When the Ghost of Hamlet’s father demands that his son remember him, Hamlet replies
Yea, from the table of my memory
I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records,
All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past,
That youth and observation copied there,
And thy commandment all alone shall live
Within the book and volume of my brain
Unmixed with baser matter. (1.4.99-105)
While at the Folger Shakespeare Library in December, I held a “writing table,” the vehicle of Hamlet’s metaphor: a 1580, leather-bound, erasable book with a copper stylus as the functioning clasp:
When the stylus is removed, the book can be opened to reveal erasable pages for notetaking:
Notes were later transcribed into commonplace books under subheadings, according to their category. Heather Wolfe et al trace the history of writing tables in this article.
I returned to Atlanta excited about this 16th c technology, and my friends Bill Taft and Paul Pendergrass pointed me to William Powers’ Hamlet’s Blackberry, a meditation on the dangers of continual conectivity.