Saturday, November 29, 2008

The domestic Bard ...

... Shakespeare Woos, Weds, Repents (1582).


  1. Bill, there was some speculation over this in Stephen Greenblatt's "Will in the World," which I enjoyed.

  2. sigh

    The myth that the reference in Will's will to the "second best bed" supposedly indicates that his marriage was not a good one obviously persists even today, more than 100 years after E. K. Chambers demonstrated that such an interpretation is clearly invalid.

    In the first place, Elizabethan wills and inheritance laws differed considerably from those in effect today. By law, Shakespeare's wife and surviving children equally divided his estate; that means Anne Shakespeare automatically received 1/3 of his estate, so she was hardly left penniless. The purpose of a will was to designate special gifts, that is, particular parts of his estate that were to go to particular individuals. Obviously, for some reason, Will wanted Anne to receive the "second best bed" for a particular reason.

    And that reason constitutes the second place: Chambers demonstrated conclusively that in Elizabethan marriages, the husband and wife always shared the "second best bed"; the "best bed" was always reserved for guests. In designating that Anne was to receive the "second best bed," Shakespeare was ensuring that she would receive the bed they had shared as husband and wife; in fact, it is a gift that testifies to a loving relationship he wished to honor, not a demeaning afterthought as has been mistakenly believed.

    (I attempted to post this over at the linked site, but was unable to do so for some reason, so I'm posting it here.)