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law of marriage, and the ecclesiastical and social
customs which had grown up around the law,
and which disappeared when the law ceased to

Mr. Charles Elton has earned the gratitude of
all who seek to attain to a real knowledge of the
life and character of Shakespeare by the care



with which he has investigated the circumstances
of his marriage in the light of contemporary
customs and ecclesiastical regulations.

Mr. Elton had rare qualifications for the task.
A fine scholar, and a lawyer of real learning,
especially in the branches of law which are
akin to history and archaeology, he would have
attained to a high position in his profession had
not his accession early in life to an ample estate
made it possible for him to devote his powers to
historical and literary research, while he was at
the same time engaged in such practical work
as the discharge of his duties as Member of
Parliament, and the collection and cataloguing
of an interesting library. As the result we have
the Origins of English History, and William
Shakespeare His Family and Friends, published
in the year 1904, after the death of the author,
with a memoir by Andrew Lang. In this work,
which is a storehouse of information indus-
triously collected from all quarters, and sifted
with critical care, he thus sums up the result of
his investigations :

6 We may say at once that there is no reason
to suppose that Shakespeare and his wife had
made an irregular or clandestine marriage,
though they appear to have been united by a
civil marriage some time before the ceremony



was performed in the face of the Church. We
should distinguish between regular and irregular
contracts. A contract of future espousals was
regular, but it did not amount to marriage,
being nothing more in reality than a mutual
covenant to be married at a future time. A
contract of present espousals, on the contrary,
was a legal marriage. . . .

1 The congregation was frequently warned
that such civil marriages ought to be contracted
publicly, and before several witnesses. If these
rules were broken the offenders were liable to
the punishments for clandestine marriage, such as
fine, imprisonment, or excommunication, and
the victim might be compelled to walk, like the
Duchess of Gloucester, in a white sheet, with
bare feet and a taper alight :

Methinks I should not thus be led along,
Mail'd up in shame, with papers on my back ;
And follow'd with a rabble that rejoice
To see my tears and hear my deep-fet groans.

The civil marriage required the religious
solemnity to give the parties their legal status
as to property, but otherwise it was both valid
and regular. The clandestine marriage was
valid, but all parties could be punished for their
offences against the law.'

This is an accurate statement of the - " Canon



Law as it was in force in England in the year
1582. But it leaves unanswered this question :
If Anne Hathaway had become the lawful wife
of William Shakespeare at some time before the
month of November, 1582, why was not their
marriage solemnised in church, after publishing
of banns, in the usual way ? The fact that the
marriage was not so solemnised has led writers
who approached the subject with nineteenth-
century prepossessions (including the writer of
these pages) to conclude that there must have
been something clandestine or irregular about
this civil marriage, although it was, by the laws
then in force, valid and binding.

Mr. Elton was an antiquary as well as a lawyer,
and his research has supplied an answer to the
question, which he puts in these words : ' Why
marriages were not always solemnised in church
after banns published, or special licence obtained.
. . . The answer is that it was difficult to
get married [in church] especially with due
publication of banns, except in the latter half
of the year, between Trinity and Advent. The
ancient prohibitions had been relaxed by the
Council of Trent ; but the decrees of that
assembly were not accepted in England. In our
own country the ancient rules prevailed. The
banns could not be published, nor marriages



solemnised, although they might certainly be
legally contracted during any of the periods of
prohibition, unless, indeed, a special licence were
obtained. The periods extended from Advent
to the octave of the Epiphany, or January
the 13th inclusive; from Septuagesima to the
end of Easter week ; and from the first Rogation
day, three days before the feast of the Ascension,
to Trinity Sunday, inclusive.' Attempts were
made after the Reformation, without success,
in Parliament and in Convocation to remove
these disabilities. Ultimately ' these distinctions
being invented only at first as a fund (among
many others) for dispensations and being built
upon no rational foundation, nor upon any law
of the Church of England, have vanished of

But in the year 1582 they were in force.
Shakespeare was one who believed that

No sweet aspersion shall the heavens let fall
To make this contract grow,

if heed be not taken that

All sanctimonious ceremonies may
With full and holy rite be minister'd.

