While digging around Shakespeare’s literary sources in 2011, an expert in medieval Scandinavian languages discovered that the Dane Hamlet may not have been a Dane at all.
From Saxo to Shakespeare
Literary scholars had long believed that William Shakespeare drew inspiration for his world-famous tragedy Hamlet from a story in ‘Gesta Danorum’, a 12th-century history book written by the scholar Saxo Grammaticus.
Saxo’s book, roughly translated from Latin into ‘the deeds of the Danes’, is a patriotic collection of stories about Denmark and Scandinavia. It has long served as an important source work for Denmark’s early medieval history.
Saxo tells the story of Amleth, of which Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a beginner-level anagram. Saxos Amleth, on the other hand, is based on a Scandinavian saga from the 10th or 11th century, which was recorded by an Icelandic writer named Snow Bear, in which a character named Amlothi appears.
Amleth, Amlothi, Admlithi
But literature research in 2011 suggests that Hamlet, or at least the story that inspired the famous character, was not Danish. He was not even Scandinavian.
An expert in Old Nordic languages from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, Dr. Lisa Collinson, claimed to have found clear evidence that Amlothi was in fact Irish.
“It is highly unlikely that the name Amlothi is Nordic in origin,” Collinson told The Guardian.
“There really is no convincing way to explain its form with reference to any well-known Nordic words – although this has not prevented scholars from trying in the past.
The paradox that Amlothi – Hamlet’s source character – has a non-Scandinavian name, led Collinson to dive deeper into the literary sources of Snow Bear’s stories.
It was like this that she discovered that something is – if not rotten – at least Irish in the state of Denmark.
As crazy as the sea
Collinson found references to an Admlithi – D’et is silent – in an Irish story from the eighth or ninth century entitled ‘The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel’. It’s a tale of a king who breaks some social taboos and pays a price in a bloody finale. But in that narrative, Admlithi’s character has only a small part, not the lead role.
Collinson notes that Admlithi, which she claims is the origin of Saxo’s ‘Amleth’ and Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’, has some interesting connotations that can provide new inspiration for literary scholars dealing with symbolism and character motivation.
The Gaelic word ‘admlithi’ was used by sailors to describe “a dangerous lake function such as a whirlpool”.
“What’s most intriguing to me is the idea that a version of the name Hamlet may have once described not just a man ‘as mad as the sea’ or ‘threatened by a sea of trouble’, but actually that kind of ‘gulf’ ‘. or whirlpool, which Shakespeare let the character Rosencrantz compare to the’ cess of majesty itself ‘,’ she said.
“Hamlet becomes, by name, an incarnated whirlpool – essentially a soapy vortex – somehow made of meat.”
Sailors spread stories
How Admlithi den Gael becomes Hamlet the Danish can probably be traced to sailors who have sailed on the seas between Ireland, Great Britain and Denmark, traded in goods and stories, since the Viking Age.
“It’s likely that sailors played a crucial role in [the story’s] transmission to Scandinavia. The Icelandic poet Snebjørn was probably a sailor himself, ”said Collinson.
But even though Hamlet is Irish, at least two other characters in the play have real Danish pedigrees. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Golden Star in Danish) were powerful Danish families in the 14th and 15th centuries and relatives of the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe.
The play ‘Hamlet’ takes place at the real Kronborg Castle in Elsinore (called Elsinore in the play).
In Shakespeare’s time, Elsinore was a powerful port that controlled shipping access to the Baltic Sea.
Every August, a world-class production of ‘Hamlet’ is held in the courtyard of Kronborg Castle.
Source: The Nordic Page