Shakespeare Remembered

in Critical Survey
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The continuous active presence within contemporary culture of a body of work such as Shakespeare's induces that form of amnesis encapsulated in Ben Jonson's phrase 'not for an age, but for all time': that the past may be eternally present. Rituals of commemoration, such as the annual 'Shakespeare's Birthday Celebrations' held in Stratford-upon-Avon, can operate to cultivate such obliviousness, as if the author were still alive and still piling on the years. A number of modern critical strategies in literary theory, historical analysis, textual editing, and creative appropriation have offered ways of generating anamnesis, jolting the reader into remembering that the past and the present are radically discontinuous. When Heminge and Condell introduced the First Folio, they explicitly connected the absence of the author, by death departed, with the posthumous reconstruction of his works. Their language mingles epitaph and preface, mourning and celebration. The plays, maimed, and deformed, dispersed like scattered body parts, are here restored and reanimated; but their completeness is haunted by the death of their author. The edited plays now stand in for the Shakespearean body, pieced together and made whole, cur'd, and perfect of their limbes. A living monument, a resurrection of the dead, a corpse re-membered. But what is the relationship between memory and the reality it remembers? In the garden of the church of St Mary the Virgin in Aldermanbury a memorial plaque, dedicated in 1896 to Heminge and Condell, states that the world owes to them 'all that it calls Shakespeare'; in other words, all that we have left. This monument ironically commemorates not Shakespeare, but Shakespeare's first editors; memorializes not the author, but the process via which the author's works are transmitted to the modern reader and playgoer. Shakespeare's grave in Holy Trinity Church may also be, metaphorically and even perhaps literally, an empty tomb. This paper examines the interactions of memory as recollection and memory as re-membering.