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Anne Hathaway (1556 – 6 August 1623) was the wife of William Shakespeare. They were married in 1582 and Hathaway was widowed on Shakespeare's death in 1616. 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.


The Hathaway family cottage near Stratford.
Anne Hathaway is believed to have grown up in Shotterymarker, a small village just to the west of Stratford-upon-Avonmarker, Warwickshiremarker, Englandmarker. 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 Shakespeare in November 1582 while pregnant with the couple's first child, to whom she gave birth six months later. Hathaway was 26 years of age; Shakespeare was only eighteen. This age difference, together with Hathaway's antenuptial pregnancy, has been employed by some historians as evidence that it was a shotgun wedding, forced on a reluctant Shakespeare by Hathaway's family. There is, however, no reliable evidence for this inference.

The argument was apparently supported, though, by documents from the Episcopal Register at Worcester, which records in Latin the issuing of a wedding licence to "Wm Shaxpere" and one "Annam Whateley" of Temple Graftonmarker. 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 Shakespere and Anne Hathwey". Frank Harris, in The Man Shakespeare (1909), argues that these documents are evidence that Shakespeare was involved with two women. He had chosen to marry one Anne 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 Shakespeare and Hathaway was typical of couples of their time. Women such as the orphaned Hathaway often stayed at home to care for younger siblings and married in their late twenties, often to younger eligible men. Furthermore, a "handfast" marriage and pregnancy were frequent precursors to legal marriage at the time. Shakespeare, certainly, was bound to marry Hathaway, having made her pregnant, but there is no reason to assume that this had not always been his intention. It is likely that the respective families of the bride and groom had known one another.

Three children were born to Anne, namely Susanna in 1583, and the twins Hamnet and Judith in 1585. 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 Londonmarker, 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 rather than London.

Much has been read into the bequest that Shakespeare famously made in his will, leaving Anne only the "second-best bed". A few explanations have been offered: 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; secondly, it has been speculated that Hathaway was to be supported by her children; and, more recently, 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, as in its treatment of his younger daughter Judith.

Greer also discusses some indications which tend to support speculation that Hathaway may have been financially secure in her own right. The National Archivesmarker 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 by modern standards. 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. This idea is explored in the poem 'Anne Hathaway' written by Carol Ann Duffy.

The simple fact, though, is that Shakespeare, the last surviving of his brothers, was an old man for his time. Hathaway was eight years older than him and may well have been feeble and dependent on her daughters. Hathaway died in 1623 at the age of 67.

Anne in literature

Shakespeare's sonnets

One of Shakespeare's sonnets, number 145, has been claimed to make reference to Anne Hathaway; the words 'hate away' may be a pun (in Elizabethan pronunciation) on 'Hathaway'. It has also been suggested that the next words, "And saved my life", would have been indistinguishable in pronunciation from "Anne saved my life". The sonnet differs from all the others in the length of the lines. Its fairly simple language and syntax have led to suggestions that it was written much earlier than the other, more mature, sonnets.

Those lips that Love's own hand did make
Breathed forth the sound that said 'I hate'
To me that languish'd for her sake;
But when she saw my woeful state
Straight in her heart did mercy come,
Chiding that tongue that ever sweet
Was used in giving gentle doom,
And taught it thus anew to greet:
'I hate' she alter'd with an end,
That follow'd it as gentle day
Doth follow night, who like a fiend
From heaven to hell is flown away;
'I hate' from hate away she threw,
And saved my life, saying 'not you.'

Other literature

The following poem about Anne has also been ascribed to Shakespeare, but its language and style are not typical of his verse. It is widely attributed to Charles Dibdin (1748-1814) and may have been written for the Stratford-upon-Avonmarker Shakespeare Festival of 1769:

But were it to my fancy given
To rate her charms, I'd call them heaven;
For though a mortal made of clay,
Angels must love Anne Hathaway;

She hath a way so to control,
To rapture the imprisoned soul,
And sweetest heaven on earth display,
That to be heaven Anne hath a way;

She hath a way,
Anne Hathaway,–
To be heaven's self Anne hath a way.

In literature after 1900

A trend in more recent literature on Hathaway is to imagine her as a sexually incontinent cradle-snatcher, or, alternatively, a frigid shrew.

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 2005 play Shakespeare's Will by Canadian playwright Vern Thiessen is similar in form. It is a one-woman piece that focuses on Anne Hathaway on the day of her husband's funeral.

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 Londonmarker. Germaine Greer's book, Shakespeare's Wife, was published in 2007.

Anne Hathaway's Cottage

Falstaff: part of the sculpture park in the cottage garden
Anne Hathaway's childhood was spent in a house near Stratford in Warwickshiremarker, Englandmarker. 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 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. It is now owned and managed by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, and is now open to public visitors as a museum.


  1. Shakespeare Bithplace Trust: Anne Hathaway's Cottage
  2. Whatley, Anne. Oxford Companion to Shakespeare. See also Park Honan, Shakespeare: a life, Oxford University Press, 2000, p.84.
  3. Greer, Germaine Shakespeare's Wife, Bloomsbury 2007.
  4. Stanley Wells, Gary Taylor, John Jowett, William Montgomery, William Shakespeare, a textual companion, W. W. Norton & Company, 1997, p.90
  5. Best, Michael (2005) Anne's inheritance. Internet Shakespeare Editions, University of Victoria, Canada.
  6. Retrieved on 04-19-07
  7. Shakespeare and Precious Stones by George Frederick Kunz
  8. Retrieved on 04-19-07
  9. Retrieved on 04-19-07
  10. Retrieved on 04-19-07
  11. The Good Men Do.

Further reading

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