The following article summarizes the original event which is listed below the summary.

Book Notes | 'Hamnet'

August 19, 2022, at 2pm

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell is an historical novel that imagines the courtship and early domestic life of William Shakespeare and his wife, Agnes, at the time of the bubonic plague in the late 1500s.

Most of the story is set in Stratford-on-Avon and in Hewlands, a farming community a mile or so west of Stratford, where William teaches Latin at the grammar school and Agnes grows herbs and plants and raises honeybees. The story ends in London at the Globe Theater where the play Hamlet is performed.

The novel is organized along two parallel story lines. The author describes life in the community before Agnes and William meet and marry. We also learn about their parents and siblings.

The second story line takes place in the present, on a day in which the Shakespeares’ daughter Judith is sick. As she lies in bed with a fever and developing buboes, the novelist shows what other members of the family are doing. The focus is on Hamnet, Judith’s twin, who spends his day looking for someone to help his sister.

When Agnes returns home, she swaddles Judith is a basket close to the fireplace. Unbeknownst to Agnes, Hamnet then crawls in beside his twin and cuddles. Only one of the children survives.

Grief at the loss of a child
The story based in the present conveys the grief the parents feel at the loss of one of their children and the form this grief takes in both their lives.

It is thought that the play Hamlet was written and produced in memory of Hamnet.

Most members of the UMRA Book Club liked the book or at least parts of it, including the tie-in to the plague. Agnes was the character many of the readers found the most interesting. One member particularly appreciated her intuition. Agnes’s brother Bartholomew was also a favorite character. He knew how to deal with his sister’s husband in a teasing manner.

One member said, “I thank author Maggie O’Farrell [for this book]; there is a depth of knowledge and skills here.” The author’s description of grief was especially powerful.

—Becky Anderson, UMRA Book Club member




Book Club I to meet August 19

Fri, Aug 19 2022, 2pm

Event to be held via Zoom

Becky Anderson will lead the discussion of Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell when the UMRA Book Club I meets via Zoom at 2 p.m. on Friday, August 19. 

Email Pat Tollefson for more information, including suggestions for starting a new book club.

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