enotes | Student

We have firm evidence that Shakespeare was married in late 1582 to Anne Hathaway, that he was eighteen years old at the time, while she was twenty-six years old. We also know that the first of their children, Susanna, was born six months after the marriage and was, therefore, conceived out of wedlock. In conjunction with the substantial age difference between Shakespeare and his mature bride, it is often suggested that the future playwright married Anne Hathaway because he had gotten her pregnant, that he was, in fact, forced into a marriage with this older woman. From here, the speculation is that Shakespeare's marriage was not a happy one and that he immersed himself in London's theater scene to escape his wife. The only documentary support for this argument lies in Shakespeare's will, in which he leaves his "second best bed" to Anne, a stipulation that some later biographers have read as a final slap at a woman whom he did not love. In the plays themselves, moreover, we read warnings against pre-marital sex and against younger men wedding older women. Nevertheless, after Susanna's marriage, William and Anne had two more children, the twins Hamnet and Judith. Although Shakespeare apparently spent most of his early adult years in London, once his literary career was well established, Shakespeare spent a great deal of his time with his family in Stratford-on-Avon. This implies that Shakespeare's marriage and family life was at least tolerable. As for the "second best bed" clause in Shakespeare's will, this was not all that unusual and much of his estate became the property of his widow. And as for the cause of Shakespeare's initial departure for London, there are alternative accounts, including the local tradition that he left Stratford due to some type of legal problem, possibly the poaching of game on the estate of Sir Thomas Lucy. We do know that there was a tragedy in the marriage of William and Anne, that their only son, Hamnet died suddenly at the age of eleven. Beyond this, we have no direct support for the claim that Shakespeare was trapped in a bad marriage.