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Distributed Cognition in Medieval and Renaissance Culture$
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Miranda Anderson and Michael Wheeler

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781474438131

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474438131.001.0001

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Distributed Cognition, Improvisation and the Performing Arts in Early Modern Europe

Distributed Cognition, Improvisation and the Performing Arts in Early Modern Europe

(p.205) 12 Distributed Cognition, Improvisation and the Performing Arts in Early Modern Europe
Distributed Cognition in Medieval and Renaissance Culture

Julie E. Cumming

Evelyn Tribble

Edinburgh University Press

The feats of skill exhibited by early modern actors, singers, and dancers can best be approached through the lens of distributed cognition. Complex assemblages of material, social, bodily, and neural resources enabled and constrained the work of early modern performers. Skilled performers were expected not simply to reproduce material; improvisation and spontaneity were more highly valued than rote memorisation. To be a performer was to be an improviser. Improvisation always involved interaction with other performers and with a given text, whether a score, a choreography, or a play text. This chapter analyses a variety of assemblages underpinning the work of a range of early modern performance practice. These include improvised polyphonic music performed in ecclesiastical settings; improvisation in Renaissance dance; the early modern English theatre, and the notation systems used for part-singing. Each of these operates within a specific cognitive ecology, and each places different demands upon the particular assemblages of embodied expertise, environments, and skilled practice. Distributed cognition provides an analytic framework for understanding these accomplishments.

Keywords:   Improvisation, Music, Dance, Theatre, Distributed Cognition, Cognitive Ecology

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