Amazing Stories from the Web
continued from No. 24/2008
Part 9. THE MYSTERY OF THE SECOND-BEST BED
Pre-Reading: Discussion Questions
1. What is your most prized possession?
2. If you ever visit the UK, what would you like to see?
If we ask modern teenagers who Anne Hathaway is, they will probably name the young Hollywood actress who played the leading role in “The Princess Diaries”. Wikipedia tells us that she was named after an English woman who lived in the 16th century. Her claim to fame? Anne Hathaway (1556–August 6, 1623) was the wife of William Shakespeare. Very little is known about her, beyond a few references in legal documents, but her personality and relationship to Shakespeare have been the subject of much speculation by historians and creative writers.
Anne Hathaway is believed to have grown up in a small village just to the west of Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. She is assumed to have grown up in the farmhouse that was the Hathaway family home, which is located at Shottery and is now a major tourist attraction for the village. Her father, Richard Hathaway, was a farmer. He died in 1581 and left Anne the sum of six pounds, thirteen shillings and fourpence to be paid “at the day of her marriage”. Hathaway married Shakespeare in November 1582 while pregnant with the couple’s first child, to whom she gave birth six months later. Hathaway was 26 years of age, whereas Shakespeare was only eighteen. This age difference, together with Hathaway’s pregnancy, has been employed by some historians as evidence that it was a wedding forced on Shakespeare by Hathaway’s family. There is, however, no reliable evidence for this idea.
Some researchers argue that the age difference between Shakespeare and Hathaway was typical of couples of their time. Women such as the orphaned Hathaway often stayed at home to care for younger siblings and married in their late twenties, often to younger men. It is likely that the respective families of the bride and groom had known one another.
Three children were born to Anne, namely Susanna in 1583, and the twins Hamnet and Judith in 1585.
Susanna Hall (nee Shakespeare) (May 1583 – 1648), was the eldest child of William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway. She was born six months after their marriage. She got married to Doctor Hall, a respected citizen of the town, in 1607, when she was 24. Susanna had one daughter named Elizabeth; she was the only grandchild that Shakespeare knew, as the others were born after his death. Like most women in seventeenth century England, Susanna and her sister Judith never received any education and did not learn to read or write. Susanna died when she was 66 years old. She was buried in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford next to her parents.
Hamnet Shakespeare (baptised February 2, 1585 – buried August 11, 1596) was the only son of William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway, and the fraternal twin of Judith Shakespeare. He died at age eleven of unknown causes.
Judith Quiney (nee Shakespeare) (baptised 2 February 1585 – buried 9 February 1662) was the daughter of William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway. She married Thomas Quiney, a vintner of Stratford-upon-Avon. Shakespeare did not approve of his son in law, so he re-wrote his will. Thomas was struck out, and Judith’s part was safeguarded so that her husband could not touch it. When Shakespeare died on 23 April 1616, he left everything, except for a number of legacies (including ?300 and a silver bowl to Judith), to Susanna and Dr. Hall, including the large manor New Place in Stratford.
For most of their married life, William Shakespeare lived in London, writing and performing his plays, while Anne remained in Stratford, but, when he retired from the theatre in 1613, he chose to live in Stratford rather than London.
Much has been read into the bequest that Shakespeare famously made in his will, leaving Anne only the “second-best bed”. Research shows that “beds and other pieces of household furniture were often the sole bequest to a wife” and that, customarily, the children would receive the best items and the widow the second-best. In Shakespeare’s time, the beds of prosperous citizens were very expensive, sometimes to the value of a small house. The bequest was thus not as minor as it might seem to a modern. Finally, in Elizabethan custom, the best bed in the house was reserved for guests. Therefore, the bed that Shakespeare bequeathed to Anne could have been their marital bed, and thus significant.
One of Shakespeare’s sonnets, number 145, has been claimed to make reference to Anne Hathaway; the words ‘hate away’ may be a pun (in Elizabethan pronunciation) on ‘Hathaway’. It has also been suggested that the next words, “And saved my life”, would have been indistinguishable in pronunciation from “Anne saved my life”. The sonnet differs from all the others in the length of the lines. Its fairly simple language and syntax have led to suggestions that it was written much earlier than the other sonnets.
In spite of all the hypotheses about Anne Hathaway’s life, a few facts remain clear to this day. She had indeed been the one and only wife of William Shakespeare, and the mother of his three children. She was the woman who lived in their house while he spent many years in London as playwright and actor, and she was the woman to whom he returned after all those years. It was not very unusual at the time for a man to be away from his home for so long.
Although Anne’s house is often called a cottage, it is, in fact, a large twelve-roomed farmhouse, with several bedrooms, now set in extensive gardens. It was known as Newlands Farm in Shakespeare’s day and had more than ninety acres of land attached to it. As in many houses of the period, it has multiple chimneys to spread the heat evenly throughout the house during winter. The largest chimney was used for cooking. After the death of Anne’s father, the cottage was owned by Anne’s brother Bartholomew, and was passed down the Hathaway family until 1846, when financial problems forced them to sell it. However, it was still occupied by them as tenants when it was acquired in 1892 by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, which removed later additions and alterations. In 1969 the cottage was badly damaged in a fire, but was restored by the Trust. It is now open to public visitors as a museum.
nee (adj.) born with the name; the surname a woman had before she married
vintner (n.) a person who buys and sells wines
legacy (n.) money or property received from someone who died, according to their will
manor (n.) a large house with land
bequest (n.) money or property left to heirs in a will
pun (n.) play on words
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Anne Hathaway disambiguation.
You will not find the word disambiguation in any dictionary, but you will find an explanation on the web.
Disambiguation in Wikipedia is the process of resolving conflicts in article titles that occur when a single term can be associated with more than one topic, making that term likely to be the natural title for more than one article. In other words, disambiguations are paths leading to different articles which could, in principle, have the same title.