The Burden and Benefits of The Bard

By Emi D.

From his popularity during life, Shakespeare’s renown has only grown. Although he is responsible for many of the colloquialisms in modern English, for many high school students The Bard is a burden. They look forlornly upon his works and become bored or frustrated as they struggle through the story, but a study from the University of Liverpool suggests that reading Shakespeare dramatically affects the human brain.

When polled, students at Heritage Academy regarded Shakespeare as painful, but still thought that it should be studied in school. Shakespeare is difficult partially because of the old English, but also because Shakespeare uses a linguistic style known as functional shift, which is the use of a noun to serve as a verb. And it is precisely this style that creates a more positive reaction in the brain than a traditional English word usage. Reading lines written with functional shifting creates an experience in the brain similar to putting a jigsaw puzzle together – if its easy to see which pieces go where, you become bored, but when the pieces don’t seem to fit where we know they should the brain is excited, Professor Philips Davis from the University of Liverpool said, “By throwing odd words into seemingly normal sentences, Shakespeare surprises the brain and catches it off guard in a manner that produces a sudden burst of activity – a sense of drama created out of the simplest of things” (Martin).  In the University of Liverpool’s 2006 study examining brain activity when reading Shakespeare versus simplified material of the same ideas, the brain scans whilst reading Shakespeare showed much more brain activity than the simplified language. Participants read this line from “King Leer”: A father and a gracious aged man: have you madded; and then another variation of the same sentence, “a father and a gracious man: him you have enraged” (Henry). When reading the functional shift style, the brain registers the sentence as having a grammatical incorrectness, which causes an immediate re-evaluation instead of viewing it as a semantic inconsistency (Martin). Because of this, the brain is positively excited; Professor Neil Roberts relates the reaction to that of a magic trick, where the mind understands what it means, but doesn’t know how it happened (University). When the mind is positively excited memory and cognitive power are increased. Even though many students dislike Shakespeare, these improvements make his works more notable and better for students’ learning and analytical thinking.  Despite the difficulties many teenagers find in understanding Shakespeare, the functional tilt used excites the brain and creates a longer lasting impression on the mind of the reader.



Works Cited


Henry, Julie. “Shakespeare and Wordsworth boosts the brain, new research reveals”, The

Telegraph, 13 January 2013, 11 February 2019.


Martin, Samantha. “Reading Shakespeare has dramatic effect on human brain”, EurekaAlert, 18

December 2006,, 11

February 2019.


University of Liverpool. “Reading Shakespeare Has Dramatic Effect On Human Brain.” ScienceDaily.

ScienceDaily, 19 December 2006. 11 February 2019.

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