The BookBrowse Review

Published June 9, 2021

ISSN: 1930-0018

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Hamnet
Hamnet
by Maggie O'Farrell

Paperback (18 May 2021), 320 pages.
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN-13: 9781984898876
Genres
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England, 1580: The Black Death creeps across the land, an ever-present threat, infecting the healthy, the sick, the old and the young, alike. The end of days is near, but life always goes on.

A young Latin tutor—penniless and bullied by a violent father—falls in love with an extraordinary, eccentric young woman. Agnes is a wild creature who walks her family's land with a falcon on her glove and is known throughout the countryside for her unusual gifts as a healer, understanding plants and potions better than she does people. Once she settles with her husband on Henley Street in Stratford-upon-Avon she becomes a fiercely protective mother and a steadfast, centrifugal force in the life of her young husband, whose career on the London stage is taking off when his beloved young son succumbs to sudden fever.

A luminous portrait of a marriage, a shattering evocation of a family ravaged by grief and loss, and a tender and unforgettable re-imagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, and whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays of all time, Hamnet is mesmerizing, seductive, impossible to put down—a magnificent leap forward from one of our most gifted novelists.

Excerpt
Hamnet

A boy is coming down a flight of stairs.

The passage is narrow and twists back on itself. He takes each step slowly, sliding himself along the wall, his boots meeting each tread with a thud.

Near the bottom, he pauses for a moment, looking back the way he has come. Then, suddenly resolute, he leaps the final three stairs, as is his habit. He stumbles as he lands, falling to his knees on the flagstone floor.

It is a close, windless day in late summer, and the downstairs room is slashed by long strips of light. The sun glowers at him from outside, the windows latticed slabs of yellow, set into the plaster.

He gets up, rubbing his legs. He looks one way, up the stairs; he looks the other, unable to decide which way he should turn.

The room is empty, the fire ruminating in its grate, orange embers below soft, spiralling smoke. His injured kneecaps throb in time with his heartbeat. He stands with one hand resting on the latch of the door to the stairs, the scuffed leather tip of his boot raised, poised for motion, for flight. His hair, light-coloured, almost gold, rises up from his brow in tufts.

There is no one here.

He sighs, drawing in the warm, dusty air and moves through the room, out of the front door and on to the street. The noise of barrows, horses, vendors, people calling to each other, a man hurling a sack from an upper window doesn't reach him. He wanders along the front of the house and into the neighbouring doorway.

The smell of his grandparents' home is always the same: a mix of woodsmoke, polish, leather, wool. It is similar yet indefinably different from the adjoining two-roomed apartment, built by his grandfather in a narrow gap next to the larger house, where he lives with his mother and sisters. Sometimes he cannot understand why this might be. The two dwellings are, after all, separated by only a thin wattled wall but the air in each place is of a different ilk, a different scent, a different temperature.

This house whistles with draughts and eddies of air, with the tapping and hammering of his grandfather's workshop, with the raps and calls of customers at the window, with the noise and welter of the courtyard out the back, with the sound of his uncles coming and going.

But not today. The boy stands in the passageway, listening for signs of occupation. He can see from here that the workshop, to his right, is empty, the stools at the benches vacant, the tools idle on the counters, a tray of abandoned gloves, like handprints, left out for all to see. The vending window is shut and bolted tight. There is no one in the dining hall, to his left. A stack of napkins is piled on the long table, an unlit candle, a heap of feathers. Nothing more.

He calls out, a cry of greeting, a questioning sound. Once, twice, he makes this noise. Then he cocks his head, listening for a response.

Nothing. Just the creaking of beams expanding gently in the sun, the sigh of air passing under doors, between rooms, the swish of linen drapes, the crack of the fire, the indefinable noise of a house at rest, empty.

His fingers tighten around the iron of the door handle. The heat of the day, even this late, causes sweat to express itself from the skin of his brow, down his back. The pain in his knees sharpens, twinges, then fades again.

The boy opens his mouth. He calls the names, one by one, of all the people who live here, in this house. His grandmother. The maid. His uncles. His aunt. The apprentice. His grandfather. The boy tries them all, one after another. For a moment, it crosses his mind to call his father's name, to shout for him, but his father is miles and hours and days away, in London, where the boy has never been.

