Catie Grady (as Judith) and Robert Smyth (as Shagspeare)
One of the characters in Bill Cain’s Equivocation, at Lamb’s Players, is William Shagspere, aka “Shag.” He’s the Bard, with one of his names many different spellings. Another character, Judith, is Shag’s daughter. In the play, she’s a factotum at the Globe Theatre. She does laundry and odd jobs. And, we learn, her father doesn’t love her. He even treats her like a servant.
But was she? And for that matter, who was she?
To discover the actual William Shakespeare, some researchers perform reverse-engineering. They study his family and descendants for traits and connections. Maybe the most puzzling: his youngest daughter, Judith.
When he was 18, Shakespeare got Anne Hathaway, 26, with child. Susanna was born six months after the wedding.
Judith was born a twin. She and brother Hamnet were baptized February 2, 1585. The Shakespeares named them for their close friends, Hamnet and Judith Sadler, who lived at the corner of Sheep and High streets, in Stratford, two long blocks from the Bard’s New Place on Henley. The Sadlers may have been the twins’ godparents.
Hamnet Sadler, the same age as Shakespeare, was a baker of cakes and “household” bread. He was probably a fellow student at the Stratford Grammar School and sometimes spelled his name “Hamlett.”
In 1595, Hamnet Shakespeare died, age 11, possibly of the plague. Many point to his death as Shakespeare’s motive for writing Hamlet five or six years later. One of many, more likely.
In Shakespeare’s time, women married young. His daughters were different. Susanna married John Hall in 1607; he studied at Cambridge and became an esteemed doctor. She was 24, quite old, almost ancient, for a bride back then.
Judith didn’t marry until age 32, and the union caused her father grief. Judith’s husband, Thomas Quiney, was a 27-year-old wine merchant and son of Shakespeare’s good friend Richard Quiney. They were married February 10, 1616. Because the ceremony happened during Lent, they needed, but did not secure, the bishop’s permission. Thomas received two summons about the matter from Bawdy Court, which dealt with “whoredom and uncleanness,” but refused to go. In March, the church excommunicated him (and possibly Judith).
Why the swift wedding? That February, young Margaret Wheeler was pregnant. The father, she said, was Thomas Quiney. Margaret died giving birth to a still-born child. A rumor persisted that Thomas married Judith to avoid marrying Margaret.
Thomas finally appeared in Bawdy Court on Tuesday, March 26. The punishment for his “incontinence”: either wear a white sheet to morning prayer at the Stratford church three Sundays in a row or pay five shillings to the poor. He chose the latter, less public of the two.
The day before the trial, Shakespeare rewrote his will. Up to this point, Judith and Thomas would receive the annual interest on 150 pounds. Shakespeare, who knew all about impregnating a woman out of wedlock, scratched Thomas from the will. Judith would receive the inheritance. If she had no children and died within three years, the money would go to Elizabeth Hall (Susanna’s daughter) and his sister Joan Hart.
Shakespeare revised the will on March, 25, 1616. He died on April 23, 1616. Equivocation portrays him as an absent father, even in Judith’s presence, and claims he wished she died instead of Hamnet. They move toward a possible resolution in the end.
But what did she think of her father? And why wait over 30 years to get married — and so suddenly to a rake?
Any why, while we’re on the subject, did Shakespeare write glowing daughters into his last plays?
In his biography, The Life and Times of William Shakespeare, British poet Peter Levi offers a different explanation.
Throughout the book Levi treats his subject with an appreciative but unsentimental eye, but makes a leap with Judith. “It is improbable that he ever got over Hamnet’s death, and highly probable that he loved Judith twice as much as a result, and cherished and protected her….
“Such an intense paternal love does not always lead to happiness. I strongly suspect that if anything was wrong at all with the poet’s domestic life, it was not too little love but too much.”
For this reason, Levi says, Shakespeare rewrote the will “to protect Judith from an untrustworthy man. I believe it killed him, because in a month he was dead.”
Most scholars concur that Judith and Thomas were actually in love. The name they gave their first child pays a suggestive tribute: they called him Shakespeare Quiney.