“Hamlet” and hamlets

14 Apr

I woke this morning (4/13)

hearing the name (Something) Hamlet, probably at the end of a brief conversation between a man and a young-ish blonde woman with a high ponytail.

In other words, “Hamlet” was someone’s last name in my dream.

A series of associations came to mind right away: 1> Shakespeare’s play. 2> I have a videotape I bought recently titled Discovering Hamlet. (Then later) 3> I’d love to be able to get my videos, cassettes, and LPs recorded to a hard drive before I have to move. It would make one less set of stuff to pack.

That “have to move” part was roaring through my mind as I went to sleep (or attempted to) last night. I’d called my landlord in the afternoon to report a couple of things that need taking care of, and got his secretary, as usual. “He hasn’t talked to you?” she asked. Um, no. Then she dropped this bomb: “He wants to sell the apartment.”

I’ve lived in this apartment for about 25 years. (Yes, I’ve been renting that long, one of the dumber decisions of my life.) I’ve thought about moving—increasingly over the years, have thought about leaving New York—but I have no clear idea where I’d want to go, either within the city or beyond, and the cost and effort of doing it have always put me off. Big time. I’ve accumulated a lot of stuff in 25 years (half of it books).

So I set aside the obvious Shakespearean association for the present (I’d blogged earlier about Hamlet anyway), and thought about lowercase “hamlet.” Could it be a clue to where I should go next?

Tonight I was playing around in some online apartment-search and real estate sites for a while, and I decided to enter the location as simply Hamlet. Turns out there’s a place in North Carolina by that name.

Hamlet, NC, train station

Hamlet, NC, train station—a bit large for an actual hamlet, no?

The City of Hamlet (it’s not a hamlet) Web page records: “Tradition says that Mr. Shortbridge in 1873, in a conversation with three of his friends, L.L. McKinnon, Thomas Steel, and Elisha “Champ” Terry, told them that in his native England a small cluster of houses were called a hamlet. Thus the town was named Hamlet.” That explains why so many Google results for “hamlet” are British-based or refer to Britain or Ireland. But I doubt I’m being directed across the pond for my next home.

I did fall in love with Asheville, North Carolina, during and after the International Association for the Study of Dreams conference there in 2010, and have had it on my short but geographically chaotic list of places I might want to move to someday. But Hamlet is east of Charlotte, and Asheville is west. I would also love to live by salt water, but rocky coast like Maine’s, not sandy beaches like North Carolina’s. The City of Hamlet, NC, considers its central location a selling point—three hours from the mountains, two hours from the coast—but that feels too far from either for me. (Mapquest shows it’s less than two hours south of Raleigh-Durham, so it’s equally well or poorly placed for intellectual and scientific influence.)

John Coltrane (Photo from the website of the John Coltrane House, Philadelphia)

John Coltrane
(Photo from the website of the John Coltrane House, Philadelphia)

(I do respect that Hamlet is the birthplace of John Coltrane, though…and this is cool: Of course I Googled “John Coltrane,” and I see this Associated Press story from, yes, today: “John Coltrane’s Unkempt House Sparks Fundraising Effort In Philadelphia.” Only (earlier) tonight—in my time of panic and wanting to stay nearby—did Philadelphia make it to my could-live-there list [a small synchronicity]. Coltrane eventually moved to New York, thank goodness for the subject of this blog.)

There’s also a Hamlet, Oregon, although I didn’t find that out until I Googled.

Closer to home, I learned the following from the Wikipedia article “Administrative Divisions of New York” :


Though the term “hamlet” is not defined under New York law, many people in the state use the term hamlet to refer to a community within a town that is not incorporated as a village but is identified by a name. Hamlets often have names corresponding to the names of a local school district, post office, or fire district. Because a hamlet has no government of its own, it depends upon the town or towns that contain it for municipal services and government.

Suffolk County publishes maps that give hamlet boundaries, but towns within the county also publish maps that conflict both in the number of hamlets and their boundaries. Nevertheless, all land not within a village is administered by the town. Most of the rest of New York’s hamlets, however, have less defined boundaries, and most towns have areas that are not considered to be a part of any hamlet. The New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) puts hamlet names on rectangular green signs with white lettering at roadside locations of its choosing.The NYSDOT and local governments also provide community identification signs on some scenic byways to be placed at the roadside boundaries of hamlets, as decided by the sign provider. Many towns have special zoning or planning districts and planning strategies for their hamlets,and many place welcome signs at the gateways to the hamlets.

Some hamlets are former villages that have dissolved their incorporation (Old Forge in Herkimer County, Rosendale in Ulster County, and Andes in Delaware County, for example).

The New York State Gazetteer, published by the New York State Department of Health in 1995, includes a list of hamlets in the state. The criteria used for inclusion in the Gazetteer are not stated.

The Adirondack Park Agency also uses the term “hamlet”, though as a land use classification for private land under its Adirondack Park Land Use and Development Plan (APLUDP). The APLUDP extends the boundaries for its classification of hamlets “well beyond established settlements” to allow for growth.

There’s nothing like having change forced upon me to make me see all the reasons not to change, so reading that explanation gave a bit of relief: if, in fact, my (Somebody) Hamlet dream came as any sort of geographic guidance in answer to my turmoil (I’m not convinced that’s what it’s about), it might be saying it’s okay to stay close to home for now and not pick up and move to some far-flung place under duress.

The chaotic-sounding, amorphous definitions of the concept of hamlet and of specific hamlets’ boundaries sure feels resonant to me in my conflicted state.

So far, parsing hamlet as “ham-lette” as “little pigs” has not led me to any welcome insights—or unwelcome ones, for that matter.

hamlet “road sign” “new york”

One Response to ““Hamlet” and hamlets”


  1. Where (Somebody) Hamlet led me next « - April 14, 2012

    […] wanted to dress up the long “‘Hamlet’ and hamlets” post with one more image, so I went looking for one of the green road signs mentioned in the […]

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