Heart rate study tests emo­tional im­pact of Shake­speare

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

In a world where on-screen vi­o­lence has be­come com­mon­place, Bri­tain's Royal Shake­speare Com­pany is turn­ing to science to dis­cover whether the play­wright can still make our hearts race more than 400 years on. The renowned the­atre com­pany has started mea­sur­ing the pulse of au­di­ence mem­bers as they are con­fronted by some of the most har­row­ing scenes ever writ­ten by Shake­speare in the Ro­man tragedy "Ti­tus An­dron­i­cus". The play, be­lieved to have been writ­ten be­tween 1588 and 1593, is a tale of mur­der­ous re­venge and sav­agery.

In one scene, a blood­ied Lavinia writhes on stage af­ter rapists cut off her hands and tongue. Au­di­ence mem­bers have been known to pass out or vomit at the play's shock­ing cru­elty dur­ing per­for­mances. Becky Lof­tus, head of au­di­ence in­sight at the RSC, is spear­head­ing the in­no­va­tive study to mea­sure re­ac­tions to the English Re­nais­sance writer's work. "It's no­to­ri­ously Shake­speare's blood­i­est play... It can be quite po­lar­is­ing be­cause of the amount of vi­o­lence in it," Lof­tus told AFP.

"Are we in­ured to vi­o­lence now be­cause of things like (TV show) 'Game of Thrones'?" she said. The com­par­a­tive study is be­ing car­ried out in the the­atre and at a livestream­ing of the play in a cin­ema in Strat­ford-the town in cen­tral Eng­land where Shake­speare was born in 1564. "Some peo­ple feel that it's never as good to be in the cin­ema, be­cause you don't get the ef­fect of be­ing in the room and hav­ing peo­ple act in front of you. "But then some peo­ple say that be­ing in the cin­ema is like hav­ing the best seat in the house and you get the closer view," Lof­tus said. Many par­tic­i­pants in the study, in­clud­ing 60-year-old sci­en­tist Sharon Faulkner, said they were more en­gaged in the the­atre. "It ap­peals to all of your senses. Rather than just vis­ual and hear­ing, there are the smells. So I think it's much more real," she said.

'Ba­sic hu­man in­stinct'

At a light-hearted brief­ing be­fore the per­for­mance, one group of par­tic­i­pants talked about how they were feel­ing and were asked to take some deep breaths in their the­atre seats be­fore the open­ing scene. Faulkner and fel­low vol­un­teer Jamie Meg­son said the­atre­go­ers can be pas­sion­ate about a per­for­mance but are usu­ally un­aware of their pulses, as black heart rate mon­i­tors were strapped to their wrists. "You get lost in the ac­tion of the play, so it's hard to say whether it's been more in­tense in cer­tain mo­ments than oth­ers," said 27-year-old Meg­son, an English teacher.

Al­though the full re­sults from the study are not ex­pected un­til later this year, an ini­tial anal­y­sis showed heart rates ris­ing as au­di­ence mem­bers be­come aware a mo­ment of vi­o­lence may be im­mi­nent. "The big­gest re­ac­tion is the fight or flight-ba­sic hu­man in­stinct," said Pippa Bai­ley from Ip­sos Mori, a re­search firm that is help­ing to con­duct the study. "When some­thing hap­pens you ei­ther stay and you fight or you run when the adrenaline comes," she said.

Par­tic­i­pants are mon­i­tored dur­ing the per­for­mance and af­ter­wards take part in an exit in­ter­view. "We're do­ing voice record­ings where we will an­a­lyse that to see peo­ple's emo­tional en­gage­ment in what they're say­ing" by look­ing at both the choice of words and the sen­ti­ment in their voice, Bai­ley said. The RSC has pre­vi­ously re­lied on ques­tion­naires to try and un­der­stand the im­pact of their pro­duc­tions. Meg­son said he was more af­fected by the in­ter­ac­tion be­tween char­ac­ters, such as when Lavinia's un­cle takes her to her fa­ther Ti­tus af­ter the bru­tal at­tack, than mo­ments of ex­treme vi­o­lence such as sev­ered heads be­ing brought on stage. "It's the act­ing that's the more shock­ing el­e­ment, the emo­tions that they're show­ing that's the more in­tense el­e­ment, more than the gore and shock fac­tor," he said. — AFP

This un­dated handout pic­ture by Bayreuth opera fes­ti­val re­leased yes­ter­day shows Ger­man singer Jo­hannes Martin Kraen­zle per­form­ing as Six­tus Beckmesser dur­ing a re­hearsal of the opera "The Mas­ter-Singers of Nurem­berg" (Meis­tersinger von Nuern­berg) in Bayreuth, south­ern Ger­many. — AFP

In a re­cent un­dated handout pic­ture re­leased by the Royal Shake­speare Com­pany (RSC) ac­tors (from left) Sean Hart, Luke MacGre­gor, Han­nah Mor­rish and Nia Gwynne play their roles as Demetrius, Ch­i­ron, Lavinia and Tamora in a pro­duc­tion of a play by Bri­tish au­thor Wil­liam Shake­speare en­ti­tled "Ti­tus An­dron­i­cus" at the Royal Shake­speare The­atre in Strat­ford-upon-Avon. — AFP pho­tos

Ac­tor David Troughton plays his role as Ti­tus An­dron­i­cus in a pro­duc­tion of a play by Bri­tish au­thor Wil­liam Shake­speare en­ti­tled "Ti­tus An­dron­i­cus" at the Royal Shake­speare The­atre in Strat­ford-up­onAvon.

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