Cover image for Shakespeare's wife
Shakespeare's wife
Greer, Germaine, 1939-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : HarperCollins, 2008.

Physical Description:
406 pages ; 24 cm
Challenges popular beliefs about the estranged nature of Shakespeare's marriage to Ann Hathaway, placing their relationship in a social and historical context that poses alternative theories about her rural upbringing and role in the bard's professional life.
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PR2906 .G74 2007 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
PR2906 .G74 2007 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
PR2906 .G74 2007 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
PR2906 .G74 2007 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Little is known about Ann Hathaway, the wife of England's greatest playwright; a great deal, none of it complimentary, has been assumed. The omission of her name from Shakespeare's will has been interpreted as evidence that she was nothing more than an unfortunate mistake from which Shakespeare did well to distance himself.

While Shakespeare is above all the poet of marriage--repeatedly in his plays, constant wives redeem unjust and deluded husbands--scholars persist in positing the worst about the writer's own spouse. In Shakespeare's Wife, Germaine Greer boldly breaks new ground, combining literary-historical techniques with documentary evidence about life in Stratford, to reset the story of Shakespeare's marriage in its social context. With deep insight and intelligence, she offers daring and thoughtful new theories about the farmer's daughter who married England's greatest poet, painting a vivid portrait of a remarkable woman.

A passionate and perceptive work of first-rate scholarship that reclaims this maligned figure from generations of scholarly neglect and misogyny, Shakespeare's Wife poses bold questions and opens new fields of investigation and research.

Author Notes

Germaine Greer is an author and noted Feminist. She is the author of The Female Eunuch, Daddy, We Hardly Knew You, The Change: Women, Ageing and the Menopause, The Beautiful Boy, Shakespeare's Wife and White Beech: The Rainforest Years, among others

