THE LIVES of Shakespeare’s wife and daughters can be explored in the latest version of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (DNB).
In the run-up to the 400th anniversary of the death of the Bard’s wife Anne Hathaway, the lives of Anne and their daughters Susanna and Judith have been added to the latest update to the Oxford DNB – which records notable figures throughout British history.
The entries also aim to commemorate the anniversary of the burial of Hamnet, Judith’s twin brother who died aged 11.
The lives of these Stratford notables also cast light on the everyday experience of women in 16th and 17th century England.
In their new DNB entries, English professor and author Katherine Scheil and Paul Edmondson, Head of Research at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, untangle the myths surrounding the Shakespeare family, their relations, marriages, legacies, and standing in the Stratford community.
From the long-standing connections of Anne and William’s families, to her management of their household at New Place, and William’s bequest of his ‘second best bed’, Anne is explored as a woman in her own right.
Daughter Susanna, who married the eminent physician John Hall, enjoyed significant social status, and demonstrated considerable financial and legal ability.
Her younger sister, Judith, long outlived her siblings – dying at the ageof 77 – and has inspired numerous fictional works, from the late 19th century to the present day.
It is Judith who is thanked for the account of her father’s death – developing a fever after a ‘merry meeting’ with fellow playwrights and poets Ben Jonson and Michael Drayton.
Prof Katherine Scheil said: “Through Anne Hathaway, dozens of authors and readers have created an imaginary through-line to Shakespeare’s personal life in hopes of unlocking the secrets of his literary achievements. As a result, in the nearly four hundred years since her death, Anne Hathaway has enjoyed a vigorous afterlife in the imaginations of authors and readers worldwide.”
Dr Paul Edmondson added: “‘Witty above her sex’ – that is how Susanna Hall (née Shakespeare) is described in her epitaph, followed by ‘something of Shakespeare was in that’. It is my belief that we all carry ‘something’ of our most intimate relatives and friends around with us. I always long to know even more about Shakespeare, and I am deeply grateful to have been given this opportunity to produce an account of one of the most important women in his life.”
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is also hosting a talk about the women on Wednesday August 11 from 5pm to 6pm.
Visit www.shakespeare.org.uk/whats-on to book.