Maggie O’Farrell: Giving New Life to Shakespeare’s Son
‘Hamnet and Hamlet are in fact the same name, entirely interchangeable in Stratford in the late sixteenth century’. This epigram to Maggie O’Farrell’s new novel, Hamnet, dispels any doubt that Shakespeare’s son and his most celebrated character are meaningfully linked. In a short but scorchingly emotional book, O’Farrell brings us into the 16th century world of Shakespeare’s family living in Stratford. It is the time of the bubonic plague and with one of the family members falling into a fever, the novel charts the emotional journey of Shakespeare’s wife Agnes as trauma approaches.
Surely Maggie O’Farrell’s most accomplished novel to date, Hamnet centres around the emotional life of a deeply intuitive woman, charting the terrain of her grief at the loss of a child. Join the Edinburgh-based writer as she discusses Hamnet with Scotland on Sunday Literary Editor Stuart Kelly.
Edinburgh-based writer Maggie O'Farrell has produced her finest novel to date with Hamnet, and it turns out to be remarkably topical too.
Hamnet is set in Stratford in the late-16th century, at a time when bubonic plague is on the rise across England. The central character in the book, Hamnet, is one of Shakespeare's three children. His twin sister Julia has fallen ill and he is desperately trying to find his mother Agnes.
Alongside a story of sickness, it's a way of looking at Shakespeare's emerging success as a playwright and his guilt as an absent father. O'Farrell's exquisite depiction of motherly love and her ability to construct a compelling narrative are masterful in this short but deeply moving novel.