The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0299  Friday, 13 July 2012


From:        JD Markel <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         July 12, 2012 10:28:37 PM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Corambis?? 


“I have long made the point that “Polonius” should be regarded as an agnomen, like “Coriolanus,” awarded to the young Corambis for his contributions as a warrior or statesman (more likely the latter) in the conquest of Poland.”


I think Larry Weiss’ observation is insightful and appealing.  I will add a few notes that may support Larry’s position, by means of looking at Shakespare’s word “Corambis.”  


I begin with the opinion these made-up classical names are often concocted by attaching a classical sounding ending, like -inus and -ibis, and sticking them at the end of a root word of classical or modern language, e.g., Sillius Soddus.  One root word for Corambis could be korax, meaning raven.  Kolax is also appealing because it means flatterer, and that fits Polonius.  In my experience people can mishear between “r” and “l” when writing things down, but any such experience pales in relavance to the fact Arisotphanes jokes about the mix-up between korax and kolax early in his play “The Wasps.”  The dialogue includes an insult-joke about have the head of a raven, but lisping the pronunciation, to head of a flatterer.  The conjugated words appearing are korakos and kolakos.  If Sh. read it in Latin, contemporaneous books show coracis and colacis.  The background for the joke is that Alcibiades was a well-known flatterer who had a lisp.


Plutarch treats Alcibiades at length in his Parallel Lives.  Near the beginning he refers to the raven-flatterer joke.  In North’s 16th century translation he provides a marginal note attempting to explain the word play of kora and kola.   In Amyot’s French addition the marginal note has it corax and colax.  So “coracis” or similar can be a nick name for Alcibiades.  Shakespeare surely read Parallel Lives, and his play Timon of Athens contains a major character named Alcibiades.  Like that Larry suggests for Polonius, the real Alcibiades was a stateman, but also a great warrior too.  Additionally, he was a flatterer, and good talker—like Polonius.  Best of all, the “Parallel” life Plutarch pairs with Alcibiades is Coriolanus.   They are connected.


However, there came a point when Shakespeare thought to himself, “Corambis, thy name dost sucketh,” because it is a crumby name, he aimed to change it.  And thinking about Alcibiades, he remembered Coriolanus and how his name was achieved.  So he gave Corambis a victory over Poland and the much better sounding name Polonius.


Or, if one takes the tack that Polonius came first, but that name might seem insulting to some people in some regard (e.g., Hibbard thesis), Sh., thinking about Alcibiades, took use of his raven-flatterer nick names as alias-material for Polonius.


Or something else.

Subscribe to Our Feeds


Make a Gift to SHAKSPER

Consider making a gift to support SHAKSPER.