(Boyd Tonkin’s article appeared in the Independent, 7/31; via Patricia N. Saffran.)

"Remember me!" At midnight, on the battlements of Elsinore, his father's restless spirit transfixes Hamlet with that command. "Remember thee!" Hamlet reflects: "Ay, thou poor ghost, while memory holds a seat/ In this distracted globe." Summoned to vengeance, the Prince of Denmark decides that in order to fulfil his mission, he must clear out his memory-banks. He should erase all the knowledge installed by an elite Renaissance education: "I'll wipe away all trivial fond records,/ All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past,/ That youth and observation copied there".

The duty of revenge means unlearning all that Hamlet knows by heart – a big deal, around 1600. In the second act, memorisation again becomes a plot-pivot. Hamlet writes a speech for the First Player which, he hopes, will terrify stepfather Claudius into admitting guilt: "You could, for a need,/ study a speech of some dozen or sixteen lines, which/ I would set down and insert in't, could you not?" A cinch. In the London theatre Shakespeare knew, star performers had to commit bulky parts to memory within days. Richard Burbage, for whom he probably wrote Hamlet, was a legend for his repertoire of supersized roles.

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/features/benedict-cumberbatch-has-1480-lines-in-hamlet–so-whats-the-secret-to-actors-memory-skills-10428544.html

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