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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: March ::
Shakespeare by Heart
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0095  Tuesday, 3 March 2009

[1]  From:   Aaron Azlant <
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      Date:   Monday, 2 Mar 2009 08:15:59 -0500
      Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0087 Shakespeare by Heart

[2]  From:   Michael Luskin <
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      Date:   Monday, 2 Mar 2009 11:23:36 EST
      Subj:   Re: Shakespeare by heart

[3]  From:   Scott Shepherd <
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      Date:   Monday, 2 Mar 2009 13:11:58 -0500
      Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0087 Shakespeare by Heart

[4]  From:   Anne Cuneo <
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      Date:   Tuesday, 3 Mar 2009 23:39:37 +0100
      Subj:   RE: SHK 20.0078 Shakespeare by Heart


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:      Aaron Azlant <
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Date:      Monday, 2 Mar 2009 08:15:59 -0500
Subject: 20.0087 Shakespeare by Heart
Comment:   Re: SHK 20.0087 Shakespeare by Heart

Wasn't Elizabethan education largely focused on learning Latin and 
Greek, to include large swaths of memorization and recitation (i.e. 
http://www.shakespeareinamericancommunities.org/education/elizabethanage.shtml)? 
This isn't to say that the actors' work was any less athletic, just that 
it may have been easier to get in the habit of recall. No doubt it would 
be much harder for a kid growing up in the modern era, though how many 
other people on this list memorized the lyrics to their favorite albums 
as a child and teenager, intentionally or not?

--AA

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:      Michael Luskin <
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Date:      Monday, 2 Mar 2009 11:23:36 EST
Subject:   Re: Shakespeare by heart

In Muslim countries, it is considered desirable, and is by no means 
unusual, for a young person to memorize the entire Koran, and a good bit 
of the hadith. About twenty years ago, I met the son of the religious 
leader of Tlemcen, a city in Western Algeria, who knew the entire Koran 
in Arabic and in French. His (perhaps his father's) followers repeatedly 
asked me to test him, which I did. I have no proof if he was correct or 
not, but the claque were delighted with the performance. He asked us if 
we wanted a tour of the grand mosque, and led us to the compound's main 
gate. I asked him about the practice, and he said that it was quite 
common, that several other young men in Tlemcen of his acquaintance knew 
the entire Koran. There was grumbling about the fact that we were going 
to go into the mosque, and as we walked in, he turned and gave the 
followers a brief tirade. Then he recited more Koran. They quieted down, 
and watched, but didn't bother us. As we walked, he said that it was his 
family's tradition to memorize the Koran while still young. He said that 
he was nowhere near through his religious studies, but since he was 
going to be the religious leader of a significant town, those studies 
might have been advanced. Anyway, he knew the Koran by heart in two 
languages. I also tested him by asking him for verses with particular 
words, such as apple, fountain, barley. . .  He did not take it as a joke.

Completely off topic: There have been two times in my life that it was 
good to identify myself as an American. In Algeria, identifying myself 
as an American meant that I was not French. In Bohemia, it meant that I 
was not German. I had a German rental car, with German tags, and it 
helped with parking problems not to be German. And I talked my way out 
of a ticket by showing the policeman know that I was not German.
[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:      Scott Shepherd <
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Date:      Monday, 2 Mar 2009 13:11:58 -0500
Subject: 20.0087 Shakespeare by Heart
Comment:   Re: SHK 20.0087 Shakespeare by Heart

I certainly wouldn't underestimate the brain's capacity for a vast 
amount of text. Ordinary people can store an incredible quantity of song 
lyrics, for example, without ever making a concentrated effort to 
memorize them. Some enthusiasts of Star Wars or Monty Python or The 
Rocky Horror Picture Show can recite entire longer works verbatim.

I myself more or less inadvertently committed all of The Great Gatsby to 
memory while working on a complete-text staging of it ("Gatz", by 
Elevator Repair Service), and now I'm sometimes called on to entertain 
people with a game called "Stump the Freak", in which 3 or 4 words are 
read at random from the novel, and I recite the text that follows. I 
gather William Sutton does something similar with the sonnets?

I think some people's minds have an exaggerated ability (and involuntary 
tendency) to store sequences of words. I'm not particularly good with 
jokes, or names, or historical dates, or phone numbers, or long-ago 
events in my personal life.

And I'm only slightly non-average when it comes to text. That a 
16-year-old prodigy might turn up in the world with the genetic 
abnormality and sufficient compulsion to memorize all of Shakespeare 
strikes me as not implausible. I doubt anybody could pass Mr Sutton's 
100% test, but I can imagine a person who, while making occasional 
omissions and substitutions, could still satisfy most people's 
definition of knowing it all by heart.

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:      Anne Cuneo <
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Date:      Tuesday, 3 Mar 2009 23:39:37 +0100
Subject: 20.0078 Shakespeare by Heart
Comment:   RE: SHK 20.0078 Shakespeare by Heart

May I bashfully state that I knew the first part of the Iliad by heart 
at age 7, in Italian, in the rather bombastic translation by Francesco 
Monti. I also knew a few Canti from Dante's Comedy. I heard them read 
aloud, and then read them (I started reading early). They just stayed. 
As I switched languages (from Italian to French, and then English) when 
I was 9, nowadays I only remember bits of them all. I had also memorised 
whole plays, before I was 10. I think many people could do this before 
reading and writing were so widespread. My brother, actor and singer 
Roger Cuneo, has committed to memory several hundreds songs and five or 
six 60 to 80 minutes monologues, which he is ready to play (or sing) at 
the drop of a hat.

It's one of those things. I shouldn't discount total recall, even for a 
16-year old

William Sutton asks:

 >Let's also not forget they had a prompter, who I'm sure was a busy and
 >attentive man. Has Shakespeare ever been proposed as a prompt? Do we
 >know anything about these people?

I have written a novel in which the fictional narrator is Shakespeare's 
prompter. I had to work myself to bits in order to find details about 
prompters. I think my historical reconstruction of the job is rather 
accurate, even though I should have liked to do better (but I lacked 
resources). There is no comprehensive study about prompters, I had to 
collect details from many sources. Everything is in my novel (including 
the sources). In case you read French and are interested, please order 
it at www.campiche.ch. It takes a lot of explaining, that is why I do 
not start here.

Anne Cuneo

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