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 Shottery, 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 yeoman farmer. He died in September 1581, and bequeathed Anne the sum of £6, 13s, 4d (six pounds, thirteen shillings and fourpence) to be paid "at the day of her marriage".
Hathaway married William Shakespeare in November 1582 while pregnant with the couple's first child. Hathaway was 26 years of age when she married, whereas Shakespeare was only 18. This age difference, and Hathaway's pregnancy, has been used by some historians as evidence that this was a "shotgun wedding" forced on a reluctant Shakespeare by Hathaway's family. There is, however, no reliable evidence for this inference.
This argument was apparently supported by documents from the Episcopal Register at Worcester, which records in Latin the issuing of wedding licence to "Wm Shaxpere" and one "Annam Whatley" of Temple Grafton. The day afterwards Fulk Sandells and John Richardson, relatives of Hathaway 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 were evidence that Shakespeare was involved with two women. He had chosen to marry Whatley, but when this became known he was immediately forced by Hathaway's family to marry their pregnant relative. According to the Oxford Companion to Shakespeare most modern scholars take the view that the name Whatley was "almost certainly the result of clerical error".
Germaine Greer argues that the age difference between William and Anne was typical of couples of their time. Women, such as the orphaned Anne, often stayed at home to care for younger siblings and married in their late 20s, and often to younger eligible men. Furthermore a "handfast" marriage and pregnancy were frequent precursors to legal marriage at the time. Certainly Shakespeare was bound to marry her having made her pregnant, but there is no reason to assume that had not always been his intention. It is likely the bride and groom's families had known one another.
It has often 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 Hathaway stayed in Stratford. However, when Shakespeare retired from the theatre in 1613, he chose to live in Stratford, not London.
Much has been read into the bequest Shakespeare famously made in his will, leaving Anne only the "second-best bed." A few explanations have been offered for Shakespeare's bequest. Firstly, it has been claimed that according to law Hathaway was entitled to receive one third of her husband's estate regardless of his will. Second, it has been speculated that Hathaway would be supported by her children. More recently Germaine Greer has come up with a new explanation based on research into other wills and marriage settlements of the time and place. She disputes the claim that widows were automatically entitled to a third of the estate, and suggests that a condition of the marriage of Shakespeare's eldest daughter Susanna to a financially sound husband was probably that Susanna (and thus her husband) inherited the bulk of Shakespeare's estate. This would also explain other examples of Shakespeare's will being apparently ungenerous, such as the treatment of his younger daughter Judith. Greer also discusses some indications tending to support speculation that Anne may have been financially secure in her own right. The National Archives states 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 expensive affairs, sometimes to the value of a small house. The bequest was thus not as minor as it might seem to a modern person. 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. The simple fact though is that Shakespeare, the last surviving of his brothers, was an old man for his times and Anne was eight years older than him. She may well have been feeble and dependent on her daughters. He would not have expected her to outlive him by any great length of time, and thus it made sense to leave the estate directly to her daughters. Anne Hathaway died in 1623 at the age of 67.
An adulterous Anne is imagined by James Joyce's character Stephen Dedalus, who makes a number of references to Hathaway. In Ulysses, he speculates that the gift of the infamous "second-best bed" was a punishment for her adultery, and earlier in the same novel, Dedalus analyses Shakespeare's marriage with a pun: "He chose badly? He was chosen, it seems to me. If others have their will Ann hath a way. Anne also appears in Hubert Osborne's The Shakespeare Play (c.1911) and its sequel The Good Men Do (1917), which dramatises a meeting between the newly widowed Anne and her supposed old rival for William's love "Anne Whatley". Anne is depicted as shrewish in the first play, and as spiteful towards her former rival in the latter. A frosty relationship is also portrayed in Edward Bond's play Bingo (1973), about Shakespeare's last days.
The World's Wife, a collection of poems by Carol Ann Duffy, features a sonnet entitled Anne Hathaway, based on the passage from Shakespeare's will regarding his "second-best bed". Duffy chooses the view that this would be their marriage bed, and so a memento of their love, not a slight. Anne remembers their lovemaking as a form of "romance and drama", unlike the "prose" written on the best bed used by guests, "I hold him in the casket of my widow's head/ as he held me upon that next best bed". The couple's sexual adventures on the bed are also described in Robert Nye's novel Mrs. Shakespeare: the Complete Works, which purports to be Anne's autobiographical reminiscences.
Through her long-running solo show Mrs Shakespeare, Will's first and last love (1989) American actress-writer Yvonne Hudson may have the most constant and evolving relationship with both the historical and dramatic Anne Hathaway. She depicts Anne and Will as maintaining a friendship despite the challenges inherent to their long separations and tragedies. Mining early and recent scholarship and the complete works, Hudson concurs that evidence of the couple's mutual respect is indeed evident in the plays and sonnets, along with support for the writer's infatuations and possibly adulterous relationships. Hudson also chooses the positive view of the bed bequest, sharing that "it may have been only here that I possessed William." Mrs Shakespeare explores the realities of keeping house without a husband while applying some dramatic license. This allows Anne to have at least a country wife's understanding of her educated spouse's work as she quotes sonnets and soliloquies to convey her feelings.
The romantic comedy film Shakespeare in Love provides an example of the negative view, depicting the marriage as a cold and loveless bond that Shakespeare must escape to find love in London. The play Shakespeare's Will by Canadian playwright Vern Thiessen is a one-woman piece that focuses on Anne Hathaway on the day of her husband's funeral. Germaine Greer's book, Shakespeare's Wife, was published in 2007.
Anne Hathaway's childhood was spent in a house near Stratford in Warwickshire, England. Although it is often called a cottage, it is, in fact, a spacious 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. It also has visible timber framing, a trademark of vernacular Tudor style architecture.
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.