Ancient and Renaissance astronomers in Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Hamlet.

We examine the role of astronomers in the naming of characters in the First Quarto Q1 (1603) and the Second Quarto (1604) of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Hamlet. We approach the task from the standpoint that the play is an allegory for the chief cosmological models in contention during Shakespeare’s lifetime. One of these models is the geocentric model of the Alexandrian astronomer Claudius Ptolemy, and we propose that the names Corambis and Montano in Q1 arise through identifications with two leading Ptolemaic authors, Macrobius of Rome and Regiomontanus of Germany. We discuss their relationship to the corresponding names Polonius and Reynaldo in Q2. Further, we identify the two characters Barnardo and Francisco named in Q2 with two astronomers of the sixteenth century, Bernhard Walther of Germany and Francesco Maurolico of Sicily. The names of Cornelius and Voltemand are discussed. These identifications support the contention that the theme of astronomy underlies Shakespeare’s choice of at least ten names that appear in the quartos and are further evidence for the impact of the astronomical revolutions of the sixteenth century on the culture and literature of the Renaissance.



Work Title Ancient and Renaissance astronomers in Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Hamlet.
Open Access
  1. Enrico Massaro
  2. Peter D. Usher
  1. astronomy
  2. names
  3. Shakespeare
  4. Hamlet
  5. Renaissance
License CC BY 4.0 (Attribution)
Work Type Article
  1. Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage
Publication Date December 2022
Deposited January 24, 2023




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Version 1

  • Created
  • Updated
  • Added Creator Enrico Massaro
  • Added Creator Peter D. Usher
  • Added Paper (Massaro and Usher Hamlet 04) (1).pdf
  • Updated Keyword, License Show Changes
    • astronomy, name, Shakespeare, Hamlet, Renaissance
    • astronomy, names, Shakespeare, Hamlet, Renaissance
  • Published