Method in the Madness: Reading Shakespeare
To be, or not to be, a lover of Shakespeare: that is the question. Not many subjects invoke as strong a visceral response as an assignment of tackling Shakespeare’s work. Is it nobler to suffer his outrageous language or oppose it?
U-City sophomores have opinions ranging from Maya Bowling’s “I love Shakespeare because it’s so cool!” to Emmanuel Price’s “I really don’t like studying Shakespeare because it does not make sense. He speaks in a language not everyone can understand.” Still others, like Ben Aronberg, consider him bitter, but necessary, medicine: “I think Shakespeare is classic literature and important because it’s an important part of history; however, I don’t find it very fun to read.”
Is it a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing? Or, do we protest too much? I am not bound to please thee with my answers. Clearly the language of Shakespeare is challenging, but therein lies the secret.
Researchers at the University of Liverpool, using various forms of brain scans, studied the effects of reading Shakespeare on the human brain. As reported on physorg.com, they found that the brain signature is relatively uneventful when we understand the meaning of a word. But Shakespeare’s language construction causes a sudden peak in brain activity and forces the brain to retrace its thinking process in order to understand what it is supposed to make of his unusual word combinations. Instead of being confused by this in a negative sense, the brain is positively excited. So, students who learn Shakespeare develop some complex brain connections that others won’t.
Although Shakespeare is Greek to Price, who feels like Shakespeare “messes up (his) language skills”, another sophomore gets it: “I think that studying Shakespeare is an important exercise in language study and comprehension. The unusual sentence composition and its translation allows for an increased understanding of the English language.”
No one can make you love Shakespeare, and you do need to be true to yourself. But, as for me, I agree with Maya; Shakespeare is definitely cool! And, he’s good for our brains. For Ms. Ice’s Latin scholars, Shakespeare is the English language’s answer to Latin’s Vergil. Studying him allows us to appreciate figures of speech from and allusions* to his work. The more erudite we are, the more we can appreciate complex literature, understand our cultural heritage, and impress classy women on dates (those who should be woo’d).
We know what we are, but know not what we may be. Thanks to Shakespeare, we needn’t be fools.
* Can you find the quotes and allusions to Shakespeare’s works in this article? Click this link to see if you’ve found them all!