Thursday, March 03, 2011

What's in a name?

Whilst it's true that the Hamlet we know, both the character and story have their origins in Scandinavia (from Saxo Grammaticus), Dr Lisa Collinson, a medieval Scandinavian expert based at Aberdeen University has found that perhaps the name at least traveled from elsewhere:
"Exploring even earlier, she discovered the name Admlithi (the "d" is silent) in an Irish story entitled The Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel thought to have been compiled in the 8th or 9th century. The tale recounts the story of a king who breaks social taboos and consequently meets a grisly end.


"The name Amlothi is highly unlikely to be Norse in origin," Collinson said. "There really is no convincing way to explain its form with reference to any known Norse words – although this hasn't prevented fine scholars from trying in the past.

"By contrast, the name Admlithi could certainly have been used by sailors to describe grinding seas, and it's likely that sailors played a critical role in its transmission to Scandinavia. The Icelandic poet Snow Bear was probably a sailor himself."
The story itself is not a new discovery; there is a translation available online and a thorough wikipedia page. But I do like that Dr Collinson's brave attempt to imply an extra connection with the play, that it can't be a coincidence that a character whose name may have its origin in an old Irish word for whirlpool would himself refer to that in his key speech ...
"To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them."

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