Mistress Shakespeare

Did you know that there’s actually two documented references to William Shakespeare’s marriage … to two different people?  Days before his recorded marriage to Anne Hathaway is another line, referring to Anne Whateley. Most frequently this is written off as clerical error or simple misspelling in a time when Mr. Shakespeare himself seems to never really write his name the same way twice. But what if Anne Whateley was a real person, Shakespeare’s true first love, and his marriage to her was unable to happen because he went and knocked up Anne Hathaway?  Could you get a book out of that premise? http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/120268-mistress-shakespeare-by-karen-harper/ Karen Harper did.  Better than just a planned first marriage that did not occur, she goes all Romeo and Juliet and has Will and Anne#1 marry in secret, but then he has to go and do the shotgun wedding thing with that other hussy.  I’m not sure, reading this review, whether Anne#1 ever takes issue with her man knocking up some other broad, or if she’s cool like that. I suppose it’s a quaint idea, but as for the reviewer’s suggestion that “Shakespeare buffs need something new to mull over, and Harper provides it,” I dunno about that.  I’m sure it makes a nice story, and we do all love to map “real” stories onto Shakespeare’s archetypes for maximum effect, but how realistic would a “secret” wedding have been, really?  From everything I’ve understood about the time period, documentation and doing such things by letter of the law was very important.  Didn’t they even need special permission of some sort to waive some requirements in order to make the wedding happen in a hurry?  If it was at all as easy as grabbing a priest and saying I Do, I think they would have done that first and filled out the paperwork later. But then, I’m no expert in the historical side of things like Ms. Harper, so maybe this sort of thing happened all the time?

2 thoughts on “Mistress Shakespeare

  1. If secret weddings did happen, they wouldn't have been recognized by law. Weddings in that period had to be declared in church on three successive Sundays before the ceremony could be performed. If the wedding had to happen in a hurry, like Shakespeare's marriage to Anne Hathaway, a dispensation from reading the banns (as they were called) for the entire three weeks could be granted for a fee.

    If I remember correctly, I think the register that lists Shakespeare marrying Anne Whateley was in a different parish, one they probably went to for their wedding because no one knew them. I'm inclined to think the clerk there hadn't heard of the Hathaways, or was tired, or didn't care.

  2. There has been some cool research into the "Whately" document. People have found that the same document is full of misspellings.

    Even more interesting, earlier that day, the same clerk had written about a court case involving someone with the name Whately. I think the only reasonable conclusion is that he had Whately on the mind. After all, there's literally no other evidence for an "Anne Whately", married to Shakespeare or not.

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