From The Guardian:
The idea that literature can make us emotionally and physically stronger goes back to Plato. But now book groups are proving that Shakespeare can be as beneficial as self-help guides. Blake Morrison investigates the rise of bibliotherapy.
At a reading group in Birkenhead, nine women and two men are looking at Act 1 scene 2 of The Winter’s Tale, in which Leontes and his wife Hermione urge their guest, Polixenes, not to rush off back to Bohemia. Some of the language is difficult to grasp: what’s meant by “He’s beat from his best ward”? or “We’ll thwack him hence with distaffs”? But thanks to the promptings of the group leader, Jane Davis (from the Reader Centre at the University of Liverpool), Shakespeare’s meanings are slowly unlocked, and discussion ranges widely over the various issues the passage raises: jealous men, flirtatious women, royal decorum and what to do with guests who outstay their welcome.
The rise of book groups is one of the most heartening phenomena of our time, but this is an unusual one, including as it does Val and Chris from a homeless hostel, Stephen who suffers from agoraphobia and panic attacks and hasn’t worked for 15 years, Brenda who’s bipolar, Jean who’s recovering from the death of her husband, and Louise who has Asperger’s syndrome. Most of the group are avid readers but for one or two it’s their first experience of Shakespeare since school.