Hamlet's name could have ancient Irish origin


FRAILTY THY name is Irish, could be the new refrain for Shakespeare’s tragic prince of Denmark, if recent literary research is correct.

Hamlet’s name may come from a character in a medieval Irish story and could date back hundreds of years earlier than thought, according to a paper published in the latest edition of the journal Review of English Studies.

The name may come from a character called Admlithi found in an Irish tragedy of a doomed high king Togail Bruidne Da Derga, writes Dr Linda Collinson from the Centre for Scandinavian Studies at the University of Aberdeen.

“As soon as I saw Admlithi I thought of Hamlet,” she said.

The title translates as The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hosteland was written in the 11th century but based on 8th or 9th century materials. It tells the story of a high king who broke social taboos.

He was killed as a result in a strange hall full of mysterious figures. Among these figures was a troupe of actors (players), one of whom was called Admlithi.

The name Admlithi came from the old Irish verb “mlithi” to grind or crush and could mean greatly-ground, according to the new study. The world Admlithi may have been brought to Scandinavia by sailors, said Dr Collinson. It may have been used by them to refer to dangerous waters such as a whirlpool or an area of grinding sea. This whirlpool could have been near Rathlin Island, she said.

Scholars have long agreed that Shakespeare based the central character of his play on a legendary 13th century Danish figure called Amlethus. The name of this Danish figure has been traced back to the word Amlothi in a 10th or 11th century Icelandic poem.

Dr Collinson has argued that this Icelandic word came from the Irish name. It was highly unlikely to be Norse with no convincing way to explain its origin from known Norse words, she said.

Separately, an Irish translation of Macbeth, An Bron-Chluiche Macbeit, was yesterday published as an e-book by Cló Litriocht.