Shakespeare and Son: A Journey in Writing and Grieving

By Keverne Smith | Go to book overview

7
Grief on Grief; That Within
Which Passeth Show

What’s in a Name?

In previous chapters we have seen features and patterns in Shakespeare’s writing that could be linked in part to the loss of Hamnet; but these have not dominated the plays discussed. There’s been a sense of partial rather than full engagement with the pain of mourning, a sense of repression, and this can often lead to a time when grief pours out as from a breached dam. I would argue that, for Shakespeare, this process is shown in Hamlet. There is an intensity of grief hinted at before, but never pervasive as it is here, where the universe is nightblack as the hero’s mourning cloak. Even before the Ghost of Hamlet’s father appears commanding his son to avenge his murder, Francisco, on sentry duty, is not just frozen by the bitter night but is also, inexplicably, “sick at heart,” preparing us for the large number of images of inner unease and sickness that Caroline Spurgeon was the first to try and quantify in this strange, strange play (1.1.9). As Jeffrey Kauffman notes, one aspect of repressed grief can be to “engender in another person what is in oneself denied,” whether it be engendered in a real person or in a fictional character.1 Therese Rando’s research into the differences between mothers’ and fathers’ reactions to the loss of a child revealed that, for fathers, the main distinguishing responses are “a great sense of isolation and desolation, accompanied by feelings of loss of control and a considerable fear of death,” all features strongly present in this play and in many of those to come.2

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