Monday, June 06, 2011

Chunks o' Shakespeare

One of the books I'm working through on my Kindle (the title escapes me, I will update when I'm near Kindle again) has to do with memory. I just hit a patch that covers some fairly well-known ground -- the human memory can basically handle about 7 things at once, and by "chunking" that information in order to associate it with higher level pieces of information in your memory, you can make it seem that you're getting more out of it. In other words, those 7 things that you really remember could each be composed of 7 things, which could each be composed....

...the example in the books? Memorize the letters HEADSHOULDERSKNEESTOES. Assuming that you can read English you're probably going to spot four words HEAD/SHOULDERS/KNEES/TOES and presto, you only have to memorize 4 words, not 22 letters. Even better, if that children's song is now stuck in your head, it's really like 1 big piece of information.

So my question is this. Surely most of you have some randomly sizes bits of Shakespeare memorized. Why and how? Can you pin them back to any sort of "chunking" as described above?

I'll give you a small example of my own. Back in college, the girl I was dating was in The Tempest. Instead of flowers for opening night I got her a musical carousel with unicorns on it and an inscribed quote, "Now I will believe that there are unicorns." It is a small example, but that quote is forever associated with that memory in my head.

Similarly, I've told the story a million times about having that epiphany moment over Hamlet's joke, "Thrift, Horatio, thrift! The funeral-baked meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables!" (Although for some reason my memory always wants to insert "thrice-baked" and I don't know why).

Anybody else have similar stories? My examples are small, I'm looking for examples of how somebody can get through an entire Shakespeare play that way.

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