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In Shakespeare's Hamlet, the death of Ophelia by drowning is one of the most emotional moments of the play.

But could it have been inspired by a real-life tragedy in the Bard's own family?

A coroner’s report shows that a Jane Shaxspere drowned aged two-and-a-half while picking corn marigolds at Upton Warren, Worcestershire, 20 miles from Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, in 1569. Shakespeare was then about five.

This discovery, which came about during a study of accidental deaths in Tudor England, has led to speculation than Jane could have been Shakespeare's younger cousin and that her story inspired the death of Ophelia in Hamlet, who drowned after falling into a brook.

Emma Smith, of Oxford’s Faculty of English Language and Literature, said:

‘Even if Jane Shaxspere were not related to the playwright, the echo of their names might well have meant this story stuck in his mind."

Was Ophelia Shakespeare’s tragic cousin? Girl who drowned picking flowers may have inspired Hamlet heroine

By Daily Mail Reporter
8th June 2011
Daily Mail

She is one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragic figures, ranking alongside Juliet, Cleopatra and Desdemona.

Now it has emerged that the character of Ophelia, whose death by drowning provokes one of the most emotional moments in Hamlet, may have been inspired by a real-life tragedy in the playwright’s own family

The link has been revealed by a study of accidental deaths in Tudor England.


Watery grave: The death of Ophelia as depicted by the British artist Millais (1851-52)

A coroner’s report shows that a Jane Shaxspere drowned aged two-and-a-half while picking corn marigolds 20 miles from Stratford-upon-Avon in 1569. Shakespeare was then about five.

The discovery has led to speculation that Jane could have been his younger cousin, and that her story inspired the death of Ophelia in Hamlet, who drowned after falling into a brook

The inquest jury recorded a ‘misfortune’ verdict on Jane’s death, which happened at the mill pond at Upton Warren, Worcestershire.


The bard: Could Ophelia be based on Shakespeare's cousin?

Dr Steven Gunn, of Oxford University’s Faculty of History, said:

‘It was quite a surprise to find Jane Shaxspere’s entry in the coroners’ reports.

'It might just be a coincidence, but the links to Ophelia are certainly tantalising.’

Emma Smith, of Oxford’s Faculty of English Language and Literature, said:

‘Even if Jane Shaxspere were not related to the playwright, the echo of their names might well have meant this story stuck in his mind.


Picturesque: Upton Warren, near Bromsgrove, Worcestershire

‘It’s a good reminder that, while Shakespeare’s plays draw on well-attested literary sources, they also often have their roots in gossip, the mundane, and the domestic detail of everyday life.

It’s interesting to think of Ophelia combining classical and Renaissance antecedents with the local tragedy of a drowned girl.’

Dr Gunn added: ‘Coroners’ reports of fatal accidents are a useful and hitherto under-studied way of exploring everyday life in Tudor England.

‘The inquiries into deaths were extensive and solemnly undertaken – the detail in which Jane Shaxspere’s death was reported suggests that children’s deaths merited careful consideration, and other young girls are similarly reported as drowning when picking flowers.

‘There are some very revealing things to come out of our project already.

'Workmen often drowned when they stripped off to bathe in rivers and ponds after work, so maybe 16th century people had more sense of hygiene than we think.’




Girl who drowned picking flowers may have inspired Hamlet heroine | Mail Online
Last edited by Blackleaf; Jun 8th, 2011 at 11:01 AM..