Anne Hathaway

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Anne Hathaway, 1708.

Anne Hathaway (1556 – 6 August 1623) was the wife of William Shakespeare, an English poet, playwright and actor. They were married in 1582, when Hathaway was 26 years old and Shakespeare was 18. She outlived her husband by seven years. Very little is known about her life beyond a few references in legal documents. Her personality and relationship to Shakespeare have been the subject of much speculation by many historians and writers.

Marriage

Hathaway married Shakespeare in November 1582, likely November 28, while already pregnant with the couple's first child, to whom she gave birth six months later. The age difference, added to Hathaway's antenuptial pregnancy, has been employed by some historians as evidence that it was a "shotgun wedding", forced on a somewhat reluctant Shakespeare by the Hathaway family. There is, however, no other evidence for this inference.

For a time it was believed that this view was supported by documents from the Episcopal Register at Worcester, which records in Latin the issuing of a wedding licence to "William Shakespeare" and one "Anne Whateley" of Temple Grafton. The following day, Fulk Sandells and John Richardson, friends of the Hathaway family from Stratford, signed a surety of £40 as a financial guarantee for the wedding of "William Shagspere and Anne Hathwey". Frank Harris, in The Man Shakespeare (1909), argued that these documents are evidence that Shakespeare was involved with two women. He had chosen to marry one, Anne Whateley, but when this became known he was immediately forced by Hathaway's family to marry their pregnant relative. Harris believed that "Shakespeare's loathing for his wife was measureless" because of his entrapment by her and that this was the spur to his decision to leave Stratford and pursue a career in the theatre.

However, according to Stanley Wells, writing in the Oxford Companion to Shakespeare, most modern scholars take the view that the name Whateley was "almost certainly the result of clerical error"

Germaine Greer, in Shakespeare's Wife, argues that the age difference between Shakespeare and Hathaway is not evidence that he was forced to marry her, but that he was the one who pursued her. Women such as the orphaned Hathaway often stayed at home to care for younger siblings and married in their late twenties. As a husband Shakespeare offered few prospects; his family had fallen into financial ruin, while Hathaway, from a family in good standing both socially and financially, would have been considered a catch. Furthermore, a "handfast" and pregnancy were frequent precursors to legal marriage at the time. Examining the surviving records of Stratford-upon-Avon and nearby villages in the 1580s, Greer argues that two facts stand out quite prominently: first, that a large number of brides went to the altar already pregnant; and second, that autumn, not spring, was the most common time to get married. Shakespeare was bound to marry Hathaway, who had become pregnant by him, but there is no reason to assume that this had not always been his intention. It is nearly certain that the respective families of the bride and groom had known one another.

Three children were born to Hathaway and her husband: Susanna in 1583 and the twins Hamnet and Judith in 1585. Hamnet died at 11 years old during one of the frequent outbreaks of the bubonic plague and was buried in Stratford-upon-Avon on 11 August 1596.

Apart from documents related to her marriage and the birth of her children, the only recorded reference to Hathaway in her lifetime is a curious bequest in the will of her father's shepherd, Thomas Whittington, who died in 1601. Whittington left 40 shillings to "the poor of Stratford", adding that the money was "in the hand of Anne Shakespeare wife unto Master William Shakespeare, and is due debt unto me, being paid to mine executor by the said William Shakespeare or his assigns according to the true meaning of this my will." This passage has been interpreted in several different ways. One view is that Whittington may have lent Anne the money, presumably because she was short of cash while her husband was away. More likely, however, it may have been "uncollected wages, or savings held in safekeeping", since the will also lists debts owed to him from her brothers in the same amount.

In 1607, Hathaway's daughter Susanna married the local doctor, John Hall, giving birth to Hathaway's and Shakespeare's granddaughter, Elizabeth, the following year. Judith married Thomas Quiney, who was a vintner and tavern owner from a good family, in February 1616 when she was 31 and he was 27. Shakespeare may later have disapproved of this choice when it was discovered that Quiney had got another girl pregnant; also, Quiney had failed to obtain a special wedding licence needed during Lent, leading to Judith and Thomas being excommunicated on 12 March. Soon afterwards, on 25 March 1616, Shakespeare modified his will for Judith to inherit £300 in her own name, leaving Quiney out of the will and giving most of his property to Susanna and her husband.

It has sometimes been inferred that Shakespeare came to dislike his wife, but there is no existing documentation or correspondence to support this supposition. For most of their married life, he lived in London, writing and performing his plays, while she remained in Stratford. However, according to John Aubrey, he returned to Stratford for a period every year. When he retired from the theatre in 1613, he chose to live in Stratford with his wife, rather than in London.

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