Shakespeare on the brain

1 minute read

I think this is just cool:

Shakespeare uses a linguistic technique known as functional shift that involves, for example using a noun to serve as a verb. Researchers found that this technique allows the brain to understand what a word means before it understands the function of the word within a sentence. This process causes a sudden peak in brain activity and forces the brain to work backwards in order to fully understand what Shakespeare is trying to say.
Professor Philip Davis, from the University's School of English, said: "The brain reacts to reading a phrase such as 'he godded me' from the tragedy of Coriolanus, in a similar way to putting a jigsaw puzzle together. If it is easy to see which pieces slot together you become bored of the game, but if the pieces don't appear to fit, when we know they should, the brain becomes excited. By throwing odd words into seemingly normal sentences, Shakespeare surprises the brain and catches it off guard in a manner that produces a sudden burst of activity - a sense of drama created out of the simplest of things."
Experts believe that this heightened brain activity may be one of the reasons why Shakespeare's plays have such a dramatic impact on their readers.

I wonder if there is a threshold involving people who can manage to get these quirks and others who can't. For that matter, you have to be fairly deep into the interpretation of a long-past culture in order to feel "in the world" of Shakespeare's plays to begin with. Your mind has to be willing to go a long way out of its usual experience to be ready to perceive Shakespearean prose. There are surely a lot of high school seniors who can't, or don't want to, go there. The idea that the prose itself contains features that reward this effort is no surprise, but it does help to explain the unique resonance. I wonder if Molière has the same effect on the French mind?