Pav Aulakh Talk: "'The truer, so as to be false': 'alternative facts' in Shakespeare's Cymbeline"

Date: 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Time: 

3:00 pm

Location: 

Sankey Room

As in his other plays centering on slander, the language of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline frequently resorts to the evidentiary language of law: the “proof” and “testimonies,” for instance, conducive to securing belief. But in probing the limits of knowledge and the conditions that structure belief, this play’s language extends beyond legal metaphors to incorporate the complementary discursive concerns of experimental philosophy. Cymbeline, as this paper will illustrate, is fascinatingly invested in both the physics of seeing and the idea of experience (in its seventeenth-century scientific sense of proof by trial or demonstration) as an instrument of knowledge-making. Despite, however, the epistemological currency afforded experience in this play, when it comes to staging trials of knowledge in the crucible of experience, characters repeatedly judge wrongly despite their reasoned weighing of circumstances. Focusing on these moments of misprision, I hope to consider: how, for example, Bacon’s figuration of the mind as a crooked mirror that distorts our perceptions might help us to understand the play’s dramatization of misjudgment; and how his advancement of experiment as an artificial instrument for correcting the limits of sense perception might model for us a way of thinking about the stage itself as an experimental mechanism that provides a recuperative alternative to the self-assured reasoning employed by Cymbeline’s characters.