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date: 17 October 2019

Abstract and Keywords

By the early nineteenth century, the narrative of Shakespeare’s relationship with Anne Hathaway was fixed: the eighteen-year-old William was trapped by the pregnancy of a twenty six year old into a marriage that he fled as soon as possible, years later confirming his disaffection for his enforced wife in the derisory dying bequest of a second-best bed. Placing the biographical evidence in context with other records of marital pregnancy and other wills, this chapter argues that there may be a different story to tell. The identity of ‘Anne Hathaway’ is so precarious that we cannot be sure of the age difference; Shakespeare may have desired the marriage and welcomed the pregnancy as ways to break free of an enforced apprenticeship; and ‘second-best’ goods were not insulting. Shakespeare would also have known that, thanks to dower law, he could not ‘cut off’ his widow with the bed even should he have wished to.

Keywords: apprenticeship, dower law, marriage, pregnancy, wills

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