That scriptural trope for new technologies runs through Shakespeare as well. As suggested by the title of one self-help book for the always-on generation, Hamlet’s BlackBerry, Shakespeare’s depiction of writing tables serves as an imaginative early-modern forerunner of the present’s mobile devices.7 This book draws its analogy to the BlackBerry from act 1, scene 5, in which Hamlet responds to the Ghost’s commands:
Hamlet. [ . . . ] Remember thee? Ay, thou poor ghost, whiles memory holds a seat In this distracted globe. Remember thee? 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, Unmix’d with baser matter. Yes, by heaven! O most pernicious woman! O villain, villain, smiling damned villain! My tables. Meet it is I set it down That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain-At least I am sure it may be so in Denmark. [Writes.] So, uncle, there you are. Now to my word. It is “Adieu, adieu, remember me.” I have sworn’t. (1.5.95-112)8
Hamlet’s motifi c connection to documents throughout the play begins with this speech, as does the perceived problem of Hamlet’s delayed revenge. Hamlet himself repeatedly circles back to this moment of realization, and
critics have similarly circled around what may or may not have happened on Shakespeare’s stage in early productions. There is at least one ambiguous embedded stage direction, in lines 107-10 where Hamlet appears to manipulate writing materials on stage, calling for a prop to physicalize a complex metaphor for the operation of memory. As we shall see, Hamlet’s speech on memory coordinates a complex set of desires and apprehensions about memory, writing, and the reproducibility of texts.