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

In 1979, noted feminist Greer wrote The Obstacle Race: The Fortunes of Women Painters and Their Work, which helped save several women artists from obscurity. Now she turns her attention to another shadowy figure, Ann Hathaway. Greer wants to rescue Hathaway from the frantic fantasising of the bardolators, who would have us believe that Shakespeare left Stratford for London in order to escape an unhappy marriage. Maybe, and since the cupboard is so bare of facts, Greer can do no more than speculate herself. But her speculation is based on careful sifting through every shard of contextual evidence archives, records, registers, and literary works not just as it relates to the Shakespeares and the Hathaways but also as it relates to their place and time. What we get is a portrait of life in Stratford circa 1600 on almost every level and in every aspect the practice of medicine, the brewing of ale, birth, marriage, and burial. Although Ann herself remains in the shadows, Greer provides an intriguing analysis that helps us understand more about the person Ann might have been. Reader interest probably will be based more on the author's name than on the subject.--Quinn, Mary Ellen Copyright 2008 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Given the hysterical responses of some British critics to Germaine Greer's new book about Ann Hathaway, one expects wild-eyed surmises about that woman's life. Instead, Greer offers a richly textured account of the lives of ordinary women in Stratford and similar towns in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. We know very little about Shakespeare's life, and even less about his wife's, but this has not deterred generations of critics from inventing a narrative for them. In general, they aver that Ann, being eight years older than Shakespeare, was an unattractive woman who seduced and trapped him in an unwanted marriage, from which he escaped as soon as possible. His abandonment of his wife and three children supposedly without support is generally regarded as their just desserts, as is his will, leaving her with nothing but his second-best bed. Greer questions these critical judgments, but her real interest lies in tracing how the Shakespeare family could have survived. She meticulously traces the members of the Shakespeare and Hathaway families, their acquaintances, relatives of their acquaintances and notable people in Stratford. She reminds us of facts other critics have ignored: for instance, in the late 15th century, almost half the children died in their early years, often from malnutrition. Ann Shakespeare's children survived-the two girls to adulthood, and the boy, Hamnet, until 11-so she must have been able to feed them. Greer shows that no one else would have been likely to step in to help Ann feed her family: she would have had to do it herself. Given a list of Ann's possessions at one point in her life, Greer theorizes she was a maltster: many women made decent livings by making ale. Greer's details of how ordinary people lived in this period are extremely interesting-the contents of their houses, the value of their clothes, the number of rooms they occupied. These facts are also quite moving because death was omnipresent. Her theory about Shakespeare's relation with his wife is original and persuasive: she imagines there was real love between them, at least at some point. She cites the desire depicted in "Venus and Adonis" (about an older woman and a younger man) and suggests that some of the sonnets were written to Ann. She offers theories and not, she is careful to state, a definitive narrative. The theory that seems most to have inflamed British critics is the idea that Ann may have paid to have Shakespeare's plays printed after his death. Since many wives do publish their husbands' work after their death, I'm not sure why this is considered so heretical, but Greer knew it would be. (Apr. 8) Marilyn French is a novelist and the author of Shakespeare's Division of Experience. The first two volumes of her four-volume history of women, From Eve to Dawn, will be published in March by the Feminist Press (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Little is known about Shakespeare's wife, Anne Hathaway, yet academia has deemed her a villain. Armed with enviable knowledge of 16th-century Stratford and an imagination as intrepid as her statements, Greer "corrects" an image of Hathaway based on bias and rewrites history. (LJ 4/1/08) (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Shakespeare's Wife Chapter One Introducing the extensive and reputable family of Hathaway alias Gardner of Shottery together with the curious fact that one of their kinsmen was a successful playwright for the Admiral's Men Shakespeare's wife was identified as long ago as 1709, when Nicholas Rowe informed the readers of his edition of the plays: 'His wife was the daughter of one Hathaway, said to have been a substantial yeoman in the neighbourhood of Stratford." 1 There were many Hathaways within a day's ride of Stratford. Hathaways farmed in Bishopton and Shottery in Warwickshire, and in Horton, Bledington, Kingscote and surrounding districts in neighbouring Gloucestershire. There were also tradesmen called Hathaway in London, Banbury and Oxford, and one or two claimed the rank of gentleman. The Hathaway horde was so numerous in fact that the Shottery family into which Ann was born used a distinguishing alias. They were known mostly as Hathaway alias Gardner, and sometimes as just plain Hathaway or just plain Gardner. In the medieval period such aliases served to distinguish between people with the same surname by specifying the region or town they came from or the trade they followed. Perhaps an earlier Hathaway had indeed been a gardener. Sometimes, when there was no male heir, a female descendant's husband might inherit on condition that he assumed her family name as an alias. The point of aliases is still being disputed by genealogists; although during Ann Shakespeare's lifetime the use of aliases became less consistent, it was a generation or two before it faded out altogether. We know that Ann's grandfather John Hathaway was already using the alias, so it is not something we are likely ever to unravel. For years nobody realised that the 'Jone Gardner of Shottery' who was buried in Holy Trinity churchyard in 1599 was the same person they had already identified as Ann Shakespeare's stepmother. 2 In 1590 a 'Thomas Greene alias Shakespeare' was buried in Holy Trinity Church Stratford, sending historians off on a wild-goose chase for a woman called Greene giving birth to an illegitimate Shakespeare, or vice versa, for the alias was occasionally used for de facto wives and to denote descent on the wrong side of the blanket. The Christian name of the woman who married William Shakespeare in 1582 is as unstable as her surname. The only evidence that Richard Hathaway alias Gardner of Shottery had a daughter called Ann is a reference in his will to a daughter called Agnes. Scholars have demonstrated convincingly that in this period Agnes and Ann were simply treated as versions of the same name, pointing out dozens of examples where Agnes, pronounced 'Annis', gradually becomes 'Ann'. Richard Hathaway left a sheep to a great-niece he calls Agnes, though according to the parish record she was actually christened Annys; in 1600 she was buried as Ann. Theatre manager Philip Henslowe called his wife Agnes in his will but she was buried as Ann. Ann's brother Bartholomew called a daughter Annys, but she was buried as Ann. The curate William Gilbert alias Higgs who wrote Hathaway's will married Agnes Lyncian, but she was buried as Ann Gilbert. 3 This is not simply serendipitous. Agnes was the name of a fourth-century virgin martyr of the kind whose lurid and preposterous adventures are the stuff of The Golden Legend , justly ridiculed by protestant reformers. 4 Ann (or Hannah) was the solid biblical name of the Redeemer's grandmother. It is only to be expected that as protestantism gained hearts and minds Agnes would be silently driven out by Ann. We may accept that the child born Agnes Hathaway grew up to be Ann Shakespeare. The brass plate set in the stone over her grave next to William's in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church Stratford tells us that Ann Shakespeare 'departed this life on the sixth day of August 1623 being of the age of 67 years'. We have no evidence to corroborate this information. If the funeral plate is correct she was born in 1556, eight years before her husband. Engravers do make mistakes; the figures 1 and 7 are easily confounded in the calligraphy of 1623, but as all Ann's family was baptised at Holy Trinity, where the registers began to be kept in obedience to the royal edict of 1558, we must conclude that she was born before the register began to be kept, and not afterwards. So 1556 it is. Our best evidence that Agnes Hathaway alias Gardner of Shottery is the woman who married Will Shakespeare in 1582 is the will made in 1601 by her father's shepherd Thomas Whittington. Whittington is identified in Richard Hathaway's will: 'I owe unto Thomas Whittington my shepherd four pounds six shillings eight pence.' Twenty years on, when he made his will in 1601, Whittington identified Ann as Shakespeare's wife: Item I give and bequeath unto the poor people of Stratford forty shillings that is in the hand of Ann Shakespeare wife unto Mr William Shakespeare and is due debt unto me being paid to mine executor by the said William Shakespeare or his assigns according to the true meaning of this my will. 5 The Hathaway family house is supposed to be the one that is now known as Ann Hathaway's Cottage, though indeed it was never hers. This twelve-roomed farmhouse, known to the Hathaway family, if not to the bardolatrous public, as Hewlands Farm, is built on stone foundations, of timber-framed wattle-and-daub. The oldest part of the dwelling, thought to date from the late fourteenth century, consists of a hall of two twelve-foot bays reaching to the timbered roof, constructed around two oaken crucks that are pinned together to form the peak of the roof Before the Great Rebuilding of the 1560s, all the members of the household would have slept in the hall, around an open fireplace from which the smoke escaped through an opening in the thatch. 6 Ann's paternal grandfather, John Hathaway alias Gardner, acquired the copyhold of Hewlands Farm in 1543 and it was probably he who modernised the house by installing stone fireplaces in each of the two bays of the hall, one eight feet across and the other eleven. The stone hearths were also the supports for stout oak bressemers supporting an upper floor which was divided into separate connecting rooms. On the ground floor, next to the hall, there was a kitchen with a huge domed bread-oven. A dairy or buttery has also survived. An east wing was added to the main building later, probably by Ann's brother, Bartholomew Hathaway. Shakespeare's Wife . Copyright © by Germaine Greer. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from Shakespeare's Wife by Germaine Greer All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.