Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Shakespeare Intelligence

No, I'm not about to launch a review of Shakespeare the Thinker (the very title, for some reason, sends shivers of distaste through my body), but muse about something that has been brewing for a week or so now -



Multiple Intelligence

Multiple Intelligences has proved illuminating: It is an attempt to define "Intelligence" in a way that recognises the multitudinous and complex nature of the connections the human brain can make, and has provided a basis for explaining why some forms of education are just plain 'dumb-making'. What I really like about it is the fact that it is inclusive - it attempts to explain why there are differences in the way people think and why those differences result in a rich variety of human strengths.

Unfortunately, most Shakespearean scholars (of the old school) don't seem to have been raised in a Multiple Intelligence environment and certainly have never got to appreciate the differences between themselves and other, equally, but differently, 'intelligenced' people. Older, and less enlightened, educational systems - the ones which the 'Shakespeare Wallahs' were successful in - tend to emphasis language and numerical skills - they tend to call them 'standards'. What Multiple Intelligence theory suggests is that this is a very limiting (and ultimately counter-productive) educational endeavour.

Shakespeare's plays, and the massive dislike engendered in school for them, are a case in point. In the theatre, they are popular; in the 'linguistic' oriented, text based school, they are not. If you don't like School Shakespeare, it is your fault - generations have loved the plays - so there is something wrong with your Intelligence.

(I should at this point point out, Dr. Howard Gardner himself sometimes prefers the word talents rather than intelligence - which he sees as too limiting: I'm just being provocative sticking to the 'I' word.)

My main question could be framed, How does Shakespeare manage to survive in the hostile world of ivory towered scholarship and text based examination?

Well, the answer is glaring obvious - Shakespeare wrote plays. They survive in the theatre, on the screen (large and small) in the imaginings of a Multiple Intelligenced world.

What the plays in performance do is stimulate a whole range of 'intelligence' - in fact, there isn't one which a good production of a Shakespeare play touches on.

Shakespeare has 'coded' into his text a lot of the clues as to what to do - but the spaces are there for the actors, directors, and everyone else, to fill in the gaps - be it music or dance, movement across the stage, or a glance between characters.

There is nothing particularly revolutionary in what I have just said - but, rarely in the 'Literature' classroom is anything other than a nod given to these overwhelmingly powerful factors of the play.

Of course - there have always been teachers who have attempted to bring the plays to life and have treated the texts as a starting point (I was fortunate enough to have been taught by a couple of such teachers) - but the educational systems soon force the written exam and the 'language' focus on to the majority of students.

The Shakespeare 'experts' ,consequently, are selected from the people who perform well in 'Linguistic-Literary' intelligence area. These people define what is good and valuable, make decisions as to text and argue interminably over minute language details which are inconsequential in the extreme.

But the plays actually appeal and stimulate and entertain a much wider range of - Intelligenced - people.

One of the striking things about the Shakes(blogo)sphere is how wide a range of people contribute to it (and why are so many connected to the Logical-Mathematical realm of computers?).

There is another insight to be gained from thinking Multiple Intelligently - individual play popularity.

I happen to think that the best of Shakespeare's plays is 'A Midsummer Nights Dream'. I think Hamlet is a damp squib with a serious need for throwing away and forgetting about until it gets a make-over. I happen to like 'The Two Gentlemen of Verona' - thinking it a better play than nearly every scholar who has commented has given it credit for.

Either I am a nut (and I don't come from Brazil) or something is going on here.

One thing worth noting is my Multiple Intelligence profile (as generated by the little quiz linked to at the start of this blog) - my strongest intelligence is Naturalist - no surprise the very 'green' 'The Dream' appeals. But also I notice the images to do with nature - the storms (I Like Lear) and talk of flowers; the cliffs of England, and worms.

The rest of my profile is fairly even - but the weakest area is interpersonal (I'm a Problem Play remember). Now, why don't I like Hamlet? Could it have something to do with all that uninteresting blah blah about relationships? Or maybe it is just that the interminable linguistic arguments and unsatisfactory performances generated from the incomplete final text?

It used to be put down to taste - with the suggestion that an 'educated' palate was more sophisticated and worthy than an uneducated one.

You can't do that in a Multi-Intelligent world - my tastes reflect my Intelligence - I AM right, 'A Midsummer Nights Dream' IS better than 'Hamlet' - you are just Naturalist-Intelligence deprived if you can't see it.

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Craig said...

Well, it's not that I love _Dream_ less, but but that I love _Hamlet_ more...Dream suggests that if we run off into the woods, there will be some embarrassment and difficulty, but everything will turn out OK and nobody really gets hurt. It's a nice idea, and life even works out like that some of the time, but Hamlet is about coming of age in a very different world: a world of corruption and collaboration, where people get hurt and killed all the time and we have to reconcile ourselves to a life we didn't choose. And there's no question which of those plays affects me more profoundly.

Alan K.Farrar said...

Nothing gets hurt? Read Titania's speech - one of my very first posts on this blog is all about that.
You see - a 'Natural' with regard to nature.

My profundity is with the natural - all that silly talk in Hamlet.