But where, he would like to know, are his mother, his older sister, his grandmother, his uncles? Where is the maid? Where is his grandfather, who tends not to leave the house by day, who is usually to be found in the workshop, harrying his apprentice or reckoning his takings in a ledger? Where is everyone? How can both houses be empty?

Full Excerpt

Excerpted from Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell. Copyright © 2020 by Maggie O'Farrell. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. What did you know about the origins of Hamlet, and about the history of William Shakespeare's life and family, before reading this novel? How did the novel change your interpretation of the play?
  2. How do Agnes's special gifts affect her reputation throughout the town and her connection to her husband? Consider especially the way she feels the space between a person's index finger and thumb, where "a person's ability, their reach, their essence can be gleaned," and how she uses this part of the body to connect with different people in the novel (49).
  3. Describe the nature of Agnes's love for her husband, and his for her. What draws them to each other, despite their different backgrounds?
  4. What makes Susanna's birth different from that of the twins? How does this manifest itself in each of the children's relationships with their mother?
  5. Throughout the book, Susanna expresses a frustration with the rumors about her mother and her strange ways, which is exacerbated after Hamnet's death. Why do you think this daughter still takes up her mother's work in the garden, caring for the house, and teaching of Judith, in spite of these feelings? What do you expect her prospects of marriage are, as she reflects on them at the end of the novel?
  6. Discuss the lineage of mothers within the two families in the novel vis-à-vis the expectations of women at the time. How do Mary, Joan, and Agnes differ in their approach to women's work in the world and rearing children, especially their daughters? How do Agnes's insights, especially her vision of two children at the foot of her deathbed, affect her decisions as a mother? Consider her thought during the birth of the twins, when she fears one of her children will die: "She will place herself between them and the door leading out, and she will stand there, teeth bared, blocking the way" (202).
  7. The fathers in the book—John, Hamnet's father, and King Hamlet—all create a physical and/or emotional distance between themselves and their families. How does this affect their children and lineage overall? Consider the ultimate future of the Shakespeare line (in a bodily sense and otherwise) after Hamnet's death. How did John's actions ultimately impact how his own son would be remembered?
  8. The plague is an insidious, but somewhat familiar, presence for the inhabitants of England during the time of the novel. How is its arrival marked and felt by the families we follow? What signs of infection are visible in the body and in how people behave? Were these notions familiar to you at all in the wake of the conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic, or other periods of large-scale disease you experienced in your lifetime or that occurred at other points in history?
  9. Hamnet's death comes as a shock to all in his family, but our insight into the twins' last moments together reflects a kind of knowing that not even Agnes is able to access. How do their similarities affect the family's ability to grieve and heal? How does Hamnet live on as "Agnes watches the child drop from her younger daughter, as a cloak from a shoulder" but still looks for her son's face in Judith, as he might have aged into it (279)?
  10. Agnes's husband says of her that it is a joy and a curse to be married to "'Someone who knows everything about you, before you even know it yourself. Someone who can just look at you and divine your deepest secrets, just with a glance. Someone who can tell what you are about to say—and what you might not—before you say it'" (268). Can you relate to this feeling at all, regarding your spouse, other relatives, friends, or coworkers? What does it feel like when a secret part of you is laid bare to another without your knowing, and how does that manifest itself in pursuits such as writing and art? Did reading this book, or any others you've read in the past, make you feel like the author knew something about you?
  11. Agnes is very sensitive to her environment, including when she moves between different homes. What information do the three houses, indoor and outdoor, that she inhabits tell her about what will happen there? How do the energetics of the spaces, and the people who live there with her, become characters in and of themselves?
  12. Why do you think William Shakespeare goes unnamed in the novel? From how he is described—as a Latin tutor, with a diminutive stature, et cetera—would you have recognized him as the great playwright without knowing this was his family's story?
  13. Discuss the significance of names in the novel overall, including the interchangeable spelling of "Hamnet" and "Hamlet." Who is afforded their own name, and who is known exclusively by their relation to others?
  14. What are the consequences of Agnes's encouraging her husband to go to London? Do you think she still regrets the decision at the end of the book as she is watching Hamlet onstage?
  15. Describe Agnes's trip to London and her time at the playhouse. What does she learn about her husband's life there from her attempts to find him? What does she discover about his pursuits when she sees him onstage? Do you think she forgives him in the end upon witnessing his homage to his son?
  16. Based on the portrayal of the play in this novel, how are Hamnet and his father, and Hamlet (the character) and his father related to one another? Is the correlation one-to-one (son/son, father/father), or is there a crossing among them?
  17. Shakespeare's plays are known for their supernatural elements and figures. What might be considered supernatural about the events of the novel? Who are the conduits for these mysterious forces and messages among the living and the dead?
  18. What roles do the written word, the spoken word, and words that are neither written nor spoken play in how the characters know one another and how we know them? How are various kinds of literacy—whether it's reading letters on a page, reading gestures on a stage, reading plants in a garden, or reading souls in bodies—valued or not valued in the society of the novel? Are those values similar or different from those of our current society?
  19.  

    Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Vintage. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

Set in Stratford-upon-Avon in the 1590s, Hamnet imagines the impact of the death of their child on William and Agnes Shakespeare.

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William Shakespeare's name is never used in Hamnet — a conspicuous absence around which Maggie O'Farrell forms her richly imaginative narrative. Instead, the novel tells the story of those closest to Shakespeare: his parents, John and Mary; his wife Agnes; his daughter Susanna; and his twin children Hamnet and Judith. Shakespeare himself features in the narrative, though he is only ever described in relation to those around him, referred to as the Latin tutor, the husband, the father, the son. The result of this narrative decision is twofold: it pushes Shakespeare's family to the foreground, but it also humanizes Shakespeare himself by reminding the reader that none of his works were created in a vacuum. This is the central conceit around which the novel's climax is formed, as O'Farrell imagines the potential influence of Hamnet's death in 1596 on Hamlet, written between 1599 and 1601.

Despite the novel's title, Agnes is its protagonist. O'Farrell draws on the limited historical detail that we have about the real Agnes as her backdrop, and then fleshes her out into a compelling character. Portrayed as a village outcast, there are whispers and rumors throughout the book that she's a witch; this is heightened by a hint of magical realism in which Agnes is able to divine certain details about the future. She knows, for example, that she will have two children standing at her bedside when she dies; she is shocked then when she gives birth to twins, already having one older child (the reader, of course, understands that her vision is accurate, knowing that Hamnet will die young).

The first two-thirds of the novel are split into a dual timeline, bouncing back and forth between the week of Hamnet's death (the present), and the blossoming romance between William and Agnes (the past). It's a tender yet fraught courtship, and the pacing here is slow and deliberate. The final third speeds up and takes place after the death of their son. Both parts are equally as successful — the languid pace is sustained by O'Farrell's lyrical prose, and the more frantic pace is made tense and urgent by it.

Every life has its kernel, its hub, its epicenter, from which everything flows out, to which everything returns. This moment is the absent mother's: the boy, the empty house, the deserted yard, the unheard cry. Him standing here, at the back of the house, calling for the people who had fed him, swaddled him, rocked him to sleep, held his hand as he took his first steps, taught him to use a spoon, to blow on broth before he ate it, to take care crossing the street, to let sleeping dogs lie, to swill out a cup before drinking, to stay away from deep water. It will lie at her very core, for the rest of her life.

This novel is gentle and domestic and, in many ways, speaks to grief as a commonality of the human experience. But despite O'Farrell's light touch with historical detail, it's a novel that cannot be removed from its Shakespearean context. The allusions to Shakespeare's works are more hints and whispers than overt references, but any eagle-eyed Shakespeare fan will enjoy the way O'Farrell plays with expectations, ducking around moments that could be turned into fan service by an author with a heavier hand. And what if I fail? Shakespeare asks Agnes at one point, echoing Macbeth's line If we should fail? Agnes's response is not, however, Lady Macbeth's famous retort (We fail!) — instead she says You won't fail. I know it.

The point is clear — Shakespeare's plays were all works of fiction; Agnes likely never said the words We fail!/ But screw your courage to the sticking-place, and we'll not fail to her husband, thus inspiring Lady Macbeth's famous line. But as reality and fiction often exist in a symbiotic relationship, O'Farrell imagines the subtler influences of Agnes and Hamnet on Shakespeare in a novel that's as intimate and human as it is grandiose.

