Has Shakespeare’s inspiration for Ophelia – one of literature’s most tragic heroines – finally come to light? A 1569 coroners report published in The Guardian tantalizing suggests maybe so.
In 1569 – when Shakespeare was five years old – a small girl named Jane Shaxspere was reported as slipping and drowning whilst collecting flowers only 20 miles form Shakespeare’s home. Shakespeare’s Ophelia character in Hamlet fell with her garlands of “crow-flowers, nettles, daisies and long purples” into a brook, singing “snatches of old tunes” until her waterlogged clothes dragged her to a watery grave.
Historians are now speculating that Shakespeare could have heard of the event, and even that Jane could even have been a relative of William: the spelling of his surname was irregular at the time, with variations even in his own signature.
A nice reminder that though Shakespeare’s plays often draw on well-attested literary sources, they also have roots in gossip and everyday life.