Ikea Effect and Difficult Reading – Shakespeare and Game of Thrones

WILSON: Right. Exactly. There’s just a certain type of reader who loves these sprawling, sociological narratives that have massive casts of characters. That have these interweaving stories, and they’re just epic in scope. They go on and on and they expand outward. George R. R. Martin is clearly one of those people.

I often have to remind my students. I say, “You know, Shakespeare’s supposed to be hard.” Right? It’s supposed to be difficult to understand what’s going on in these texts, but I think we can forget how extremely difficult these texts are—Shakespeare’s first tetralogy, “A Song of Ice and Fire”—for first time readers to come to these texts and just try to understand what is going on here. But then I also think that there’s a connection between the labor that we have to do to understand what’s going on in these texts and the love that we have for these texts. In the book, I theorize this as an example of the Ikea effect.

Some researchers did this amazing experiment where they had people put together some Ikea furniture, and then they had a professional carpenter put together the same furniture, and then they asked people, which of these pieces of furniture do you want? The one that you built or the one that the carpenter built? And most people chose the one that they built. And so the Ikea effect means, for example, we don’t work so hard to raise our children because we love them so much. Instead, we love our children so much because we’ve had to work so hard to raise them.

And when we return to the literature, I think just the immense amount of labor that is required to understand what is going on here and to enjoy these texts spills over into just the intense passion that fans of Shakespeare, fans of Martin, show for these texts. You have these amazing fan cultures that grow up around Shakespeare’s history plays, so there’s @HollowCrownFans on Twitter…

Shakespeare and “Game of Thrones”
Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 159

Based on his knowledge of Shakespeare’s Henry VI plays, Harvard’s Dr. Jeffrey R. Wilson knew just how HBO’s Game of Thrones would play out. Jon Snow, the illegitimate son, was a Richard III type, who would win the crown (and our hearts, in a love-to-hate-him kind of way). But Daenerys Targaryen, as a kind of Henry VII, would defeat him in battle and win it back, restoring peace and order. Turns out he was wrong about all of that.

But as Wilson kept watching, he began to appreciate the other ways Game of Thrones is similar to Shakespeare—like the way that both Shakespeare and George R.R. Martin’s stories translate the history of the Wars of the Roses into other popular genres.

Wilson’s new book, Shakespeare and Game of Thrones, explores some of the ways that Shakespeare influenced Game of Thrones… as well as some of the ways that Game of Thrones has begun to influence Shakespeare. Wilson is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.