Carolyne Larrington
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Audiences and affectivity
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This chapter examines how medieval audiences (both intra- and extradiegetic) are emotionally affected by storytelling, by the tales embedded and related within narratives and by the literary works that real-life audiences consume. It places questions of audience empathy and the elicitation of other kinds of emotions alongside the ‘paradox of fiction’ – why do audiences feel so intensely when engaging with fictional characters? The chapter explores certain psychological theories that seek to provide answers to these questions: simulation theory and embodied cognition theory, underpinned by the operation of neural networks. Recent psychological studies of emotion and communal audience reactions – emotional contagion – provide context for the conditions under which medieval literary texts were most often consumed, and the neurophysiological bases for empathy are explored. The chapter also takes up the crucial distinction between emotion produced by events within a narrative and emotion produced by the aesthetics of the narrative itself: a distinction that can be traced back to Augustine, and which informs clerical and secular writing in the medieval period. Verbal works of art are expressly designed to elicit emotion; the chapter identifies the effective techniques authors employ in their narration. Lastly, this chapter considers the ways in which audience emotions are modelled and guided within texts and closes with an examination of the emotional impact of cycle drama upon its audiences.

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