Magazine September 7, 2020, Issue

Shakespeare’s Lost Son

A sign with the image of writer William Shakespeare hangs from Stratford Guildhall in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, March 22, 2019. (Peter Nicholls/Reuters)
Hamnet: A Novel of the Plague, by Maggie O’Farrell (Knopf, 320 pp., $26.95)

William Shakespeare was born in 1564 during one of several outbreaks of the bubonic plague that killed about a quarter of the population of Stratford-upon-Avon, his hometown. Supposedly, he survived because his parents locked themselves in their house. But three of Shakespeare’s sisters and his brother are thought to have been among the plague victims.

When he was working in London, from about 1585 to 1612, additional outbreaks occurred. The Globe Theatre and other playhouses were forced to close in order to slow the spread of the disease. Many people went broke. Players, theatergoers, and hundreds of ordinary citizens died during

This article appears as “What’s in a Name?” in the September 7, 2020, print edition of National Review.

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Diane Scharper teaches memoir and poetry for Johns Hopkins University’s Osher Program. She is the author or editor of seven books, including Reading Lips and Other Ways to Overcome a Disability.

In This Issue

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Max the Hamster

The pandemic, the shutdown, and the riots reveal, of the cities, the truth of that ancient bureaucratic adage: Don’t ever take a vacation.

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