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Your Brain on Shakespeare: How the Bard Makes You Smarter

You love Shakespeare's creative use of language. Now new research shows it actually makes your brain grow.


Need a reason to reread Romeo and Juliet? Researcher Philip Davis, a professor at the University of Liverpool's School of English, has been studying the brain and reading. He says exposure to Shakespeare's deliberate language mistakes—like using a noun as a verb—makes you smarter.

Shakespeare actually invented around 10 percent of the words he used in his plays, poems, and sonnets, and he plays with the grammatical roles of words—a line in Twelfth Night, "the cruellest she alive" morphs a pronoun into a noun. Davis says those creative mistakes make our brains "shift mental pathways and open possibilities." The more exposure we get to such creativity, the more alive our brain becomes. He points out that one of the dangers of the way we write and speak today—and, inevitably, the way we teach writing and speakingis its predictability. The discouragement of Shakespearean kinds of creative mistakes and the sameness of our modern language gradually deadens the brain.

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Thank an English Teacher: "Julius Caesar" Is Trending on Twitter

Without English teachers, we might not connect so deeply to the murder of a Roman dictator 2055 years ago.


Need a reason to thank your high school English teacher for all that hard work? Consider one of the trending topics on Twitter today: "Julius Caesar." The Roman statesman's name has been in the top ten today because it's the Ides of March, the fateful day Caesar was stabbed 23 times by a traitorous group of Roman senators in the year 44 B.C.. In the midst of all of the defunding of schools and bashing of teachers, it doesn't hurt to remember that without English teachers' willingness to introduce generation after generation of students to William Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar, few of us would remember the murder of a Roman dictator 2055 years ago.

To be fair, maybe you should thank your English teacher and William Shakespeare. Sure, there are probably a few history teachers out there who delve into Plutarch's comparably dry account of Caesar's interactions with the soothsayer. But how much more engaging is the story in English class with a text of Shakespeare's famous play? English teachers love staging classroom re-enactments of Act I, Scene II, where one student reads Caesar's part and the another reads the soothsayer's part, dramatically proclaiming, "Beware the Ides of March."

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