Saturday, December 11, 2010

Shakespeare's Wife

With Shakespeare's Wife, Germaine Greer has written an exhaustive women’s history text on life in Stratford during the 16th and 17th centuries. Unfortunately for its readers, much information pertaining to the actual life of Shakespeare’s wife is purely speculative given the lack of historical documents that exist relating to Anne Hathaway. 

I would suggest one read this book if they are interested in social history. There is much information contained about medical practices, social norms, and religious politics of Elizabethan and Stuart England. There are also invaluable insights given into the lives of other residents of Stratford who have otherwise been forgotten in history. Greer does an excellent job of writing about this time period, and, most importantly, Greer cites all of her sources (this is a rarity amongst most biographical authors).

As previously stated, there is actually very little about Anne Hathaway in this book. We do learn brief tidbits about her childhood, her relatives, her marriage, and death. Most of Greer’s other information comes from analyses of primary sources not relating to Hathaway (such as tax records and marriage records), secondary sources (in which Greer vehemently defends Hathaway from her critics) and Shakespeare’s works (The Merry Wives of Windsor is one she uses predominantly throughout the text). As a reader, I intensely disliked when Greer attempted to approach the emotional life of Hathaway. It felt that this was is all speculation, and that such a practice is better kept for historical novels.

This book is one that I’m glad that I’ve read, but I don’t think I’ll read again any time soon. 


Information: Harper Perennial (2009), Paperback, 432 pages

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