Wednesday, 27 April 2011

To Wow, or Not To Wow?

McCrum writes in the Guardian a few days ago that Shakespeare had three things going for him. (Only three?) First, he lived in the real world, and took risks. His plays were written in the shadow of the gibbet and the scaffold.
Second, he seems always to have been at work. No slacking off on away days for him.
Thirdly, luck was with him. Born at the confluence of the English renaissance, the aftermath of the Reformation, and the first golden age of the press. In his own phrase, he was "a man of fire-new words". Hamlet, for example, is simply crammed with innovation: some 600 words that were new to the written record of the English language.

The magic that Shakespeare works with language answers to EEG and MRI scanning techniques. Professor Philip Davis of Liverpool University has been testing individual responses to some of the playwright's most daring innovations. He guessed that functional shifts of syntax might impact on the pathways of the brain, which he calls "an extraordinary internal theatre."

Take Albany's charge to Goneril in King Lear: "A father, and a gracious aged man... have you madded." This is an ungrammatical, highly energised compression. MRI scans suggest that it evokes a powerful neurological response. The functional shift prompts activation in the visual association cortex, ie in regions normally activated by visualisation; in other words, in the mind's eye.

Shakespeare and the Elizabethans loved to use language in new ways and it seems this has a cerebral dividend. Lines such as Albany's are a way of upping the attention level, what we might call the 'wow factor'. So, there we are. I’ve always been told that using a strange word or using it in a new way is something that jerks the reader out of the story, and that we shouldn't do it. I guess it depends if you believe the research, or the pundits who advise on creative writing.
Read the full article:here


Lauracea said...

Imagine a man over 500 years old is still being investigated today. Boy - that really is success. Shakespeare really is responsible for how we speak today and so many of his expressions and phrases are still in use.

Maggi Andersen said...

Makes me even crosser with today's editing!