Activities For Teachers and Students: Mock Trial of Romeo and Juliet

If you’re a teacher and your students are reading Romeo and Juliet, one question that your students might innevitably ask is, who’s to blame? The play ends with The Prince and the Watch trying to ascertain what happened over the past 5 days to Romeo and Juliet. He seems to place blame loosely on everyone, but it does make one wonder- will anyone face consequences for the numerous deaths, damages, anguish, and broken promises that resulted from the double suicides?

In 2021, I decided to create an activity that would allow the students in the English class I worked in to decide who is to blame for the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. I developed the project with the help of an English teacher and a real judge. We designed the project so it would test the kids’ knowledge of the play, and their persuassive speaking abilities (which we worked on in a previous unit).

I would like to share the journey of this project, which I think is a lovely way to get kids to engage with English Literature, as well as touching on other topics in high school English courses like persuassive writing, critical thinking, and research.

What kind of trial is it to be?

My original idea was to put Friar Laurence on trial for criminal negligence and/ or conspiracy to assist a suicide, There’s been plenty of classrooms, comedy sketches, and even some juries that blame Friar Laurence for the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, including the US Supreme Court, who put him in the dock as part of a mock trial at the Shakespeare Theater in Washington DC bac in 2016. If you go to C-Span’s website, you can watch the full trial itself:

Though mock trials have tried Friar Laurence for murder in the past, the teacher I worked with decided we wanted to be sensitive to the issue of suicide and not place the blame for suicide on anyone other than Romeo and Juliet. This is a valid concern- since teenagers do occassionaly encounter suicide, we didn’t want to suggest that anyone could be held responsible for someone else’s suicide. However, if you decide to have a criminal murder or manslaughter trial, you can do so.

Our trial chose to focus on a different sort of negligence: we noted that, although Friar Laurence arguably isn’t guilty of murder, he certainly did perform the wedding of two minors without parental consent, a wedding that their parents absolutely didn’t apprve of, and that arguably caused irreperable financial damages to the houses of Capulet and Montegue. I therefore went about consstructing a criminal trial based on this perceived negligence.


In most states in the United states, parental consent is required to marry a minor, so in reality, Friar Laurence would almost certainly be found guilty of illegal marriage. The judge I worked with wanted to give the case a fighting chance, so she created a fae law that is just for our class called the CRIMINAL PROHIBITIONS ON THE MARRIAGE OF MINORS ACT, which you can read below. This law is designed to provide a loophole for Friar Laurence that allows a clergyman to perform a minor wedding without parental consent if the parents are themselves creating an unsafe and dangerous home. Our teacher liked this aspect of the case, becasue it allows the class to consider the partriarchial values of Lord Capulet, who for most of the play, treats his daugher like a piece of property, and threatens her with dire consequences if she chooses her own husband. This is the central argument of the trial- Was Friar Laurence negligent and irresponsible in marrying Romeo and Juliet, or was he respecting Juliet’s autonomy and trying to free her from an abusive household? Below is a complete description of the project, a presentation I created for the class, and some downloadable materials to get you started. If you have questions or suggestions for other projects, let me know!


A mock trial is an excellent way to engage a student’s critical thinking skills, persuasive writing skills, and challenge their knowledge of a sequence of events. In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, several violent deaths occur and at then end of the play it’s ambiguous who will be punished and how. Therefore, to engage students in the play, they can play judge, jury, and lawyers in a trial to answer the question: was Friar Laurence guilty of performing an illegal marriage?


  1. Test the student’s knowledge of the plot of the play
  2. Get them to make persuasive arguments defending and prosecuting the character of Friar Lawrence.
  3. Come to conclusions 
  4. Get the Jury to look at the rhetoric of the prosecution and defense.


  1. Quiz on the play to help assign roles- The highest scorers get to be lawyers and prosecutor, the next highest get to be witnesses, and the lowest scorers get to be the jury.
  2. Mock trial where the students take on the roles of witnesses, judge, lawyer, prosecutor, and jury
  3. The Jury delivers a verdict
  4. Class discussion.

