the author of The Broadview Book of Common Errors in English (5/e 2003) and (with Doug Babington) The Broadview Guide to Writing (2/e 2001).