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Yorick’s Skull and the Farting Irishwomen: Folkloric Migrations in Late Mediaeval Literature

Lowe, Dunstan (2023) Yorick’s Skull and the Farting Irishwomen: Folkloric Migrations in Late Mediaeval Literature. Shakespeare Quarterly, . ISSN 0037-3222. (In press) (KAR id:103116)

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This article offers an approach to folkloric motifs in pre-modern literature, and with it, two new answers to old questions. The first is how Shakespeare got the idea for Yorick’s skull. Most critics have suggested a general inspiration from the memento mori theme in the visual arts. Instead, I offer the first ever investigation of a textual source. The second question is why, in an Irish legend recorded in two twelfth-century texts, a certain man’s tomb made women fart and laugh when they saw it. I offer both answers in the form of a genealogy for the jester’s skull motif, which proves to be a pattern of cultural migrations between Francia, Ireland, Norway, and England between the tenth and sixteenth centuries. The results shed new light on several European literary texts, both Latin and vernacular, not least scene 5.1 of Hamlet. By reconstructing a historical development from a fart-prompting tomb to a jester’s skull, I demonstrate that supernatural motifs can survive significant adaptation between different literary genres, as religious, obscene, and humorous elements are edited or recoded.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled keywords: Hamlet,Shakespeare, Yorick, Skulls, Irish folklore, Icelandic folklore, Norse folklore
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GR Folklore
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > Department of Classical and Archaeological Studies
Funders: University of Kent (
Depositing User: Dunstan Lowe
Date Deposited: 04 Oct 2023 15:40 UTC
Last Modified: 08 Jan 2024 11:43 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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