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Olaf, Prince of Denmark

One of the most literate people it has ever been my pleasure to know was the late Professor Hugh Kenner.* As far as I can tell, Hugh knew everything there was to know about anything connected with literature. (Especially about Ezra Pound, but that's not related to this story.)

Here is what Hugh had to say about Shakespeare's Hamlet:

[T]he barbarous Norsemen had such a name among them as Olaf; and the first literate folk they encountered were the Irish, who were making do with an 18-character alphabet, which meant numerous combinations to graph a simple sound. And...

   Amhl     aoi    bh
     |        |     |
   owl       ay     v

Hence Amhlaoibh = Olaf. But it got copied out in Latin as Amlethus and Bill Shxpr inherited "Hamlet, Prince of Denmark."

I did not make that up.

You cite that as "Kenner, W. H., 1989. Personal communication to Bob Brown, July 9, 1989."

Yes, I knew you would want to cite it.

*  William Hugh Kenner: January 7, 1923 – November 24, 2003.
†  It's actually a tiny bit more complicated than that because Hugh made this available electronically to several people, but the citation given is close enough. It also appeared in a more formal setting in Kenner, Hugh (1989). A Colder Eye. Baltimore MD: Johns Hopkins Paperbacks. pp. 82–83. ISBN 0-8018-3838-X.

Last updated: 2014-10-02 7:17