And so he took the necessary steps, at a time
when the law of his Church permitted, to have

• William Shakespeare His Family and Friends.



the marriage solemnised in Church, after due
publishing of banns.* But neither at the time
of his marriage, nor when, many years after-
wards, he put these words into the mouth of
Prospero, would it have occurred to him to be a
necessary condition of a happy married life that
the holy rite and the indissoluble civil contract
should have taken place at one and the same
time. Indeed this would not have been possible
in the case of a marriage contracted during any
of the prohibited periods. There is a principle
of our jurisprudence, not founded on legal
technicality, but the result of the garnered
experience of centuries, which tells us that the
best way of arriving at truth, in the absence
of direct testimony, is to refer events to a
legal origin, when it is possible so to do, and
to presume, in the language of the law, omnia
rite esse acta.

Shakespeare was born in the month of April,
1564. He was thus about eighteen years of age
at the time of his marriage in 1582. Anne, his
widow, died on the 8th of August, 1623, at
the age of sixty-seven. She was therefore
twenty-six years of age at the time of the

* The banns were to be published once. But from the researches
in ancient registers of Mr. Elton and Mr. Gray {Shakespeare's
Marriage, etc.) it appears that a licence in this form was not unusual.



marriage. After about eighteen years Shakespeare
wrote these words :

Duke. Let still the woman take

An elder than herself : so wears she to him,
So sways she level in her husband's heart :
For boy, however we do praise ourselves,
Our fancies are more giddy and unfirm.
More longing, wavering, sooner lost and worn
Than women's are.

Vio. I think it well, my lord.

Duke. Then let thy love be younger than thyself,
Or thy affection cannot hold the bent.*

When Shakespeare wrote these words he could
look back on eighteen years of married life, and
no one has doubted that in the speech of Orsino,
which is devoid of dramatic significance, we have
the result of this retrospection : Eighteen years
before, a boy of eighteen, he had married a woman
of the mature age of twenty-six. Then followed
a few years of married life at Stratford, and the
birth of three children. There is no reason why
we should import into these years the idea of
unhappiness or discord. Shakespeare left his
wife and family, not of choice, but of necessity.
The trouble in which his reckless love of sport
involved him is not suggestive of domestic
trouble. Then followed long years of separa-

• Twelfth Night, II. iv. 29.


tion, of solitary struggles in London ; it may
be of error and estrangement. Looking back
on these years, Shakespeare may well have
thought that it would have been better for his
wife had she taken an elder than herself, for so
might she have swayed ' level in her husband's
heart,' and have exerted more influence on his
life and character. But his thoughts and sympa-
thies were for the older wife, not for the younger
husband, whose giddy and infirm fancies brought
on her trouble and disappointment.

Aubrey's statement that Shakespeare was
wont to go to his country once a year was
probably not true of the earlier years of his stay
in London. But with his improving fortunes
his thoughts turned towards home, and the
homing instinct that was part of his nature
asserted itself. When Twelfth Night was written
the tide in his affairs had turned, and had set in
the direction of the return to domestic life and
permanent reunion, which was fully consum-
mated when some ten years later he came to live
in New Place. Towards this consummation,
devoutly wished, his efforts during many years
had consistently tended. He had already
obtained from the Heralds' College a grant of
arms to his father, by virtue of which he came
to be described in the deed conveying to him a



share in the tithes of Stratford as ' of Stratford-
upon-Avon, gentleman.' He had in 1597, in
the words of Sir Sidney Lee, ' taken openly in
his own person a more effective step in the way
of rehabilitating himself and his family in the
eyes of his fellow-townsmen.' On the 4th of May
he purchased the largest house in the town,
known as ' New Place,' and at the time when
Twelfth Night was produced in the Hall of the
Middle Temple he must have been in treaty for
the purchase of a substantial real estate, the
conveyance of which was executed shortly
afterwards. According to the careful estimate
of Sir Sidney Lee, ' a sum approaching 150/.
(equal to 750/. of to-day) would be the poet's
average annual revenue before 1599. Such a
sum would be regarded as a very large income
in a country town.'* In the full splendour of
his fame as a poet and successful dramatist, and
in the receipt of an ample income, at an age at
which he might reasonably have looked forward
to the enjoyment of many years in the life of
London, ' like him that travels he returned
again,' to spend the remaining years of his life
in a dull country town, for no other reason that
can be assigned except that it was his native
place and the home of his wife and children.

