Sunday 20 August 2017 News Updated at 01:08 PM IST
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The Bard's wife - Deccan Herald
The Bard's wife
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ife & times: The Hathaway Cottage, where Shakespeare's wife Anne Hathaway lived; the Hathaway Bed, in Shottery. Photos by author
Ever since he found fame, Shakespeare’s personal life has been under the microscope. Curious about his life, one fine day during my visit to the United Kingdom, I made my way to Stratford-upon-Avon, where the bard was born. On my agenda was a small village known as Shottery, where Anne Hathaway, the bard’s wife, lived before her marriage.

Shottery lies just about a kilometre-and-a-half from Stratford-upon-Avon. It is a small and idyllic village, and retains its medieval charm. Ambling through green meadows, ancient houses wreathed in roses, I picked my way to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, which is a part of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

Shakespeare’s father, who was a prosperous glove maker, bought his supply of sheepskin from the Hathaways. This gave rise to frequent interaction between the two families. William’s house at Henley Street, Stratford, wasn’t too far from Shottery, which made it easy for him to visit the Hathaway family. Soon, young William fell in love with Anne and began courting his future wife at the Hathaway home.

The Tudor cottage, set in a sprawling farm, was just a couple of rooms constructed by the Hathaway family, who were prosperous farmers, in the mid-15th century. It’s here that Anne lived with her siblings. During the winter months, the large family of 11 members crowded into the two rooms with their livestock to keep themselves warm.

Originally a farmhouse, it took the shape of a sprawling cottage. Anne’s father had left a dowry of 10 marks for his eldest daughter, which was considered a reasonably good amount in those days. It didn’t make her a rich woman, but increased her marriage prospects significantly. Destiny, however, had chalked out romance for the girl.

Age doesn’t matter

By then, she was 26, and considered left on the shelf by the standard of those days. Besides, Anne was a full eight years older to William. This, however, made no dent in the young man’s love for her, and he continued to woo her ardently.

The two of them decided to seal their love with matrimony, and William set out to obtain a marriage licence. It was probably the haste with which a marriage licence, costing 40 pounds, was procured, that set tongues wagging. Soon, the rumours of Anne’s pregnancy and scandal raged through the small town.

Despite the hiccups, William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway were married at Temple Grafton, a small village about eight km from Stratford-upon-Avon, on November 27, 1582.
After the wedding, Anne moved into the Shakespeare house at Henley Street to live with William’s parents and siblings. Six months later, a daughter, Susanna, was born to the couple. They went on to become proud parents of twins.

William, who had set his heart upon becoming an actor, left for London and became a member of the popular theatre ensemble known as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. The famous theatre group, which was later called the King’s Men, also built the renowned Globe Theatre in London. While William moved to London, Anne continued to live at Stratford with her children.

It was only after he had found fame and prosperity that William Shakespeare returned to Stratford-upon-Avon and bought a luxuriant house in 1597. There he wrote some of his famous plays like The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale.

The Hathaway Cottage, in the meanwhile, had passed on to the next generation of Hathaways. Although the farmhouse during Anne’s childhood was a mere two-room cottage, the succeeding generations added to the original construction till it became the 12-room sprawling cottage that stands till date.

By the late 18th century, several of Shakespeare’s plays were published and became popular. With his popularity came the curiosity about Shakespeare’s life and wife. Soon, people began flocking to Stratford-upon-Avon, keen on seeing the house where he lived. Not content with a visit to Shakespeare’s house, visitors made a beeline to Anne Hathaway’s childhood home. In the meantime, the descendents of the Hathaway family continued to live in the cottage until in 1846, when financial problems forced them to sell the property. The family, however, continued to live in the cottage as tenants.

When the Stratford town was connected by railway in 1864, it began to see more footfalls, and soon the Shakespeare house on Henley Street as well as the Hathaway farmhouse saw an increasing number of visitors.

In 1892, the farmhouse was acquired by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, which renovated the cottage while preserving its Tudor architecture. Trees and shrubs mentioned in Shakespeare’s works were planted in the adjoining Shakespeare Tree Garden.

Extensive herbaceous gardens, orchards, arbours, stone-paved paths, topiaries and well-planned arbours were built around the thatch-roofed cottage, adding to its pastoral charm.

Romantic strolls?

As I wandered through the beautiful garden and orchard, laid around the 600-year- old cottage on a rambling nine-acre property, I could visualise the romantic setting that had brought out the lover in the Bard. The rooms inside the cottage, with original family furniture that includes a four-poster bed and courting settee, helped in strengthening my fanciful visuals of Anne Hathaway and her family. It was almost like stepping back in time.

Sitting at the adjoining garden cafe, I ordered the famous English afternoon tea. It came in the form of flavourful Lapsang Souchong tea, along with different kinds of sandwiches and scones. Tucking into the sumptuous fare, I wondered if Anne Hathaway had once enjoyed a similar tea at the farm.