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Maggie O'Farrell


William Shakespeare is busy creating and performing his plays in London, while his wife and three children stay behind in Stratford. The novel is seen mainly through the eyes of Shakespeare’s wife Agnes, and their young son Hamnet. In a series of flashbacks the book shows developments in the lives of the young Shakespeare and his relatives. These include William’s difficult relationship with his father and the difficulties the young couple experience living in close proximity to Shakespeare’s father, a violent and often drunk glovemaker. Agnes’ own achievements as a herb healer clearly contrast with the more traditional life of her parents-in-law. Meanwhile Hamnet enjoys his life of school and play, and knows better than anyone how to handle the tensions at home. When his twin sister Judith falls gravely ill with a contagious disease, Hamnet tries to find his mother and the doctor, but they appear to be too late to save her. Hamnet then tries to cheat death by cuddling up to her; in the end, however, Judith recovers and Hamnet dies at the age of eleven. The surviving family members all deal with his death and the collapse of their world as they knew it in their own way. Their grief almost causes William and Agnes to lose each other, but their relationship is restored when William writes his play Hamlet.

A very moving portrait of family life in the 16th century.


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