The history of William Shakespeare, poet and playwright, is anything but one free of controversy. There are several arguments challenging his very existence. Over the years, every aspect of his life has been studied and researched comprehensively. One of the most intriguing aspects of his life undoubtedly is his relationship with his wife and his various love affairs. This essay aims to highlight and analyze the environment surrounding his marriage and attempt to compare it with information presented in the screenplay.
The various scholars who have involved themselves in bringing to life his past have come up with stirring evidence about his marriage. What is for certain is the fact that Shakespeare did marry a certain Anne Hathaway. On November 28, 1582 the Bishop of Worcester issued the marriage bond for ‘William Shagspere’ and ‘Ann Hathwey of Stratford’ This was almost beyond doubt, Anne Hathaway, daughter of Richard Hathaway of Shottery (1582 Marriage). This quote not only confirms this fact, but also gives us the most accurate known date of Shakespeare’s wedding. However, some records have changed the whole story surrounding Shakespeare’s marriage. Ivor Brown, in his book Shakespeare, traces the circumstances that led up to the marriage. William Shakespeare may not have married Anne Hathaway out of choice. On November 27, 1582, an entry was made in the Episcopal register at Worcester. This set down the issue of a marriage license to William Shaxpere and Anne Whatley of Temple Grafton. On the next day, two yeomen of Stratford, Fulk Sandells and John Richardson, agreed to pay forty pounds should any legal consideration arise to prevent the marriage of William Shagspere and Anne Hathway of Worcester. (Brown 45)
The first theory that can be proposed after reading the excerpt is that an error occurred in the recording of the wedding and was promptly taken care of the next day. But, what if Anne Whatley really did exist? After all, the excerpt does claim that the two Annes were from different towns. It isn’t hard to tribute an affair to Shakespeare at all. Shakespeare didn’t need looks to captivate a lady’s heart. Over the years, he has captured the hearts of millions worldwide with his penmanship. Arguably, such a man could, at that young an age, have easily seduced several women with the magic of his words. And, even though he is some ten years older in the screenplay, Norman and Stoppard have done a brilliant job of portraying Will as an individual brimming with passion and lust in the screenplay.
Though a mix up in names was commonplace of that time, it is unlikely that it took place in this instance. Hathaway and Whatley are wholly different names and Temple Grafton could certainly not have been penned down as Stratford. Now however sleepy a clerk may have become during the course of his day’s penmanship and its refreshment intervals, it is extremely unlikely that he would transliterate Temple Grafton into Stratford (Brown 48). This bit of evidence may be the clue that suggests the possibility of Anne Whatley’s existence. Had there been an Anne Whatley from Temple Grafton and an Anne Hathaway, from Stratford, it would give a juicy twist to the story of William Shakespeare, the lover!
But, we can only speculate as to what the truth actually was. Perhaps, Shakespeare had intended to marry Whatley all the way and an irresistible Hathaway had suddenly walked into his life. Another possibility could be that the playwright was having an affair with both women at the same time and had made false promises to both. And, the reason he ended up marrying Hathaway was that she was three months pregnant. . . . because the bride was some three months pregnant and there was reason for haste in concluding the marriage (1582 Marriage). This corresponds with what Will tells Dr. Moth in the screenplay. So, we arrive at the conclusion that Shakespeare did not marry Anne Hathaway by choice. This would obviously imply that the relationship would not be a happy one and would in fact be short-lived. Hence, we return to Will’s statement in the screenplay about the detached relationship between him and his wife. WILL: Four years and a hundred miles away in Stratford. A cold bed too, since the twins were born. Banishment was a blessing (12). This statement not only describes the emptiness between the couple, but also runs parallel with the possibility that Will indeed never wanted Hathaway as his wife. Another strong pillar supporting this theory is a statement from Shakespeare’s will. In his will, Shakespeare left Anne only his second-best bed. The exact significance of this is uncertain. Sometimes it has been interpreted as a derisory gesture. (Wells 69) This may suggest that another woman (perhaps an unknown mistress) was Shakespeare’s first choice in bed. Any feelings beyond that cannot be inferred from this small piece of information.
This would lead us to believe that a very powerful theory about the history of Shakespeare’s marriage may be proposed using these excerpts. Right from the presumption that he was an ardent young man caught by the worst sort of trap (the lifetime bond of marriage) to the supposition that he chose to break free from the relationship because his nature forbade him to accept such a verdict. William Shakespeare, I believe, was a lover. The fact that he would have to spend the rest of his life with a woman who would not keep their relationship brisk for long did not appeal to him. And, that is when Norman and Stoppard’s Will was born.
Brown, Ivor Shakespeare
New York: Time Incorporated, 1962
Norman, Marc and Tom Stoppard Shakespeare in Love
New York: Miramax Films and Universal Studios, 1998
Terry A. Gray 1582 Marriage Shakespeare Timeline.
Wells, Stanley Shakespeare, An Illustrated Dictionary
New York: Oxford University Press, 1978