Mrs. Shakespeare: The Complete Works

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It is April 1594. William Shakespeare, a budding poet and playwright plying his trade in London, magnanimously invites his estranged wife Anne Hathaway to come down from Stratford-on-Avon to celebrate his thirtieth birthday." ""Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" he inquires politely as she arrives. "No thanks," she responds." "This playful but gently probing novel portrays Shakespeare as one has never seen him before, through the eyes of Anne, a tamed but not unloving shrew. Writing her memoirs seven years ...
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Overview

It is April 1594. William Shakespeare, a budding poet and playwright plying his trade in London, magnanimously invites his estranged wife Anne Hathaway to come down from Stratford-on-Avon to celebrate his thirtieth birthday." ""Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" he inquires politely as she arrives. "No thanks," she responds." "This playful but gently probing novel portrays Shakespeare as one has never seen him before, through the eyes of Anne, a tamed but not unloving shrew. Writing her memoirs seven years after his death, she reminisces about her now-famous husband, recalling in particular that unforgettable week in April 1594 and what happened to her in a certain strange bed in his lodgings above a fishmonger's shop - an enormous four-poster that the playwright referred to as their "private playhouse." Mrs. Shakespeare's tales offer insights into Will's secret lives, including solving the mystery of the second best bed that he bequeathed her, as well as the question that has intrigued countless scholars through the centuries: to whom and for whom the Dark Sonnets were written." "In telling these stories, and many others, Anne Hathaway casts a brilliant new light on Shakespeare, providing a very close look at the master by one who shared his bed but never bothered to read him. Robert Nye knows Shakespeare as well as any living scholar or historian, and his use of fiction to recreate the Bard's world brings him and Anne Hathaway wonderfully alive. This is a riot of scholarship and bawdy writing.
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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
...funny, irreverent and fearless...
— (11/5/00)
Publishers Weekly
...so charmingly written...a tartly ribald romantic comedy, a graceful literary fantasia.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
English poet and novelist Nye's slim fiction is so charmingly written, one hardly minds that in the end the plot boils down to a literary dirty joke. Seven years after William Shakespeare's death, in an anachronistically feminist move for 1622, Susanna Shakespeare gives her widowed mother a vellum blank book, and in it Anne decides to write "My story. His story. Our story. The story of the poet, the wife, the best bed, and the bed called second-best." In doing so she solves several literary mysteries: what was the second-best bed, mentioned in Shakespeare's will? and who was the Dark Lady of the Sonnets? The first half of the book seems much ado about nothing as Anne rambles on about the difficulties of being married to a poet. As she writes, she sets the scene for her dramatic trip to visit William on his 30th birthday in London, where he has been living while she struggles to raise their children in Stratford. Anne loves her misguided romantic of a husband, although she can't understand what motivates him, commenting, "I have not read his works. I read my Bible." When Nye, author of the Hawthorndon Prize- and the Guardian Fiction Prize-winning Falstaff, finally reveals the dramatic secret of the bed--namely who gave it to William, why and what actions have taken place in it--the marital romp that ensues illustrates Nye's amusing theory that Shakespeare tested the plots of his plays in flagrante delicto. Nye's light tone and whimsical touches (Anne shares a couple of truly disgusting-sounding 16th-century recipes) buoy up this tartly ribald romantic comedy, a graceful literary fantasia. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
KLIATT
This novel takes the form of 75 entries into a book written by Anne Hathaway Shakespeare, who is living at New Place, Stratford seven years after the death of her husband, William. Mrs. Shakespeare makes the following stipulation, "The day after all the immediate members of my family are dead and gone will be soon enough for a reader to be reading this book." This becomes all the more understandable as one realizes that the story is based on her experiences during a week-long visit to London when Shakespeare was 30 and introduced his wife to the famous "Second Best Bed." Nye's story is an imaginative, funny, quick-moving, irreverent look at the life of Shakespeare. It is not appropriate for most students. However, passages may be very effectively read to students, in particular to those studying the sonnets, as a major premise of the novel is that Anne Hathaway is the Dark Lady of the sonnets. Mrs. Shakespeare is determined to tell her story, and that of her husband, with no restraints. She comments that Shakespeare "had wit and to spare, but he didn't always have the wisdom to go with it." Her opinion of London is that is the place "where all the dead people live." She also observes, "When poets are not caressing themselves with their own words, they're busy a-courting posterity." Had Nye restrained Mrs. Shakespeare from describing so vividly what happened on the "Second Best Bed," he would have provided us a book more useful in the classroom. KLIATT Codes: A—Recommended for advanced students and adults. 1993, Penguin, 216p., Pucci
Library Journal
We remember Anne Hathaway as the wife of William Shakespeare, who in his will left her his "second-best bed," an anecdote that has sparked debate through the centuries. First published in England in 1993, Mrs. Shakespeare is a fictional memoir narrated by Anne Hathaway that cleverly exploits the dearth of biographical information about Shakespeare, allowing Nye to explore his thesis--that madness lurked in the mind of the Western canon's central figure--with the verve of a writer unburdened by scholarly accountability. Those who have been intimidated by Shakespeare's works will feel a wry sympathy for a woman ill used by her brilliant and elusive husband and may turn to the plays and sonnets with a fresh eye. On this level, the book is a great success; however, as a character, Anne is so embittered that it distracts from the meditation on art and truth that animates this novel. Recommended for large fiction collections and academic libraries.--Philip Santo, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
William Ferguson
Mrs. Shakespeare is funny, irreverent and fearless...A witty novel...
New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780142000045
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 8/15/2001
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Read an Excerpt



