Shakespeare's "Books of Memory": 1 and 2 Henry VI
In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:
In Shakespeare’s 1 Henry VI (1589–90), Plantagenet tells Somerset and Suffolk that he will note them “in [his] book of memory” and scourge them later for their gibes about his father (2.4.95, 101–02), and in 2 Henry VI (1590–91), Gloucester repeats the phrase in assessing the effects of Henry’s marriage. It has canceled peers’ fame, “[b]lotting [their] names from books of memories, / Raising the characters of [their] renown, / Defacing monuments of conquer’d France; / [And] Undoing all, as all had never been” (1.1.99–103). Both expressions are part of what, in European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages (1948), Ernst Curtius sees as Shakespeare’s preoccupation with the book. Besides books of memory, Shakespeare mentions love books, jest books, inventories, chronicles, account books, conjuring books, and, in Coriolanus (3.1.291), “Jove’s own book” (i.e., the book of heavens). Shakespeare continues, moreover, the medieval metaphorical conventions of both “the face as a book” (Love’s Labor’s Lost, 4.3.349; King John, 2.1.485; A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 2.2.122; Romeo and Juliet, 1.3.87; Macbeth, 1.5.62; etc.) and “the book of nature” (As You Like It, 2.1.16 and 3.2.5). Curtius notes that especially in his treatment of love books Shakespeare appears to prize bindings, and he concludes that Shakespeare’s real “‘life-relation’ to the book is that of aesthetic enjoyment. Richly bound books are a feast for his eyes.”1 Such an appreciation is not uncommon in the sixteenth century. In art, an iconographic tradition of ceremoniously dressed readers continues, built upon medieval illuminations of Jerome, and in a letter to Francesco Vettori (10 December 1513) Machiavelli describes himself slipping off his day’s clothes with their mud and dirt. At the threshold of his study, he dons “royal and curial robes” before entering “the ancient courts of men of old.”2
1Ernst Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973), 332–40. Quotations from Shakespeare’s plays in my article from The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974).
2Niccolò Machiavelli, Opere, ed. Mario Bonfantini (Milan: Riccardo Ricciardi, 1954), 1111. For a brief survey of Jerome in art, se Régine and Madeleine Pernoud, Saint Jerome, trans. Rosemary Sheed (New York: Macmillan, 1962), 1–7; Erwin Panofsky, Albrecht Dürer, 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1943), 1:151–56; and Herbert Friedmann, A Bestiary for Saint Jerome (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1980), 17–188.
"Shakespeare's "Books of Memory": 1 and 2 Henry VI,"
Comparative Drama: Vol. 35
, Article 7.
Available at: https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/compdr/vol35/iss4/7