When we think about the Renaissance, we think of a great flowering in artistic creativity and intellectual innovation; we think about the beautiful paintings and sculptures of Michelangelo, the astute discoveries of Copernicus, the timeless plays of Shakespeare.

Ironically though, this great creative flowering was spurred by men who were educated under a system that, by our modern lights, can seem rather rigid and rote. 

My guest today unpacks this seeming paradox. His name is Scott Newstok, and he’s a professor of English and the author of How to Think Like Shakespeare: Lessons From a Renaissance Education, in which he uses the Bard as a jumping off point to explore broader insights into matters of the mind. We begin our conversation with the ways Scott thinks our modern educational system is lacking, and how students’ approach to learning has changed over the years. We then discuss how the Renaissance model of education, with its emphasis on language and verbal fluency, provides possibilities for strengthening our reading, writing, speaking, and thinking skills and making their refinement a lifelong habit. We delve into how artists and thinkers in the Renaissance thought about originality differently than we do, and how they believed that imitating and even copying the work of others can actually help you find your own voice. And we discuss how Shakepeare’s sonnets demonstrate the way in which constraints can counterintuitively enable creativity. We end our conversation with how you can incorporate Renaissance thinking into your day to day life.

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Show Highlights

How does our modern education system compare to what Shakespeare received? Where does it fall short?How have students changed over the last couple decades?The power of language (and learning a second language!) What is “Shakespearean” thought?The craft of thinking and writing (and how it’s evident in Shakespeare’s plays) What does originality really mean?How can the Great Conversation contribute to your education?The lowdown on Shakespeare’s sonnets How constraints can contribute to your success and creativity How can adults get back some of the life of the mind?

Resources/Articles/People Mentioned in Podcast

The Surprising Power of a “Useless” Liberal Arts EducationIs College for Everyone?How to Learn Another LanguageWhy You Should Learn the Lost Art of RhetoricAoM series on honorBecoming an Individual in an Age of DistractionShakespeare: who put those thoughts in his head?Was Shakespeare Educated?The Benjamin Franklin Method: How to (Actually) Be a Better WriterWant to Become a Better Writer? Copy the Work of Others! Shakespeare’s OriginalitySeneca on Combinatorial CreativityFolger Shakespeare LibraryHow to Achieve Creative SuccessHow to Be a Creative Genius Like da VinciShakespeare’s sourcesThe Usefulness of Useless KnowledgeThe Best Books on Shakespeare’s SonnetsWe Would All Do Well To Think More Like ShakespeareThe Hidden Pleasures of Learning for Its Own SakeLiterature as Equipment for LivingWhy You Need to Join the Great Conversation Restraints vs. ConstraintsThe Pleasure of LimitsOn the Joys and Travails of ThinkingLibraries of Famous Men series


Connect With Scott

Scott’s website

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