This poem focuses heavily on the nature of love, and how it can be hidden in plain sight. Most people interpret the fact that Shakespeare left Anne Hathaway his second-best bed as an insult to her, but this poem flips that idea on its head and perceives the act as a final signal of devotion.
This poem is somewhat elegiac, working as the speaker's remembrance of her deceased husband, so death is a formal as well as thematic impetus to the poem. However, this poem acts as a celebration of Shakespeare's life, from his wife's point of view. The last two lines read, "I hold him in the casket of my widow’s head/as he held me upon that next best bed." In this moment, death transfers power from the speaker's husband to the speaker. His love for her had been intertwined with his writing, and now that he has died, she loves him as he did her—and writes about him just as his writing had been influenced by their love. However, because this sonnet does not follow the Shakespearean rhyme scheme, her writing takes on a slightly subversive quality, referring to Shakespeare while breaking with the formal conventions that he used.
A feminist lens
Though this poem empowers the speaker, it does not do so by proving her superiority over Shakespeare. Duffy instead deftly criticizes the lens that would interpret the fact that Shakespeare left his wife their second-best bed as a cruel but funny jab from beyond the grave. By writing a poem that shows clear devotion, Duffy gives power back to Hathaway. No one else matters in this poem except for Hathaway and Shakespeare. The "guests" in this poem work as a neat metaphor for the readers and the people who are primed to find humor at a woman's expense, for those who dismiss Hathaway without any insight into her life. On the supposedly "best" bed, they sleep and they drool—and they could not possibly understand what happens in the second-best bed.
Anne Hathaway Questions and Answers
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