Daily Prompt: Maybe. The Death of Hamnet Shakespeare, 420 years ago today.
Apparently, 420 years ago today, Hamnet Shakespeare died. Judith’s twin. The only son of William Shakespeare. And do I care?
How does the death of the boy Hamnet affect the author of Hamlet? Does it make him bitter and twisted, rail at the gods and abandon the last vestiges of hope and faith in a benign universe?
Will Shakespeare of course would not have seen much of the boy – living and working in London while Hamnet went to school in Stratford. The tangle of emotions felt by the distant Dad may have been expressed and maybe repressed. Maybe Will got drunk or maybe he got prayerful. Maybe he displayed a callous indifferent to the departure of his little seen and little known only male offspring while making a mental note to try for another boy when he next headed home.
To lose a child is to be rewired. You need to reforge connections. And the results defy and expectations. You may not seem to others to feel as much as you should and you react in strange and surprising way to prompts. You find that you can function when you think you can’t and then break down when you least expect. Maybe we should look for Hamnet’s influence in the least obvious places.
Maybe the the missing hopes and thwarted timelines that Hamnet represents have a grammatical structuring influence rather than an allusive one.
We’re beyond useful literary criticism when we think about Hamnet. The search for direct biographical references doesn’t get us very far, whereas consideration of literary structures, sources and creative practices gets us a great deal. Hamnet is not Hamlet. But then no real person is any dramatic or literary character. Once a character is sufficiently fleshed out to tread compel an audience’s attentions, they start to obey their own internal logic, they are free of the shackles of their source inspiration.
What can we sure that Will felt though, even though even his closest friends may not have seen it? A nagging, aching sense of loss? A sense that the universe refuses to answer our most needful and urgent questions? Well, for sure Will Shakespeare has that. Any adult with a pulse has that. And, sadly, most people in the 1590s and many people now have their Hamnets.
The “maybe” of Hamnet’s life and death, four hundred and twenty years ago today, did not organise a character or a play or a sequence of plays. All it did was give wise Will Shakespeare a heightened sense of ultimate contingency – broil emotions he was already in touch with.
Hamnet did not “maybe” inform Hamlet. Hamnet certainly influences everything. Just like everybody influences everything. But not every Hamnet has a Will Shakespeare.