Anne Hathaway

Anne Hathaway Study Guide

"Anne Hathaway" appears in Carol Ann Duffy’s collection of poems The World’s Wife, published in 1999. This collection moved women in well-known stories and myths to the foregrounds of their stories—spaces previously occupied by men. "Anne Hathaway" is about William Shakespeare's wife to whom, as per the epigraph, the famous poet and dramatist left only his second-best bed. The poem reimagines this gesture as a sign of devotion, rejecting the common idea that they had a shotgun wedding that Shakespeare was (or felt) forced into. The evidence used to back up this claim is the unusual age difference between them, for Hathaway was eight years older than Shakespeare, and the fact that she gave birth to their first child only six months after their marriage. However, almost no information from reliable sources exist to tell modern readers how Shakespeare and his wife actually felt about each other; such extrapolations about their relationship say more about those deducing than about Shakespeare and Hathaway.

This poem moves Shakespeare closer to the sphere of domesticity than his image as an urban playwright and poet usually puts him. The poem also plays with Hathaway's relationship to her own sexuality. Her sexuality is often the focal point of her narrative, due to the nature of her marriage to Shakespeare and the speed with which they had a child after their marriage. Some sources depict her as a sexually aggressive older woman. This poem frames their love as mutual.

Though this poem clearly depicts Hathaway's point of view through a feminist lens, allowing her to assert power over her sexuality and her marriage, it does not do so by giving her independence from her husband. Duffy's depiction of Hathaway's relationship to her husband relies on evidence, albeit thin evidence: the single phrase from his will leaving her his second-best bed. Duffy points out that this piece of evidence, which is usually used to paint a negative image of Hathaway and this marriage, could just as easily be used to prove the couple's devotion to each other, since the "second-best bed" was usually the marital bed—the "best" bed was given to guests. Despite her imaginative speculation, Duffy does also seem concerned with reality, because reality can be easily influenced by a misogynistic or male-centric bias.

The World's Wife acknowledges even in its title that the world still belongs firstly to men, but "Anne Hathaway" and the other poems in the collection reassert the imaginative power of women. That power always existed, and this collection works to bring it out of the shadows.