• Life of Shakespeare, p. 300.


One would have thought that the fact that
Shakespeare was not kept by the attractions of
life in London from visiting once in every year
the country town in which he had left his wife
and family, and that when he had made an ample
fortune he came home to end his life in their
company, in the house which he had made ready
for them some years before, would have led to
the conclusion that their relations were, at all
events, fairly satisfactory. But against all this
is the unforgettable fact that he left his wife
his second-best bed.

The truth is that Shakespeare, when making
his will, failed to realise that he was writing, not
for his executors and legatees, but for all time.
It has been a source of disappointment and
serious concern to many that he made no mention
of Drayton, Ben Jonson, Fletcher, or other of
his literary friends, and that his will contains
no mention of his own writings. Memorial rings
might have been bequeathed to them, and to the
" incomparable pair " to whom the First Folio was
dedicated, who, in the words of the editors, prose-
cuted the author when alive with so much favour.
They were provided for some fellow players and
a few obscure neighbours. The master of the
Grammar School at Stratford, who made a
transcript of the will in 1747 when interest began



to be taken in the subject, was sorely dis-
appointed when he read it, and could not help
observing that it was ' absolutely void of the
least particle of that spirit which animated our
great poet.' On which Mr. Halliwell-Phillips
pertinently remarks, ' It might be thought
from this impeachment that this worthy pre-
ceptor expected to find it written in blank-verse,'
adding, ' The preponderance of Shakespeare's
domestic over his literary sympathies is strikingly
exhibited in this final record.'

Shakespeare's will might well be left to rest
in the obscurity of a registry were it not for the
extravagant ideas to which this very common-
place document has given rise. Not only did
he leave his wife entirely unprovided for, but to
this injury a deliberate insult was added by the
introduction of an interlineation into the original
draft by which his second-best bed was given to
his wife, showing that this trifling and insulting
notice of her existence was a mere afterthought.

Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps, in the notes to his
Outlines, has printed the will in a convenient
manner, which enables the reader to understand
the process by which it attained its ultimate
form. The portions of the print included in
square brackets represent erasures, and those
in italics, interlineations. The erasures are of



no significance, and the only interlineations
with which we need concern ourselves are those
which relate to the provision for the wife of the

By the original draft, New Place, with practi-
cally the whole of Shakespeare's property in land,
was settled on his eldest daughter, Susanna Hall,
for her life, with remainder to her issue male, in
strict settlement. In the draft, the gift was
without qualification, but before the will was
executed the following words had been intro-
duced by interlineation, immediately after the
gift to Susanna Hall : ' for better enabling of
her to performe this my will and towardes the
performance thereof.' By these words, the sig-
nificance of which has been overlooked, Susanna
was constituted a trustee of the property which
was devised to her, in order to enable her to per-
form and give effect to what the testator calls
' this my will.' What was the will which
Susanna was to perform by means of her owner-
ship of New Place ? It was not anything
expressed on the face of the will, which contains
no indication of any trust or obligation imposed
on her. The words ' this my will,' if taken
literally, would refer to something contained in
the document in which they occur. Shake-
speare's will was composed neither in the blank

i8 7


verse of a poet nor with the technical exactness
of a conveyancing draftsman, but the meaning is
quite clear. The testator must be taken to have
meant something by the words ' this my will,'
and if they are to be given any significance
they must be taken as meaning ' the whole of
my testamentary disposition now declared.'
Directions given to his daughter by word of
mouth as to the use that she was to make of the
property given to her by the will would be
legally binding, if she accepted the gift, and the
testator's entire disposition might fairly be
spoken of as ' this my will.'

