narrative medicine

Shakespeare is not a jerkwad

Shakespeare excites your brain.

What I find so cool about this is that it demonstrates a neurologic correlate for why narrative matters. Shakespeare’s unexpected use of language engages your brain way more than “ordinary” sentences. Which is sort of an obvious point, except here’s the rub:

Sparking off weird bits of your brain, making the leaps and connections that Shakespeare (specifically) demands, with his unsyntactical grammar and wordplay and flatout made-up words — strengthens synaptic connections. While I don’t think you can “cure” someone’s dementia by reading Shakespeare, I do think those creative leaps are what separate us for the thousand monkeys with typewriters — or indeed, Watson.

And of course, it doesn’t necessarily have to be Shakespeare. Any creative and unexpected use of language — as opposed to bullet points and sound bites — will have the same effect. Shakespeare just does it … more? better? new and improved?

As a side note, I really dislike the rarefied image of Shakespeare that we tend to push on kids in school. You know, the Bard, highly educated, iambic pentameter, Laurence Olivier swooning like his life depended on it. That’s the version of Shakespeare I met in school, and I hated him.

Let’s tell the story of the other Shakespeare, that kid from the boondocks who knocked up Anne Hathaway (not that Anne Hathaway) and had to marry her when he was 18 and she was 26 (cougarrific by Elizabethan standards), then left for London where he made his way into a theatre troupe and began writing and boozing with Ben Jonson and Chris Marlowe. That Shakespeare is so much cooler than the stuffy old English teacher Shakespeare.

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