Chapter One


    Sweet Mr Shakespeare


"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" he enquired politely.

    "No thanks!" I said.

    You should have seen the look he gave me.

    Then he smiled, all white and spiteful.

    He smiled at me, Mr Shakespeare, my husband.

    Well, I ask you.

    Sir Smile, I used to call him.

    He wasn't good at much but he was very good at smiling.


That crafty crow, he never laughed a lot.

    He never laughed a lot on account of not wanting to show those two black broken teeth he'd got at the front.

    He got those rotten teeth from sucking sugar.

    Sugarmeats: the man was mad on them.

    Gingerbread, marchpane, Naples biscuits.

    Sugar was always his poison, right from the start, no doubt because there was so much salt in his blood.

    Let me die if I lie.

    But he was vain about those bad teeth, I can tell you.

    Mr Shakespeare was not in general what I would call a vain man, not regarding his person, though he could be vain enough about his writing work, and always liked his fellow theatricals to notice how quickly and flowingly he performed it.

    You know what they say:

    A bee in a cow-turd thinks itself a king.


Marchpane.

    Tacky white sicky stuff, like sweet frozen custard with knobs on.

    You make it of pounded Jordan almonds and pistachio nuts. A basis of sticky fine sugar, with honey, flour, and essences stirred in.

    Sugarplate: that was another one.

    That was another of my late husband's favourites.

    I remember a Shrove Tuesday at the Sadlers when he got through a whopping great cake of it all on his own.

    We just sat and watched him.

    He wolfed the whole lot down and then sat there sucking his lips.

    That sugarplate of Judith's was gum dragon really, all soaked in rose-water for about two days, then with handfuls of sugar to stiffen it, and the whites of six hen's eggs, plus the juice of two oranges.

    Serves four, or was supposed to. Yes, a paste of pure sugar disguised and baked up as a cake.

    It was coming out of Mr Shakespeare's ears all Lent.

    Hamnet said he must be made of sugar then.

    He was a sugarplate creature.

    He was a marchpane man.


* * *


Reader, I speak of my husband, William Shakespeare.

    William Shakespeare, of Stratford and London, son of John and Mary Shakespeare (both deceased).

