A Word on Words | NPT


Hamnet | Maggie O’Farrell | A Word on Words | NPT

“I have always been intrigued about the relationship, the link, between this lost boy, this lost son, and this incredible tragedy. And that’s what I’m exploring in the novel.” Maggie O’Farrell discusses her historical novel HAMNET with host Mary Laura Philpott on NPT's A WORD ON WORDS.

AIRED: April 10, 2021 | 0:02:30

(typewriter typing and dinging)

(Renaissance-style music)

- This is Maggie O'Farrell, and this is Hamnet.

It's a fictionalized re-imagining

of the life of William Shakespeare's only son,

who was called Hamnet,

and he died aged 11, and the Globe Theater dates the play,

which is probably Shakespeare's most famous play, Hamlet,

four years after Hamnet died,

and I have always been intrigued about the relationship,

the link between this lost boy,

this lost son and this incredible tragedy,

and that's what I'm exploring in the novel.

- How did you first become aware of Shakespeare's son,

of his life and his death?

- I was 16 and I was studying the play Hamlet

for my Highers in Scotland,

and I had an absolutely fantastic English teacher

at high school who, one of those teachers

who really changed my life

and changed the way I looked at the world and at books.

And he just mentioned in passing one day,

when we were studying the play,

that Shakespeare had had a son

and that he'd been called Hamnet and that he'd died.

And I remember being very struck by this,

I just remember looking down at the cover

of the school issue play that we had

and putting my finger over the L,

and thinking it's the same name.

- I've always felt that Hamnet, the boy,

isn't nearly as well known as he should be,

that he's been underwritten and slightly forgotten,

he's been consigned to a sort of literary footnote.

I think he's enormously significant,

and I think his death was significant,

and I think he was grieved,

you know, you only have to read the opening scenes

of the play Hamlet to realize

that the whole work is underpinned

by this enormous sense, this enormous well of grief.

I wanted to resurrect him in a sense and give him his due.

I wanted to give him a voice and a presence,

and to say to readers, this boy was important, you know,

we owe him so much, without him we wouldn't have Hamlet,

and we probably wouldn't have Twelfth Night.

- [Mary] Thanks for joining us for A Word on Words.

For more of my conversation with Maggie O'Farrell,

visit awordonwords.org,

and keep reading.

- [Maggie] I have a son and two daughters,

as the Shakespeares did,

and I found that I couldn't write this book

until he was at least 12.

So, and I'm not very superstitious,

but I was superstitious writing about that.


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