Shakespeare had three children, starting with Susanna. Judith was born with her twin brother Hamnet, a name which is interchangeable with Hamlet.
I think that Shakespeare loved Judith as any father would, but the relationship was strained.
|Edwin Austin Abbey's illustration to "Judith Shakespeare" 1883|
When all three children were young, Shakespeare was mostly in London, building his career. He is commonly believed to have been in London by 1587, so almost right after Judith and Hamnet are born, he was off to the city.
Stratford was not an easy commute, and he would not have been there for his children as much as I am sure he would have liked. We must give a great deal of credit to his wife, Anne Hathaway, for raising these children mostly by herself.
Shakespeare must have been fond of the popular story of Amleth -- about a simple boy who marries the daughter of the King of England, takes revenge on his uncle for the death of his own father, and becomes a great hero.
The story of Amleth inspired Shakespeare to name his son Hamnet, and inspired Shakespeare to write the Hamlet play.
As such, it would not be surprising if Shakespeare doted on his son Hamnet more than his daughters. After all, Hamnet would be his heir, and carry on the name and legacy of the entire Shakespeare family.
Since Shakespeare's ambition was to be not just a great playwright, but the greatest playwright of the Elizabethan period, he would have dreamed of days when his son could enjoy a better life than he had.
Shakespeare was the son of a glove-maker. He wanted his son to be a gentleman, and his son's children to be even wealthier and more powerful.
This is any father's dream, for his children to have more than their father.
Shakespeare wanted to confer gentle status on his family. He applied and received a coat of arms for this purpose.
It was his purpose in life. Playwrighting for him was a means to an end.
|Shakespeare reading Hamlet to his family, with Hamnet standing, Susanna and Judith on either side, and Anne opposite her husband |
Engraving circa 1890 by unknown artist
If this was the greatest ambition Shakespeare ever had, then it must have been a terribly crushing blow when his son Hamnet died in 1596.
The boy, in whom Shakespeare had put almost all of his hopes and dreams, had been only 11 years old.
I think Shakespeare loved his daughters dearly, but after Hamnet died, the relationship he had with his children may have suffered.
We don't know to what degree the twins Judith and Hamnet looked alike, but her face must have been a constant reminder of her lost brother.
Every time he looked at her he would see the face of his son. In the years after he died, as Judith aged, I find it hard to believe that Shakespeare never imagined what his son would look like as he would have aged.
It would seem from the evidence we have that Susanna led a relatively normal life. She married in 1607 to John Hall, who was a respected physician. They had a daughter named Elizabeth, born in 1608.
This was the only grandchild Shakespeare would have enjoyed knowing before he died.
When Shakespeare died in 1616, he left most of his possessions to Susanna and John. He trusted them.
Judith on the other hand, was married February 1616, only two months before Shakespeare died.
|from "Judith Shakespeare"|
Her husband Thomas Quiney was a vintner. Before he married Judith he had slept with another woman and made her pregnant. This other woman and her child died while she was giving birth, in March 1616.
Thomas had to appear in court and was punished very lightly.
He and Judith were married during a time of the year that prohibited weddings. They had to obtain a special license, but they did not. The very next month, Thomas was called to a court, but he failed to appear. He was excommunicated, and Judith may have been excommunicated too.
I think that these were very unwelcome events in Shakespeare's life. It must have been very painful for him, especially since they were happening in his final days.
It would appear that Judith was not as responsible as her sister.
I often wonder what brought her to be such a reckless young woman. I have to think that the brother she lost and the father who was absent for so long must have something to do with it.
As much as Shakespeare suffered the loss of Hamnet, she suffered as great a loss of a brother, her twin no less. The pain must have been terrible. It must have been like losing part of her own body and soul.
When Shakespeare died in April 1616, it must have been a hard blow to all of his family.
I think they knew full well and fully understood the importance of William Shakespeare as a man and an artist, a simple boy who climbed to the very top, who wrote and performed for Queen Elizabeth and became a King's Man for James.
But sadly, the worst part of it all was that Anne lost her dear husband and their children lost a dear father.
I can only imagine the pain and suffering in that household in the days and weeks after his death.
I do like to think that all of Shakespeare's fellow actors, Richard Burbage, Henry Condell and the rest, made a pilgrimage to Stratford to pay their respects to their lost leader and friend, and perhaps even regale Anne, Susanna and Judith with stories from William's life in London.
Perhaps this was one of the few times Susanna and Judith were given a window into their father's life and career. I hope that both of them had at one time or another gone to London and taken in a show by their father.
But the stories they could hear from Shakespeare's closest friends would have been something else.
On a final happy note, Judith -- who would have understood her father's desire to confer gentle status on his family and preserve the Shakespeare name -- had a child later in that same year.
On 23 November, 1616 Judith and Thomas Quiney had a baby boy.
His name was Shakespeare Quiney.
I hope you join me today in taking a moment in remembering Judith, who is all too often overlooked in the life of her father.
David B. Schajer
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