From what was done before and after the
making of the will there can be no doubt as to
the nature of the trust that was imposed on the
owner of New Place or as to the loyalty with
which it was carried into effect. For some reason
or other Shakespeare had for some time made up
his mind to provide for his wife otherwise than
by putting her into the possession and manage-
ment of property of any kind. When he
acquired by purchase the Blackfriars estate he
was at pains to take the conveyance in such a
form as to bar his wife's title to dower. We
must assume that there was some good reason
why Shakespeare did not make his wife the
mistress of New Place for her life, and why he

1 88


did not put in writing the entire of his testa-
mentary disposition. Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps, with
the sanity by which his speculations are charac-
terised, suggests an explanation which is accepted
by Mr. Elton and in substance approved by
Sir Sidney Lee. ' Perhaps the only theory that
would be consistent with the terms of the will,
and with the deep affection which she is tra-
ditionally recorded to have entertained for him
to the end of his life, is the possibility of her
having been afflicted with some chronic infir-
mity of a nature that precluded all hope of
recovery. In such a case to relieve her from
household anxieties and select a comfortable
apartment at New Place, where she would be
under the care of an affectionate daughter and
an experienced physician, would have been the
wisest and kindest measure which could have
been adopted.' * Susanna had married in 1607
a physician of great local eminence, named John
Hall, resident in Stratford. He was a gentleman
by birth, bearing two talbots on his crest.
' He was well educated, travelled abroad, and
acquired a good knowledge of French.' f A
Master of Arts, of what university is not known,
he was a good Latin scholar. In 1657 a volume

* Outlines of the Life of Shakespeare.
t Sir Sidney Lee in Diet. Nat. Biography.



was published entitled ' Select Observations on
English Bodies, and Cures both Empericall and
Historicall performed upon very eminent persons
in desperate diseases, first written in Latin by
Mr. John Hall, physician, living at Stratford-
upon-Avon in Warwickshire, where he was very
famous, as also in the counties adjacent.' A
second edition was published in 1679, which was
reissued in 1683. The confidence placed in Hall
and in his wife, of whom something will be said
hereafter, was fully justified. Shakespeare's
widow lived with them at New Place until her
death in 1623. Her position, living under these
circumstances in a house of which she had been
the mistress, was a trying one, both to her and
to her successor, and after her death Mr. Hall
paid a tribute to the memory of his mother-in-
law in a copy of Latin elegiacs which was
inscribed on her monument, a striking testimony
to her virtues and also to the harmony that
reigned in New Place.

But why the second-best bed ? It would be
contrary to all received ideas of the relations of
Shakespeare with his wife to suggest that he
left her this bed because she wished to have it.
The best bed was in the guest chamber, the
second best in the room which she and her hus-
band'occupied If Shakespeare had only realised



his duty to posterity, and, after the residuary
gift to his son-in-law, John Hall, and his daughter
Susanna, his wife, of his goods, chattels, and
household stuff, had by interlineation inserted
the words ' except the bed which my wife and
I have occupied together, which is to be her
property,' much searching of heart would have
been saved, and justice might have been done
to the affectionate forethought which prompted
Shakespeare, when he read over the first draft
of his will, to secure to his wife, as a matter of
right, such maintenance as he thought most
suitable to her condition, and also to gratify
what we may well believe to have been a wish
expressed by her, by excepting from the general
bequest of household stuff one article, that
known in the family as the second-best bed.

