A Crow Christmas Carol – First look

It’s a bleak midwinter in the Shakespeare household as the family comes to terms with a cruel loss. But when a mysterious stranger (Kenneth Branagh) offers to share with Will (David Mitchell) a tale of redemption he becomes filled anew with love and light and hope.

Now Will has a mission – to save another soul from despair. He and his family and friends get together to save Greene (Mark Heap) from a mean and miserly life, and arrange for three midnight “ghosts” to visit him before Christmas.

Who is the stranger? Can Will and his family and friend’s efforts persuade Greene to change his ways and show some generosity to his servant Job Scratchit? (Karl Theobald) And at the end of it all could this tale of Yuletide redemption be another smash Shakespeare hit on the stage, or is its time not yet come? In short, what the Dickens is going on?

Go on and I will follow…

How do you follow on from that episode?

Back in October, Upstart Crow left us with a heartbreaking and unexpected finale. While pathos is nothing new in sitcoms, what this finale did was fundamentally question faith and the prospect of an afterlife within the face of the overwhelming grief of a sudden death. The episode was probably the most remarkable and gusty thing a sitcom has dealt with since the end of Blackadder Goes Forth. And unsurprisingly, it drew well deserved comparisons with that ending.

Another parallels the ending shares with Blackadder goes Forth’s ending is its basis in reality. We don’t know of all of the details but Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet did die aged just eleven. Read more details about Shakespeare’s children here in an article @chasquiepenguin wrote for us:


It is speculated that Shakespeare liked to play the ghost of Hamlet’s father in Hamlet. It is also widely believed that the piece David delivered beautifully at the end from King John was written with his son in mind:

“Grief fills the room up of my absent child,

Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,

Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,

Remembers me of all his gracious parts,

Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form;

Then, have I reason to be fond of grief?”

But how do you pick up from here with a Christmas special? Well, there’s another sitcom that ended on a bleak note (granted a less bleak one) later picking things up in one (or rather two) of the most widely remembered specials that defined the entire show. Yes I’m talking about Kempe’s very own: The Office.

Things looked depressing in the last episode before this Christmas special-what with Dawn starting a new life with her boyfriend away from Tim, and David Brent losing the job that defined him and his life.

However, all was mended as Brent met a girl and stood up to his chauvinistic mates, whilst Tim finally got together with Dawn in the iconic final scenes. There was something special about the fact that it was done this way. The gap between the series and the Christmas specials added gravitas to the drama, giving it more depth. And that’s why this Christmas’s episode of Upstart Crow may be the best yet…

I was lucky enough to see it being recorded back in February. I don’t want to say anything ‘spoilery’ but it’s been widely reported that Kenneth Branagh makes a guest appearance and I thought his scenes with David were nothing short of incredible!

The pick up is so brilliant, as it isn’t bogged down with sadness or ignoring where we last left the characters. Of course it’s still very, very funny! Lily Cole also makes a guest appearance and all I’ll say is the quote from the BBC press release: It’s the tale of a Christmas haunting that comes a little bit too early. Here’s a little teaser poster I made for it…

Shakespeare’s Children: 35 Facts on Susanna, Judith & Hamnet  

@ChasquiPenguin (twitter) has written another brilliant facts article for us. This time it’s an emotional one – It’s all about Shakespeare’s children:



35 Facts on Susanna, Judith & Hamnet



  1. Susanna Shakespeare was baptised on 26th May 1583 in the Church of the Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon.


  1. She was the eldest child of Anne and William Shakespeare; her twin siblings Judith and Hamnet were born in early 1585.


  1. Although girls did not receive a school education, it is possible that Susanna was taught by tutors, as there are two extant documents which bear her signature (see below). Therefore, she was able to write her name, at least.


  1. Little is known of Susanna’s early life but she lived with her mother, twin siblings and paternal grandparents in their house on Henley Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, seeing her father on his visits home from London. With her mother and sister she moved into New Place, which her father had bought in 1597.


  1. In 1606 Susanna, aged 22, was one of 21 people in Stratford who refused to take Holy Communion on Easter Sunday, giving rise to suspicions that she had Roman Catholic leanings. However, it is assumed that she did agree to take Communion on future feast days, as the case against her for this misdemeanour was dropped.


  1. On 5th June 1607 Susanna married physician Dr John Hall, a Puritan, at the Church of the Holy Trinity, in Stratford. It is not known where they lived in the first years of their marriage but in 1613 they moved to the newly built Hall’s Croft, which also housed John’s medical practice.


  1. Their only child Elizabeth was born on 21st February 1608, the first grandchild for Anne and William and the only one he knew.


  1. In June 1613 a man called John Lane accused Susanna of adultery with Rafe Smith. As a result, on 15th July 1613 the Halls went to court, accusing John Lane of slander. He was subsequently found guilty and excommunicated by the church.


  1. William Shakespeare held his son-in-law in high regard, often including him in his business trips, and made both Susanna and John Hall executors of his will.


  1. When he died on 23rd April 1616, William left Susanna the bulk of his estate. This included New Place. However, the Hall family did not live in this house till after Anne’s death in 1623.


  1. Susanna and John designed the memorial to her father – a bust of the Bard which is assumed to bear a strong resemblance to him. It was placed in Holy Trinity Church in 1622.


