The introduction presents the main argument of Conceiving Desire in Lyly and Shakespeare: that metaphors dramatize inward erotic experience on the early modern stage. The opening pages chart the book’s methodology, situate it among other studies of desire, and introduce conceptual metaphor theory via George Lakoff, Mark Johnson, and Mark Turner’s foundational work in cognitive linguistics. To illustrate the importance of cognition to erotic experience, the introduction analyses Troilus’s soliloquy in which he anticipates his tryst with Cressida. Troilus’s imagination makes him “giddy” but it also betrays his cognitive performance anxiety—a fear of being unable to conceive of the “subtle” pleasures that await him, dooming them to be lost to him forever. Troilus confirms that our ability to process erotic experience mentally is what grants us access to it; both action and contemplation are vital ingredients in erotic experience. These pages conclude by discussing the value of pairing John Lyly’s and William Shakespeare’s plays to study erotic language. Both playwrights, but especially Lyly, reveal the power of contemplative speech to constitute vibrant, frenzied action on a stage.
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