The Complicated Love Life of William Shakespeare

by | 14 Feb 2024

Shakespeare was certainly business minded, so perhaps he’d be looking for someone with an entrepreneurial or creative spirit.

The life of William Shakespeare has been a source of fascination for centuries, and understandably so. He is indisputably history’s most famous, well-quoted, and intensely studied playwright. His most well-known love stories – Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing, A Midsummer Night’s Dream – have continued to be a source of influence and inspiration for writers to this day. 

But what – or who – was it that served as inspiration for Shakespeare’s romantic works? Separating fact from fiction, recorded history from scholarly speculation, is all part of the work that the experts at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust take seriously. 

Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford-Upon-Avon

What is the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust? 

Based in Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-Upon-Avon, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust owns and cares for six properties associated with the life of William Shakespeare, including the house he was born and grew up in, and the farmhouse that belonged to the family of his wife, Anne. Guests on Insight Vacations’ Britain and Ireland Discovery tour will enjoy a stop here on their journey north from London (a journey that would have taken Shakespeare 3 days in the 1600s).  

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is one of the oldest independent conservation societies in the UK, relying solely on public donations since it was founded in 1847. It is the leading authority on the life and works of Shakespeare – so who better to shed light on the complicated, often misconstrued love life of William Shakespeare? 

We put our questions to the trust, and received these tantalizing answers: 

 

So, was Shakespeare known to be a romantic?

 “William Shakespeare is celebrated for writing some of the most enduring love stories in literature, including “Romeo and Juliet,” “Twelfth Night,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” However, whether Shakespeare himself was romantic in his personal life remains a matter of speculation due to limited historical evidence about his private affairs.” 

 

What do we know about his marriage to Anne Hathaway?

“Anne and William married under special license at some point between 28th November and 2nd December 1582. At the time of their marriage William was 18, while Anne was 26—and pregnant with their first child. Anne was a farmer’s daughter, so she was likely practical and very able to manage a household.” 

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In her father’s will, Anne’s name is written as “Agnes”, suggesting she adopted Anne later in life.

What might their wedding have looked like?

“The wedding ceremony began at the door of the church and the ring was blessed. Afterwards the wedding party entered the main body of the church for nuptial mass. It was customary for a bride to wear her hair loose on her wedding day. Following her marriage, she would wear her hair under a coif – cap – to affirm her status as a married woman.” 

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What is known about the nature of Anne and William’s relationship?

“The average age of marriage was 26 years of age, so Anne would have been an eligible young lady of her time. William, on the other hand, was only 18 and still a minor in the eyes of the law. Men would usually establish a trade before marriage. We know that Anne would have spent time apart from William during their marriage, like many wives of tradesmen in Stratford-upon-Avon. They had three children together, however Hamnet died from an outbreak of bubonic plague when he was 11.”

Shakespeare ultimately left to find fortune and fame in London. Do experts believe he was faithful during this time?

“He was a married man and a father-of-three by the time he sought fame and fortune in the capital. There is no evidence to suggest that he was unfaithful, but many have speculated.” 

 

What traits or characteristics do you think Shakespeare would have on his dating profile?

 “Shakespeare was certainly business minded, so perhaps he’d be looking for someone with an entrepreneurial or creative spirit.” 

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Shakespeare’s original Globe Theatre was created from timbers stolen from The Theatre in Shoreditch, with Shakespeare himself involved in the heist

Shakespeare’s will causes a lot of speculation about their relationship. What did it mean for him to leave his ‘second best bed’?

“William didn’t, by law or convention, have to leave his wife anything in his will. She would have received 1/3 of the estate’s value upon William’s death. But he clearly wanted to leave the ‘second best bed’, which was likely the marital bed – the best bed being reserved for guests. Perhaps it was a romantic gesture, or a symbol of comfort for him in the event of his death.”

 

Is there much known about the influence of Anne on Shakespeare’s works?

“Aspects of Shakespeare’s portrayal of women in his plays reflect his experiences and perceptions of women, which may include his relationship with Anne Hathaway. We will be learning all about the influence of the remarkable women in Shakespeare’s life in our multi-year theme, The Women Who Made Shakespeare.”

What happened to Anne after the death of her husband?

“She likely lived the remainder of her life at New Place, the family home, surrounded by her family.”

 

What legacy has Shakespeare and Anne had on Stratford Upon Avon?

“Visitors have visited Shakespeare’s Birthplace and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage for centuries, without them, Stratford-upon-Avon wouldn’t be the place it is today. 

“For decades, people around the world have flocked to the beautiful Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, to walk in the footsteps of young Anne and William and learn all about their blossoming romance. Here, people can explore what life was like for young Anne Hathaway, learning all about what helped shape her into the incredible woman she became.”

 

Still curious about the home, history and personal live of Shakespeare? Visit Shakespeare’s Birthplace yourself on our Britain and Ireland Discovery tour

I'm Alex, Editor of Insightful. I have over 10 years' experience as a travel writer and editor, and have been lucky enough to visit some incredible destinations in that time. Canada, Italy and Iceland are (so far) my favorite places on Earth, but at the top of my wish list for future adventures is India. I'm fascinated by indigenous cultures and traditions, have a hearty appetite for history (but a poor memory for dates), and feel most at home in wild, unpopulated landscapes.

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