Germaine Greer: Says Shakespeare's wife was smart and he loved her





"I just don't think Shakespeare would have married someone who wasn't smart and didn't have a good sense of humor," Germaine Greer speculates in her contentious biography of Ann Hathaway, who wed William Shakespeare in 1582, when he was 18 and she 26. That is one of Greer's many objections to the tradition among Shakespeare commentators of disparaging Hathaway, even though almost nothing is known about her.

Shakespeare's Wife was published last year in Britain (Bloomsbury) and recently in the United States (Harper/HarperCollins). Greer, who is author of such key feminist studies as The Female Eunuch (published in Britain in 1970 and America in 1971), has little doubt about what has driven so many Hathaway haters of the past 400 years: misogyny.

She charges "the Shakespeare wallahs" with erroneously concluding, for example, that Hathaway was sexually aggressive because she was three months pregnant when she went to the altar, and that her marriage must have been loveless because the playwright spent most of his life in London, apart from her. He did infamously stipulate, when he wrote his will in 1616, "I gyve unto my wief my second best bed with the furniture."

Greer, whose 1967 doctoral dissertation at the University of Cambridge was about love and marriage in Shakespeare's early comedies, has created a far more flattering portrait of Hathaway by poring over records of the social history of the period and the Stratford region where Hathaway lived and died. The woman who emerges was helpmate and capable businesswoman, without whom her husband couldn't have become an icon. For the most part, the Brits seem less receptive to Greer's argument — and her feminism — than American reviewers do....


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