Review 1627: Hamnet

Hamnet explores the impulses that went into the writing of Hamlet as well as important moments in the marriage of Anne Hathaway and William Shakespeare. It focuses on grief from the death of a beloved son.

The similarity in the name of Shakespeare’s son to that of his most famous protagonist is obvious, but I wasn’t aware until this book came out that they were essentially the same name. O’Farrell’s newest book parallels scenes from the beginning of Shakespeare’s relationship with Anne (called Agnes in the book) with the hours leading up to Hamnet’s death from bubonic plague. Then she deals with the aftermath.

At first, I wasn’t sure how much I liked all the invention going on, as O’Farrell depicts Agnes as a sort of wild child/wise woman. Then I reflected that little is known of the couple and that I was reading fiction, after all. I don’t like it when a fiction writer knowingly distorts the truth, but O’Farrell stuck fairly closely to the few known facts. The result I found extremely touching. I admit that my initial reluctance to buy in changed to my being completely rapt. This is a deft, sensitive story that concentrates mostly on Agnes’s feelings and reactions.

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4 thoughts on “Review 1627: Hamnet

  1. Jane March 9, 2021 / 11:40 am

    I can’t remember why now, but I think there is a historical reason why she’s called Agnes (was it her pet name?), any way I’m really glad you liked this. I haven’t read it yet but I don’t want anything by O’Farrell to be bad!

    • whatmeread March 9, 2021 / 11:38 pm

      I can’t remember, either. I think that may be right.

      • Davida Chazan March 10, 2021 / 7:47 am

        No, the historical reason is that her father used the name Agnes when he left her everything in his will. How we got to Ann is a bit of a mystery, except that it might have been a shortening of her read name or how she herself preferred to be called.

      • whatmeread March 10, 2021 / 11:22 am

        Interesting. I forgot that. I think it’s explained somewhere in the book.

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