The Art of Memory Meets the Art of Government in Hamlet

Katherine Elizabeth Blake


This essay argues that there are diverse, often contradictory, discourses of memory at work in Hamlet, and that their inherent conflicts can be clarified to a limited extent through a study of the role of memory in conceptions of governance. Much recent work has been done on memory discourse as a form of social control in the early modern era as well as in Hamlet specifically, creating space for more conversations about memory discourse in politics and vice versa. In Hamlet, Shakespeare anticipated and demonstrated changes in conceptions of sovereignty by representing memory as profoundly implicated in both divine right and burgeoning notions of governance. Hamlet stages competing beliefs about memory that undergird discrete ways of embodying sovereignty represented by Hamlet and Claudius. It also touches on the implications for approaching memory discourse politically in the early modern period and beyond.


Shakespeare, memory, ars memoria, governmentality, early modern drama

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