« НазадПродовжити »
like Mary Arden's, had died about a year before her marriage ; but while Mary Arden had special legacies, and was assigned to the honorable position of executrix by her father's will, Anne Hathaway was passed over even without mention by her father, who yet carefully and minutely remembered all but one of his other children. And to look forward again, — which we well may do, for Shakespeare's wife will soon pass entirely from our sight, — when her husband was giving instructions for his will he left her only his second best
bed, the one that probably she slept upon. It is true, as Mr. Knight has pointed out, that she was entitled to dower, and that so her livelihood was well provided for; it is true also that a bed with its furniture was in those days no uncommon bequest. But William Shakespeare's will was one of great particularity, making little legacies to nephews and nieces, and leaving swords and rings as mementos to friends and acquaintance; and yet his wife's name is omitted from the document in its original form, and only appears by an after-thought in an interlineation, as if his attention had been called to the omission, and for decency's sake he would not have the mother of his children unnoticed altogether. The lack of any other bequest than the furniture of her chamber is of small moment in
comparison with the slight shown by that interlineation. A second best bed might be passed over ; but what can be done with second best thoughts? And second best, if good at all, seem to have been all the thoughts which Shakespeare gave her; for there is not a line of his writing known which can be regarded as addressed to her as maid or matron. Did ever poet thus slight the woman that he loved, and that, too, during years of separation
The cottage in which Anne Hathaway lived is still pointed out in Shottery. It is a timber and plaster house, like John Shakespeare's, standing on a bank, with a roughly paved terrace in front. The parlor is wainscoted high in oak, and in the principal chamber is
mous and heavily carved bedstead. Though a rustic and even rude habitation when measured by our standard, it was evidently a comfortable home for a substantial yeoman in the time of Queen Elizabeth, and is picturesque enough for the cradle of a poet's love. But it can never be looked upon without sadness by those who rightly estimate the sorrow and the shame which there were born to William Shakespeare row and shame which not all the varied successes of his after-life could heal and obliterate, and his sufferings from which find frequent expression both in his plays and sonnets. True, he was of all poets the most dramatic, and therefore the most self-forgetful; but this trouble he did not forget. His works are full of passages, to write which, if he had loved his wife and
honored her, would have been gall and wormwood to his soul; nay, which, if he had loved and honored her, he could not have written. But did the “ flax-wench whom he uses for the most degrading of all comparisons do more“ before her troth-plight” than the woman who bore his name and whom his children called mother ?* It is not a question whether his judgment was justifiable, but of what he thought and felt.
And even if Anne Hathaway's fair fame, if indeed it was ever fair, remained untarnished, the marriage at eighteen of such a man as her boy husband proved is one of the saddest social events that can be contemplated. Not because it was singular in all its circumstances or its consequences; for, alas, in most of them it is too common. A youth whose person, whose manner, and whose mental gifts have made him the admired favorite of some rural neighborhood, captivated ere he is well a man by some rustic beauty, or often by his own imagination, married and a father before he should be well beyond a father's care, or bound as much in honor, according to the matrimonial code, as if he were married, developing into a man of mark and culture, attaining social position and distinction which would make him the welcome suitor of the fairest and most accomplished woman of the circle into which he has risen by right of worth and intellect, yet tied to one who is inferior to him in all respects, except perhaps in simple truthfulness, and who does not · poor creature, who cannot if she would — keep pace with him; and all this the consequence of a boyish passion, which opposition might have confirmed, but which tact and a little time so little ! — might easily have dissipated : this case, so pitiable ! so pitiable for both parties, even most pitiable for her, we see too often. But add to all this that the man was William Shakespeare, and that he met his fate at only eighteen years of age, and that the woman who came to him with a stain upon her name was eight years his senior, and could we but think of their life and leave out the world's interest in him, should we not wish that one of them, even if it were he, had died before that ill-starred marriage? But chiefly for him we grieve; for a woman of her age, who could so connect herself with a boy of his, was either too dull by nature or too callous by experience to share his feelings at their false, unnatural position. Who can believe that the well-known counsel upon this subject which he put into the Duke Orsino's mouth in Twelfth Night was not a stifled cry of anguish from his tormented, over-burdened soul, though he had left his torment and his burden so far behind him? It is impossible that he could have written it without thinking of his own experience; the more, that the seeming lad to whom it is addressed is about his years, and the man who utters it about Anne Hathaway's, at the time when they were married. *
* The Winter's Tale, Act I. Sc. 2.
* * Duke.
Thou dost speak masterly :
A little, by your favour.
of your complexion. Duke. She is not worth thee then. What years, l'faith? Vio. About your years, my lord.
Duke. Too old, by Heaven! Let still the woman take
I think it well, my lord.
Twelfth Night, Act II. Sc. 4.
After considering all that has been said, which is quite all that can reasonably be said, about the custom of troth-plight in mitigation of the circumstances of Shakespeare's marriage, I cannot regard the case as materially bettered. It has been urged that Shakespeare put a plea for his wife into the mouth of the Priest in Twelfth Night, where the holy man says to Olivia that there had passed between her and Sebastian “ A contract of eternal bond of love,
Confirm'd by mutual joinder of your hands,
Act V. Sc. 1.
But what this was is shown by Olivia's language at the
Now go with me, and with this holy man,
Act IV. Sc. 3. This plainly was a private marriage, in church and by a priest ; indissoluble and perfect, except that it lacked consummation, and celebration according to the lady's