Of Shakspeare’s names I will afterwards speak at more length [LE: This Ruskin does not do, although he refers incidentally to the subject in Val d‘Arno, §213, and Fiction, Fair and Foul, §114.]: they are curiously—often barbarously—much by Providence,—but assuredly not without Shakspeare’s cunning purpose—mixed out of the various traditions he confusedly adopted, and languages which he imperfectly knew. 4 Three of the clearest in meaning have been already noticed. Desdemona, “dusdaimonia” “miserable fortune,” is also plain enough. Othello is, I believe, “the careful”; all the calamity of the tragedy arising from the single flaw and error in his magnificently collected strength. “Ophelia, “serviceableness,” the true lost wife of Hamlet, is marked as having a Greek name by that of her brother, Laertes; and its signification is once exquisitely alluded to in that brother’s last word of her, where her gentle preciousness is opposed to the uselessness of the churlish clergy—“A ministering angel shall my sister be, when thou liest howling.” Hamlet is, I believe, connected in some way with “homely,” the entire event of the tragedy turning on betrayal of home duty. Hermione (erma), “pillar—like” h eidoV ece crusehV AfrodithV). Titania (tithnh), “the queen”; Benedict and Beatrice, “blessed and blessing”; Valentine and Proteus, enduring (or strong), (valens), and changeful. Iago and Iachimo have evidently the same root—probably the Spanish Iago, Jacob, “the supplanter.” Leonatus, and other such names, are interpreted, or played with, in the plays themselves. [LE: (1) For “the sur-addition Leonatus,” see Cymbeline, i. 1, line 32. (2) For the interpretation of Sycorax, and reference to her raven’s feather, I am indebted to Mr. John R. Wise. [John Richard de Capel Wise (1831–1890). A friend of Ruskin and his father; author of some pamphlets on Shakespeare, and of The New Forest: its History and Scenery. (3) “AfrodithV” is from Homer’s description of Hermione (daughter of Helen), “who has the form of golden Aphrodite” (Odyssey, iv. 14).

[This note, as it originally appeared in Fraser’s Magazine, was criticised by Matthew Arnold in an article entitled “The Literary Influence of Academies” in the Cornhill Magazine, August 1864 (reprinted in his Essays in Criticism). The criticism is referred to in the Introduction; above, p. lxiv. In revising the passage in 1872, Ruskin introduced the following qualifications (lines 3, 4): “much by Providence . . . purpose,” “he confusedly adopted,” and “which he imperfectly knew.” The “three of the clearest” names already mentioned are Perdita, Cordelia, and Portia (§ 100, and n.). The suggested derivation of Ophelia is from ofeloV, “help” (for Ruskin’s quotation, see Hamlet, v. 1, line 228); and that of Othello is from oqh, “care”; it is generally supposed that Shakespeare obtained the name (as also Iago) from Reynold’s God’s Revenge against Adultery. The name “Desdemona” occurs in the Italian tale (1565)—Cinthio’s Un Capitano Moro—from which the poet adapted his plot.]

Last modified 14 March 2019