Friday, April 13, 2012

Shakespeare's Wife by Germaine Greer

Despite little being known of the Bard’s mysterious wife, over the years she has been much maligned by Shakespearean scholars, who are convinced beyond doubt that she was little more than an untamed shrew and a thorn in the side of their exalted dramatist. Yet noted feminist Germaine Greer, armed with extensive historical records and a keen understanding of the cultural zeitgeist of Elizabethan England, provides a revisionist assessment with Shakespeare’s Wife, a meticulously researched and vividly written show of support for the much misunderstood Ann Hathaway.

 The family trees of both Ann and William Shakespeare are thoroughly traced and examined, as are the social mores of Stratford-Upon-Avon during the 16th and 17th centuries, negating the various myths that have surrounded the courtship of eighteen-year-old Will and twenty-seven-year-old Ann. Due to the couple’s age difference, scholars have long speculated that Ann was a manipulative “old maid” who seduced an impressionable young man and ensnared him in a discontented marriage. Historical as well as fictional portrayals of Ann Shakespeare, from Thomas De Quincey’s Shakespeare: A Biography to Anthony Burgess’s Nothing Like the Sun, depict her as homely and opportunistic, even depraved and desperate for a husband. In playing the part of Ann Shakespeare’s advocate, Greer suggests what no scholar has dared contemplate before: that young Will initiated the relationship, wooed the future Mrs. Shakespeare with his poetry, and that love was present in their marriage.

Due to the lack of hard facts regarding both the Bard and his wife, Greer structures her theories based on the social context of their lifetime. For example, while Shakespeare was off in London, pursuing his career, Greer believes Ann may have earned wages as a knitter or a spinner, as business in those fields was booming during that era. By the time the Shakespeare family gained money and status, Ann could have very well have taken up brewing ale, another prevalent business venture in that time and place. Greer also provides multiple answers for various questions raised, such as whether Ann could read and write; the health and condition of their ill-fated son, Hamnet; and Shakespeare’s reasons for omitting his wife from his will.

Always consistent with her citations of court and tax records, church records, deeds, charters and other such sources, Greer provides ample support for the many theories presented, and in doing so argues a persuasive, compelling and insightful case in Ann Hathaway’s favor. Various excerpts from Shakespeare’s works—both his plays and his poems—are also analyzed for possible clues as to certain aspects of the Bard’s life as well as his marriage.

Shakespeare’s Wife is an ambitious and commendable piece of work; a book of painstaking detail, shrewd commentary, and an eloquent and credible literary voice. Needless to say Germaine Greer has succeeded in righting the wrongs done to the wife of England’s greatest playwright, and lending a voice to one of history’s underdogs.

1 comment:

  1. Really enjoyed reading it! Be sure to check out my blog, it is good to read something of yours!