The Death of Hamnet and the Making of Hamlet

  1. Shakespeare was in the business, all of his life, of probing the passions of his characters and arousing the passions of his audiences. His skill in doing so is almost universally acknowledged to have been unrivaled, but the inner sources of this skill remain largely unknown. Scholarship has tirelessly reconstructed at least something of his wide-ranging, eclectic reading, but his own passionate life—his access through personal experience and observation to the intense emotions he represents—is almost completely mysterious. None of his letters, working notes, diaries, or manuscripts (with the possible exception of “Hand D” in Sir Thomas More) survives. His sonnets have been ransacked for autobiographical evidence, but, though written in the first person, they are baffling, elusive, and probably deliberately opaque.

    Over centuries of feverish speculation, the most compelling reflections on the presence of Shakespeare’s emotional life in his plays—preeminently, James Joyce’s brilliant...

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