My husband Will was not inattentive to me, though this is what most folk assumed. True he lived in London and I saw him scarce, but when he arrived back to Stratford, O then! Much welcoming and merrymaking there was and I greeted him with open arms.
Will’s true home was the theater, his soul poured forth from his quill and ink pots. When I married him I knew this. How could I not? He spoke in rhyme when he wooed me. The sonnet sprung from his lips, a stretch of beat and iamb, beautiful words and I trust not a woman in all of Stratford would have resisted young Master Shakespeare. He was tall and handsome, quick witted, dark eyed. And I? I was the original summer’s day, Venus to his Adonis.
When he moved to London it was with that very poem he acquired patronage from the Earl of Southampton. He had since compromised his words, winking to the the faire youth and dark lady. Leave gossip for the tongue wagers. I suspected he had lovers, both women and men. Of course he did. After all, his time in London was long. Yet the green monster of envy raised not its head.
One must understand. He was but a boy of eighteen when I married him, and I a woman of twenty six. And though I was with child, I knew his wild oats were not yet sown. Faithfulness was never expected. Therefore we lived in harmony.
But I! Yes I. Was the mother of his children, the keeper of his hearth. More importantly, not a word of his plays did he scribe, not a scroll did he bring to the King’s Men without my approval. That was my gift, though none knew of it.
“Anne,” he said to me, “thou art my Juliet, my Beatrice, my Titania in all splendor of the fairies.” His meaning more specific, I was his muse.
Consider his play of Juliet. What a botched thing it was, before I took my hand to it. “The lovers must commit suicide, Will,” quothe I. “Nothing less will do.”
“How so?” he asked.
“By poison of course. And a stabbing, the bloodier the better! In London they crave all means of violence, death, destruction and swordplay. You must give the public what they want, Billie Shakespeare! Else all is lost and the words for naught.”
The same was true of his characters Ophelia, Gertrude and Hamlet. My husband would have written it mildly, trippingly on the tongue as he liked to say. “O no Will,” I corrected. “There must be tragedy. Sweet Ophelia, tormented by madness, will drown herself in a river amongst the heavy flowers and willows that weep.”
“Another suicide?” He shook his head.
“Another, and many more. Trust me.”
Consider Macbeth. A lame play until I corrected it, making Macbeth a milquetoast to a treacherous and evil woman! She was perhaps the most cunning of my creations.
“The Lady Macbeth must urge the man forward,” I insisted. “It is she who plots killing of King Duncan, she who will bloody her hands most.” His jaw hung and he turned a bit pale at this notion.
“She,” I continued, “will unsex herself, ruthless and scheming. She will drive herself to madness, never eliminating the the damned spots of blood that haunt her like Banquo’s ghost!”
He argued with me. “Surely, wife, the gentry will loathe such a vile woman.”
“They will love to hate her,” I assured him. For what better entertainment than an evil femme fatale and what better place to lay blame?
I was correct.
And so it was the box office flourished. “Sell admissions cheap, not more than a penny,” I advised him.
“But Anne,” quothe he, “Baron Hundson will not have it. The Globe itself will be closed should we not turn a profit.”
“You’ll turn a profit and you’ll turn it handsomely,” I insisted. When the groundlings poured in, seatless in the mud and mire, but not lacking to pay their penny, Will saw that I was correct. I was always correct.
The money pots scattered and we quickly made a fortune. “To tell and sell a story,” I told him, “is the noblest of professions. None will tire of it, for they seek desperately to escape the boredom of their mundane lives.”
And so it was, back home in Stratford, by our fortune I acquired land and houses. New Place was mine, a brace of animals and horses, thriving farms and plenty of servants to do my bidding. When we accumulated enough wealth I urged Will to purchase a Coat of Arms. The motto ‘Not Without Right’ were my own words, because indeed we were not without rights to our own status of Gentle.
One day I waited for the clomp of horse hooves upon our pavement. ‘Twas the twenty third day of April, the day of his birth and Will returned home to celebrate. My cooks had prepared a great feast. There would be games and diversions. I smiled as I saw him ride up the road, clothed in boots and britches. He pulled a scribbled parchment from his doublet.
“What’s this?” I kissed him on both cheeks, then took the parchment.
“My latest,” he answered. “It is called Othello.”
“And what story?”
“A marriage between a Moor and a Venetian. Their love will be the purest and they shall live happily ever after.”
I shook my head and tore the parchment to pieces.
“Their love,” I said defiantly, “shall be fraught with tension. The Moor black as jet and the Venetian white as pearl. She a young seductress, he a skilled soldier. There will be coupling, the mounting of the beast with two backs, they insatiable in their lust! There will be jealousy and betrayal, one named Cassio who will claim her…”
I narrowed my eyes, thinking of what would enhance this plot. “Add a handkerchief, the most intimate of objects.”
Will popped his eyes. “Surely not a handkerchief!”
“Yes, husband. And ‘twill end in a murder. Othello driven to savage madness, kills his wife in her very own bed! Then he, driven to suicide, slays himself and falls next to her. Give the people blood and lust and lovers and yet more blood.”
“My dear, are you sure? Such a thing shall be most controversial.” He cocked his head.
“Trust me.” I answered. I then took his hand. “Let the birthday celebrations begin.”
That night we finished revisions. I predicted the story of the Moor named Othello and his wife Desdemona would be among the greatest of my husband’s many tragedies. I predicted the plays would last on into posterity, for hundred of years, maybe thousands, created anew by each generation, constantly revealing human truths, constantly entertaining each audience.
And I was always correct.
“She hath a way, so to control
and rapture the imprisoned soul
and sweetest heaven on earth display
that to be heaven, Anne hath a way
She hath a way, Anne Hathaway,
To breathe delight, Anne hath a way.”
— William Shakespeare
Born April 23, 1564, Died April 23, 1616