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Shakespeare Association of America Conference

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"Chasing Apt Matter: The Hunt as an Early Modern Cognitive Metaphor for Inventio in Shakespeare's Othello" in seminar "Cognition in the Early Modern Period"

“My invention comes from my pate as birdlime does from frize,” Iago complains to Desdemona, employing the imagery of hunting birds to describe one of the five canons of rhetoric. Inventio is a defining concept of the Early Modern period. It is also a defining concept for theories of cognition. Like Iago, Thomas Wilson, in his 1551 logical manual Rule of Reason, likens finding “apte matter” and “thynges likely” to “prove any cause, and … teach thereby the truth” to flushing out foxes on a hunt. Comparing knowledge-making to the chase originates at the highly literary medieval Sicilian court of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. The emperor composed a treatise on falconry, The Art of Hunting with Birds, in which he rejects Aristotelian authority and likens his own method of knowledge-gathering to a hovering hunting falcon, who “sees things as they really are.” Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz would later posit that sovereignty necessitates “driving facts into a corner” to allow the king to see his kingdom “at one glance.” On stage and at court, the Early Modern concept of  inventive cognition is a lively one, echoing with the noises of the wild chase, and ringing with the hunting horn. (View the SAA 2017 conference program)