Before the Trial

Only people who know the plot of the play should be allowed to be the lawyers, so I propose that before the trial starts, each student should be quizzed on the plot of the play. The students who score the highest should be allowed to play the prosecutor and defense lawyer. The third, fourth, and fifth highest scoring students can be The Judge and the two witnesses. Everyone else can be the jury. I would propose that the teacher or teaching assistant play the part of Friar Lawrence, as he/she will have to answer the toughest questions and know the most about the play. Of course, if you have a student with real acting talent, he or she can play Friar Lawrence. 

The Trial will take place over at least two days- one day for constructing legal arguments, and one day for the trial itself.

When the trial begins, each person will get a character sheet that details who they are, what their role is, in the trial, and what they know about the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. Unlike other mock trials, this will not be scripted. Think of it more like a D&D character sheet or murder mystery game; the characters are given information but not told what to say.  Below is a sample character sheet I made for the Prosecuting Attorney.

Structure Of the Trial

The Prosecutor intends to prove that Friar Lawrence performed an illegal marriage because he married two minors without their parent’s consent. The Defense intends to prove that the marriage was legal under the CRIMINAL PROHIBITIONS ON THE MARRIAGE OF MINORS ACT (a fake law made up for our class).

  1. Jury Instructions- The Judge
  2. Opening Statements- Prosecutor and Defense Lawyer
  3. Witness For the Prosecution- Lord Capulet
  4. Cross-Examination- Lord Capulet
  5. Witness For the Defense- Ghost Juliet
  6. Witness For the Prosecution- The Nurse
  7. Cross-Examination- The Nurse
  8. Defendant’s Testimony- Friar Lawrence
  9. Cross-Examination- Friar Lawrence
  10. Witness For the Prosecution- Lady Capulet
  11. Cross-Examination- Lady Capulet
  12. Closing Statements- Prosecutor and Defense Lawyer
  13. Post Trial Instructions- Judge
  14. The Verdict- Jury
  15. Weighing In- Judge

Worksheet content-

All characters will have a packet explaining who they are, their goal for the trial, and what their character knows about the alleged crime. They also have a copy of the structure of the trial, so they know when to speak. During the pre-trial prep day, the lawyers will decide on questions to ask the witnesses and construct arguments based on their knowledge of the law and the play. 

  1. -Friar Lawrence
  2. -The Nurse
  3. -Lord Capulet
  4. -Prosecutor
  5. -Defense Lawyer
  6. -Jury
  7. -Judge

Everyone will receive a copy of the CRIMINAL PROHIBITIONS ON THE MARRIAGE OF MINORS so the prosecution and jury can construct their arguments, and the Jury can judge the effectiveness of those arguments.





  1. The purpose of this act is to protect the integrity of the family and the independent rights of minor children.  


  1. No officiant shall perform the marriage of a minor child without the consent of the child’s parent, unless such minor child has first been determined to be emancipated and such determination was in the minor’s best interest.


  1. Officiant means a person authorized to perform weddings, including but not limited to a priest, minister, friar or pastor. 
  2. Minor child means a person 14 years but under the age of 18 years.
  3. The parent of a minor child shall mean the biological father of said child.
  4. The factors used in the determination of emancipation shall include the following;
  1. The demonstrated ability and capacity to manage his/her own affairs,
  2. The demonstrated ability and capacity to live independently, 
  3. The wishes of the minor child,
  4. The wishes of the parent,
  5. Any other factors including compensation which could influence the officiant.

      7) The factors used in the determination of the best interest of the minor child shall include the following:

  1. The age of the minor child,
  2. The home environment of the minor child, especially  if there is a risk of violence or harm to the minor child,
  3. Whether the marriage of the child promotes a union that is beneficial to society,
  4. Whether the minor child can manage his/her own finances.
  5. Whether the minor child has demonstrated other characteristics of maturity

     8) An emancipated child shall be entitled to enter into contracts, marry and enjoy the legal rights of an adult without the permission of his/her parent.

    9)  Whoever violates this law shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree, which is punishable by up to 6 months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.  

Jury instructions (to be handed out ot the jury)

The jury need not be given a passive role- they can write down reactions on how effective the lawyers wer in presenting their arguments, which witness gave the best testimony, etc. In most jury trials, judges instruct the jury on how to put aside their personal biases when listening to the evidence, which I’ve written into some instructions below, based on instructions that Judge Taylor gave me.

