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Knapp, James A. "Static And Transformative Images In Shakespeare's Dramatic Art." Criticism 54.3 (2012): 377-389. Literary Reference Center. Web. 5 Apr. 2013
James A. Knapp
"Consider Duke Theseus’s musings on the relationship between
apprehension and comprehension after hearing of the lovers’ newfound
A Midsummer Night’s Dream:
I never may believe these
Antique fables, nor these fairy toys.
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Such tricks hath strong imagination,
That if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy;
Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear!
Theseus offers this explanation in order to dismiss “strong imagination”
in favor of “cool reason,” the faculty capable of discerning truth from illusion.
According to Theseus, the Athenian lovers’ sudden and collective
change of heart after one night in the forest can only be a product
of the “shaping fantasies” of “strong imagination.” For comparison, he
offers the example of the bear and bush, both things (potentially present,
“given” to perception) and images (known by their shape or figure). As
things perceived as visual images, bear and bush produce (and are produced
by) different cognitive responses: one runs from a bear out of fear
(knowing it to be dangerous) but not a bush (even if its outline resembles
a bear’s). Theseus reveals that the conditions for apprehension (perception),
as well as for comprehension (understanding), obtain in the interaction
between the entire sensible visual field and the particular observer’s
mind: an ostensibly present bush seen “in the night” is perceived as a presumably
absent bear because the observer is “imagining some fear.” For
Theseus, “cool reason” is the missing curb to strong imagination in such cases—free from passion, reason aids in the proper comprehension
of visual experience, the world of apprehension, which is
otherwise susceptible to imagination’s “tricks.”"