Who was Susanna Hall?
Susanna Hall was the daughter of the famous English poet, playwright, and actor William Shakespeare. She is remembered for filing a suit for slander against John Lane, Jr. who had accused her of adultery with a haberdasher named Rafe Smith. Lane was subsequently found guilty of slander and excommunicated. Hall is also remembered for inheriting the bulk of her father's estate after his death on April 23, 1616. Susanna Hall passed away on July 11, 1649, and her body was buried in the burial grounds of the ‘Holy Trinity Church.’ Many actresses have portrayed Susanna in several fictional works. In 2016, English actress and writer Helen Monks played Susanna in a British television series titled ‘Upstart Crow.’ In 2017, Phoebe Austen portrayed Susanna in the American TV drama series ‘Will.’ Lydia Wilson, too, played Susanna in the 2018 film ‘All Is True.’
Childhood & Early Life
William Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway, was pregnant with Susanna at the time of her wedding with Shakespeare. Susanna was named after the character from ‘Susanna and the Elders,’ which is included in the ‘Book of Daniel.’ The name ‘Susanna’ appealed to the Puritans as it suggested ‘purity and spotlessness.’
Susanna was baptized on May 26, 1583, in ‘The Collegiate Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity’ (Holy Trinity) in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. She was raised along with her younger siblings Hamnet and Judith Shakespeare.
There are no records of Susanna attending school. Since girls were not allowed to attend ‘Stratford King Edward VI School’ at that time, Susanna may have received primary education through tutors. Her signature can be found in two separate documents, which suggest that she may have received primary education.
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Susanna Hall inherited the bulk of William Shakespeare's estate after his death on April 23, 1616. Shakespeare had left a large portion of assets for Susanna and her male heirs. These assets included his final place of residence, ‘New Place,’ two houses in Henley Street, jewels, valuable household items, and pieces of land in and around Stratford-upon-Avon.
William Shakespeare's will mentioned that the estate would be bequeathed to Susanna’s male heirs at the time of her death. If no male heirs were born, then the estate would go to her daughter, Elizabeth Hall. Shakespeare had mentioned the Halls as executors of the will. On June 22, 1616, Susanna's husband, John Hall, proved the will at the archbishop's prerogative court in Canterbury.
In June 1613, Susanna was accused of adultery by a man named John Lane, Jr. He claimed that Susanna had committed adultery with a 35-year-old haberdasher named Rafe Smith and that she had contracted a sexually transmitted disease through Rafe Smith.
On July 15, 1613, Susanna and her husband, John Hall, filed a suit for slander against John Lane in Worcester's consistory court. A man named Robert Whatcott testified for the Halls in the consistory court where Lane failed to appear. He was subsequently found guilty and excommunicated.
Though the exact reason behind John Lane’s false accusation was never ascertained, it is believed by many that he tried to defame Susanna for political reasons. As notable Puritans of the community, Susanna and John Hall supported a Puritan vicar named Thomas Wilson, who faced opposition from John Lane and other members of the anti-Wilson faction. Susanna's decision to support Thomas Wilson may have prompted Lane to accuse Susanna of adultery. In 1619, Lane was once again found guilty of slander and was labeled an alcoholic by the court.
Family & Personal Life
Susanna Hall married John Hall, a respected physician, on June 5, 1607, in ‘Holy Trinity Church.’ John Hall practiced medicine in Stratford-upon-Avon, where he was the only physician at that time. Certain evidence indicates that Susanna's father settled a substantial dowry of 105 acres of land in Old Stratford at the time of her wedding.
Susanna and John Hall were blessed with their only child, Elizabeth Hall, who was baptized on February 21, 1608. Since William Shakespeare's younger daughter, Judith Quiney, gave birth to her children after Shakespeare's death, Elizabeth was the only grandchild Shakespeare knew. Elizabeth went on to marry Thomas Nash. After Nash’s demise, she married an English landowner named John Bernard. Elizabeth did not have any children.
Susanna’s younger brother, Hamnet Shakespeare, died at the age of 11. Many scholars have claimed that his demise may have inspired many of William Shakespeare's works, including ‘The Tragedy of Julius Caesar,’ ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ ‘The Life and Death of King John,’ and ‘The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.’
Her younger sister, Judith Shakespeare, went on to marry a winemaker named Thomas Quiney with whom she had three children, namely Shakespeare, Richard, and Thomas. Judith has been depicted in several fictional works by writers, who have made attempts to piece together unknown portions of William Shakespeare's personal life.
Death & Legacy
Susanna Hall passed away on July 11, 1649, when she was 66. Her mortal remains were buried in the burial grounds of the ‘Holy Trinity Church,’ next to her parents' graves.
Over the years, Susanna has been portrayed by many actresses in several fictional works. In 1996, she was depicted in Peter Whelan's play ‘The Herbal Bed,’ which was produced for the ‘Royal Shakespeare Company.’ ‘The Herbal Bed’ is a fictionalized work that chronicles the events surrounding Susanna Hall's slander suit.
In 2016, actress and writer Helen Monks played Susanna in ‘BBC Two’ television network's sitcom ‘Upstart Crow.’ The following year, Phoebe Austen played Susanna in ‘TNT’ network's American television drama series ‘Will.’ In 2018, Susanna was portrayed by Lydia Wilson in Kenneth Branagh-directed British film ‘All Is True.’