The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.0605 Tuesday, 28 March 2000.
From: Florence Amit <
Date: Tuesday, 28 Mar 2000 03:54:19 +0000
Subject: 11.0585 Re: Ophelia / O-phallos
Comment: Re: SHK 11.0585 Re: Ophelia / O-phallos
Dear Mr Hillyar-Russ,
It is pleasant to me that someone believes in Shakespeare's Hebrew as I
certainly do with a great deal more evidence than this little name that
possibly could be put together by a devote Puritan who read the
scriptures diligently. Shakespeare was capable of very much more, which
I hope I will be allowed to tell you about (if the committee approves
my essay). His participation in the KJ bible, I would not find hard to
accept. However you make a mistaken assessment when you find it unusual
that an element of God's name be included in a "Jewish" given name. I
realize that there is a contradiction in this according to popular
belief and so I will include some excerpts from the Encyclopedia Judaica
to ease your mind about it. But the fact is that Hebrew names containing
the 'ya' of the Tetragrammaton have continuously been in use. My
daughter is named Yael which means Ya is God . The name is very common
in Israel for her generation. Further, since the characters of the play
are not Jewish why would they feel any uneasiness with this choice of
Polonius? However I believe the Hebrew of Ophelia, like so many of
Shakespeare's more vivid exemplars, is emblematic to his character
rather than a surface on-stage item. My experience is that whenever
there is an event or name that sticks in the mind, look for the Hebrew
and it will be there.
We are discussing a small element in a short name so though the 'OF' can
belong to the phrase 'of- al -pee' (aleph peh" yod) which means 'never
the less', often the al pee is left out and the meaning remains:
'although'. The L is a prefix meaning 'to'. It is not written as a
separate word. It has long been considered evidence of Shakespeare's
boorishness that Ben Jonson wrote he knew not much Greek or Latin. But I
can say that Jonson might have been making a joke out of Shakespeare's
prodigious learning in Hebrew.
"The avoidance of pronouncing the name YHWH is generally ascribed to a
sense of reverence. More precisely, it was caused by a misunderstanding
of the Third Commandment (Ex. 20:7; Deut. 5:11) as meaning "Thou shalt
not take the name of YHWH thy God in vain," whereas it really means "You
shall not swear falsely by the name of YHWH your God" (JPS)".
"The true pronunciation of the name YHWH was never lost. Several early
Greek writers of the" Christian Church testify that the name was
pronounced "Yahweh." This is confirmed, at least for the vowel of the
first syllable of the name, by the shorter form Yah, which is sometimes
used in poetry (e.g., Ex. 15:2) and the-yahu or-yah that serves as the
final syllable in very many Hebrew names."
"Shabbetai b. Meir ha-Kohen (first half 17th century) states
emphatically that the prohibition of erasure of the divine name applies
only to the names in Hebrew but not the vernacular (Siftei Kohen to Sh.
Ar. YD 179:8; cf. Pithei Teshuvah to YD 276:9), and this is repeated as
late as the 19th century by R. Akiva Eger (novellae, ad loc.). Jehiel
Michael Epstein, however, in his Arukh ha-Shulhan (HM 27:3) inveighs
vehemently against the practice of writing the Divine Name even in
vernacular in correspondence, calling it an "exceedingly grave offense."
As a result the custom has become widespread among extremely particular
Jews not to write the word God or any other name of God, even in the
vernacular, in full."
Staff of the 1997 CD Rom "Encyclopedia Judaica"