It was while driving home one day last week that my interest was caught by an item on the local radio station. The ‘Drive at Five’ presenter was interviewing someone about the forthcoming ‘Shoreham Wordfest – Shakespeare Celebration 2019’, which happens during 25th – 28th April. Of course, it ties in with the anniversaries of Shakespeare’s birth and also death this coming Tuesday. The celebration includes talks and practical song and drama workshops as well as live theatre. https://www.shorehamwordfest.com/whats-on/
The interviewer was asking his guest about the relevance of Shakespeare to a modern audience; I think you’ve only got to look at the myriad outdoor productions of Shakespearean plays which are put on across the country, at National Trust properties and many other locations, to see that the popularity of the enduring tales of love and loss still have great appeal. And let’s not get started here on the many words and phrases, first used by Shakespeare, which have found their way into our modern vocabulary!
But the interview also reminded me of the wonderful film ‘All Is True’ which I saw a couple of months ago. If you haven’t already seen the film – do! It very cleverly meshes known biographical facts of Shakespeare and his family with imagined backstories: why had daughter Judith not married by the time Shakespeare retired? What did his son Hamnet die of? Why did Shakespeare leave his wife his second best bed in his will?
The title of the film is the alternative title given to the play Henry VIII, which was the final play performed at the Globe theatre before it burned down in 1613. It was after this event that Shakespeare is portrayed in the film returning to Stratford and picking up the threads of his domestic life. He has to re-establish relationships with his close family, but the film looks in particular at how he finally comes to terms with the death of his son Hamnet 17 years previously.
Having visited all of the houses associated with Shakespeare’s life in the Stratford area I had learned something of his background along the way, and this was a help in seeing All Is True. I thought that the weaving of fact and conjecture was very clever. As a family historian, however, the stand-out moment for me was when Shakespeare went to the church to examine the burial records. He reads for himself the entry for his son Hamnet. His wife Anne tells him that Hamnet died of the plague. But, as Shakespeare points out, the plague did not take isolated victims: plague in the town would have led to many deaths. The burial register tells a different story, and this leads Shakespeare to his discovery of the truth (at least in the film’s narrative) surrounding Hamnet’s death. Very clever family history detective work on the part of Shakespeare and excellent research and writing on the part of Ben Elton.
How fortunate for Shakespeare that the burial had indeed been recorded in the register! Not for him the great gaps in registers which all too frequently lead us to a seemingly impassable brick wall. I have been re-visiting one of my major brickwalls this week in preparation for a short booked consultation with an AGRA member at the forthcoming Family Tree Live event at Alexandra Palace next weekend https://www.family-tree.co.uk/ftre/show/family-tree-live . In this case it’s a missing baptism which has been my stumbling block for many years (specifically that of David George in East Dereham, Norfolk, around 1786). However, I must say that re-examining the evidence after some months pursuing other family lines does enable you to see things afresh. I am hoping that perhaps another pair of (expert) eyes might see something that I have not or suggest a record set which I have not so far thought of. I’ll let you know how I get on! I’m sure I am equally guilty, but how I wish that other trees which you see online always had their sources clearly explained – All Is True (and all is written down) – how I wish it were!!
PS – this is my 100th blog! I do hope you enjoy reading them!