Shakespearean Functional Shift I’ve seen several blogs on this subject lately, and I’m still trying to decide if this is a rehash of the older “Reading Shakespeare makes you smart” argument or if it’s entirely new research.  I’m linking this one because it seems to state the problem most clearly.  Here’s an example from Shakespeare’s Hamlet (at least, I think it is; this is how I interpret it):

No, let the candied tongue lick absurd pomp,
And crook the pregnant hinges of the knee
Where thrift may follow fawning. Dost thou hear?

The word ‘crook’ would be heard as a noun but later information forces a verb interpretation. It draws the listener towards the sentence. Its metaphor burns brightly. Philip Davis, Guillaume Thierry and Neil Roberts are investigating how the brain responds to these functional shifts.

4 thoughts on “Shakespearean Functional Shift

  1. I don’t think it is so much that reading Shakespeare makes you smart as that reading Shakespeare is really interesting. But I don’t think this is the best example. I read “crook” right off as a verb. It has to do with what Samuel Johnson called the author’s “diction.” If you read enough Shakespeare, you get to learn to expect certain patterns. Sometimes he is complicated and sometimes he is not. It may depend on the stage of his career, or it may depend on the effect he is creating. Straightforward diction can have a very direct effect; complicated diction can have a very intricate effect. I suspect that he used the functional shift to create more complicated effects, though I doubt that he thought about it in that way.

  2. Thinking makes you think …

    Thinking about cream cheese makes you smarter! As long as you are ‘thinking’ about it, not just remembering.

    Shakespeare is a brilliant thing to think about because he asks questions – and you have to provided the answers: It is a common enough phenomenon.

    Reading Shakespeare doesn’t make you smarter – thinking about what you’ve seen (preferably) does.

  3. I think that’s the point, though, Catkins – that new research suggests that reading Shakespeare does, in fact, make you smarter. The original article I was thinking of is about 2 years old, and cited here:

    We Shakespeare geeks find it cool and interesting because we “get” it faster than others. We’ve read enough, far more than others ever will.

  4. Hi Duane

    Great site, and thanks for picking up on my article. I think your reader Catkins makes a good point in that the verb interpretation of ‘crook’ might be the initial interpretation.

    Nice to know there are some Shakespeare geeks out there…


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