Here's my abstract for the Shakespeare Association of America conference this spring (2014) in St. Louis.
“Despisèd straight”: Shakespeare's observation of semantic memory bias
The large number of early modern works devoted to memorization suggest how important memory was to the early moderns, but they also foreground the epistemology of memory (its adequacy or faithfulness) at the expense of more psychological concerns. In particular, because such texts were primarily concerned with verbal or visual memory, they tended to obscure the key role of emotion except as catalytic or fixative (remembering using images that conjure up strong emotions). To some extent modern scholarship has tended to replicate the early modern focus. Those working on Shakespeare’s sonnets, for example, have tended to concentrate on the poems to the Young Man, in which memory is explicitly invoked, and on the adequacy or inadequacy of memory as represented by certain metaphorical models. Few focus on the process of recollection itself, and fewer still on the ways that emotions such as erotic desire shape remembrance. Drawing on early modern theories of the passions, on Aristotle, and on modern psychological studies, I argue that the Sonnets move from an obsession with the adequacy of memory as a record of individuals and emotions toward a recognition that memory is a process utterly contingent upon the passions of the mind.