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On Hamlet’s Origins and Other Letters to the Editor


To the Editor:

Geraldine Brooks’s July 19 review of Maggie O’Farrell’s “Hamnet” asks this question central to the book: Why did Shakespeare title his most famous play for the son who had died several years earlier?

In fact, some scholars think that Shakespeare based the play on a history of the Danes featuring the tale of Amleth (anagram of Hamlet), a great ruler, by Saxo Grammaticus. Saxo’s tale was translated into French in 1514 by François de Belleforest, author of “Histoires Tragiques.” In English, his text was called “The Historie of Hamblet.”

There is also speculation that Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” was based on an earlier play by the Elizabethan playwright Thomas Kyd that features a character named Hamlet who seeks revenge.

Shakespeare’s twins, Hamnet and Judith, born in 1585, were named after his Stratford neighbors who, in turn, named one of their sons William. Brooks also states as fact that “Shakespeare was a grammar school graduate.” However, this is pure conjecture. No evidence has ever been found that a William
Shakespeare of Stratford was ever enrolled in any school, the local grammar school or

university.

We cannot assert with confidence then that Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet” has really anything to do with the death of his son.

A. Birt
Uxbridge, Ontario

To the Editor:

I’m certain that a number of your readers of Geraldine Brooks’s excellent review of “Hamnet” also recalled Anthony Burgess’s novel “Nothing Like the Sun,” another fictionalized version of Shakespeare’s home life as well as his life in the London theater. While Shakespeare has a Black mistress in London, his brother is busy on the home front. Burgess’s satire and brilliant imagination might be an excellent complement to Maggie O’Farrell’s creative work.

Marc Ratner
Ashland, Ore.

To the Editor:

Every week I anticipate and thoroughly enjoy By the Book, your section’s questions and answers with well-known authors. In the July 19 issue, Charlie Kaufman’s responses to the stock questions left me uncontrollably laughing. His comparing himself to a long-married couple was brilliant, and I can’t wait to read Andrei Zhdanov’s tome on Hollywood. Wow, would I love to be at his literary dinner party! Of course, the bourbon I’ve been sipping might be coloring my reaction.

Rand Clark
Santa Barbara, Calif.

To the Editor:

In his By the Book interview Charlie Kaufman praises Andrei Zhdanov. Was this an attempt at being humorous?

Andrei Zhdanov was one of Stalin’s most notorious henchmen. He was responsible for hundreds, if not thousands, of deaths in Stalin’s Great Terror. He was responsible for purging Sergei Prokofiev, Aram Khachaturian, Anna Akhmatova, Dmitri Shostakovich and many others after the end of World War II. To praise Zhdanov for his insights into Hollywood (or anything else for that matter) is absurd.

Paul Einstein
Teaneck, N.J.



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