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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: September ::
Hamnet's Death and That Whole Season
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1903  Tuesday, 30 September 2003

From:           Rolland Banker <
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Date:           Monday, 29 Sep 2003 20:18:12 -0700 (PDT)
Subject:        Query: Hamnet's Death and That Whole Season

In the spirit of helping and not hitting, I offer as a SHAKSPER-List
friend some thoughts.

Since you included "that whole season" in your query you have left open
the chance for me to give you something on that. Your other questions as
I recall are quite answerable and are at my fingertips somewhere but not
in my grasp at the moment. Anyways, others may answer them first. (And
perhaps your answers are to be found on a search through the SHAKSPER
files).

Here's a quote on some of "that whole season" from "Shakespeare the
Actor and the Purposes of Playing" by Meredith Anne Skura, a thoroughly
enjoyable read about the similarities of Elizabethan and modern actors
being "alike in their narcissism, and [a] daring reading of the sonnets
and plays as the utterance of a man who suffered proudly in the
ambivalence of his creative yet dependent and humiliating relationship
to those who sponsored his art."

In a chapter titled: Player King as Beggar in Great Men's Houses-II, she
discusses The Merry Wives of Windsor and the "season" following the
death of Hamnet.

pg. 139: "In his own smaller world, Falstaff is made scapegoat for
Windsor's jealousies, appetites, and shames. Part of the hilarity of the
last act is the double contrivance whereby Falstaff's punishment becomes
the means of freeing Anne Page to marry her true love, Fenton. In the
poetic logic of the play, Falstaff is killed off three times so that
Anne and Fenton may thrive and renew the world, harmony is restored
among the community's married couples, and the play ends with the
promise of a communal feast.  Finally, perhaps entirely accidentally
interestingly so, given Richard's potentially autobiographical
significance [this is from a comparative link she makes with Richard
III], Falstaff's play, as current opinion has it, was produced on 23
April 1597, Shakespeare's thirty-third (and Christological) birthday.
Years before, Shakespeare's sister Anne had died just before he
celebrated his birthday; the birthday in 1597 would be the first since
his son's and his patron's recent deaths. It would be appropriate
(however accidental), if among the several reversals which the play
effects (between hunter and hunted, cuckold and cuckolder) were one in
which Falstaff, figure for Shakespeare the survivor of his sister,
should now be sacrificed, so that this time young Anne could live
happily ever after."

The chapter presents all kinds of interesting insights into the use of
the name William in that play and others, as "ironically
self-deprecating cameos like Alfred Hitchcock's brief appearences in his
films." And in exploring whether one can locate Shakespeare in Falstaff
in the play or as a young William Page, she sums up the psychoanalytic
exploration of substitution and the replacement children complex with
this thought:

"Slender, one of Anne's would be husbands, sums up the disappointment
such a replacement implies: 'I came yonder at Eton to marry Mistress
Anne Page, and she's a great lubberly boy.' (Wiv 5.5.183-84)

P.S. I have found that the folks at SHAKSPER generally go by the Hotspur
proverb (K.Hen IV part
I.ActIII.1.137-140), please forgive my paraphrase:

"I'll give thrice ... to any well-deserving friend;
But on the way of bargain, mark ye me, I'll cavil on
the ninth part of a hair."

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