Move over, GoT. Study proves that Shakespeare’s plays continue to thrill audiences | art and culture | Hindustan Times
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Move over, GoT. Study proves that Shakespeare’s plays continue to thrill audiences

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.

art and culture Updated: Aug 01, 2017 11:13 IST
The RSC has started measuring the pulse of audience members as they watch some of the most harrowing scenes ever written by Shakespeare.
The RSC has started measuring the pulse of audience members as they watch some of the most harrowing scenes ever written by Shakespeare.(AFP)

In a world where on-screen violence has become commonplace (here’s looking at you, Game of Thrones), 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 live-streaming of the play in a cinema in Stratford -- the town in central England where Shakespeare was born in 1564.

From a performance of the RSC’s Titus Andronicus, a Roman tragedy written by Shakespeare. (Royal Shakespeare Company/ Facebook )

“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.

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. “When something happens you either stay and you fight or you run when the adrenaline comes,” she said.

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