As William Powers reminds us in his book Hamlet’s Blackberry, London during the late 16th and early 17th centuries was a bustling, chaotic place. People were bombarded with pamphlets, advertising placards, commercial and public documents. Soon they would be reading the first newspapers.
How could people cope with this busy world? They used an innovative gadget called writing tables or table books. They were, Powers explains, pocket-sized almanacs or calendars with blank pages made of specially coated paper or parchment. The writer used a metal stylus and later erased notes with a sponge so that the pages could be used again.
That’s why Shakespeare’s character Hamlet talks about “my tables.” He is going to use his tables to write down everything that distracts him so that he can concentrate on what the ghost of his father has told him and seek revenge.
“My tables—meet it is I set down,” Hamlet says, “that one may smile and smile and be a villain.”
Make a list! That’s good advice. No, I am not seeking revenge. Instead, I am trying to finish a project from a client, help my daughter move into a new apartment and get ready to leave on a 10-day vacation. I was feeling a little harried until I made a list of everything I absolutely have to do before my vacation and then a list of everything that can be done after my vacation.
We’ll write more about Powers’ book Hamlet’s Blackberry in another blog post.