Hamlet: What’s in a Name?

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
Romeo and Juliet Act 2 Scene 2

Act 1. Scene 1. A changing of the guards at midnight.

I am confused. What were two Italian guys or Spanish doing in an English play, taking place in Denmark? I am talking Francisco and Barnardo.

At least,Will didn’t use Balthasar. Balthasar makes an appearance in quite a bit of his plays. He appeared in four. And Antonio gets around, jumping from play to play. Bianca manages to get in a couple of plays as well. Petruchio was in both “Taming of the Shrew” and “Romeo and Juliet”.

Could Rosaline in “Romeo and Juliet”, the girl Romeo is pining over at the beginning of the play, be Rosalind in “As You Like It” when she was older.

When Barnardo and Francisco are first introduced on sentry duty, I am wondering if I made it to the right play. Maybe “Hamlet” is going to be another “All’s Well That Ends Well” or “As You Like It” set in Italy. True love wins in those plays. Then I see the Ghost and I go, “Big Whoop.” This play is not going to turn out well.

Makes me wonder why Barnardo is not Bernhard or Bernt. It is a popular name. It means “bear” and the character is a bear of a man. He may actually look like a bear. He may even grunt like a bear. He is not the kind of guy you’d take on in a bar fight, but he’d make a great bouncer. Only thing Barnardo doesn’t grunt in “Hamlet”. He talks and shivers in the cold like everybody else. Doesn’t even seem to be the kind who’d want to fight, though he is doing guard duty. Making sure Norway is not sneaking up to attack Elsinore Castle.

You know, Dino is short for Barnardo. Wonder if Dean Martin wasn’t a Barnardo. Guess that wouldn’t have been a good show biz name.

Then there is this Francisco business. The name means that the fellow is from France. Yet there is not one oui or a parlez vous francais in the whole play. Go figure. Wonder why Shakespeare didn’t call him Franz. That would have been the right name for the right place. But Barnardo and Francisco are only the tip of the iceberg.

Next, in steps Horatio and Marcellus into the scene. They have Latin names. Hey, what’s all these foreigners doing guarding the castle? Where the heck are the Denmarkians?

All this leads me to believe that maybe these folks are hired hands. Mercenaries hired by the king to come up to Denmark and help out with the soldiering. After all, Norway’s itching for a fight and the new King of the Danes still has to consolidate his power. It would make sense to hire some boys from way down South.

Ophelia and Laertes are Greek names. Claudius, Polonius and Cornelius, are more Latin folks.Reynaldo, Polonius’ servant, has a Spanish or Portuguese name. All these characters from way down South leads one to believe that Shakespeare still had “Julius Caesar” on his mind.

Only Gertrude, Osric, Voltemand and Fortinbras sound like they should be in a play set in Scandinavia. And of course, Hamlet. Hamlet was a variation on Hamnet. Hamnet was Shakespeare’s eleven-year-old son who had died four years before “Hamlet” was performed.

Back to the Italians. Next thing we know characters with the names Linguini, Lasagna and Calimari will be showing. Speaking of Lasagna, all this writing is making me hungry for some Italian.

But just what is it with the names?

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