Legacy was a major concern for William Shakespeare. Sonnet 55 argues that his verse will outlast contemporary worldly beauty:
‘Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmear’d with sluttish time.’
Yet Shakespeare seems to have had the hope that, along with verse, his wealth might outlive him.
His last will and testament reflects a desire to consolidate his property and set up a substantial legacy for a male heir. However, only Shakespeare’s daughters survived to adulthood; his son, Hamnet, had died in 1596 at the age of 11. In the playwright’s last will and testament we see his attempt to transfer his lands to future grandsons, via his female heirs.
At the time of his death Shakespeare had two daughters: Susanna, married to the doctor John Hall; and Judith, who had very recently married Thomas Quiney. Susanna was left her father’s real estate, including four buildings in Stratford (New Place, the grand house in which Shakespeare had lived; the Maidenhead Inn; and properties in Henley Street – including his birthplace – as well as various lands) and an ex-monastic gatehouse in the Blackfriars, London. Judith, in contrast, was left money.