Shakespeare’s Tragic Twins Commemorated in The Bard’s Resting Place | william shakespeare

Novelist Maggie O’Farrell will be heading to Stratford-upon-Avon next weekend with two sprigs of rosemary cut from her own garden. A plant traditionally associated with remembrance, as Ophelia notes in Hamletits flowery sprigs will be placed on the ground in homage to Shakespeare’s twin children, Judith and Hamnet.

For centuries they had no visible memorial in the city where they lived and died. But that all changes on Saturday morning when two mountain ash trees are planted in the graveyard of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford to mark their very different lives. O’Farrell will then place his gift of rosemary at the foot of each tree.

“I’m so thrilled because I’ve been working on this for years,” said O’Farrell, whose family book, Hamnetwon the 2020 Women’s Fiction Award. “Hamnet’s mountain ash, or mountain ash, will have golden red berries in the fall, while Judith’s will be pinkish white, so they are similar but not identical, just as they would have been.”

In collaboration with Annie Ashworth of the Stratford Literary Festival and with the vicar and caretakers of Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare himself is buried, the trees will help tell the full story of a significant family world.

Maggie O’Farrell thinks the ceremony will be bittersweet. Photograph: Martina Bocchio/Awakening/Alamy

Hamnet, whose name was also written as Hamlet, died suddenly aged 11 in 1596, and the loss, according to O’Farrell, shaped Shakespeare’s later creative sensibility. His own work of fiction tells the speculative story of the family’s bereavement. “I am truly amazed that people debated whether or not Shakespeare was in mourning and whether the death affected his work. Of course he did. I find it baffling that people haven’t given more thought to her significance, especially when the spelling of her name and the title of her most famous play were interchangeable,” she told the Observer.

The idea to mark Hamnet’s short life came to him when he first visited the church in 2017 to research his novel. “It was seeded for me when I asked the cemetery official where the grave was. “We don’t know,” they said, although they have a record of his burial. It felt iconic to me, as Hamnet was relegated to literary footnotes and overlooked. No one ever gave him his due.

As O’Farrell read the line of ink that recorded Hamnet’s burial, she vowed to arrange a memorial, later realizing that Judith had no memorial either.

Although she is due to give a talk about her novel at the Literary Festival this Friday, she deliberately wants to keep Saturday’s ceremony separate from her fictional narrative. “I wanted to do it separately, because this event is about the real Hamnet, not the person imagined in my book. It is absolutely about the real boy,” she explained.

The task of obtaining permission largely fell to Ashworth, and O’Farrell said it would not have been possible without the help of the city. “I found out you can’t have a headstone without a grave, so a tree and a plaque for each one seemed like the right thing,” she said.

An illustration of William Shakespeare reciting Hamlet to his family.  His wife, Anne Hathaway, is seated in the right chair;  his son Hamnet is behind him on the left;  his two daughters Susanna and Judith are to his right and left.
An illustration of William Shakespeare reciting Hamlet to his family. His wife, Anne Hathaway, is seated in the right chair; his son Hamnet is behind him on the left; his two daughters Susanna and Judith are to his right and left. Photograph: The Picture Art Collection/Alamy

Judith Shakespeare, central character in the film by Ben Elton and Kenneth Branagh in 2018 It’s all truelived a long life and is said to have been buried in a pauper’s grave.

“We’re not sure, but she definitely struggled. She lived to be 67, which was a very good age since the average life expectancy then was around 47.

“It was a full and difficult life, as she buried a husband and three sons, as well as her brother Hamnet. I like to think that she lived for herself and for him.

Speeches in the Vicar’s and O’Farrell’s graveyard will be followed by readings of two Shakespearean plays; passages chosen for the occasion by the novelist and read by the actress of the Royal Shakespeare Company Hannah Young.

“For Hamnet, I chose Constance’s speech King John, where she talks about her deceased son,” O’Farrell said. “I always thought it was definitely Hamnet. And then, for Judith, I selected lines of Dream of a summer night which speak of twins, a constant theme in his plays.

The tone of the ceremony, predicts the author, will be bittersweet: “We honor a child who died at the age of 11, but we are also happy to honor them both. They will not be forgotten.

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