From Andrea Haring
In May, I traveled to the UK – specifically Stratford-upon-Avon, to try some first-hand research of Shakespeare’s world for my classes.
Of course I had to go to Shakespeare’s family home where he was born and raised. Here in the master bedroom is a bed similar to the one that Shakespeare bequeathed to his wife Anne upon his death.
In his will Shakespeare gave Anne “my second-best bed with the furniture”, which has elicited some varying reactions over the years. There is an interesting article in The Oxfordian, Volume VIII, 2011 which reports that some felt it was a sign of an unhappy marriage and a bit miserly, since he left money and the bulk of his property to his first daughter Susanna and her husband Dr. Hall, while other historians like Edward Malone gave a more sympathetic view by saying “it had tender associations, may, indeed, have been the bridal bed.” The Oxfordian article also cites Peter Ackroyd’s commentary that it was an automatic custom for wives to inherit one third of their husbands’ estate, and if this was the case then Anne would have been taken care of. But it was also the custom to name the beneficiary in the will as “my dear or my beloved…” and this Shakespeare did not do. The lack of affectionate address may speak volumes.
Unfortunately Shakespeare’s New Place was torn down many years ago. One of my favorite stops was Shakespeare’s eldest daughter Susanna’s home with her husband Dr. John Hall. This house, known as Hall’s Croft, is spacious, with lovely details and a beautiful garden. It is said that Shakespeare was fond of his son-in-law, who was a successful physician. Dr. Hall was renowned in his own right for his detailed case notes covering over 25 years of country medical history which is described in the book – John Hall and his Patients by Joan Lane. He was known to treat a variety of patients – Puritan and Catholic, and from a wide range of economic backgrounds – servants and workers as well as landowners. The book mentions how he used the principle of the four Humours to diagnose the illnesses, and how his medicines were made and dosed by pills, syrups, or powders. One wonders if Shakespeare drew upon Dr. Hall’s knowledge for any of his later plays.
Here is a view of the back of the house with its walled garden. You can see the cherry trees are in bloom and the flowers are just beginning to bud. Hall’s Croft was just around the corner and a quick walk down the street from Shakespeare’s final home – New Place.
Finally, I was able to get in a lovely mile walk to Anne Hathaway’s original family cottage, called Hewland’s Farm in the Elizabethan era. This is where William must have come to woo Anne before they married in 1582. It had farmland attached to the property back in the day, so Anne was from a solid and financially comfortable family. She was 26 and William only 18 when they wed, and she gave birth 6 months after the ceremony. I loved the warm brick and thatched roofs of the period.
A little window into my trip… Andrea