#Shakespeare400: The “Wow” Factor

Reading Shakespeare can give us the “wows“!
What are wows?

According to Professor Philip Davis from the University of Liverpool’s School of English, the linguistic tricks that Shakespeare uses in his poetry,  “excite us, rather than confuse us.”

In an article posted on The Big Think: This is Your Brain on Shakespeare, by Daniel Honan, Davis explains that the brain is more active when listening to word play. Davis cites several switches in parts of speech, a kind of word play, that Shakespeare employs in his plays:

An adjective is made into a verb: ‘thick my blood’ (The Winter’s Tale)

A pronoun is made into a noun: ‘the cruellest she alive’ (Twelfth Night)

A noun is made into a verb: ‘He childed as I fathered’ (King Lear)

Using brain imaging equipment, Davis and others conducted experiments that revealed brain activity when people listened to these the ways Shakespeare used language.

The researchers noted that, “A normal brain reaction is called an N400, which occurs 400 milliseconds after the brain experiences a thought or perception.” Listening to Shakespeare in contrast caused a peak in brain activity, “or a P600 response occuring  600 milliseconds after the brain experiences a quite different type of thought or perception.”

Davis describes the P600 response as the “Wow Effect,” in which the brain is excited, and is put in “a state of hesitating consciousness.”

Of course, that kind of “hesitating consciousness” may look a little different in high school where any form of consciousness is a goal.


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