Reviewed by Rachel Hullett

New York Times
This novel is at once about the transfiguration of life into art — it is O’Farrell’s extended speculation on how Hamnet’s death might have fueled the creation of one of his father’s greatest plays — and at the same time, it is a master class in how she, herself, does it...There is a poetic cadence to her writing and a lushness in her descriptions of the natural world.

NPR
"A tour de force...Although more than 400 years have unspooled since Hamnet Shakespeare's death, the story O'Farrell weaves in this moving novel is timeless and ever-relevant... O'Farrell brilliantly turns to historical fiction to confront a parent's worst nightmare: the death of a child...Fierce emotions and lyrical prose are what we've come to expect of O'Farrell. But with this historical novel she has expanded her repertoire, enriching her narrative with atmospheric details of the sights, smells, and relentless daily toil involved in running a household in Elizabethan England...Although more than 400 years have unspooled since Hamnet Shakespeare's death, the story O'Farrell weaves in this moving novel is timeless and ever-relevant.

Washington Post
Hamnet [is] told with the urgency of a whispered prayer — or curse...O’Farrell makes no effort to lard her pages with intimations of [Shakespeare's] genius or cute allusions to his plays. Instead, through the alchemy of her own vision, she has created a moving story about the way loss viciously recalibrates a marriage...This is a richly drawn and intimate portrait of 16th-century English life set against the arrival of one devastating death.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[A]n outstanding masterpiece of Shakespearean apocrypha...The book is filled with astonishing, timely passages, such as the plague's journey to Stratford via a monkey's flea from Alexandria. This is historical fiction at its best.

Booklist (starred review)
This striking, painfully lovely novel captures the very nature of grief.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Imagining the life of the family Shakespeare left behind in Stratford makes an intriguing change of pace for a veteran storyteller...A gripping drama of the conflict between love and destiny.

Author Blurb Emma Donoghue, author of Room
What could be more common, over centuries and continents, than the death of a child - and yet Maggie O'Farrell, with her flawless sentences and furious heart, somehow makes it new. This story of remarkable people bereft of their boy will leave you shaking with loss but also the love from which family is spun.

Author Blurb Sarah Moss, author of Ghost Wall
Grief and loss so finely written I could hardly bear to read it.

Author Blurb Dominic Dromgoole, author of Hamlet, Globe to Globe
I don't know how anyone could fail to love this book. It is a marvel: a great work of imaginative recreation and a great story. It is also a moral achievement to have transformed that young child from being a literary footnote into someone so tenderly alive that part of you wishes he had survived and Hamlet never been written.

Write your own review

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Anna Rowe
Wonderful Reading Experience
Maggie O'Farrell is such a talented stylist and it shines through like the sun in the writing of this book. I loved what she did with the character of Shakespeare's wife, Agnes. I loved how she keeps Shakespeare offside to give room for Agnes to tell her story. I also love the way O'Farrell portrays grief in her writing. Unlike anyone else. It is a beautiful, creative, memorable piece of writing

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Anna Maria Rowe
My best of 2020
Maggie O'Farrell is such a talented stylist and it shines through like the sun in the writing of this book. I loved what she did with the character of Shakespeare's wife, Agnes. I loved how she keeps Shakespeare offside to give room for Agnes to tell her story. I also love the way O'Farrell portrays grief in her writing. Unlike anyone else. It is a beautiful, creative, memorable piece of writing.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Davida
Net or Let
For those who don’t know, Hamnet was the name of William Shakespeare’s only son, who died at the age of 11. In O’Farrell’s latest novel, she takes up the scholarly presumption that there was a direct connection between his son’s death and his play “Hamlet.” To do this, O’Farrell draws detailed portraits of two main people – Hamnet himself, and his mother Agnes (aka Anne) Hathaway. Together with this, O’Farrell also draws a simpler, yet no less meticulous, portrait of Hamnet’s father, almost as an aside to his relationship with these two main characters. Goodreads says that this is a “luminous portrait of a marriage, a shattering evocation of a family ravaged by grief and loss…”

I’ve read quite a few reviews of this book, many of which have picked up on things I was originally going to write about myself. For example, Shakespeare himself is never named in the book. In addition, there’s a whole passage which O’Farrell included here, which ended up being (far too) relevant to our present world pandemic, that being where she traces the minutia of how one wave of the plague reached Stratford. Reading that, and knowing that travel then was nowhere near as popular or widespread as it is now, no one would be surprised that this pandemic we are living through would be so devastating. Mind you, the few lines about how all the London playhouses were closed down as soon as the plague appeared made me think that at least Queen Elizabeth I and her Parliament knew how to handle such things much better than some countries (including the UK) are doing today!

