Here’s some cognitive candy which I’ve recently tried out and found to be tasty. Grab a recording of the Sonnets from Naxos, rip it and load into your iPod. Then between whatever else you’re listening to, sandwich in a sonnet or two. Snow Patrol then Shakespeare then Stravinksy then Stevie Nicks—whatever. Your neurons won’t know what hit them.
The Sonnets do require a decoder ring for maximum enjoyment, I admit. The best one I’ve found is the Arden Sonnets. Very clear, no lit crit stuff (“In Sonnet 116, he’s really talking about the the class struggle and the many manifestations of chthonic power relationships in England vis-a-vis the disruptive in/fluence of the spinning wheel in pre-post-pre-RE-naissance Yugoslavian folk literature about midgets and other, so called, “Little People”).
I’d read the odd Sonnet or two over the years—the same ones that surface over and over (like 116). But about a year ago I decided to go through them all systematically, which doesn’t take much time or effort and is quite fun. I would just give myself one sonnet a day. I would read it then, later, listen to it while reading along and looking at the glosses in the Arden book (so I would know that, say, “nether eye” means coochie—important stuff like that). A lot of the verses are comprehensible without the glosses, of course. But you probably want to know all the ways Shakespeare referred to Elizabethan venereal disease treatments and pudenda.