    The late Mr William Shakespeare, gentleman, of New Place, Chapel Street, the second biggest house in the whole of Stratford. (And where I'm writing now, if you want to know.)

    The same celebrated William Shakespeare who was very famous in his time as the author of 38 plays, 154 sonnets, a complaint of a woman who went wrong, two pornographic narrative poems on classical themes (I'll be coming to them), and a threnody lamenting the death of a pair of chaste birds.

    My husband.

    Sweet Mr Shakespeare.

    The dirty devil.


Talking of birds, you may or may not be aware that some of his poetical admirers call my celebrated other half the Swan of Avon.

    I say that's stupid.

    I say that simply does not fit the case at all.

    Bad ornithology, I call it.

    The swan sings when death comes on.

    Mr Shakespeare didn't.

    He turned his face to the wall and he died a Papist.

    When I kissed him then it was like kissing a church candle.

    His face burned white.

    Rhyme and wine: it's a fatal combination.

    Those terrible twins have killed stronger men than him. Yet that was his death-bed.

    Am I right?

    I am.

    But Mr Shakespeare's death-bed is not the subject of my story.

    It's another bed I have in mind just now.

    It's the best bed I ever saw, or slept in, or made love on.

    It's a bed some may say is my dream, and some others a nightmare.


Be that as it may be, your swan is royal. While William Shakespeare was a glover's son.

    No silly-sally admirer, but his loving wife and widow all the same, I say he was much more the upstart crow.

    I should know, shouldn't I?

    That old crow craftiness explains why there's not so many left who would know of his great passion for sucking sugar.

    Mr Shakespeare was insatiable, as a matter of fact.

    Kissing-comfits, dishes of sugar sops, eringo.

    You name it, he ate it — just so long as it was honeyed, candied, sweet.

    No sweet without some sweat.

    And that's why his teeth went bad and he didn't laugh a lot.

    You see, he didn't like people to notice those gravestones he'd got in his mouth as a result of all his sugar-sucking, important people especially, but if you're sly like he was you can smile as much as you want without ever revealing your teeth.

    The way Mr Shakespeare did it was he pulled down his top lip when making his smiles, flattening the little hole in the middle which is where my mother once told me the guardian angel leaves the heavenly thumb-print as you come into this world.

    May my mother rest in peace, and Sir Smile himself lie easy in Trinity chancel.

    Not that I believe in guardian angels.

    Not that my husband considered me important.


Chapter Two


    22 April, 1594


It must have been April the 22nd, the day I'm talking about, and the year would have been 1594.

    A feeble sort of a paley-waley day it was.

    It was a day unable to make up its mind whether to be spring or to stay winter.

    Now of course you will be wondering how I can remember the exact date of a particular day so long ago, and how I can be sure what the weather was like then, and how I can recall just precisely what my husband said to me and I said to him, and so on, and so forth.

    I don't blame you.

    You might suspect that I'm lying. You might think I'm making it up, or practising fiction.

    Well, I'm not.

    I tell it as it was, I tell you true.

    There will be no fiction here, if I can help it.

    I give you my word as I hope to be saved that I shan't be telling you stories.

    I happen to be blessed or cursed with a very good memory.

    I happen to possess a particularly good memory when it comes to what he said and I said, no doubt because there were years and years when we did not speak to each other at all.

    I remember the date of that day because it was the day before St George's Day, which is to say the day before my Mr Shakespeare's birthday and the day before he passed to eternal glory. (Yes, he died on his birthday. He always did like to be neat.)

    I remember the weather because I hadn't come dressed for it, and because every little detail of that time is burned into my memory besides, for reasons you'll find out before I'm finished.

    I have a strange story to tell you.

    Trust me.

    It's true what they say:

    Truth is stranger than fiction.

    (Mr Shakespeare didn't think so? The less Shakespeare he!)

    This, then, is what happened.

    Listen carefully.


Chapter Three


    By London Bridge


When Mr William Shakespeare asked me that idle question as to whether I desired him to compare me to a summer's day, and I said thank you no, we were standing together on the bank by London Bridge.

