The Tudor Minute for November 27 –
For what is wedlock forced but a hell,
An age of discord and continual strife?
Whereas the contrary bringeth bliss,
And is a pattern of celestial peace.
(1 Henry VI 5.5.63-6)
Today in 1582 eighteen year old William Shakespeare and Anne Hatheaway, who was about 8 years older than him, got married. It was a shotgun marriage, and she was pregnant. The marriage went ahead without the customary reading of the banns three times. This is when the intended marriage was announced several times so that anyone who might know of a precontract, or any impediment to the marriage, might have time to make it known. Since the banns were only read once, the family had to issue a bond for 40 pounds to promise that there was nothing in the way of a legal marriage.
Shakespeare’s marriage, and how happy it was (or wasn’t) has been the subject of speculation for four hundred years, in part because, while love is a common theme in his plays, marriage comes off very poorly. Shakespeare doesn’t really ever depict a happy marriage in his plays. Even in the comedies, like the Taming of the Shrew, someone has to compromise, and completely change who they are when they are married. Of course there are also more sinister depictions where wives plot to kill husbands, and so on. The fact that Shakespeare also left his wife only the “second best bed” in his will leads many to think that she was an afterthought. Others point out that the second best bed was generally the marriage bed, as the best bed was reserved for visitors, to this may have been a very sweet gesture. We’ll never know what the state of this marriage – one of the most discussed of the 16th century – was, but either way, it started today.
That’s your Tudor Minute for today. Remember you can dive deeper into life in 16th century England through the Renaissance English History Podcast at englandcast.com, where there is an entire series on Elizabethan theater.