The Theater of Memory

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Since I am at Ashland’s Oregon Shakespeare Festival, I am thinking about what the scholar Frances Yates (in Theatre of the World) argued was the inspiration for the Globe theater, Giulio Camillo’s plan for a metaphysical theater. It was to combine all knowledge, thereby acting as a kind of supercomputer and bringing about spiritual Enlightenment in the audience. It was a meme that swept through the late Renaissance and is suspected to be behind much of the great literature of the time from Shakespeare’s all-the-world’s-a-stage trope to Cervantes Don Quixote (see “El Quijote y El teatro de la memoria de Giulio Camillo”). Among other things, Camillo’s plan was a memory-training device. If you wanted to memorize something, you could imagine parts of it on associated places on Camillo’s stage, which had 49 sections, with labels of planets, Kabbalistic stages of development from God to the world, etc.
Such a memory device had been common since classical antiquity and has been supported by the latest brain research. A 2002 British study used MRI to see how the best memorizers worked and found that they activated simultaneously the mnemonic and place locator cerebral areas. This was confirming the already compendious clinical evidence NLP has generated. It trains people’s memories with such imaged locations. Indeed, people  tend to have an imagined spatial arrangement of their memories (e.g., with the past further away if that is how they feel about it). For many people, the arrangement is a line. How that line is oriented to the person’s body (e.g., running in front of it or through it) has significant implications for the person’s attitude toward time and many other things. Achieving high-numbered Graves/Jung Levels, however, often comes with a rearrangement of time positions from the simple line to a more complex temporal-spatial image, such as Camillo’s stage (or its latest version, the computer).
How did he arranged memories? His axis of 7 planets (associated with personality) and 7 Kabbalistic archetypes of universal evolution was an attempt to indicate a 7-part pattern of universal development, but, alas, he was very vague, perhaps, as has been suggested by one scholar, to hide his support for various notions heretical at that time such as that the earth moved.
At any rate, Camillo’s description of what vision his theater was to impart is the kind of mysticism common among those who take the Unconscious seriously, e.g., an animistic, holographic universe, where spiral energy patterns control some sort of seven-part emergence scheme.
Did he intend anything like the Graves/Jung schema? Who knows? But at least according to Yates, it inspired those who, like Shakespeare, saw art (and particular the stage) as a means to guide mankind as it developed through its so-called “Seven Ages” (for which see As You Like It 2.7)
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