So, that is my version of the Romeo and Juliet mock trial that you can freely use in your classroom. If you want to use it, please just give me credit. If you want to collaborate with me on your version, send me an email. I hope this project can be a widespread activity that will help students hone their persuasion, analysis, research, and of course, their interpretation of literature in a realistic context.

You can download the entire project for free on my TeachersPayTeachers page:

Thanks for reading, and see you in court!

Shakespearean Tropes In Marvel’s “Black Widow”

I really loved the new “Black Widow,” movie. Like many people, I think it’s long overdue that Natasha Romanov got her own movie, especially since in many ways, she’s the most tragic and dramatic of the avengers.

First of all, the performances are great, the fights are excellent, and the plot hints on many contemporary issues such as abuse, human trafficking, trauma, and PTSD, while not forgetting it’s a Marvel action movie. If you hated the movie, I won’t argue with you, but what I want to do is to point out that each character has inside them an archetype that Shakespeare used in his history plays about soldiers.

The four central characters Alexei Shostakov (David Harbour), Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz). Yelena Belova, and Black Widow herself, Natasha Romanov (Scarlett Johanssen), represent in a sense, the full spectrum of how Shakespeare’s soldier characters cope with the trauma of war, and it’s fascinating to see their journey through the film.

David Harbour as Red Guardian. Black Widow, Disney 2021.
  1. Alexei Shostakov / Red Guardian: Sir John Falstaff. Alexi begins the movie motivated by a desire for glory, and becomes a braggart, a drunk, and overweight. The movie starts out with Alexei going undercover in Ohio as Natasha and Yelena’s father, when in reality he’s a Russian agent who becomes the only Soviet supersoldier. The Red Guardian was supposed to be the equal of Captain America and after (spoiler alert), Alexei is betrayed and sent to prison, he spends over 20 years telling tall tales about his ‘glory days’ and how he nearly defeated Captain America, (despite the fact that Captain America was frozen at the time). This is simmilar to how Shakespeare’s Sir John Falstaff lies about a daring robbery he committed at night, when in reality, he was robbed by his friends Poins and Prince Hal:
Henry V. Pray God you have not murdered some of them.
Falstaff. Nay, that's past praying for: I have peppered two
of them; two I am sure I have paid, two rogues
in buckram suits. I tell thee what, Hal, if I tell1180
thee a lie, spit in my face, call me horse. Thou
knowest my old ward; here I lay and thus I bore my
point. Four rogues in buckram let drive at me—
Henry V. What, four? thou saidst but two even now.
Falstaff. Four, Hal; I told thee four.1185
Edward Poins. Ay, ay, he said four.
Falstaff. These four came all a-front, and mainly thrust at
me. I made me no more ado but took all their seven
points in my target, thus.
Henry V. Seven? why, there were but four even now.1190
Falstaff. In buckram?
Edward Poins. Ay, four, in buckram suits.
Falstaff. Seven, by these hilts, or I am a villain else.
Henry V. Prithee, let him alone; we shall have more anon.
Falstaff. Dost thou hear me, Hal?1195
Henry V. Ay, and mark thee too, Jack.
Falstaff. Do so, for it is worth the listening to. These nine
in buckram that I told thee of—
Henry V. So, two more already.
Falstaff. Their points being broken,—1200
Edward Poins. Down fell their hose.
Falstaff. Began to give me ground: but I followed me close,
came in foot and hand; and with a thought seven of
the eleven I paid.
Henry V. O monstrous! eleven buckram men grown out of two!

Both Alexei and Falstaff fool themselves into thinking they’re still great heroes and manage to charm the other characters into giving them sympathy (to a point). Worst of all, even though he knows about the disgusting deeds of General Dreykov, the man responsible for the way Yelena and Natasha were recruited, brainwashed, forced to kill, and forced to be sterilized, he still defends the actions of Dreykov because Alexei benefited from the supersoldier program.

You both have killed so many people,” Alexei exults, embracing them both. “Your ledgers must be dripping, just gushing red. I couldn’t be more proud of you!”


