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Marriage and Children

“One man in his time plays many parts.”

As You Like It: Act 2, Scene 7

Nathaniel Curzon (based on unknown original). 1708. Drawing of Anne Hathaway in Curzon Family Third Folio

Colgate University Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives, Hamilton, New York.

William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, from Shottery, in 1582. She was the eldest of eight and living one mile from Stratford. William was 18, and Anne was 26. Anne was also pregnant. At the age of 18, William would have needed his parents’ permission to marry. They married outside of the parish of Stratford, perhaps to avoid any scandal as regards Anne’s pregnancy. Records show that they paid for a marriage license in Stratford-upon-Avon, but there is no record showing in which parish they married. It seems that Shakespeare may have been one of the youngest men to marry in Stratford at that time and one of the only one to marry a pregnant girl. Marrying before giving birth was, however, not uncommon. The important part was to be married before the baby was born or it could become more prone to sin.

The Shakespeare’s were married for 34 years, until William’s death in 1616. They had 3 children – Susanna, baptized in 1583, and twins Hamnet and Judith, baptized in 1585. Sadly, Hamnet contracted plague and would not live beyond the age of eleven.

Sofonisba Anguissola. 1590. Three Children with Dog. Private Collection.

A typical household of Shakespeare’s time would have provided the family with three meals a day. Ann would have had to preserve meat, make cheese and bread, and brew ale. She would have been expected to arrange for sleeping accommodation, meals and bathing facilities for William and his guests when he was home from London for a visit and when he retired.

Between the baptism of his twins and his arrival on the London theatre scene in 1592, there is no documentary evidence about what Shakespeare was doing. These years have been dubbed “the Lost Years”. One conjectural story is that Shakespeare poached deer from the Charlecote Park estate of Sir Thomas Lucy, a Stratford landowner, and fled to London to escape punishment. Other stories speculate that he was a schoolmaster in Stratford, or a lawyer's clerk or a soldier. He may have joined a visiting company of players or worked with John in glove-making. We really have no idea what he might have been doing.

Shakespeare's New Place

Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

By 1592 Shakespeare had established himself as a playwright in London with at least seven plays to his credit. He helped found the Lord Chamberlain’s Men in 1594 and held shares in the company. Five years later in 1597, William bought New Place, a Medieval house built by Hugh Clopton in the 1480’s in Stratford. This became his family’s new home. New Place was the second largest house in the borough and the only one with a courtyard. There were 10 hearths and between 20 and 30 rooms at New Place. It was situated near the guild chapel and very much at the heart of Stratford from both a commercial and government point of view. He extended the landholding of the home for orchards and cattle grazing.

After Shakespeare’s death, New Place would pass to his daughter, Susanna, and her husband, John Hall. Anne would live at New Place until her death on August 6, 1623. Shakespeare’s only grandchild, Elizabeth, would then inherit the house with her second husband, but die childless in 1670. This was to be the end of the direct lineage of William Shakespeare.

The Clopton family would again acquire the home after Elizabeth’s death. They removed Shakespeare’s house and built a new one. That house was demolished in 1759. In 1876, the Shakespeare Birthplace trust assumed responsibility for the site of New Place and neighboring Nash’s House.





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