The Art of Memory in Renaissance scholarship was, for many years, confined to a footnote in classical rhetoric, until Francis Yates’s groundbreaking study of 1966 argued for its considerable influence on hermetic philosophy and literature. Over the last few decades, another shift in scholarship has occurred that goes well beyond Yates’s conceptualization of memory as an occult and occulted phenomenon in the history of ideas. Recent studies suggest memory to be less a theme or idea than the prevailing episteme, whose discourses, practices, and mentations produce and reproduce Renaissance culture. Humanism’s project of recovering the past by retrieving and reconstructing textuality privileges recollection as a mode of epistemological engagement with the world, as a means of subjective and collective identity formation, and as an organ for achieving ethical goals. For that reason, memory finds itself involved in the passage to modernity, when its ascendancy is challenged by the rise of seventeenth-century science and fall of rhetoric, the emergence of the European nation state, and the explosion of the printing press and book technologies. Acknowledging this new direction in scholarship, this volume seeks to trace the plurality and complexity of memory’s cultural work throughout the English and Continental Renaissance. Among the thinkers and writers to receive attention are Thomas Hoby, Conrad Gesner, Erasmus, Conrad Celtis, Johann Sturm, Machiavelli, Jehan du Pré, Spenser, Robert Hooke, Milton, Sebastian Münster, and Shakespeare. A long critical and historical afterword extends the historical contexts around the contributions and provides an overview of the materials central to the field, as well as a sense of the field’s future development.
Donald Beecher and Grant Williams teach Renaissance literature and culture in the Department of English at Carleton University in Ottawa.
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