Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Shakespeare 'link' to child's death

A coroner's report on the death of Jane Shaxspere in 1569, when William Shakespeare would have been aged about five

A "tantalising" family link to Shakespeare's tragic character Ophelia has been revealed by an academic study of accidental deaths in Tudor England.

A coroner's report shows Jane Shaxspere drowned aged two-and-a-half while picking corn marigolds 20 miles from Stratford-upon-Avon in 1569, when the playwright would have been aged about five.

The discovery led to speculation that Jane could have been his younger cousin, and that her story inspired the death of the flower-loving Ophelia character 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.

Project leader 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 that this story stuck in his mind."

Dr Gunn has also discovered more slapstick causes of death which he felt could have provided "material for Laurel and Hardy or Monty Python's upper-class twit of the year".

He said: "One man shot himself in the head while trying to get out the arrow stuck in his longbow and another fell into a cesspit while relieving himself. At least three people were killed by performing bears - one bear's value is listed as a princely 26 shillings and four pence.

"One unlucky man was standing in a garden on the edge of Coventry when a maypole fell over. It missed him and hit the city wall - but his narrow escape turned to disaster when a stone fell off the city wall, hit him on the head and killed him."

The project, which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, will last for four years.

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