If anybody ever corners me and asks for a Shakespeare trivia question I will say, “Who is Corambis?”
The answer is that this is the name Polonius is called by, in the Bad Quarto of Hamlet.
My question to you is, where does this name come from? If the Bad Quarto is supposed to be the one made up from the memories of actors who’d performed the play, how does one get Corambis from Polonius? It’s not even close. I note for comparison that Laertes is spelled Leartes – that makes sense. Likewise with Ofelia or even Gilderstone for Guildenstern. But this Corambis thing is out in left field.
Anybody know the history? Reason to believe that Polonius was in fact called by another name by Shakespeare himself at some point?
By the way, found text of the Bad Quarto over at Project Gutenberg. Who knew?

9 thoughts on “Corambis

  1. My Latin could be off, but wouldn't Corambis mean both or two hearts? Shakespeare and his contemporaries enjoyed using either ironic or fitting names for characters.

    1. And especially cutting for one who’s family motto was, “Cor unum, via una.” (One heart, one way). Hint: William Cecil, Lord Burghley.

  2. This, from the man who once wrote:

    I much prefer talking about modern aspects of Shakespeare (ways to teach it, using technology to do new things, etc…) than analyzing texts from 400 years ago and debating word choices. I think it's pretty interesting (damned cool, actually) that there are two Hamlets and three Lears … but I'm not invested enough to personally go learn the differences…"

    I have no idea the answer to your question, but I'm pleased to see that we may yet make a scholar out of you, Duane!

    We had quite a debacle in the first session of my new class, an 8 week intensive on King Lear. Of the 7 students, we had brought 7 different texts!

  3. An idea for this proposed at SAA last week was that if the Bad Quarto is a poor memorial reconstruction, then the transcriber simply couldn't remember Polonius's name and substituted something equally pompous-sounding.

  4. 2007? You're quoting me from 2007???

    🙂 Yes, my attitudes and opinions have certainly evolved over the years.

  5. Shakespeare certainly wasn't the only active playwright at the time. Is there a Corambis, similar in character to Polonius, in another play in the repetoire of the Chamberlain's Man or Strange's Men or another contemporary London acting company? That might be worth looking into.

  6. Corambis is the most extreme, but some of the other name substitutions in Q1 are surprising. "Fortenbrasse," for example, is close enough to "Fortinbras," but seems to me to indicate a different pronunciation. I can't read "Fortenbrasse" without putting the accent on the second syllable. Then there's Voltemar, Rossencraft, and Gertred. Also interesting, there's no Claudius, only a character named "The King." Is Claudius' name ever mentioned in the play? Because if not, that speech prefix might be further evidence of memorial reconstruction.

  7. Ooh! There's a character mentioned in All's Well That Ends Well named "Corambus." It's in Act 4, Scene 3, Line 2249. All's Well was written a little bit after Hamlet, as far as we know, right? That could be the source of the confusion.

  8. “ Lord Burghley, Queen Elizabeth’s powerful right-hand man, who is mercilessly lampooned as Polonius in Hamlet. … “Corambis.” This is a pun on Burghley’s motto, “Cor unum, via una” (“One heart, one way”). “Corambis” suggests “double-hearted” or “two-faced.” ”

    -Tom Regnier

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