1596 c/o Roy Scarbrough

Hamnet's Ghost

Having lived in Stratford-Upon-Avon all her life, Molly had seen each of the plays at least once, including Coriolanus. When there were unsold tickets available for donation, someone at the home would take her in the van over to the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre. She liked them all.

Some mornings Molly would skip her meds and put on her sensible walking shoes, then slip out of the home on her own, usually during shift changes. She didn't always go to the theatre. In the peak tourist season, there were hardly ever tickets. Still, Molly enjoyed talking to the tourists gathered at Shakespeare's grave in Holy Trinity Church.

Molly struck up these grave-side conversations by asking, "How many of the plays have you seen?" That was the ice breaker. And then, a little later, she would say, "Oh, I know a whole lot more that just what's in the plays." Sometimes her voice rose inappropriately. "I know all his family, and its secrets, and there were some good secrets too. " It was true. Molly knew the secrets behind the names in the genealogy, the dates, births, deaths, marriages, the brothers and the sisters, the children, the jailings, the fines, what was in the documents. Molly was what they called a prodigious savant. That's how they had it down in her chart notes at the home.

"You know, William hated his father," she would say after she had their attention. "The worst of it came out when Will's only son of sorts died. Poor little Hamnet." Next, the rest of it would start pouring out. "The boy was eleven then. The year, 1596, August, a busy, busy time too for Will, who was in London working on Merchant of Venice, Henry IV, parts one and two. He came up from London for the funeral."

"Come with me," she would say to the tourists. "I'll show you the sights. Have you been to John Shakespeare's house on Henley Street? Will was born there, 1564, and this is where Will's wife and children were living when he was producing plays in London, all under the same roof as John Shakespeare, the father Will so hated."

The Vicar and his staff at Trinity knew her ways. They would cut her off when she was too much of a nuisance. "Come Molly. Time to go. We'll call the home for you. How about waiting outside for the van like a good girl?"

Molly didn't always wait for the van. Sometimes she walked over to the river at Avonbank Gardens to visit the swans. When she arrived, she noticed two men were sitting on a bench overlooking the water, one older than the other, possibly father and son. Ages 60s and 30s. Not talking. The younger man sat with his arms folded at the chest, the older rubbed his knees with the palms of his hands. Molly saw none of the usual back and forth conversation one would expect among friends or family on an outing. Molly decided that these men didn't like each other, but some sense of obligation must have lead them to go on this outing together.

A small herd of swans climbed the bank and waddled past the bench toward Molly. "Hello my babies!" she said. "Hello, Gertrude, Judith, Will, John, Mary Arden, Susanna, Hamnet and Anne Hathaway."

"Look, she's named them," said the father. "They seem to know her. Pretty funny, huh?"

The son didn't appear to find anything remarkable or amusing about the lady and her swans. He continued to gaze across the river, his eyes following a couple in a row boat. "Maybe it's time to go, Dad." By that time, Molly had already started walking toward the bench with the swans following her. "I really think we should go now," the son insisted.

"No, lets stay." Now it was father who was insistent. "I'm sure she's harmless." Then turning to Molly, "Which one is Hamlet?"

"Not Hamlet," Molly said, "Hamnet. He was only eleven when he died. William had to come all the way up from London for the funeral, August, 1596," The son crossed his legs and angled away, keeping his back to his father while pretending again to be engrossed with the boaters.

"Are we going to go or not," said the son without taking his eyes off of the river.

The father ignored his son, and then egged her on some more. "Well Hamnet sounds pretty close to Hamlet. Do you think there's a connection?"

"Oh, my yes!" said Molly. "It is the key to the family secret and the secret is the key to the play. The play's the thing." Molly glanced about, checking to see if anyone else my be in listening distance. "You see, Will left his wife and children behind when he was in London. Anne Hathaway lived in John Shakespeare's house. His father's house. Under his thatch. John liked them young. Need I say more?"

"So that was some family secret?" said the father. The son rolled his eyes, and slid to the end of the bench to sit with his back to them.

"Yes, and as surely as one can prove a thing by algebra, one can prove that Hamnet was both Will's half-brother and his stepson, and that Anne Hathaway was both his wife and step mother, to whom he eventually left his 'second best bed', like it says in the will, April, 1616."

The son unfolded his arms and pivoted back. "Look, this is preposterous," the son said. And then, addressing Molly, "Now I suppose you'll claim this has something to do with the play? Seriously?"

"Why yes," said Molly. This is were she talked about how William Shakespeare played the part of Hamlet's father's ghost. "See, a year after Hamnet died, Will was the ghost, and up there on the stage every night addressing his son. "A grieving man is a ghostly man," she said. "Pity me not, but lend thy serious hearing to what I shall unfold," Molly said, ghoulishly reciting the lines, forcing her voice into the lowest registers.

"That's it. I'm leaving," said the son. The son had already walked twenty paces toward the edge of the park, when the father finally rose to catch up with his son.

"Goodbye, Swans," the father said. "Goodbye, Madam."

Molly's attention returned to the Swans. "Ok, ok, my babies, lets see what's on the menu today," Molly said as she lead the swans to the nearest trash bin. She lifted the lid and retrieved a half cucumber sandwich. The swans jostled about her feet as she separated the slices. She tossed them their broken pieces. Heads wobbled over an ensemble of white question-mark necks.