Shakespeare marries Anne Hathaway

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Shakespeare marries Anne Hathaway

Stratford upon Avon, Warwickshire The 14th of November 1582 AD

The joint lives of William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway did not follow what we perhaps expect of the time, indeed certain aspects of their existence seem strangely ‘modern’.

Anne Hathaway was the daughter of a reasonably prosperous farmer living at Hewland farm in Shottery – the farmhouse the Hathaway family occupied is now famed as Anne Hathaway’s cottage . Born in 1556, she was almost certainly never schooled, staying at home to be involved in the running of the household as the eldest daughter. Her mother died when Anne was young, to be replaced by her father’s second wife, Joan. Her father died in 1581, leaving the farm to his son Bartholomew.

Shakespeare, born in 1564, was eight years younger than Anne. We do not know how they met, but can guess that William’s involvement in his father’s businesses - agricultural dealer and leather goods maker - brought them into one another’s company.

Much speculation surrounds the marriage of the 18-year-old William Shakespeare and 26-year-old Anne Hathaway, not least because in the surviving church documents preceeding the wedding two women’s names are given: Anne Whateley of Temple Grafton, and Anne Hathwey of Stratford. Was this just a clerical error? Or was William intended for another? Counter to our view of this age as a time of chastity for ‘nice’ women, Anne was three months’ pregnant when they did marry, giving birth to a daughter, Suzanne, some six months after the wedding. Interestingly, in later years Suzanne gave birth eight months after her own wedding.

The disparity between the ages of the newly wed couple was not unusual in the Elizabethan era. While the age of consent was 21 so William would have required his father’s permission to marry, at 18 William was a man, working in John Shakespeare’s various activities and perhaps earning extra money in teaching and even doing clerical work for a lawyer, as at this time John’s businesses were in decline.

In 1585, two years after Suzanne was born, the Shakespeares had their twins Hamnet and Judith, named for friends of the couple. They thereafter had no more children, unusual for the time given the lack of reliable birth control and the need to have large families in the face of high infant mortality rates. This has led to a belief among some scholars that they were unhappy together, an idea reinforced by Shakespeare leaving for London to make his way in the theatre and as a poet sometime between 1585 and 1592. They lived largely separate lives for the next two decades.

The counter argument to the above is that Shakespeare looked after his wife well, buying a substantial house when his fortune allowed. Anne could thus finally move from the home of her in-laws to a brick-built house of great standing in Stratford, a place with gardens and orchards.

It is tempting to see Shakespeare as the rock star of his day, lauded by the public and even the monarchs who reigned when he was writing, living the life of a bachelor in London, perhaps an Elizabethan and then Jacobean party animal – but like so many supposed wild-men, investing carefully as his funds grew. He bought land in his home town, and the right to various tithes which gave him and his wife a regular income perhaps equivalent to a pension scheme. Like many a rock star now, he craved respectability and recognition, funding his family’s quest for a coat of arms. When it was granted, he became William Shakespeare, gentleman.

In about 1610 Shakespeare retired from literary life. He chose not to live in the capital, but to return to his splendid house in Stratford, living out his last few years in comfort there, with Anne his wife.

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