Imagining Shakespeare’s Wife: The Afterlife of Anne Hathaway by Katherine West Scheil - review by Emma Smith

Emma Smith

Cottage Industry

Imagining Shakespeare’s Wife: The Afterlife of Anne Hathaway


Cambridge University Press 272pp £64.99 order from our bookshop

Free-associating on the analyst’s couch in the film Shakespeare in Love, the celebrated dramatist thinks for a moment of his wife. She has little reality for him: he recalls vaguely that ‘she had a cottage’, before moving on to the more interesting topic of his own sexual and writerly impotence. That cottage, a thatched farmhouse in the village of Shottery, Warwickshire, which was the childhood home of Shakespeare’s wife, has often seemed to embody her otherwise shadowy existence. Nineteenth-century tourists could sit on the very ‘courting settle’ that had witnessed Shakespeare’s wooing, where they would be plied with tea and stories by an elderly Hathaway descendant. Dickens, Longfellow, Twain, Charlie Chaplin and Ellen Terry all signed the visitors’ book. The cover of the score for the wartime hit song ‘There’ll Always Be an England’ was illustrated with the familiar farmhouse, which stood as an emblem of the Home Front. There are Anne Hathaway’s cottages in South Dakota, Wisconsin, Virginia and North Carolina, curious, displaced testaments to the romantic, pastoral and patriotic associations of the Warwickshire original. 

Like her cottage, Anne can serve different agendas: the story of her life has been enlisted to shed light on historical attitudes to women’s roles and to explain aspects of Shakespeare’s plays. Katherine West Scheil’s wide-ranging Imagining Shakespeare’s Wife follows the afterlife of Anne Hathaway. Anne was probably illiterate. She

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