Hamnet Shakespeare

Hamnet Shakespeare

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Hamnet Shakespeare was the only son of William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

 and Anne Hathaway
Anne Hathaway (Shakespeare)
Anne Hathaway was the wife of William Shakespeare. They were married in 1582. She outlived her husband by seven years...

, and the fraternal twin of Judith Shakespeare
Judith Quiney
Judith Quiney , née Shakespeare, was the youngest daughter of William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway. She married Thomas Quiney, a vintner of Stratford-upon-Avon. The circumstances of the marriage, including Quiney's misconduct, may have prompted the rewriting of Shakespeare's will...

. He died at age 11 of unknown causes. There are several theories on the relationship, if any, between Hamnet and his father's later play Hamlet
Hamlet
The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, or more simply Hamlet, is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1599 and 1601...

. Other theories postulate connections between Hamnet's death and the writing of King John, Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy written early in the career of playwright William Shakespeare about two young star-crossed lovers whose deaths ultimately unite their feuding families. It was among Shakespeare's most popular archetypal stories of young, teenage lovers.Romeo and Juliet belongs to a...

, Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar (play)
The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, also known simply as Julius Caesar, is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1599. It portrays the 44 BC conspiracy against...

, and Twelfth Night, among others. Such biographical theories connecting Hamnet to his father's work began to be popular as early as the 18th century and continued into the 1930s before being dismissed on the arrival of prominent, anti-biographical
Biographical fallacy
The biographical fallacy is a term used in cultural criticism to critique the view that works of creative art, literature or music can be interpreted as reflections of the life of their authors...

 literary movements such as modernism
Modernism
Modernism, in its broadest definition, is modern thought, character, or practice. More specifically, the term describes the modernist movement, its set of cultural tendencies and array of associated cultural movements, originally arising from wide-scale and far-reaching changes to Western society...

 and New Criticism
New Criticism
New Criticism was a movement in literary theory that dominated American literary criticism in the middle decades of the 20th century. It emphasized close reading, particularly of poetry, to discover how a work of literature functioned as a self-contained, self-referential aesthetic...

. More recently, as New Criticism has lost favour among academics, theories surrounding Hamnet and his father's work have resurfaced.

Life



Little is known about the short life of this child, who might have carried on the Shakespeare family name had he survived to adulthood. Hamnet and his twin sister Judith
Judith Quiney
Judith Quiney , née Shakespeare, was the youngest daughter of William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway. She married Thomas Quiney, a vintner of Stratford-upon-Avon. The circumstances of the marriage, including Quiney's misconduct, may have prompted the rewriting of Shakespeare's will...

 were born in Stratford-upon-Avon
Stratford-upon-Avon
Stratford-upon-Avon is a market town and civil parish in south Warwickshire, England. It lies on the River Avon, south east of Birmingham and south west of Warwick. It is the largest and most populous town of the District of Stratford-on-Avon, which uses the term "on" to indicate that it covers...

 and baptised on 2 February 1585 in Holy Trinity Church
Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon
The Collegiate Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon is a Grade I listed parish church of the Church of England in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England.-Background:...

 by Richard Barton of Coventry. The twins were likely named after friends of their parents, Hamnet Sadler, a baker, who witnessed Shakespeare's will, and his wife, Judith.

He was likely raised principally by his mother Anne in the Henley Street house belonging to his grandfather. Germaine Greer
Germaine Greer
Germaine Greer is an Australian writer, academic, journalist and scholar of early modern English literature, widely regarded as one of the most significant feminist voices of the later 20th century....

, however, thinks it unlikely that the Shakespeare children were raised principally at Henley Street, proposing instead the possibility that the newly-wed Shakespeares set up house in a small cottage, or even took up residence at New Place as tenants early in their marriage, before purchasing it later on.

By the time Hamnet was four, his father was already a London playwright, and he might not have been home at Stratford with his son very often as his popularity grew. Honan believes that Hamnet may have completed Lower School, which would have been normal, before his death at the age of eleven (possibly from the Bubonic Plague). He was buried in Stratford on 11 August 1596. At that time in England about a third of all children died before age 10, so his young death was not unusual for the time.

Connection to Hamlet and other plays


Scholars have long speculated how William Shakespeare's writing was influenced by his son's death, or whether it was at all. Unlike his contemporary Ben Jonson
Ben Jonson
Benjamin Jonson was an English Renaissance dramatist, poet and actor. A contemporary of William Shakespeare, he is best known for his satirical plays, particularly Volpone, The Alchemist, and Bartholomew Fair, which are considered his best, and his lyric poems...

, who wrote a lengthy piece on the death of his own son, Shakespeare, if he wrote anything in response, did so more subtly. At the time his son died, Shakespeare was writing primarily comedies, and that writing continued until a few years after Hamnet's death, when his major tragedies were written. It is possible that his tragedies gained depth from his experience.

Biographical readings, in which critics would try to connect passages in the plays and sonnets to specific events in Shakespeare's life, are at least as old as the Romantic Period
Romanticism
Romanticism was an artistic, literary and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Europe, and gained strength in reaction to the Industrial Revolution...

. Many famous writers, scholars, and critics from the 18th to the early 20th century pondered the connection between Hamnet's death and Shakespeare's plays. These scholars and critics included Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Samuel Taylor Coleridge was an English poet, Romantic, literary critic and philosopher who, with his friend William Wordsworth, was a founder of the Romantic Movement in England and a member of the Lake Poets. He is probably best known for his poems The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla...

