Hamnet Shakespeare Feels Better
by Jeff Provine
says: we're very pleased to present a new story from Jeff Provine's
excellent blog This
Day in Alternate History Please note that the opinions expressed in this
post do not necessarily reflect the views of the author(s).
On August 11th 1596,
following a harsh fever that could have taken his life, eleven-year-old
Hamnet Shakespeare recovered and went about his educational duties while
his father William worked the theaters of London. Hamnet did not know his
father much during his youth as William was usually away on business.
While he became a teenager, however, Hamnet began to show increasing
interest in his father's writing. William included him in preparation for
shows. Hamnet's mother disapproved of the boy being introduced to the wild
life of actors so young, but Hamnet refused to stay at home in
In 1600, William's play “Hamlet” was performed with Hamnet playing the
leading role just as his father had always wished. Reviews of the play
were tepid, most noting that nepotism could not overcome Hamnet's
lackluster skills as an actor. Disheartened, Hamnet left the theater and
returned home. Shakespeare would continue to work in London during the
season and attempted reconciliation with his son when back in Stratford.
In his twenties, Hamnet made his first attempts at matching his father's
style. Over the course of the next few years and under heavy tutelage from
his father, Hamnet would produce a number of successful plays, including
“The Winter's Tale” and “The Tempest.” Shakespeare's own work slowed, and
many joked that Hamnet would take William's place as the artist of the
family. William was often quoted as happily saying, “It is the father's
greatest blessing to be eclipsed by his son.”
However, Hamnet's writing seemed to suffer and taper off as his father
grew ill in 1613. Hamnet's play “The Lady and the Dragon” produced in 1615
was met with deplorable reviews. In 1616, William Shakespeare died, and
Hamnet followed soon after in what many scholars believe was suicide.
Scholars also believe that Hamnet's work was so heavily influenced by his
father that his plays were more William's than ever Hamnet's.
It seemed the son of greatness would never be able to live up to his
father's stature, a thought that destroyed him.
says in reality, Hamnet was buried on August 11, 1596, after dying of
unknown causes. A number of cases stand in Shakespeare's plays where the
Bard seems to allude to deep feelings surrounding the death of his son.
Jeff Provine, Guest Historian of
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