Shakespeare’s “Real” Ophelia Finally Revealed?

Original 1569 coroner's report describing death of Jane Shaxspere, drowned whilst picking flowers.


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.

Click here for the full Guardian article

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3 replies
  1. Sylvia Morris
    Sylvia Morris says:

    Hi, see my blog for another possible inspiration for Shakespeare’s Ophelia, much closer to home, a girl who was drowned in the Avon only a mile from Stratford, in 1579 when Shakespeare was 15. The inquest was held in Stratford and in addition there was some gossip over whether it was suicide. The girl’s name is also of interest in this case!

    • edgold
      edgold says:

      Hi Silvia,

      Thanks for sharing. Great piece on potential Ophelias there…and a great blog. Have added you to my blogroll to keep an eye on 😉



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