  1. It is thought that Susanna wrote the memorial epitaph to her mother, lending further weight to the belief that she was literate.


  1. John died suddenly on 25th November 1635, aged 60. After his death Elizabeth and her husband Thomas Nash moved into Hall Croft and lived with her mother Susanna. Sadly, Thomas passed away in 1647.


  1. In 1643 Susanna received two important visitors. The first was John Cooke – a surgeon who bought all of Dr John Hall’s casebooks, which he edited then published in 1657. Her second guest was Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I. The Queen was staying in Stratford for three days and after this visit Susanna sent her a book which is now in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust collection.


  1. Susanna passed away on 11th July 1649, aged 66. She is buried in Holy Trinity Church, next to her parents’ graves.


  1. Her tombstone bears the following inscription:

Here lyeth the body of Susanna, wife of John Hall, gent., the daughter of William Shakespeare, gent. She deceased the 11 day of July, Anno 1649, aged 66.

Witty above her sex, but that’s not all,

Wise to Salvation was good Mistress Hall,

Something of Shakespeare was in that, but this

Wholly of him with whom she’s now in blisse.

Then, passenger, hast nere a tear

To weep with her that wept with all

That wept, yet set herself to chere

Them up with comforts cordiall?

Her love shall live, her mercy spread

When thou hast nere a tear to shed.”


Susanna Hall’s signature






  1. Judith Shakespeare, younger daughter of Anne and William Shakespeare, was baptised on 2nd February 1585, with her twin brother Hamnet. Their godparents are presumed to have been Judith and Hamnet Sadler, after whom they were named.


  1. Little is known of Judith’s early life except that she lived with her family in her grandparents’ house in Henley Street till she moved with her mother and sister to New Place.


  1. It is assumed that she was unable to read and write – when an adult, she signed a document with her mark, not her name.


  1. Judith married Thomas Quiney, a Stratford-upon-Avon vintner, on 10th February 1616 at Holy Trinity Church.


  1. The couple had three sons, all of whom died before the age of 21:
  • Shakespeare – baptised on 23rd November 1616, buried on 8th May 1617
  • Richard – baptised on 9th February 1618, buried on 6th February 1639
  • Thomas – baptised on 23rd January 1620, buried on 28th January 1639


  1. It appears that William Shakespeare had severe doubts about the character of his new son-in-law, as he quickly changed his will to protect Judith and cut out Thomas Quiney.


  1. As to Thomas Quiney, it appears he fathered a child with a woman called Margaret Wheeler who died in childbirth, with her baby, and both were buried on 15th March 1616, little more than a month after his marriage to Judith. His punishment was to perform penance in front of his church congregation for three consecutive Sundays, as well as giving five shillings to the poor.


  1. It is not known where the Quineys first lived but Judith owned a cottage which had been her father’s. This was on Chapel Lane, Stratford, but it passed to Susanna in accordance with their father’s will.


  1. Thomas Quiney held a lease on a High Street tavern called Atwood’s.


  1. In 1616 the Quineys moved to a house known as “The Cage”, on the corner of High Street and Bridge Street, Stratford, and Thomas turned the upper half into his vintner’s shop. This building is now the Stratford Information Office.


  1. Judith died at the age of 77 and was buried on 9th February 1662. The location of her grave in the grounds of Holy Trinity Church is no longer known.


  1. The fate of her husband is uncertain as there are no extant records on him. There is speculation that he may have died in 1662 or 1663, or moved away from Stratford.


  1. Although little is known about the life of Judith, she has been immortalised in many works of literary fiction, perhaps a fitting memorial to the younger daughter of the Bard.


Judith Shakespeare’s mark – a cursive “J” –

with her full name completed by a law clerk

Judith 1





  1. Hamnet Shakespeare, only son of Anne and William Shakespeare, was baptised, with his twin sister Judith, on 2nd February 1585 at Stratford’s Holy Trinity Church.


  1. He and Judith shared their godparents, Stratford baker Hamnet Sadler and his wife Judith, who are thought to have been friends of the Shakespeare family.


  1. Hamnet lived in the Henley Street house with his grandparents, mother and two sisters. With his father living in London, visiting home only occasionally, the family saw William infrequently.


  1. As with his father, it is very probable that Hamnet received an education at King Edward VI School in Stratford.


  1. Sadly, Hamnet died at the age of 11, possibly from bubonic plague, but the cause of death is not certain. He was buried at the Church of the Holy Trinity, Stratford, on 11th August 1586. It is more than likely his father was not present at the time of his only son’s death, nor at his funeral, and may not have received the sad news till after both events.


  1. There is much speculation that William Shakespeare fondly remembered his son with references to him in some of his plays: King John, Julius Caesar, Hamlet and Twelfth Night as well as Romeo and Juliet, though the latter may have been written in Hamnet’s lifetime. Another school of thought is that Hamnet was the subject of Sonnet 18, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”, but there is no evidence for this.


Hamnet’s listing in the death records



The above details are correct to the best of my ability but please let me know if you notice any inaccuracies. I am indebted to a variety of online resources, including The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

Twitter: @ChasquiPenguin