Monday, December 18, 2006

Shakespeare is Good for Your Brain

I'm falling behind.  The other day a study came out that suggests reading Shakespeare is good for your brain

"The brain appears to become baffled by something unexpected in the text that jolts it into a higher level of thinking."  Ok, that makes sense.  That's the same sort of logic that suggests that people do puzzles, play games, and so on.  in other words, exercise your brain.  Can't say I have a problem with that!

There's a book coming out called "Shakespeare Thinking" on the subject.  How does someone get an entire book out of that?  I guess I acknowledge the value of the finding but I'm not sure that it's all that related to Shakespeare specifically.  They're basically saying that when you encounter word structures that are unfamiliar to you, your brain has to work harder to get them to make sense.   When trying to explain this to people I always used the example:  "I have of late but wherefore I know not lost all my mirth."  Had Shakespeare said "I have lost all my mirth as of late and wherefore I know not", it would have been more in tune with the way someone today would say it ("I'm bummed out lately and I don't know why").   But as written it's got a much nicer cadence to it (something that we all recognize as iambic, ba BAH ba BAH ba BAH..) that the typical reader wouldn't necessarily know, but would still be able to process. 

The obvious question to ask is what happens to those of us for whom reading Shakespeare is not "something unexpected"?  Do we no longer get the cerebral kick that folks more in tune with more "pedestrian" reading get? 


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