But in the climax of the movie, Alexei abandons his swagger in order to protect Natasha and Yelena; he goes from being a fake father to a real father. He also adopts a more Falstaffian view of ‘honor,’ as a thing not useful in itself:

Falstaff used this ‘catechism to become a thieving, conniving rascal, but the same words could be used to show how Alexei decided that his ‘family’ is more important than his persona as Red Guardian, how he values Natasha and Yelena more than his own glory.

2. Yelena Belova – Hotspur

Both Yelena and Hotspur are great warriors who work for the other side, but aren’t played as villains. Unlike the French in Henry V, the rebels in Henry IV Parts 1&2 are treated with respect by everyone, even the king they fight against! Likewise, even though she works for Dreykov, and was a willing assassin in his army of widows, she isn’t seen as a villain. She’s seen as a woman who had no other choice. She was raised to kill, so she did so, she just had the misfortune of being on the losing side.

Henry Percy is also a warrior fighting for the losing side This is why Hotspur has a lot of bitterness and envy towards Prince Hal- the man who gets to become a hero and king. Meanwhile Yelena is very jealous of Natasha, who not only became a valued assassin for Dreykov, she eventually became an Avenger and is seen as a hero by most people now:

“We’re both killers, but I’m not the one that’s on the cover of a magazine. I’m not the killer that little girls call their hero.”

Yelena- Black Widow.

Though in reality Natasha and Yelena are not sisters, they were raised together, trained together, and form a sister like bond, which makes the jealousy Yelena feels all the more poignant. Likewise, though Henry Plantagenet (Prince Hal) and Henry Percy aren’t brothers, everyone acts as if they were, even the Prince’s father:

 O that it could be proved
That some night-tripping fairy had exchanged
In cradle-clothes our children where they lay,
And call'd mine Percy, his Plantagenet!
Then would I have his Harry, and he mine.
But let him from my thoughts.- Henry IV, Part I, Act I, Scene 1.

In Black Widow, the envy the sisters feel towards each other is the central conflict of the movie, just as it is in Shakespeare’s play. Tragically, both works (spoiler alert), end the same way- with one warrior dying and the other essentially taking his or her place. In Black Widow, Yelena takes up the mantle after her sister sacrifices her life in Avengers Engame, but in Shakespeare’s version, the two Henry’s have a duel to the death:

Yelena represents the trauma that can destroy some soldiers when they don’t have someone to confide in. Everything she was told to believe in wound up being a lie, and everyone she trusted betrayed her. This is why she and her sister cling to the idea of family- the only thing that helps her get through the pain of their past.

Rachel Weisz as Melina Vostokoff. “BLACK Widow.” Disney/ Marvel, 2021.

3. Melina Vostokoff- Lord Northumberland I’ll keep this brief because Melina’s character has some MAJOR SPOILERS attached to her, but let’s just say she is the mother of the family and like Alexei she put her devotion to the Communist Party and to General Dreykov above all else, and failed to support her family, much like how Northumberland failed to support his son Henry Percy and let him get killed in the battle of Shrewsbury. I love Rachel Weisz’s performance in this part where she seems to mourn her lack of courage; she seems to deeply hate herself and what she’s done to her ‘daughters,’ which is painful to watch but very human.

Scarlett Johansen as Natasha Romanov/ Black Widow. “Black Widow.” Marvel/ Disney, 2021.

4. Natasha Romanaov/ Black Widow- King Henry V. Like Yelena, Natasha has to deal with the fact that she is a killer and has been trained to kill men, women, and sometimes even children. What’s fascinating to watch is how, even though she’s an Avenger and therefore one of the “good guys,” she knows that her actions have hurt people. It makes sense that in Age Of Ultron, she forms a close bond with The Hulk, since she probably sees herself as a monster.

For nearly 400 years, King Henry has been portrayed as a great hero on the stage, but ever since the Vietnam War, more recent productions have questioned whether his actions make him more of a hero, or a villain. He conquers France which he believes he legally owns but does that justify the bloodshed he’s committed?

