England, 1580: The Black Death creeps across the land, an ever-present threat, infecting the healthy, the sick, the old and the young alike. The end of days is near, but life always goes on. A young Latin tutor—penniless and bullied by a violent father—falls in love with an extraordinary, eccentric young woman. Agnes is a wild creature who walks her family’s land with a falcon on her glove and is known throughout the countryside for her unusual gifts as a healer, understanding plants and potions better than she does people. Once she settles with her husband on Henley Street in Stratford-upon-Avon, she becomes a fiercely protective mother and a steadfast, centrifugal force in the life of her young husband, whose career on the London stage is just taking off when his beloved young son succumbs to sudden fever.
Maggie O'Farrell is the author of the Sunday Times no. 1 bestselling memoir I AM, I AM, I AM, and eight novels: AFTER YOU'D GONE, MY LOVER'S LOVER, THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US, which won a Somerset Maugham Award, THE VANISHING ACT OF ESME LENNOX, THE HAND THAT FIRST HELD MINE, which won the 2010 Costa Novel Award, INSTRUCTIONS FOR A HEATWAVE, which was shortlisted for the 2013 Costa Novel Award, THIS MUST BE THE PLACE, which was shortlisted for the 2016 Costa Novel Award, and HAMNET. She lives in Edinburgh.
1. Who was your favorite character and why? Which character stayed with you the longest after you closed the book and why?
2. Many think Hamnet's death resulted in Shakespeare's (some say) most famous play, Hamlet. Hamlet opens and closes with a ghost. How do you think this relates to our story, “Hamnet”?
3. In Hamlet, a sibling kills a sibling. How does the opposite of this act play out in “Hamnet”?
4. Do you think Agnes and W Shakespeare were a good match?
5. Maggie O'Farrell paints some beautiful word pictures in “Hamnet”. Which one do you most remember?
6. Why do you think Ms. O’Farrell never “names” Shakespeare in this story, writing from Agnes’ point of view?
7. There are so many famous quotes that have withstood the ages from WS’ “Hamlet”, including “I must be cruel only to be kind. Thus bad begins and worse remains behind.” (Hamlet, act 3 scene 4). What part of our fictional story could WS have been thinking about when he wrote these lines?
8. What does Ms. O’Farrell’s description of the “pathway” of the plague killer germs tell us about life in Tudor England? Any similarities to our modern day pandemic?
9. What impact did the big house purchase have on Agnes and her family? Do you think that it was what she wanted?
10. Speak to this quote from Hamlet: “Good night sweet prince and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest” (Horatio, act 5 scene 2) and how it may have affected Agnes in the audience for the first time seeing the play with the name of her lost son. When she realizes the ghost is the father, not the son, do you think her feelings change?