The Bard On The Brain

by Paul M. Matthews, M.D. and Jeffrey McQuain, Ph.D. Foreword by Diane Ackerman.

The Dana Press.
235 pages. $35.00 (ISBN: 0-9723830-2-6)

It is said that writers often concentrate on describing the past, because they cannot clearly see the present. Perhaps it is – like the sun – too hard to look into.

The Bard On The Brain is a book that contradicts that notion with the extraordinary marriage of Brain Science and Literary Studies. Here is a book able to talk to our own time by the light of the literary past.

Neurologist Paul Matthews and Literary Scholar Jeffrey McQuain co-author this premier book by presenting passages of Shakespeare’s plays. These are then analyzed in terms of human brain imagery revealing the emotional and conceptual stimuli. This sounds off-putting. Who wants to see Shakespeare through the brain rather than the heart? But in truth that is the way we perceive the work. Just as theater is spectacle, so is this book, with magnificent photos of actors in performance and, believe it, the brain in action. If the terms MRI, PET, CT Scans make your imagination run for cover, you will be surprised to find the color photography of these actual brain functions become visual works of art.

Shakespeare grapples with questions of existence, time, life, death and the exuberance of language. So does Science. This book shows how the brain conducts all these states of being.

Seven chapters detail Shakespeare’s work imaged by the affected brain. It is hypnotic to see the magic world and the material world braided in this way, showing us the Age of Energy in which we live.

The subtitle of the book is “Understanding the Mind Through the Art of Shakespeare and the Science of Brain Imaging.” It’s better than it sounds.