Politics and current events aside, since other bloggers have exhausted all those talking points so nicely, I decided that for this review I’ll to concentrate on three less discussed topics. First, on O’Farrell’s writing style in this novel. Next, I’ll look at her character development. Finally, I will talk about how this book differs from her other novels. Now, as my regular readers know, I’ve read all of O’Farrell’s novels as well as her memoir, and so I believe I’m well equipped to approach this review from these particular angles.

O’Farrell’s writing style is what drew me to her books in the first place. What I find to be magical about her writing is how she’s able to use her language to build up an atmosphere. In this book in particular, O’Farrell has adapted a slightly more poetic quality to her writing, with highly descriptive passages, many of which felt pensive, dark, and a touch brooding. Yet, there was still an underlying level of lightness here, to keep this from feeling too gray. These descriptions are used to paint pictures of both the characters and the locations, as well as how the former moved through the latter. As someone who visualizes the action of the books as I read, this worked perfectly for me, and I could easily see everything and everyone that O’Farrell put down on each page. In fact, there were a couple of times when O’Farrell described the scent of something where I almost was able to imagine that same smell! If you ask me, that is artistry in writing at its very finest!

This leads directly to how O’Farrell developed her characters. What was most fascinating here, was that my ability to picture each character was accomplished with an absolute minimum of dialog. Usually, a character’s mettle is often revealed in what they say, in addition to what they do. However, O’Farrell accomplished this by concentrating more on getting into the minds of the characters than letting them speak for themselves. She showed us their gestures, their moods, their thoughts, as well as how their bodies moved within the spaces where she placed them. We saw them change and grow and develop, much like (pardon the cliché) watching a flower bloom. In the end, while Agnes ends up being the primary protagonist, each character portrayed here – no matter how minor – was believable, and flawlessly developed and formed.

How this book differs from her other novels is twofold. First, this one has a tiny touch of magical realism, where Agnes seems to be a bit of a psychic, which she seems to pass on to one of her daughters. This time, I wasn’t bothered by this at all, probably because back then people were very superstitious, and it fit in with the overall narrative and character development. Second, all of her previous books were either contemporary fiction, or had mixed contemporary and historical dual timelines. If I recall correctly even with the historical parts of O’Farrell other novels never went further back than early(ish) 20th century. This novel, however is not only fully and totally historical fiction, it is set far further back in time than any of her other books. And not just by one century, but reaching back to the late 16th century and very early 17th century, no less. Now, I’m a huge lover of historical fiction, especially biographical historical fiction, so this was absolutely no problem for me whatsoever, but this certainly was a departure for O’Farrell. I can only hope that her faithful fans won’t find this too startling of a departure, and can still enjoy it as they have done with all her previous works.

Finally, the way O’Farrell concludes this novel, had me weeping like a baby! Now, it isn’t often that one reads biographical, historical fiction (where we already know who will live and who will die and even how and when), that something appears in a book that makes you surprisingly emotional, but this one does just that with the last page. Taking all these things into account, what we have here is… well… nothing short of a masterpiece. There is therefore no way I could give this less than a full five stars. I will be recommending this to anyone and everyone, even people who don’t like historical or biographical, or women’s fiction.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Cloggie Downunder
Utterly enthralling, this is yet another dose of Maggie O’Farrell brilliance.
Hamnet is the eighth novel by award-winning British author, Maggie O’Farrell. In the summer of 1596, an eleven-year-old boy, the grandson of a Stratford-upon-Avon glovemaker, tries desperately to get medical attention for his twin sister, suddenly struck down with a fever. His mother, skilled with herbs, would know what to do, but she is a mile away tending to her swarming bees. His father is in London, and the physician is on a call. Hamnet is afraid for his beloved twin.

This is a story told from multiple perspectives, and while it pivots around the event of Hamnet’s death, it is more the story of his mother, Agnes than anyone else. The split-time narrative alternates between that summer day in 1596 when Hamnet’s sister Judith falls ill, and the significant events in the years leading up to, and following that tragic death.

