There is very little known about William Shakespeare’s wife, Ann Hathaway, and most of it is based on conjecture and assumption, rather than evidence. We do know she was older than Shakespeare, and most theories claim she bedded him and he was then forced to marry his pregnant seducer. Historians and academics interpret the little evidence there is to make Ann the villain of the piece, while Germaine Greer turns these theories on their head, and looks at the bigger picture of the society of the age, and suggests that Will and Ann were in love, backed up by discussions around the customs and laws of the time, and how history has recorded their affairs.
This is by no means an easy read as it is a very academic text, so be prepared for lots of reference numbers pointing you to the Notes section at the back of the book, as well as plenty of lists of the recorded evidence for other contemporaries of the couple which can be dry at times. As someone who doesn’t read books about history or academic pieces, I thought I might struggle with the book, but having heard the author on various radio programmes and podcasts talking about it, I was determined to have a go. Greer’s voice jumps out of the text at you, and I almost felt she was reading the book to me in my head, it was such a strong narrative, while the content is fascinating and a real insight into the society of the period, mixed with interesting views on how evidence of his feeling for Ann and their relationship may be seen in Shakespeare’s work. As the author points out to us, it appears that others who have attempted to examine Ann’s affect on Shakespeare and his work, seem to have used the lack of records as evidence that Ann didn’t conform to the customs and laws of the period, but it seems highly unlikely that a woman in this period would have been able to behave and live in such a way without being ostracised from her community.
It took me a while to finish the book, but it was an interesting and educating diversion from my normal reading, and thoroughly worthwhile.