Hamnet Shakespeare was the son of English poet, playwright, and actor William Shakespeare. He was the fraternal twin of Shakespeare's youngest daughter, Judith Shakespeare. Hamnet passed away at the age of 11, and many scholars have since argued that his death might have prompted William Shakespeare to write some of his best-known tragedies, including ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ ‘The Tragedy of Julius Caesar,’ and ‘The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.’ From the 18th to the early 20th century, scholars and critics, such as Dover Wilson, Edward Dowden, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge pondered upon the relation between Hamnet's demise and Shakespeare's works. However, many other scholars have argued that some of Shakespeare's most cheerful works were written after Hamnet’s death. Eventually, critics stopped connecting the works of authors with the events occurring in their personal lives. However, interpretations of Shakespeare's works with regards to Hamnet's demise have begun to re-emerge.
Birth & Death
Hamnet Shakespeare was born in January 1585 in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. He was baptized by Richard Barton on February 2, 1585, in ‘The Collegiate Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity’ (Holy Trinity Church) in Stratford-upon-Avon. According to the record of his baptism found in the register of Solihull, he was christened Hamlette Sadler.
Hamnet and his twin sister, Judith, might have been named after a baker named Hamnet Sadler and his wife, Judith. Since William Shakespeare seldom lived with his family, Hamnet and Judith were raised by their mother, Anne Hathaway, in their grandfather’s house located in Henley Street.
His father, William, had established himself as a successful playwright in London by the time Hamnet was four years old. As William’s popularity increased, he often stayed away from his family owing to the nature of his work. According to a scholar named Honan, Hamnet may have completed his primary education as it was common for children to complete elementary education before the age of 11.
Hamnet Shakespeare passed away at the age of 11. Though the exact reason for his death is unknown, it is believed that he may have been one of the victims of the bubonic plague. Not many survived beyond the age of 10 at the time in England, as a third of all children died before turning 10. Hamnet’s mortal remains were buried on August 11, 1596, in the churchyard at ‘Holy Trinity’ in Stratford-upon-Avon.
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A few years after Hamnet's death, William Shakespeare started writing tragedies which gave rise to the speculation that his son's demise may have affected Shakespeare's choice of works. Scholars also argued that his tragedies became more soulful owing to his personal tragic experience.
Scholars, such as Dover Wilson, Edward Dowden, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge started pondering upon the relation between Shakespeare's works and his son's demise. In 1934, famous scholar R. W. Chambers came up with a counter-argument, saying that some of Shakespeare's most cheerful works were written after Hamnet's death. However, interpretations of Shakespeare's works with regards to his son's death continued long after the writer’s death.
Among all his tragedies, ‘Hamlet’ is often viewed as a work inspired by his son's death. Considering the fact that the names ‘Hamnet’ and ‘Hamlet’ are interchangeable, many scholars argued that Shakespeare’s famous tragedy was a direct result of his son’s untimely death. Even modern scholars have said that grief over the loss of Hamnet may lie at the heart of ‘The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.’
Not all scholars claimed that Hamnet’s death inspired William Shakespeare to write tragedies. Some of them said that Shakespeare may have also written comedies after being inspired by his son’s death. A scholar named Richard Wheeler claimed through his theories that Hamnet's death influenced Shakespeare to come up with his comedy ‘Twelfth Night, or What You Will.’ Wheeler also claimed that Shakespeare’s female characters who disguise themselves as men in ‘Twelfth Night,’ ‘As You Like It,’ and ‘The Merchant of Venice’ are Shakespeare's representation of pinning his son's hope on his daughters.
Many other works of Shakespeare, including ‘The Life and Death of King John,’ ‘The Tragedy of Julius Caesar,’ ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ and ‘The Tempest’ have been viewed by scholars as Hamnet's influence on Shakespeare. Author Bill Bryson claims that Constance's speech from ‘The Life and Death of King John,’ where she laments her son Arthur's loss, was inspired by Hamnet's death.
Hamnet Shakespeare’s father, William Shakespeare, is considered the greatest writer in the English language. His plays have been translated into several languages, and adapted into stage plays, and are performed to date. Most of his plays are considered among the finest works in English.
Hamnet’s mother, Anne Hathaway, outlived her husband, William Shakespeare, by seven years. She passed away on August 6, 1623, and her mortal remains were buried next to her husband's grave in the ‘Church of the Holy Trinity.’ Her character was depicted in various works throughout the 19th century.
Hamnet had two sisters, namely Susanna Hall and Judith Quiney. His twin sister, Judith Quiney, went on to marry a winemaker named Thomas Quiney. Judith and Thomas had three children, namely Shakespeare, Richard, and Thomas. Judith passed away in February 1662, and was buried in the burial grounds of the ‘Holy Trinity Church.’
His older sister, Susanna Hall, went on to marry a local physician named John Hall in 1607. The following year, she gave birth to her only child, a daughter named Elizabeth Barnard. Susanna passed away on July 11, 1649.