illustrated portrait of English playwright and poet William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

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What personal tragedy did Shakespeare endure as a parent?

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The greatest tragedy that William Shakespeare endured as a parent was the death of his only son Hamnet at the age of eleven. Other than this, very little is known about young Hamnet's short life. It is likely that he died of the bubonic plague as there were many outbreaks of this deadly disease at the time. Children were especially susceptible to the plague. Whether or not the plague was the cause of Hamnet's death, it was not uncommon for children to die young during the Elizabethan period. Hamnet probably spent his time in Stratford-Upon-Avon at his grandfather's home while his father was away in London employed as a playwright. Consequently, William Shakespeare would not have had the chance to spend much time with his son.

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William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway in 1582, and they had three children together.  The eldest was Susanna, born just six months after the wedding ceremony.  Their twins, one boy, Hamnet, and one girl, Judith, were born in January of 1585.  They were actually named after two good friends of Shakespeare's, Hamnet and Judith Sadler; Sadler, apparently, was a baker in Stratford-upon-Avon.  Sadly, when the young Hamnet was only eleven years old, he died of an unknown illness.  We have no records of his life other than when he was born and baptized and when he passed away.  

It sounds as though the Shakespeares' older daughter, Susanna, lived a prosperous and fulfilling life. She was married to a Stratford doctor named John Hall.  Their younger daughter, Judith, on the other hand, lived a somewhat sad life.  Her husband, a vintner named Thomas Quiney, was irresponsible and unfaithful to her.  

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