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Book review: Imagining the aftermath when the world’s most famous playwright and his wife lose their only son

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‘Hamnet’by Maggie O’Farrell, Knopf, 2020, 305 pages, $26.95


The title of “Hamnet,” Maggie O’Farrell’s affecting and brilliant new novel, immediately calls to mind one of literature’s great masters and perhaps his greatest play. Yet neither is at the book’s true center.

That place is reserved for Agnes, an unconventional young woman in England in the late 16th century. “She grows up with a hidden, private flame inside her: it licks at her, warms her, warns her. You need to get away, the flame tells her. You must.”