Hamnet - the death of a son, the birth of a play.
With 2020 drawing quickly to a close, I selected a book that came out earlier in the year, received critical acclaim and was one I initially had no interest in reading. But now I’m very glad I decided to read Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. It is a creative, fictionalized story about William Shakespeare and his family. The primary focus is on his wife and children and interestingly, Shakespeare is never mentioned by name throughout – he is simply the Latin tutor, the husband, the father, the writer of plays.
Part of the book is about how Shakespeare (then a tutor) comes to meet and marry Agnes. (His wife is known as Anne in the history books but the author found evidence of her being referred to as Agnes by her father.) Their first child, daughter Susanna, is soon followed by twins Hamnet and Judith. The death in 1596 of their 11-year-old son Hamnet from the bubonic plague is the central part of the novel. Shakespeare is a distant figure within the family, spending the majority of his time in London writing and staging his plays. The family, living in Stratford, has to deal with their immense grief without his support. Several years after the child’s death, the father writes his latest tragedy – Hamlet. (The names Hamlet and Hamnet were used interchangeably in records of the time.)
Hamnet is a beautifully written book. The emotions conveyed about the loss of a child made it a heartbreaking read. You don’t have to be a Shakespeare aficionado to appreciate this book.
Rated 4.25 out of 5 stars.
Publication Date: March 31, 2020.
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