One film that examines the ambiguous nature of Henry’s bloody conquest is Kenneth Branaugh’s 1989 movie, Henry V. Take a look at this clip at the end of the Battle of Agincourt. This was Henry’s greatest victory in the play and in real life, but after the battle, we see Kenneth Branaugh as King Henry slogging through the mud, looking at the bodies of French and English troops, with a look of pain and perhaps remorse on his face:

The Non Nobis number from “Henry V” directed by Kenneth Branaugh, 1989.

In Black Widow, Natasha is on a quest to make up for her past as an assassin and attempt to prevent more women from being recruited in such a dehumanizing way. Her kinship with the other widows, and her desire to help them, reinforces her humanity and makes her more than just a killer. Simillarly, her love for her sister and her love of the Avengers gives Natasha purpose and validation that she isn’t the monster she thinks she is. Finally, when her fake family joins her in the climax to defeat General Dreykov, she feels a strong sense of comraderie. Having her fellow soldiers, fight with her in a righteous cause makes her feel redeemed from her past.

Black Widow and Henry V are examples of how soldiers cannot survive a war alone. Even if they live through the war, the mental and physical scars of war are too much for one person to bear. This is why both films focus on how family is stronger than war, than causes, then pain, if one has the good fortune to have a group of people who love each other like a family, or as King Henry puts it:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

For he to-day that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,

This day shall gentle his condition:

Henry V, Act IV, Scene iii.

Thanks for reading this post, let me know if you’d like me to analyze any other movies in the comments. I’ll leave you with one more clip where Scar-Jo talks about her career as Black Widow:

How Accurate Is Hamnet?

“She’s got…it, hasn’t she? The pestilence?” (O’Farrell, 105).
As this quote, (and the subtitle) suggests, Maggie O’Farrell’s novel Hamnet: A Novel About the Plague, focuses on the terror surrounding the plague and its devastating consequences on families. I really respect this book for its historical authenticity, it’s clever prose, and O’Farrell’s command of style, but I should warn you that this novel is definitely not for breezy summer reading.

If you are looking for a novel about William Shakespeare, this isn’t it; the Bard only appears in flashbacks. The action mainly concerns his wife and children. While Will was living and working in London for most of the year, his family lived in Stratford Upon Avon, along with the playwright’s mother and father. The novel has follows the characters across two times: 1582, when Shakespeare and his wife first met, courted and married, and around 1595, during an outbreak of plague that would (Spoiler Alert) eventually claim the life of Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet.

Drawing of Shakespeare and his family. Hamlet and Judith are on his right, his other daughter Susanna and his wife Anne are on his left.

The novel has a very dour tone, but that is by design. The author herself writes that the premise of the book was to create a realistic (albeit fictional) account of the Shakespeare family as their only son fell sick and died.

Burial records for the town of Stratford Upon Avon for 1596. On August 11, it records the death of Hamnet Shakespeare, William’s only son

The premise is intriguing from a historical point of view. We have no diaries or correspondence that express how the Shakespeares dealt with this catastrophic loss, but many scholars believe that Shakespeare’s play Hamlet was a direct homage to his son, since in Elizabethan England the names Hamlet and Hamnet were used interchangeably. Still, it must have effected Will in other ways, and it had to have had an effect on Hamnet’s mother and sisters, and that was O’Farrell’s focus when adapting this story as a novel.

I would describe the novel’s tone as ‘haunting,’ which is appropriate since it’s based around how a child’s death effected his family. It reminds me of a passage Shakespeare himself wrote about the death of a young boy in his play King John:

Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form;
Then, have I reason to be fond of grief?
Fare you well: had you such a loss as I,
I could give better comfort than you do.
I will not keep this form upon my head,
When there is such disorder in my wit.
O Lord! my boy, my Arthur, my fair son!
My life, my joy, my food, my all the world!
My widow-comfort, and my sorrows' cure! King John Act III, Scene iv.

Like Constance in the quote above,, All the characters in Hamnet are haunted.
[Hamnet is pursued by plague. Will Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway are haunted by their abusive parents. Will’s father John by the loss of his business and social standing, and of course, everyone is haunted by Hamnet’s death.

