"Cold fearful drops stand on my trembling flesh"
October 1, 2004 1:00 PM Subscribe
The Death of Hamnet and the Making of Hamlet. In the spring or summer of 1596, William Shakespeare received word that his only son Hamnet, 11, was ill. In the summer he learned that Hamnet's condition had worsened and that it was necessary to drop everything and hurry home. By the time the father reached Stratford the boy—whom, apart from brief visits, Shakespeare had in effect abandoned in his infancy—may already have died. On August 11, 1596, Hamnet was buried at Holy Trinity Church: the clerk duly noted in the burial register, "Hamnet filius William Shakspere." It might have been possible that Shakespeare's Catholic father urged his son to have prayers said to speed the child's release from purgatory. The problem was that purgatory had been abolished by the ruling Protestants, and saying prayers for the dead declared illegal. Hence, the possible dilemma for Shakespeare was whether to risk punishment by praying for their deceased loved ones or obey the law and allow those souls to languish in flames. This anxiety regarding one's obligations to the dead, Stephen Greenblatt suggests, lies behind Hamlet's indecision about whether to obey his father's ghost and take revenge on his uncle Claudius.
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