Shakespeare in love

We all leave our mark on this world whether we want to or not, and from birth; our birth certificates, our school exam certificates, our doctors records, our work records and for me there’s a permanent trail of fluff and debris as I traipse Tooting High Street. I could never commit a crime because the police could just follow the trail of dandruff and belly button fluff back to my home.

It’s very hard these days to live ‘off the grid’, everywhere I go I leave an electronic trail, my debit card, my London Underground card, my iPhone tracking me, my Sainsburys loyalty card, passport control, Homeland Security, that woman across the road that spends all evening watching the world going by because, like me, she has no life. Deep in Mountain View, Mr Google will have info on me and all this data is archived off and stored for god knows how long. I’m pretty sure that at some time in the future some bright spark will connect up all these data sources and be able to predict with some accuracy where I am at any given time and what I’m doing – I can save them the trouble, I’ll be in Papa’s Joes eating pizza..

So, the essence of me is spreading across the globe, (a thought that makes my friends shudder) and it’s probably not helped by writing this blog. However, it’s interesting how times have changed, because Big Brother can find out just about everything about me but Big Brother knows sweet Fanny Adams about William Shakespeare.

We have the 884,647 words he wrote, spread over 118,406 lines containing 138,198 commas, 26,794 colons and 15,785 question marks but the man himself remains a mystery. We know roughly but not exactly when he was born and we have a portrait on the First Folio that we think was based on a painting of him but no-one knows if this is actually the Bard or not. We have a total of fourteen words in the man’s own hand, twelve of these being his signature (6 times 2), each one spelt differently and none of them in the form most common today ‘William Shakespeare’ and two other words;  ‘by me’ on his will.

Ironically we know more about Shakespeare than just about anyone else from the 16th century but that’s still hardly anything, large parts of his life is still a complete mystery, nobody knows where he was between 1585 and 1592 and as for Shakespeare in love, well, we know next to nothing about that – but he did come up with some cracking chat-up lines;

I’ll say she looks as clear as morning roses newly washed with dew.  (this btw is almost as good as ‘He said my eyes look like the Irish countryside after a soft rain’ one of my favourite lines from Scrubs)

Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind;
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.

My bounty is as deep as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.

Now join your hands, and with your hands your hearts.

Journey’s end in lovers meeting.

If music be the food of love, play on

No sooner met but they looked;
No sooner looked but they loved;
No sooner loved but they sighed;
No sooner signed but they asked one another the reason;
No sooner knew the reason but they sought the remedy;
And in these degrees have they made a pair of stairs to marriage…

Doubt thou the stars are fire,
Doubt the sun doth move,
Doubt truth to be a liar
but never doubt thy love.

So Shakespeare obviously knew about love but we know amazing little about his actual love life, we aren’t even 100% sure he married Anne Hathaway because according to the clerk at Worcester, Shakespeare applied for a license in November 1582 to marry not Anne Hathaway  but to marry Anne Whateley. In all likelihood he probably did marry Anne Hathaway as the clerks in Worcester weren’t the most fastidious of record keepers. The marriage license is lost but the marriage bond survives and on it Anne Hathaway is correctly identified but marrying Willy Shagspere – I’m not sure if that was just yet another misspelling or was in fact a 16th century pun by the clerks.

What was unusual was that Shakespeare married at 18yrs old and there was some haste in getting married, the banns were only read for one week and not the usual three and it was much more common for men of that time to marry in mid to late 20’s. It’s assumed that Anne was most likely with child but considering nearly 40% of brides were pregnant then the indecent haste is all the more mysterious but Susanna was born the following May.  BTW did you know that the age of consent at that time was 14 for a boy and 12 for a girl? Then it seems that Shakespeare buggered off between 1585 and 1592, no-one knows where but he eventually pitched up in London and started writing plays and scholars think he made trips back to Stratford to be with his family.

So, for a man who wrote some of the most famous lines in literature we know absolutely nothing about his relationship with his wife, how much did he love her, was it true love or did they argue all the time and how much did she influence his writing, no one knows but there’s one odd item we do know and I found this out this summer when I went to visit Anne Hathaways cottage in Stratford. In Shakespeare’s will, he doesn’t mention his wife at all, which was very unusual – except in one infamous line which reads  “I give onto my wife, my second best bed with the furniture” (furniture = bedclothes). This has caused many words to be penned about his relationship with Anne, the best bed was kept for honoured guests and the second best bed was the one which married couples slept in and therefore was Shakespeare showing some tenderness towards Anne, scholars say that it is almost without exception that the husband left the best bed to their wife and this is interpreted as an insult to Anne, but who knows…

Shakespeare was buried in the chancel of the Holy Trinity Church two days after his death. The epitaph carved into the stone slab covering his grave includes a curse against moving his bones;

“Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forbear,”
“To dig the dust enclosed here.”
“Blessed be the man that spares these stones,”
“And cursed be he who moves my bones.”

So it seems that Anne got the second best bed but ironically Shakespeare was determined he wasn’t going to be disturbed in his final resting place.