Artist’s restored version of a Elizabethan woman, believed to be Anne Hathaway.
Lucentio and Bianca (The Taming of the Shrew, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, 2007)

Although the novel is mainly about Hamnet’s decline and death, my favorite parts of the book are flashbacks to the courtship and marriage of Will Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway. We know nothing about their real courtship, so O’Farrell borrows the plot from Shakespeare’s Taming Of the Shrew. Like Lucentio in Shrew,
The 18 year old William Shakespeare is a Latin tutor, (having not yet become a writer), who woos a misunderstood woman whom the town calls a shrew. In the book, Anne Hathaway is known as Agnes and (like many unmarried women of the period), is looked on as odd and somewhat wild. Many single women of this period would likely face discrimination, and sometimes. In this video, you can see how cunning women like Anne had an uneasy relationship with the local community; some saw them as an asset to the community, but others believed their abilities came from The Devil. For more information on Anne’s life, click here.

The History Guy- Witch Trials in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Anne is further isolated because of her strange abilities- in the book she owns a falcon, not a ladylike hobby for 1580s England. She is also skilled with medicinal plants and knows how to read palms. In essence, though the town ostracizes Anne, Shakespeare admires her cleverness, and the book implies that Shakespeare would later use her skills in characters like Kate from Shrew, Friar Lawrence (the skilled potion master), and maybe even the witches from Macbeth.

The reusing of Shakespeare’s plots doesn’t stop there- Before Anne and Will get married they are handfasted- that is they make a mutual promise to get married in front of witnesses. Anne knows that her family will not consent to their marriage given Shakespeare’s low economic prospects, so she convinces Will to get her pregnant. This mirrors Claudio and Juliet in Shakespeare’s Measure For Measure, who are publicly shamed and arrested for fornication, even though their only crime was not waiting until they had given a dowry to the groom’s parents before consumating the marriage.

One final master stroke of O’Farrel’s historical fictive tapestry is how she engineers the father son conflict between Will Shakespeare and his father John. Shakespeare loves to explore the power dynamic between boys on the cusp of manhood, and their already powerful fathers. In the case of John Shakespeare, O’ Farrell depicts him as a man who has worked, schemed, scammed, and clawed his way to the highest wealth his birth can allow him, but is now falling from grace, who has nothing but contempt for his son who seems like a worthless dreamer, incapable of hard work. This most closely echoes Shakespeare’s Prince Hal and King Henry, a son who must prove his fitness to be king to his father and to his nation. Watch this exchange from “The Hollow Crown” where the sick and aging John of Gaunt (Patrick Stuart), chastises his weak, effeminate nephew, King Richard II:

Historical Notes:

Infant mortality in Elizabethan England:

Even before Hamnet is born, his mother and mother in law are painfully aware that he might die young. Sadly this is very historically accurate. Infant mortality rates were high in Elizabethan England. According to Ian Mortimer in his book The Time Traveler’s Guide To Elizabethan England, mothers had to keep their children at arms length and not get too attached. Being a mother in this time meant dealing with the constant knowledge that your child might not survive:

In Stratford in the 1560s, there are on average, sixty-three children baptized every year- and forty-three children buried.

Mortimer, 27.

John Shakespeare’s fall John Shakespeare was more than a glover- he held a position in the Stratford Guild Hall- basically a city council position. He was in charge of hiring constables, keeping the peace, overseeing the brewing of ale, and approving theatrical entertainments for civic events. Probably John got his son interested in theater by letting him tag along to the sort of private performances he would have watched to determine whether a play or troupe was good enough for, for instance, the visit of a peer. However, by the 1580s, John was losing his business and selling off his land assets. Scholars suspect that either John was a closet Catholic, forced to pay fines every time he failed to attend protestant church, or he was avoiding church and his alderman council meetings because he knew his creditors would be there. In any case, O Farell takes this historical tidbit and turns John Shakespeare into a bitter, broken, abusive man whom Shakespeare can’t wait to get away from. Shakespeare and his wife bond over their abusive parents and dream of succeeding financially so they can get away from their parent’s influence.
Malt and wool The novel hints at John Shakespeare’s secret side business selling wool and malt, but never explicitly states that this practice was illegal. All wool was controlled by the Elizabethan government so it was illegal to sell it without special permission, and in 1570, John Shakespeare was caught selling wool illegally. He was also found guilty of money-lending, hoarding grain, and selling malt. This is why he tells his son to forget the wool he saw in the attic.