The reader may draw a natural conclusion about the identity of the sixteenth-century Stratford man with ink-stained fingers, but O’Farrell never names him; instead, depending on the perspective of the narrative he might be referred to as the glovemaker’s son, the brother, the Latin tutor, the husband, the brother-in-law, the father, the uncle.

History it may be, but this is no dry tome: O’Farrell takes the scant known facts of the playwright’s family life and, with gorgeous prose, richly fills them in, making the historical figures real, warm, living people with feelings and emotions and desires, characters in whom it is easy to invest, with whom it is impossible not to empathise. Only the eyes of the hardest-hearted will not be brimming with tears.

O’Farrell is such a talented author; her characters are so well formed, her scene so skilfully set that sixteenth Century Stratford-upon-Avon comes alive, is vivid in the reader’s mind. Her extensive research is apparent on every page, but the historical tidbits are seamlessly woven into the story so that the reader is barely aware of how much they are learning. Utterly enthralling, this is yet another dose of Maggie O’Farrell brilliance.

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Anne Hathaway and Hamnet Shakespeare

Painting of Anne HathawayLittle is known about Shakespeare's family, names and birth dates aside — and even names are tricky. Though commonly referred to as Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare's wife may have actually been named Agnes, according to a will left by her father. O'Farrell makes the decision to use the name Agnes in her novel Hamnet, but she references this confusion in the narrative itself, in a scene where she introduces herself as Agnes but Shakespeare mishears her and thinks she said Anne.

The real Agnes, or Anne, was born in 1556, likely in a town called Shottery near Stratford, and was raised by father Richard, a local landowner, and stepmother Joan in a one-story farmhouse called Hewley Farm. There were eight children in their home, three by Anne's mother and the younger five by Joan. Upon the death of her father in 1581, her brother Bartholomew took over the running of Hewley.

Anne was eight years older than Shakespeare, who was born in 1564. They married when she was 26 and he was 18, and their daughter Susanna was born six months after their wedding. Once married, Anne left Hewley Farm to move in with Shakespeare's family on Henley Street. Their twins Hamnet and Judith were born in 1585. They were likely named after the local baker who later witnessed Shakespeare's will, Hamnet, and his wife Judith.

Shortly after the birth of the twins, Shakespeare left Stratford for London, though he would write often and visit his family on occasion (in 1611, he retired to Stratford for good). In 1596, Hamnet died at age 11. The cause was undocumented and therefore unknown to this day; however, it is generally believed that he died of the plague, which had hit the region the year before. Later that year, Anne, Susanna and Judith moved out of Shakespeare's parents' home and into New Place, the second-largest house in Stratford.

The influence of Hamnet's death on the works of Shakespeare is not concretely documented. However, many believe that Constance's final monologue in King John, in which she mourns the kidnapping and death of her son Arthur, were written about Hamnet:

Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form;
Then have I reason to be fond of grief?

It is believed that Shakespeare wrote King John in the 1590s but it is unclear exactly when, so it may or may not have been written after Hamnet's death. King Lear, however, was composed in 1606, and some of the final words Lear speaks over the dead body of his youngest child Cordelia echo the same rawness and emotional intensity of Constance's final words:

No, no, no life!
Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life,
And thou no breath at all? Thou'lt come no more,
Never, never, never, never, never!

The effect of Hamnet's death on Anne is even more uncertain, as no further details of her life were recorded, but Maggie O'Farrell gives voice to her grief in Hamnet.

Shakespeare and Anne remained married until Shakespeare's death in 1616, and he left her his "second-best bed" in his will. This detail has been perceived as a slight against Anne, but in all likelihood it was a reference to the fact that the best bed in their home was kept in the guest room, meaning the second-best was their marriage bed. Anne died in 1623.

Susanna went on to marry John Hall, a local physician, and died in 1649. The Halls had one child, Elizabeth, who did not have children of her own. Judith married Thomas Quiney, a vintner, and had three children, all of whom she outlived. Her firstborn, named Shakespeare Hall after his grandfather, lived less than a year. Judith died in 1662, 66 years after her twin brother.

Painting of Anne Hathaway by Roger Brian Dunn based on drawing by Nathaniel Curzon, courtesy of Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

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