Shakespeare and Son: A Journey in Writing and Grieving

Shakespeare and Son: A Journey in Writing and Grieving

Shakespeare and Son: A Journey in Writing and Grieving

Shakespeare and Son: A Journey in Writing and Grieving


A revealing examination of an under-explored area of Shakespeare studies, this work looks at the evidence for the author's deep and evolving response to the loss of his only son, Hamnet.

• Discussion of 20 of Shakespeare's works, concentrating on 16 works completed after his son Hamnet's death in 1596

• Chronological organization so readers can follow the development of Shakespeare's response to the death of Hamnet as reflected in the plays and poetry written following this tragedy

• A cross-disciplinary bibliography, drawing especially on literary, theatrical, historical, thanatological, and psychological commentaries


So much has been written about William Shakespeare that it might seem there is nothing left to say, but the possible effects on his writing of the death of his only son, Hamnet, in 1596, while engaging many commentators, have rarely been explored in detail. and there’s a good reason for this, as Richard Wheeler points out in one of the few attempts to do so: Shakespeare never refers to this death directly. I hope to show, however, that cumulative evidence from repeated structural patterns in works written over many years suggests that this most extraordinary writer was indeed an ordinary father when it came to bereavement—searching, not necessarily consciously, for ways to place his loss in perspective with his life. To retrace this path it is necessary to bring together areas of knowledge not normally connected: literary and historical studies on the one hand, and explorations of the experience of grief on the other. This unusual combination can illuminate many features of Shakespeare’s writing after his young son’s death. I hope this journey will be of interest to the general reader as well as to the academic, and have therefore tried to avoid technical language which might be opaque to such a reader whenever possible.

Counselors and therapists have shown that, when a new grief occurs in someone’s life, earlier losses feed into it. in writing about the possible effects of Hamnet’s death I am not suggesting that Shakespeare’s works reveal that anguish alone; but I am arguing that there are moments when grief for Hamnet contributes to the emotional intensity of Shakespeare’s writing, and that a recognition of these moments will deepen our understanding of the appeal of his wonderful plays, and perhaps may even help . . .

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