Share this page

The following is an imagined account from the life of Joan Shakespeare (also known as Joan Hart), William Shakespeare's sister, and the only sibling to outlive him. She married hatter William Hart in the late 1590's. From 1601 the Harts lived in a cottage within the west part of the Shakespeare house on Henley Street. 


It’s thirty years since the two Williams in my life died. I know you want to know more about William the First – my elder brother. What is there to say? People are still talking about him in Stratford-upon-Avon, even after all these years. I keep those two big editions of his plays in my late husband’s dresser in my little cottage. I browse through them from time to time and marvel at where all his knowledge came from. But I have vivid memories of him retiring into his closet at New Place of an evening and not wanting to be disturbed. But, oh, he was always a kind brother to me. I did my stint looking after our ma when she lay a-dying, mind, but what else is a daughter for? I’d nursed my poor husband (my other William) well enough. We named our first after my mother, but our young Mary died the year before mother. She was only four, poor lass. Then Thomas – a good strapping lad (takes after his father he does), and looks out for his old mum now – and then there was Michael (after the archangel), who God took from us when he was only ten. My late husband wasn’t, as they say, very good at credit, so times could be tough, but my William the first liked to help us out.

He only charged us 12 pence a year rent, and we knew we were on to a good thing there. And then there was the year my brother asked us if my William could make all the hats for the company. Up to all hours he was – hats for kings, and dukes, and gentlemen – you name it. And that summer we all went off to the Globe to see my husband’s hats used on stage – and then to court they went before His Majesty King James himself! Strange that my William the Second should die only a week before my first William. Left me £20, my brother did, and his clothes (worth quite a bit - from some London tailor), and my Thomas got £5. Memories, eh? The folks at the Maidenhead used to like to look out for me, but it’s full of soldiers these days. Roundheads shouting, and coming and going at all hours. Little do they know how I like to sit up in bed and read some of William the First’s most royal speeches when I hear them carrying on.

Help keep Shakespeare's story alive

Donate Online

More like this

Shakespedia Index

Go behind the scenes

Read our blogs
Where Shakespeare's story started Relive Shakespeare's love story Walk in Shakespeare's footsteps