8/11/16

Shakespeare's Son Buried 420 Years Ago Today

Shakespeare and his family, by an unidentified
German engraver (c. 1890). Hamnet is on
Shakespeare's right.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.
The Trinity Church parish register shows that Shakespeare's only son, Hamnet, was buried 420 years ago today, on August 11, 1596.

Scholars and writers have speculated about how Hamnet's death may have affected his father's plays. For instance, Shakespeare's experience of losing a child may lie behind his devastating depiction of a father's grief at the end of King Lear.

The similarity of Hamnet's name to Hamlet's—a name Shakespeare found in his sources—has tempted writers to connect the son to the character, as James Joyce does in Ulysses. Joyce imagines a performance of Hamlet in which Shakespeare plays the Ghost; so when Shakespeare calls to Hamlet in the first act, "To a son he speaks, the son of his soul, the prince, young Hamlet and to the son of his body, Hamlet Shakespeare, who has died in Stratford that his namesake may live for ever."

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