William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway

William Shakespeare (Copyright: Scanpix)William Shakespeare (Copyright: Scanpix)

A lot of mystery surrounds the marriage in 1582 of England’s greatest writer and Miss Hathaway, but we are pretty sure of a few facts. Firstly, William was 18 years old and Anne was 26. At the time, an age difference of this type was very unusual. Secondly, William needed his father’s permission to get married, because he was under 21. Thirdly, the couple were married in church, because in sixteenth-century England there was no alternative. And fourthly – and most shockingly in those days! – Anne was pregnant.

A wedding was arranged as quickly as possible, and six months later the couple had a daughter, Susanna, who was baptized on 26 May 1583. Two years later they had twins, Hamnet and Judith. In those days families were large, so the Shakespeare family was a small one.
 

Anne Hataway's cottage - her childhood homeAnne Hataway's cottage - her childhood home

Some time after 1595, Shakespeare left his home town of Stratford and went to London, where he wrote wonderful plays and poems and became famous. He visited his family regularly, and bought them a beautiful house in Stratford, but he and Anne suffered a lot: Hamnet died at the age of eleven and Judith married a man who caused a scandal because he made another girl pregnant. William died in April 1616, after 34 years of marriage. He and Anne may have been happily married, but we will never be sure. In those days divorce was impossible for ordinary people, so couples had to stay married whether they wanted to or not.

In his last will and testament, William left Anne his “second best bed”. This is probably the most famous entry ever made in a will.




Activity

Go through the text with a partner and find five or six ways in which life in Shakespeare’s England was different from life in England today.


Activities for the links below

  1. Use information from the description of Shakespeare’s Globe to make an advertisement for the theatre in which you list its attractions. Make your advertisement as dramatic as possible. You might like to begin like this:

    Return to the sixteenth century! At Shakespeare’s Globe you will ...

  2. You are going to spend a day and a night in Stratford-upon-Avon. Click your way around the second website below and choose what to see, where to spend the night and where to have lunch and dinner. Write up your ideas, and say why you have made your choices.