, Edward Dowden
Edward Dowden
Edward Dowden , was an Irish critic and poet.He was the son of John Wheeler Dowden, a merchant and landowner, and was born at Cork, three years after his brother John, who became Bishop of Edinburgh in 1886. Edward's literary tastes emerged early, in a series of essays written at the age of twelve...

, and Dover Wilson, among others. In 1931, C. J. Sisson stated that such interpretations had "gone too far". In 1934, Shakespeare scholar R. W. Chambers agreed, saying that Shakespeare's most cheerful work was written after his son's death, making a connection doubtful. In the mid-to-late 20th century, it became increasingly unpopular for critics to connect events in author's lives with their work, not just for Shakespeare, but for all writing. More recently, however, as the ideas of the New Criticism
New Criticism
New Criticism was a movement in literary theory that dominated American literary criticism in the middle decades of the 20th century. It emphasized close reading, particularly of poetry, to discover how a work of literature functioned as a self-contained, self-referential aesthetic...

 have lost prominence, biographical interpretations of Hamnet's relationship to his father's work have begun to re-emerge.

Some theories about Hamnet's influence on his father's plays are centered on the tragedy Hamlet
Hamlet
The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, or more simply Hamlet, is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1599 and 1601...

. The traditional view is that speculation that grief over his only son's death may have spurred Shakespeare to write Hamlet (composed 1599/1601) is in all likelihood incorrect. Although the names Hamlet and Hamnet were considered virtually interchangeable, and Shakespeare's own will spelled Hamnet Sadler's first name as "Hamlett", the name of the character in the play has a different derivation. Prince Hamlet's name is more often thought to be related to the Amleth character in Saxo Grammaticus'
Saxo Grammaticus
Saxo Grammaticus also known as Saxo cognomine Longus was a Danish historian, thought to have been a secular clerk or secretary to Absalon, Archbishop of Lund, foremost advisor to Valdemar I of Denmark. He is the author of the first full history of Denmark.- Life :The Jutland Chronicle gives...

 Vita Amlethi, an old Scandinavian legend that is very similar to Shakespeare's story. More recent scholarship has argued that, while Hamlet has a Scandinavian origin and may have been selected as a play subject for commercial reasons, Shakespeare's grief over the loss of his only son may lie at the heart of the tragedy.

Speculation over Hamnet's influence on Shakespeare's works is not limited to Hamlet. Richard Wheeler theorises that Hamnet's death influenced the writing of Twelfth Night, which centres on a girl who believes that her twin brother has died. In the end, she finds that her brother never died, but is alive and well. Wheeler also posits the idea that the women who disguise themselves as men in The Merchant of Venice
The Merchant of Venice
The Merchant of Venice is a tragic comedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1596 and 1598. Though classified as a comedy in the First Folio and sharing certain aspects with Shakespeare's other romantic comedies, the play is perhaps most remembered for its dramatic...

, As You Like It
As You Like It
As You Like It is a pastoral comedy by William Shakespeare believed to have been written in 1599 or early 1600 and first published in the folio of 1623. The play's first performance is uncertain, though a performance at Wilton House in 1603 has been suggested as a possibility...

, and Twelfth Night are a representation of William Shakespeare's seeing his son's hope in his daughters after Hamnet's death. Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson
William McGuire "Bill" Bryson, OBE, is a best-selling American author of humorous books on travel, as well as books on the English language and on science. Born an American, he was a resident of Britain for most of his adult life before moving back to the US in 1995...

 argues that Constance's speech from the third act of King John (written mid-1590s) was inspired by Hamnet's death. In the speech she laments the loss of her son, Arthur. It is possible, though, that Hamnet was still alive when Constance's lament was written. Many other plays of Shakespeare's have theories surrounding Hamnet. These include questions as to whether a scene in Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar (play)
The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, also known simply as Julius Caesar, is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1599. It portrays the 44 BC conspiracy against...

, in which Caesar adopts Mark Antony as a replacement for his dead son is related to Hamnet's death, or whether Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy written early in the career of playwright William Shakespeare about two young star-crossed lovers whose deaths ultimately unite their feuding families. It was among Shakespeare's most popular archetypal stories of young, teenage lovers.Romeo and Juliet belongs to a...

is a tragic reflection of the loss of a son, or Alonso's guilt over his son's death in The Tempest
The Tempest
The Tempest is a play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1610–11, and thought by many critics to be the last play that Shakespeare wrote alone. It is set on a remote island, where Prospero, the exiled Duke of Milan, plots to restore his daughter Miranda to her rightful place,...

is related. Sonnet 37
Sonnet 37
Shakespeare's Sonnet 37 returns to a number of themes sounded in the first 25 of the cycle, such as the effects of age and recuperation from age, and the blurred boundaries between lover and beloved...

 may have also been written in response to Hamnet's death. Shakespeare says in it, "As a decrepit father takes delight / To see his active child do deeds of youth / So I, made lame by fortune's dearest spight / Take all my comfort of thy worth and truth." Still, if this is an allusion to Hamnet, it is a vague one. The grief can echo also in one of the most painful passages Shakespeare ever wrote, in the end of King Lear
King Lear
King Lear is a tragedy by William Shakespeare. The title character descends into madness after foolishly disposing of his estate between two of his three daughters based on their flattery, bringing tragic consequences for all. The play is based on the legend of Leir of Britain, a mythological...

where the ruined monarch recognizes his daughter is dead: 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!

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