Saturday, 23 March 2013

Speed reading Shakespeare

Polonius: What do you read, my lord?
Hamlet: Words, words, words.

Ever wanted to read the Complete Works of Shakespeare but have never just had the time? Then why not try one of the many speed reading courses that are available?

Some claim they are able to boost the average reading speed of 250 words per minute to a phenomenal 1,000 works per minute, or even higher. The world champion, Anne Jones, has been clocked at an incredible 4,700 words per minute! [Wikipedia].

But maybe you prefer to see the plays on the stage, the medium for which they were written, perhaps performed by the RSC - The Royal Shakespeare Company. But this would mean spending over 100 hours in cramped theatre seats, unable to stretch your legs, not daring to cough, and - horror of horrors! - not even allowed to turn on your mobile phone! And you'd still have all that nasty archaic language to cope with!

But mercifully help is at hand in the shape of the other RSC - The Reduced Shakespeare Company, who romp through the entire opus of 37 plays in just 97 minutes - an average of less than three minutes per play!

And from Cliff Notes Films there's a cartoon version of Hamlet which they manage to zip through in an amazing seven minutes! Their technique, as their website explains, is to compress Shakespeare's text into "concise, tasty mind nuggets". Here's an example from their take on Romeo and Juliet:


JULIET: If that thy bent of love be honourable,
Thy purpose marriage, send me word tomorrow,
By one that I'll procure to come to thee,
Where and what time thy wilt perform the rite;
And all my fortunes at thy foot I'll lay
And follow thee my lord throughout the world.

Cliff Notes Films

JULIET: OMG, that was like so hot. Lets totes get married.
ROMEO: I'll get a priest.

[Source: The New York Times]

Balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet - Cliff Notes Films.

Of course speeding your way through the Works at 1,000 words per minute will inevitably mean that you'll lose some comprehension along the way. The complex landscape of Shakespeare's language was not made to be traversed with one eye on the speedometer. His subtle use of metaphor and simile, the irony and imagery skilfully contained in many of the words, are for reading at a leisurely pace.

And leisurely reading is also beneficial. A recent study by researchers at Liverpool University found that Shakespeare's words are like a 'rocket boost' to the brain, and can even trigger moments of self-reflection. And the brain particularly responds when it encounters difficult and challenging word structures of the kind which could so easily be glossed over in a speedy read.

"I was always going to the bookcase for another sip of the divine specific [i.e. Shakespeare]" - Virginia Woolf.

We live increasingly in a world of words without substance, a world in which those in the public eye talk in sound bites and clichés, their words like the food we eat, processed and indigestible. 

But the words of the world's great writers, Shakespeare and many others, and in all languages, put ideas in our heads that were never there before, ideas that resonate and that stay with us for days and even years after we read them, and sometimes even for the rest of our lives.

1 comment:

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