Wednesday, August 11, 2010

August 11, 1596 – Hamnet Shakespeare Feels Better

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 Stratford-upon-Avon.

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.

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.

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