On 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:
He could not get out of it. That is the overwhelming sense of the bond that rushed the marriage through. But he contrived, after three years' time, not to live with his wife. Two days' hard ride from Stratford, at a safe distance from Henley Street and later from New Place [his Stratford residences], he made his astonishing works and his fortune.
Shakespeare returned to Anne and Stratford occasionally throughout his thirty-four-year marriage, and permanently for his last few years, and he by no means abandoned his obligations. But there are no surviving letters or notes to indicate how "the supreme poet of courtship" and the "great poet of the family" felt about his own wife and kids. Greenblatt wonders if this is because Anne was illiterate, and so "this supremely eloquent man" chose to write nothing rather than notes for others to read out. He also reminds us that the idea of marriage as a sustained intimacy, let alone a soaring romance, was not the prevalent one. Nonetheless, using Shakespeare's literary marriages as evidence, Greenblatt portrays a man who is more committed than convinced on the topic. In short, while there may be Seven Ages of Man, there are only Three Stages of Marriage: "wooing, wedding, and repenting" (Much Ado About Nothing).
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:
"What's good to know is that you have someone," I said. "What's good to know is that you have someone to write your sonnets for. What's very good to know is that this someone you have to write your sonnets for is the sort of someone you have to write so many sonnets for."
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.