Posts Tagged ‘Shakespeare’

The Shakespeare Post!

August 24, 2008

Philobiblon alerts to a newspaper dedicated to Shakespeare news called The Shakespeare Post that looks quite interesting. Take a look!

Shakespeare’s ambivalence towards music as art

August 18, 2008

Alex Ross in the New Yorker gives some examples and hints:

William Shakespeare felt a certain ambivalence toward music as an art, if his words are any guide to his thoughts. The plays overflow with merry songs, sweet airs, and other healthy-minded sounds, but they also contain many instances of music causing mischief, telling lies, or casting shadows. In “Measure for Measure,” the Duke says of a song, “ ’Tis good,” but adds, “Music oft hath such a charm / To make bad good, and good provoke to harm.” The opening line of “Twelfth Night”—“If music be the food of love, play on”—has been quoted and needlepointed ad nauseam, but the lines that follow are usually omitted, on account of their sardonic cast: “Give me excess of it; that surfeiting, / The appetite may sicken, and so die.” Hamlet’s dying utterance, “The rest is silence,” gives way to an ironic musical collision: first, Horatio imagines that “flights of angels sing thee to thy rest,” and then the stage directions call for a “march within”—the thuggish sound of Fortinbras’s army. You get the sense that Shakespeare, the lord of language, viewed music with narrowed eyes, as if sizing up a rival nation.

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Sunday morning lit links!

January 6, 2008

Ravi Vyas in the Classics Revisited section of the Hindu Literary Review recommends C L R James’ Beyond a boundary in the strongest possible terms:

Great claims have been made for (Beyond a Boundary): that it is the greatest sports book ever written; that it brings the outsider a privileged insight into West Indian culture; that it is a severe examination of the colonial condition. All are true.

From the blurb of C.L.R. James’ Beyond a Boundary

Someone who has written virtually hundreds of blurbs knows they are nothing more than self-serving hyperbole but in James’ Beyond a Boundary it cannot be dismissed as so much hot air. Two Nobel laureates have written about it: Derek Walcott called it “a noble book” and V.S. Naipaul rejoiced at “one of the finest and most finished books to come out of the West Indies”. But that too is not enough; and to say that it is pifflingly inadequate praise is also not enough because the book goes beyond the concrete details of the game into broader historical and philosophical issues. The themes of the book reach, as the title suggests, far beyond the boundaries of the cricket field and no detailed knowledge of the game is needed to appreciate its implications. (Though if you know the nuances of the game, so much the better.) It is a book that captured the interconnectedness of things and the integration of human experience. It expressed in a fundamental way the elements that constituted human existence, combining as it did spectacle, history, politics; “sequence/tableau, movement/stasis, individual/society.” Cricket was whole.

M S Nagarajan recommends Bill Bryson’s biography of Shakespeare:

This brief and informative biography does contain some attention-grabbing details that satisfy our intellectual curiosity. In Elizabethan times, a box used to be kept in the office for the theatre goers to drop in their admission fee, a penny, which provided the cheapest seat in the theatre. Whence come the term box-office! Bryson’s Shakespeare is the outcome of serious research. He effectively debunks and explodes myths and theories unsupported by any viable evidence. The book is a welcome addition to Shakespearana!

Pradeep Sebastian ponders on the ritual of trimming one’s book collection:

This entire exercise of trimming one’s library now seems to me not about downsizing the books but really about getting to know them all over again. To pick one from the shelves, remember where and when you bought it, and recall the pleasure acquiring the book gave you is why a book collector gets all her books off and on the shelves ever year. Before you put them in a box to be given away, you are curious to flip the pages and see if you’ve stuck something in there — a note, a favourite bookmark, a photograph. At last I am done with sorting the books. And I’m happy to note the box of books leaving my library is really quite small — elegant in their economy even. It is not the end of my days as a bibliomane, after all. My philistine relatives will simply have to accept, as they skip and hop over them, that books will furnish my apartment.

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The electric effect of Shakespeare

December 11, 2007

Remember the Shakespearean functional shift that we discussed a while back?

Here is another piece on functional shifts, and what it does to our brains:

I took this hypothesis—about grammatical or linear shapes and their mapping onto shapes inside the brain—to a scientist, Professor Neil Roberts who heads MARIARC (the Magnetic Resonance and Image Analysis Research Centre) at the University of Liverpool. In particular I mentioned to him the linguistic phenomenon in Shakespeare which is known as “functional shift” or “word class conversion”. It refers to the way that Shakespeare will often use one part of speech—a noun or an adjective, say—to serve as another, often a verb, shifting its grammatical nature with minimal alteration to its shape. Thus in “Lear” for example, Edgar comparing himself to the king: “He childed as I fathered” (nouns shifted to verbs); in “Troilus and Cressida”, “Kingdomed Achilles in commotion rages” (noun converted to adjective); “Othello”, “To lip a wanton in a secure couch/And to suppose her chaste!”‘ (noun “lip” to verb; adjective “wanton” to noun).

The effect is often electric I think, like a lightning-flash in the mind: for this is an economically compressed form of speech, as from an age when the language was at its most dynamically fluid and formatively mobile; an age in which a word could move quickly from one sense to another, in keeping with Shakespeare’s lightning-fast capacity for forging metaphor. It was a small example of sudden change of shape, of concomitant effect upon the brain. Could we make an experiment out of it?

We decided to try to see what happens inside us when the brain comes upon sentences like “The dancers foot it with grace”, or “We waited for disclose of news”, or “Strong wines thick my thoughts”, or “I could out-tongue your griefs” or “Fall down and knee/The way into his mercy”. For research suggests that there is one specific part of the brain that processes nouns and another part that processes verbs: but what happens when for a micro-second there is a serious hesitation between whether, in context, this is noun or verb?

The result?

Preliminary results suggest this:

(A) With the simple control sentence (“You said you would accompany me”), NO N400 or P600 effect because it is correct both semantically and syntactically.

(B) With “You said you would charcoal me”, BOTH N400 and P600 highs, because it violates both grammar and meaning.

(C) With “You said you would incubate me”, NO P600 (it makes grammatical sense) but HIGH N400 (it does not make semantic sense).

(D) With the Shakespearian “You said you would companion me”, HIGH P600 (because it feels like a grammatical anomaly) but NO N400 (the brain will tolerate it, almost straightaway, as making sense despite the grammatical difficulty). This is in marked contrast with B above.

So what? First, it was as Guillaume Thierry had predicted. It meant that “functional shift” was a robust phenomenon: that is to say, it had a distinct and unique effect on the brain. Instinctively Shakespeare was right to use it as one of his dramatic tools. Second the P600 surge means the brain was thus primed to look out for more difficulty, to work at a higher level, whilst still accepting that fundamental sense was being made.

In other words, while the Shakespearian functional shift was semantically integrated with ease, it triggered a syntactic re-evaluation process likely to raise attention and give more weight to the sentence as a whole. Shakespeare is stretching us; he is opening up the possibility of further peaks, new potential pathways or developments. Our findings show how Shakespeare created dramatic effects by implicitly taking advantage of the relative independence—at the neural level—of semantics and syntax in sentence comprehension. It is as though he is a pianist using one hand to keep the background melody going, whilst simultaneously the other pushes towards ever more complex variations and syncopations.

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Hat tip: Jonah Lehrer for the link.