Thinking Shakespeare

From Philip Davis at Literary Review:

To Shakespeare what is apparently a small matter is actually often a big deal made seemingly small only because it is happening at pace. The moment of a decision in Macbeth, of a death in Lear: they are no sooner there than gone, with hardly time for the thing to sink in. Says poor Phebe in As You Like It, at the sight of what she takes to be an angry but beautiful young man: ‘Faster than his tongue/Did make offence his eye did heal it up.’ ‘Faster’: that’s why such things strike with disproportionate emotional violence – they are big matters contained within a small space, more than one thing happening fast at a single instant. The conceptualisation comes along afterwards, like the old nurse reporting to an impatient young Juliet: slow, belated and heavy.

I believe that the conceptual language with which we talk about Shakespeare is not very good, because it is far too much after the event. In fact I also believe that, in general, our thinking about what goes on so invisibly, so microscopically in the mind, is cumbersome and restrictive. The enemy is paraphrase, the loss of original experience within a second-hand normalising language. Whereas Shakespeare at the moment of formulation offers the great creative example of what the human mind can do.

This is why one day I knocked on the door of two brain scientists: first Neil Roberts at the University of Liverpool, then Guillaume Thierry at Bangor.

Read the rest here

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