    I say together because together is worth remark in a marriage like ours was.

    Himself had been picking his nose for at least five minutes, dreaming.

    As for me, I was counting the heads of the traitors up there on the poles.

    It was cold, I might tell you.

    Not a hint of sun in the sky.

    Sea-gulls flew over us, squawking.

    (Nasty cruel vicious birds, I never liked them.)

    "Winter," my husband said suddenly.

    He swept off his hat with a flourish, as if he had just discovered some important new truth.

    I thought he'd read my mind about the day not knowing what season it belonged to.

    Then, from the green spark in his eyes, I knew there was worse to come.

    "Winter what?" I demanded.

    "Winter you," Mr Shakespeare said. "Anne Hathawinterway with her," he went on, grinning. "You're more like a day in December," my husband concluded.

    I hit him.

    Well, what would you have done?

    I hit him, though not half as hard as I might have.

    It was not like that regrettable occasion when he went head-first into the mill-race at Shottery.

    I didn't have a ladle with me in London.

    I don't carry kitchen implements about my person.

    "Comparisons are odious, sir," I said.

    "Did you say odorous?" asked Mr Shakespeare.

    I stamped my foot.

    I hit him again with my fist.

    "Will you call me a bumpkin?" I cried. "Odorous would be bumpkin talk. I did not say odorous."

    "Then you must have a head cold," said he.

    Some things you can't answer.

    What a welcome to London!

    What a way to start a holiday!


Chapter Four


    In Reproof of Poesy


I make no bones about it.

    I believe I deserved better treatment.

    I think any honest wife or daughter would agree with me.

    Consider: I'd come all those miry miles to see him, and I'd made an effort for him.

    I mean I was wearing my peachflower taffeta gown with the partlet at the neck, and those new soft green neat's leather ankle-boots.

    Mutton dressed up as lamb, as the cruel saying has it, but truly quite presentable mutton.

    It was all wasted on him.

    God gave him a good woman, but what did he care?

    "Wife, shall we admit September to my June?" Mr Shakespeare said.


Go boil your head, I thought.

    Think about it.

    You just think about it deeply, my dears.

    This, you see, is what they call a metaphor.

    You take one thing and you say it is another.

    It does no good to anybody.

    It does nothing for either thing.

    You mix up two ideas in the one pretty figure of speech, just to make yourself sound clever.

    Clever?

    Too clever by half, if you ask me.

    Mr Shakespeare, he did it all the time, of course.

    You could say it was second nature to him: metaphor.

    He got money for doing it, but to my certain knowledge he'd have done it, day in, day out, even if they hadn't been paying him wages for his wit.

    He couldn't seem to make the effort and stop himself.

    He had wit and to spare, but he didn't always have the wisdom to go with it.

    And what he did with words was what he did with his life.

    And with his wife.

    My husband was a waster.

    There, I've said it.

    Pardon me for living.

    I'll go out into the garden and eat worms.

    All the same, since in what I have to say here I'll be trying to tell you the truth as I see it about Mr Shakespeare as well as the truth about me and our marriage and our family and his work and my work and about how it was between us both together and apart in all the years I knew him, you might as well know from the start that I don't think much good ever came anyone's way from poesy's tricks.

    That was a long sentence.

    I don't like long sentences.

    But listen.

    What do they do, poets?

    (Reader, I married one.)

    What do poets do, when it comes down to it?

    Poets play around and about with words just to save themselves thinking.

    You have to have words to think.

    But it's not right or enough just to fool with them.

    These metaphors: all they are really are high-class compliments or insults.

    One thing cannot be another thing.

    It stands to reason.

    Thou shalt not commit metaphor, I say.

    Especially not in the name of marital sarcasm.

    Because, if you must know, I was the eight years older than Mr Shakespeare.

    And because Mr Shakespeare never let me forget that small little difference in our ages.

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