An Alderman in his official robe, the same kind John Shakespeare would have worn.

Historical Events Mentioned in Hamnet

  1. 1556 Anne Hathaway born. She’s referred to as Agnes in other court documents. Her father Richard owned a sheep farm in Hewland. At some point, her mother died and her father Richard married a woman named Joan, whom the novel portays as a bitter, controlling witch.

1564– Will Shakespeare born, third of 8 children. His father started out as a local glover, who quickly rose through the ranks of local government to become the mayor of the town. They owned a house in Henley street, which also doubled as the glove workshop. For more informaition on this fascinating building, visit the Shakespeare Birthplace trust:

The Shakespeare’s house on Henley Street in Stratford Upon Avon, where Will, his wife, children, and parents lived until 1597.
Recreation of the Shakespeare’s dinner table.

1581– Anne’s father Richard dies,  bequeathing her “£6 13s 4d ‘atte the day of her maryage’.” Richard Hathaway owned a farmhouse in Shottery that still stands today! For more info, please visit the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust:

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and Gardens, Stratford-upon-Avon, UK. June 2014.
Interior and exterior images of Ann Hathaways cottage, Shottery, Stratford upon Avon, Warwickshire.

1582– On November 27th, 1582, William married Anne Hathaway. He was 18, she was 26. It must have been a hasty and stressful situation. Shakespeare had no job, and based on the timeline, Anne was already pregnant with their daughter Susanna. For more information on marriage in the period, please visit my website on Elizabethan society:

The Shakespeares were granted a marriage licence by the Bishop of Worcester. They were married at Temple Grafton, a village approximately five miles (8 km) from Stratford.

Notes On Shakespeare’s Wedding Day:

  • We know that Anne’s family paid a dowry to Shakespeare’s family, which annoys Shakespeare in the book. He feels furious that his father uses the marriage to help his business interests.
  • According to Michael Wood, the priest left out the reading of the banns, and suspected the marriage was intentionally catholic. The book also makes it clear that this was a catholic ceremony, deep into the reign of the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I.
Robert Bearman, “The Shakespeare marriage bond,” Shakespeare Documented,

May 26, 1583– Susanna Shakespeare is baptized, which means she was probably born three days earlier.

February 2nd, 1585– Hamnet and Judith are baptized.The twins were named after two very close friends of William and Anne, the baker Hamnet Sadler and his wife, Judith. The Sadlers became the godparents of the twins and, in 1589, they in turn named their own son William.

1586– John Shakespeare is booted off the Stratford board of Aldermen for not attending meetings. Michael Wood suggests that John might have been avoiding the meetings because he was in debt, and the creditors knew where to find him. The novel seems to agree with this theory- the first time that we meet John Shakespeare, he is on the verge of beating his own grandson for sneaking up on him. If he was hiding from his creditors, he’d have a reason to be jumpy.
1592 – Shakespeare makes it in London?
1593 Outbreak of Bubonic Plague- 15,000 people died in London alone. O Farrell does a great job of portraying the visceral terror people must have felt during an outbreak, the same terrified panic that gripped our world in 2020. As I’ve written before, not only did the disease itself instill fear, but also the Draconian measures of quarantines, and the grotesque and ineffective methods for treating the plague. To see how you might be treated for plague in the 1590s, take my quiz:

Because of the contagious nature of the disease, the theatres were closed, which forced Shakespeare to write poems instead of plays. Around this time he also probably wrote Romeo and Juliet, Richard III, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Shakespeare published Venus and Adonis

1596 Hamnet dies

C. 1599– William Shakespeare writes Hamlet, his longest play, widely regarded as the greatest play ever written in the English language.

I hope this post helped increase your understanding and enjoyment of the book, and Elizabethan History in general.

For a fascinating look at the life of an Elizabethan woman, check out this documentary about Shakespeare’s mother Mary Arden, created by scholar Michael Wood: