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To be or not to be Anne

Anne Hathaway’s cottage lies amid gardens and fields of roses, rushes, lavender, and delphiniums, in Shottery, about a mile outside Stratford-upon-Avon’s city center. Lovely willow trellises line the walks of the cottage (actually a rather substantial farmhouse), covered with all manner of winding tendrils of vine and vegetable. And a fine tearoom across the street serves sandwiches, cream teas, and ghost stories. I believe Anne’s family house is a more beautifully floral and satisfying tourist experience than her husband William Shakespeare’s birthplace in the town center of Stratford.

Anne (born in 1556, and aged 26) was three months pregnant when she married William Shakespeare (born 1564, and aged 18) in Temple Grafton, Warwickshire. Their daughter Susanna was born six months later in 1582, and twins Hamnet and Juliet were born in 1585. (though, sadly, Hamnet died at age 11). Those are the facts we know.

The docent at the cottage described Anne as a “multi-tasking farmer’s daughter who probably could have turned her hand at about anything.” Anne probably would not have received any formal education. She would, however, have had to learn how to govern a household, run a farm, and become skilled in housewifely duties in preparation for marriage. Women were expected to be married, and single women–or women otherwise not under the supervision of a male–were often looked down upon, sometimes as witches. It was legal for boys to marry at age 14; girls at 12.  

Across the road from the cottage, the tea-server at the Garden Tearoom described hearing several ghosts when she’d do volunteer gardening chores early on winter mornings. “Might one of them have been Anne’s?” I ask her. “Probably,” she says. She leaned in to clear my cream tea things. “My friends tell me I should write a book!” I look forward to such a book.

Anne and Will are buried side by side in the Church of the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford.

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