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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Shakespeare Amends His Will

On 25 March 1616, William Shakespeare called his lawyer to his home in Stratford-upon-Avon. He wanted to amend his will.

By January of 1616, he must have known that he did not have long, because he called the lawyer to draft his final will and testament.

In February 1616, his daughter Judith married Thomas Quiney, a vintner.

But Quiney got into trouble. He had slept with another woman who got pregnant. Tragically, she and the baby both died in early March, as she was giving birth.

Quiney had to appear before a court, but was not punished very severely.

If that wasn't enough, Quiney and Judith were married in a time that prohibited weddings, and they did not obtain the proper license.

This was a serious offense. Quiney was excommunicated, and Judith may have been excommunicated, too.

Shakespeare was clearly angry. He struck Quiney out of his will.

He let Judith remain in the will, but with strict instructions never to allow Quiney access to the inheritance.

Most of what was left would be inherited by Shakespeare's elder daughter Susanna, and her husband John Hall, a respected physician.

This must have been a very unpleasant business to attend to, when Shakespeare must have been very ill -- he had almost exactly one month left to live.

A disputed death mask of Shakespeare

These must have been unbearably hard days at his house, New Place.

I can only imagine how sad Shakespeare's wife Anne must have been. She must have known that she was about to lose her husband, and she was losing her daughter Judith at the same time.

Like any spouse, she would have done everything she could to take care and to comfort her husband in these last days. That was her first priority.

But now with her daughter's unwise marriage and the rift that her marriage caused within the Shakespeare family, Anne must have wanted to reconcile father with daughter.

That would have been Anne's second priority.

I like to think that Anne was able to bring Judith home, to see Shakespeare alone.

I like to think that Shakespeare found some kind words to say to his daughter, the twin of his lost son Hamnet. I like to think that Judith cried on her father's shoulder, and apologized for her misbehavior.

But we don't know if there was such a reconciliation.

I do not like to think that Shakespeare died and went to his grave with a heart broken by his daughter's foolishness.

But it is very possible.

I try to imagine what a man like Shakespeare did in his very last days, and what crossed his mind.

I like to think that he remembered all of the grand days in his life, like the first days of his in London, around 1587 when the whole city was unknown to him and his talent and ambititon were burning brightest.

He would have remembered the triumphant moments in The Theatre, later The Globe, performing before Queen Elizabeth and King James.

I think he would spend much of the time remembering his very great friends Richard Burbage, Henry Condell and the other actors with whom he had worked.

I think he would have spent many moments with his wife Anne, reminiscing about their lives together and their lives apart.

I imagine that she would cry uncontrollably at some of these memories. I think they truly loved each other, and the loss of such a love would be unbearably hard.

I don't think he cried while looking back at his life. He had cried enough during his life to cry anymore now. He had cried over too many graves -- like his son Hamnet's -- and lost too many friends -- men like the Earl of Essex, and James Burbage -- to suffer from that pain anymore.

I like to imagine that in his very last days he would bravely face his fate. He accomplished so much, and he fulfilled just about every professional dream he ever had.

What more was there to do?

A recent 3D image of his face, based on the same death mask

He must have had regrets. We all have regrets. But I don't think he would have dwelled on them.

He was able to become an actor and a playwright, write and perform plays and change the course of history. He had earned his place in that history by his talent, his industry, and no little degree of luck.

He had lived a life that was unlike any other, and was almost inconceivable anywhere else on the planet in the late 1500's and early 1600's. He couldn't have accomplished what he did even in Europe -- not in France and not in Italy. Actors were excommunicated in those countries.

Only in England, and only with monarchs like Elizabeth and James, could a man from such humble beginnings climb to such heights, and become a gentleman.

I think there would be a moment or two where he would have been thankful for having been born in Stratford-upon-Avon, a town which he loved, and which lies just about in the center of the island.

Because I think he would have prayed a lot near the end. If he stopped and imagined what Heaven looked like, he probably wanted it to look like Stratford.

Stratford

And he would have thanked God for being born an Englishman, in the heart of England!

Cheers,

David B. Schajer

Related Articles:

Shakespeare's Last Days

Shakespeare's Daughter Judith

Anne and William Shakespeare's Wedding

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