After I read the famous Shakespeare play Hamlet the other day, I started looking up information about the play (a typical exercise after reading). I knew that the Bard wrote historical plays and I wondered if Hamlet might have any basis in a historical setting. I came across this one line in a book I was reading on Shakespeare critique “derived from older sources – the twelfth-century legend of Amleth, told by the Danish author known as Saxo the Grammarian, which was later adapted into French by François de Belleforest in 1570, the primary source for ur-Hamlet, or original Hamlet”.1 The legend of Amleth huh? So of course, off I go to check this out…
Apparently, Saxo the Grammarian wrote History of the Danes, which is 16 volumes long! In books 3 and 4 appears the legend of Amleth (Hamlet if you move the H to the beginning of the word). As the legend goes – Orvendil and Fengi were chosen by the King of the Danes to rule over an area called Jutland. Orvendil was married to Geruth and their marriage produced one child, Amleth. Fengi, who was jealous of his brother in every way, kills him and subsequently marries Geruth. Amleth pretends to be “mad” in order to exact revenge on his uncle for his father’s murder.2 Sounds familiar doesn’t it?
This book, translated in French, as well as ur-Hamlet would have been available at the time that Shakespeare wrote his most famous tragedy.
I will leave you with this hilariously funny animation summary of the play.
1 Garber, Marjorie. “Hamlet”. Shakespeare After All. New York: Anchor Books, 2008. Kindle E-book.
2 Mabillard, Amanda. Shakespeare's Sources for Hamlet. Shakespeare Online. 6 Feb. 2011. <>.
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