William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway

The Writer’s Almanac for November 27, 2015

William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway on November 27,1582. We don’t know too much about Anne Hathaway, nor much about any aspect of Shakespeare’s private life. We do know that she was eight years older than the playwright, and that she lived in Shottery, a small hamlet a mile up the road from Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford. She was the oldest of eight children; both her parents were dead, and she lived with her brother. At 26, she was an old maid by 16th-century standards. We don’t know how the 18-year-old Shakespeare wooed this older woman, or even how they met, but we can infer a few juicy details about their courtship, based on the fact that their first child, Susanna, was born just six months after the wedding. Their wedding was hastily planned, and because Shakespeare was still under the age of consent, his father would have to have given his permission. The newlyweds then lived together with Shakespeare’s parents. Young William probably helped his father, John, with his business dealings, and Anne would have helped her mother-in-law with the housework. Anne gave birth to twins two years later: a boy and girl, named Hamnet and Judith, named after close friends of William and Anne.

Sometime after the twins were born, Shakespeare moved to London to pursue an acting career, and by 1582 he was well established. He came back to Stratford occasionally, but Anne never visited him in London. The couple spent most of the rest of their marriage apart, but Shakespeare moved back to Stratford when he retired from the stage, and they spent the last six years of his life together. In his will, Shakespeare bequeathed his “second-best bed” to Anne. Much has been made of this line in his will, but it probably was not intended to be insulting, as the “best bed” was generally reserved for guests and was passed down as a family heirloom. Shakespeare died in 1616, and Anne followed in 1623. She is buried next to him in the Church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford.

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