Nature will out, even in an epitaph, and the
pilgrim to Stratford in search of stray glimpses
of the life that was lived in New Place three
centuries ago may learn something of the
occupants of the house from a study of the
inscriptions on their monuments in the parish

The ' Stratford Monument ' was a public
testimonial to an eminent fellow townsman, and
nothing of a personal character was to be looked
for in the verses inscribed on it. In^the Latin

I 9 I


lines at the head of the inscription Shakespeare
is compared, with a disregard of quantity par-
donable in the case of a proper noun, and with
still less regard to aptness, to Nestor in wisdom,
to Socrates in genius, and to Virgil in art ; by
which last words Ben Jonson is absolved from
all suspicion of complicity in the composition.
Halliwell-Phillipps notes the absence from the
verses which follow of any allusion to personal
character, and also of the local knowledge which
would have forbidden the author to describe the
subject of the verse as lying within the monu-
ment. The whole thing was probably imported
from London, where the bust was certainly
executed by Gerard Johnson, or Janssen, a
Dutch sculptor, or tombmaker, settled in South-
ward From it, the pilgrim turns to some
homely words inscribed on a stone covering the
grave, which, according to an early tradition,
' were ordered to be cutt by Mr. Shakespeare,'
who had a horror of his bones being dug up and
removed from the church to the adjoining
charnel-house to make room for the reception, in
accordance with ancient right, of another tithe-
owner. With the reflection that Shakespeare
was a man of like passions with ourselves, he
passes from the conventionality of the monument
and tomb to memorials of domestic affection,



and here he is not disappointed. e Mrs. Hall,'
Mr. Elton writes, ' placed a strange inscription
over her mother's grave a few years afterwards :
" Here lieth interred the body of Anne, wife of
William Shakespeare, who departed this life the
6th day of August, 1623, being of the age of
67 years." ' The inscription proceeds with six
lines of Latin verse,* to the effect that the
spirit as well as the body was held in the
sepulchre : —

* " Ubera tu mater," it commences. " A mother's
bosom thou gavest, and milk, and life ; for such
bounty, alas ! can I only render stones ! Rather
would I pray the good angel to roll away the
stone from the mouth of the tomb, that thy
spirit, even as the body of Christ, should go
forth," and the hope is expressed that Christ
may quickly come, so that the imprisoned soul
may be able to " seek the stars." After noting
that * the mother's care for the infant is treated
as a matter of high importance, but nothing is
said about the rest of her life,' Mr. Elton adds :
' But the exclusive reference to the earliest cares


Ubera tu mater, tu lac, vitamque dedisti

Vae mihi, pro tanto munere saxa dabo ?

Quam mallem, amoueat lapidem, bonus angelus ore

Exeat ut, Christi corpus, imago tua

Sed nil vota valent, venias cito Christe ; resurget

Clausa licet tumulo mater et astra petet.



of motherhood may very well point to a subse-
quent incapacity from later duties as the mother
of a household.'

In these words the memory of a woman
lovable and loving, noted rather for piety than
for intellectual gifts or strength of character, is
piously embalmed. And if she were physically
infirm, we can understand the thoughtful care
that provided for her maintenance in a way that
would not involve her in the management of
property or the duties of housekeeping.

Of such a woman it is natural that tradition
should tell us little. But what it has recorded
is in accordance with the testimony of her monu-
ment. A man named Dowdall, who wrote in the
year 1693, visited Stratford Church. He read
the inscription on the tombstone, and had a talk
with the gossiping clerk, who was above eighty
years old. ' Not one,' he writes, ' for fear of
the curse aforesaid, dare touch his gravestone,
tho' his wife and daughters did earnestly desire
to be layd in the same grave with him/

It is at least possible that the expression of a
similar affectionate desire to be associated in
memory with her husband may have prompted
to Shakespeare the addition to the original draft
of his will which made her the owner of the bed
which they had occupied together.



To such a woman, affectionate and pious, the
wife of his youth, we may well believe that Shake-
speare, though in his

Nature reign'd
All frailties that besiege all kinds of blood,

would, like one who travels, return again, with
real love, and memories of happy days at
Shottery and years of early married life.

Anne Hathaway, the daughter of a yeoman,
and twenty-six years of age, was not the wife
that we should have chosen for Shakespeare
with an expectation that she would sway level
in her husband's heart. But she was Shake-
speare's choice. According to Jane Austen, it
sometimes happens that a woman is handsomer
at twenty-nine than she was ten years before. At

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Online LibraryDodgson Hamilton MaddenShakespeare and his fellows : an attempt to decipher the man and his nature → online text (page 10 of 13)