William Shakespeare — who’s remarkable for so many things that it’s easy to forget the thing he’s perhaps most remarkable for: the fact that he doesn’t reveal himself in any of his plays — was born in 1564, in Stratford, a tiny village which at that time had a population of approximately 1,500 people.
In the summer of 1579, when Shakespeare was fifteen-years-old, a young woman named Katherine Hamlet fell into the river Avon and drowned, an incident the young William Shakespeare would have for certain known about.
It’s not much, but it’s something.
Here’s Queen Gertrude’s poetic description of Ophelia’s muddy death:
Gertrude: There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
There with fantastic garlands did she come
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them:
There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element: but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.
Hamlet Act IV, scene vii