February 20, 2018
Shakespeare in TroubleOn this day in 1582 William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway married, or perhaps just paid for the right to do so. As with most aspects of Shakespeare's life, the facts are scanty, but we do know that the couple obtained a bond from the local church authorities dated November 28, 1582 allowing them to marry immediately, avoiding the normal banns procedure. We also know that the bond was costly -- forty pounds, twice the yearly salary for the Stratford schoolmaster -- and that it was put up not by Shakespeare's parents but by two local farmers who were friends of the bride's late father. We also know that the groom was eighteen years old, the bride was twenty-six, and their first child, Susanna, was baptized six months later.
There seems no way of knowing if all this adds up to Shakespeare in Trouble, rather than Shakespeare in Love, but one recent biography, Stephen Greenblatt's highly-praised Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare (Norton, 2004), thinks so:
That's Beatrice speaking, one of those Shakespearean women who happily cuts down the Shakespearean man-in-love, whether the opportunist or the incurable romantic. Which was good Will hunting, in the Stratford summer of 1582? Perhaps the Hamlet opportunist, the sort from whom Ophelia might have learned that "Young men will do`t, if they come to`t; / By Cock they are to blame...." Perhaps the pie-eyed country bumpkin of As You Like It, the sort so gone on the milkmaid that he would kiss even "the cow's dugs that her pretty chapped hands had milked." Or perhaps the full story is closer to the tale that is told in Robert Nye's 1993 novel, Mrs. Shakespeare:The Complete Works. This Anne Hathaway can read, though she has no time for her husband's puns and poesy. She can write, too, and just before her death, she tells all she found out about her husband's famous second-best bed, as discovered during her one and only visit to London to enjoy it:
I seized his arm and stopped him in his stride.
I held out my hand to his face.
His mouth fell open.
I popped a fat cherry into it.
"And to get paid in kind," I said.
Mr Shakespeare was choking.
"More than a hundred," I said. "She must dote on sonnets."
I smacked Mr Shakespeare on the back.
He swallowed the cherry, stone and all.
"She must be a real addict," I said. "She must be some sort of sonnet-freak."
My husband was coughing and spluttering.
He was waving his hands in the air.
He was going bright red in the face again.
"What's that?" I cried. "What's that you're trying to say?"...
Mr Shakespeare took a deep breath and then cleared his throat.
"It isn't a she," Mr Shakespeare said.
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