Erasing the Renaissance

Wednesday 28 April 2004

A leading expert in Renaissance culture will today examine the likelihood that writers of the late sixteenth century had the equivalent to our modern notebooks and palm pilots.

The public lecture at the University of St Andrews will explore the possibility that, despite the lack of pencils and rubbers, devices existed in the Renaissance to erase and rewrite text.

The lecture, ‘Hamlet and the Tables of Memory’, will be delivered today (Thursday 29th April 2004) by Professor Peter Stallybrass of the University of Pennsylvania.

It was during a research trip to the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. that Professor Stallybrass discovered a small notebook dating from 1604. He noticed that the pages had a plaster-like coating which he believes enabled the owner to erase and rewrite the textual content.

He further believes that many such notebooks were available in Shakespeare’s time, allowing a much greater facility in ‘cutting and pasting’ text than has previously been assumed. Erasable tables were later used by writers Samuel Pepys, Benjamin Franklin, and Jane Austen.

“The subject of Professor Stallybrass’s Andrew Lang lecture was suggested by Hamlet’s lines on seeing the ghost of his father: ‘Remember thee? / Yea, from the table of my memory / I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records’. Did the late sixteenth century have any equivalent to our modern notebooks and palm pilots? The surprising answer to this question proved to be ‘yes’,” said Dr Sara Lodge of the University’s School of English.

Professor Stallybrass, who began his working life as a trainee mortician before embarking on a successful academic career, is also an expert in comparative literature, and literary theory. He taught at the Universities of Sussex, Smith College Massachusetts, and Dartmouth College, before moving to his current professorship at the University of Pennsylvania. His most recent book, Renaissance Clothing and the Materials of Modern Memory, was awarded the James Russell Lowell Prize by the Modern Language Association of America.

The Andrew Lang Lecture, ‘Hamlet and the Tables of Memory’, by Professor Peter Stallybrass will be held on Thursday 29th April at 5.15 pm in School III, St Salvator’s Quadrangle, St Andrews. Public are welcome. Admission is free.


Issued by Beattie Media On behalf of the University of St Andrews Contact Gayle Cook on 01334 467227, mobile 07900 050 103, or email [email protected] Ref: Lang Lecture 280404.doc View the latest University news at

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