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1 COMPARATIVE drama Volume 19 Summer 1985 Number 2 Madness and Memory: Shakespeare’s Hamlet and King Lear Jerome Mazzaro Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1601) and King Lear (1605-06) offer those interested in changing memory systems a unique opportunity to gauge the practical and worldly attitudes toward memory that occur in the Renaissance. The plays do so by showing natural memory’s relation to “madness” or the inability of individuals to function in the world. In providing intelligi­ bility, memory, as Edward Grimestone writes in his Introduction to Nicholas Coeffeteau’s A Table of Humane Passions (1621), relies on the proper registering, storage, and retrieval of forms. Memory serves the sensitive soul and knowledge by representing continually “unto the common sense the forms which are con­ signed unto her.” It also serves the intellectual powers and will by faithfully retrieving these same forms “enlightened with the light of the understanding and purged from the sensible and singular conditions which they retain in the imagination” and “representing them general . . . under the form of good and evil.”l In the plays, Shakespeare introduces Ophelia and Lear whose memories are clearly disrupted by madness. In addition, JEROME MAZZARO teaches at the State University of New York at Buffalo. His most recent book is The Figure of Dante: An Essay on the ‘Vita Nuova,' published in 1981 by Princeton University Press. 97 98 Comparative Drama he presents Hamlet and Edgar who feign madness and whose memories, one presumes, remain intact. The differences within the individual plays of Ophelia’s and Lear’s real and Hamlet’s and Edgar’s mock illnesses as well as the differences between the mental states of Ophelia and Lear reveal not only how much a Simonidean memory system based on correspondences between a microcosm and macrocosm has taken root but also how, by positing an intermediary ordering reference point in a demicosm (much like the interior ordering vanishing points of Renaissance painting), a basis for worldly or human under­ standing is created. In moving from subjective to objective to divine orders, art for intelligibility need no longer pursue the divine. The Renaissance inherited from classical times a complex system of causes for madness, and, as Michel Foucault has pointed out, by the time that works such as Erasmus’ Praise of Folly (1509) began to appear, the subjective nature of insanity seems to have gained a foothold. In the Phaedrus, Plato speaks of four types of “divine madness.” Each is considered a “bless­ ing,” and each comes from without. Each, moreover, is ruled by a different deity. Apollo presides over prophetic madness, Dionysus over ritual or telestic madness, the Muses over poetic madness, and Aphrodite and Eros over erotic madness. In addition, the Greeks understood madness as a form of disease. 4v i n i l v i n 4 * /\ A - i « / \ í O n 1m r n o o n n n c x u u u i u b m v m iw d tv/ V A p io m u iw m a u u w o d v i a o w u * genital epilepsy, and Empedocles and his school grant madness due to bodily injury and ailments. The Greek physician Hippo­ crates speculates on the influence of blood, phlegm, choler, and melancholy on physical disease, and, later, Galen “advances the theory that these four humors are, by excess or deficiency, responsible not only for physical disease but also for the pecu­ liarities of behavior.” Galen’s views on the effects of these humors on human behavior remain dominant throughout the Middle Ages and become the basis of Juan Huarte’s and Timothy Bright’s treatises of 1580 and 1586 respectively. In Bedlam on the Jacobean Stage (1952), Robert Reed judges the debt of English drama after 1600 to Bright’s work and the appearance of plays such as Hamlet and the first part of Thomas Dekker’s The Honest Whore (1604). Bright replaces the older, less medical Senecan model of theatrical madness, which saw in­ sanity inflicted by shock, “suddenly and without pathological cause upon the hero.” An initial humor tendency is now shown Jerome Mazzaro 99 to have been in place. “Melancholy without adustion (the...


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