-A +A

Shakespeare and the Brain

Podcasts from this symposium are now available.

“All things are ready, if our mind be so.” - William Shakespeare, Henry V

The Centre for the Creative Brain hosted this event on Saturday 26 November 2016 at St Edmund Hall. The symposium explored the theme of 'Shakespeare and the Brain' from the perspective of neuroscientists, literature scholars, and thespians. All five talks were aimed at a non-specialist audience and form a fascinating series.

1. Dr Tom MacFaul (Lecturer in English at St Edmund Hall): ‘Shakespeare, Mind and World’. Tom discusses how Shakespeare’s age thought about thinking. In particular, he looks at the transformative power of thought and the idea in some of Shakespeare’s works that the mind is free to create its own world.

2. Professor Paul Matthews (Fellow by Special Election, St Edmund Hall; and Edmond and Lily Safra Chair and Head of Brain Sciences, Imperial College London): ‘Shakespeare as Observer and Psychologist’. Paul focuses on some of the questions that Shakespeare was asking about the mind, and how the same sorts of issues are approached now by neuroscientists. He looks at which areas of the brain are activated when we encounter imagery or a functional shift, and discusses whether it is processed in a separate space or if we experience something akin to the events that the words are describing.

3. Professor Rodrigo Quian Quiroga (Director of the Centre for Systems Neuroscience, University of Leicester): ‘Shakespeare’s Memory’. Rodrigo references the writing of Jorge Luis Borges, particularly his short stories Shakespeare’s Memory and Funes the Memorious, which deal with memory. He combines concepts from neuroscience about visual perception and memory with discussion of philosophical and literary ideas about the part played by memory in personal identity.

4. Kelly Hunter (actor, director and educator): ‘The Hunter Heartbeat Method’. Kelly gives an outline of some of her work using sensory drama games, using Shakespeare’s works, to interact and play with children with autism. She draws on Shakespeare’s frequent use of the words ‘eyes’, ‘mind’, ‘reason’ and ‘love’, and the connections he draws between the four – what she describes as a “poetry of the brain”. These ideas can then help people with autism who are experiencing a disassociation of mind and body. She also explores the notion of the heartbeat as a barometer for our feelings, comparing it with Shakespeare’s use of rhythm to help convey his character’s feelings. From this, Kelly has over the last 15 years developed a method to tap into this with autistic children, particularly to help them play with different expressions.

5. Roland Oliver (actor and St Edmund Hall alumnus): extracts from Richard II Act V, Scene 5; Macbeth Act II, Scene 1; and Henry IV Part 2, Act IV, Scene 3. Roland also discusses the passages briefly, in the light of some of the themes raised by the earlier speakers.

As well as being available on the College’s YouTube channel, you can also find the podcasts on the University of Oxford's iTunesU and podcasting sites.

Find out more about the St Edmund Hall Centre for the Creative Brain.