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فصل 02

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Chapter two

A Wife and Children

We do not hear of Shakespeare again until 1582, when he married Anne Hathaway. But there is an interesting story about him that may explain what he did after leaving school. John Aubrey, writing about a hundred years later, did not agree with Ben Jonson’s report that Shakespeare had ‘small Latin’. He says that Shakespeare ‘understood Latin well’ because he had been a teacher in the country when he was young. This story may be true because it was told by William Beeston, the son of one of the actors in Shakespeare’s theatre company.

Shakespeare was not a professional teacher but young men sometimes worked privately in rich men’s houses, teaching their families or servants. There is a tradition in a family called Hoghton in Lancashire that Shakespeare worked for them for two years. The Houghtons were Catholics and rich enough to have their own group of actors. When Alexander Hoghton died in 1581, he left the actors’ clothes and musical instruments to his brother. He asked him to employ two men who had lived with him, or to help them find work, and one of those men was called William Shakeshaft.

It is unusual to speak of a servant ‘living with’ a family, and so it seems that these two men had special jobs. Shakeshaft and Shakespeare mean the same thing and in those days people often confused names or copied them down wrongly. We cannot prove that Shakespeare taught in the Hoghton house or that he had his first experience of theatre there. But it is interesting that the earls of Derby were among the Hoghtons’ neighbours, and the families were friends. When Shakespeare joined his first theatre company in London, it was probably Strange’s. The company’s patron was Lord Ferdinando Strange, the Earl of Derby’s son.

We do not know whether Shakespeare went to Lancashire or stayed at home to help his father with his business. But in the summer of 1582, he was certainly in Stratford. Then, if not before, he began to walk across the fields to the village of Shottery to see Anne Hathaway. Shakespeare was only eighteen, and Anne was twenty-six or twenty-seven, so some writers imagine that she tricked him into marrying her. But Shakespeare’s Sonnets - about 150 short poems, published in 1609 - are our only guide to his private thoughts and feelings. They tell a different story.

Shakespeare and other Elizabethan poets were fond of using words with two meanings, or words that sounded similar. In one of the sonnets, he suggests Anne’s surname with the words ‘hate away’. The poem is about a young man, excited and in love, and a girl who at first says no to him but then pities him and says that she loves him.

Anne’s father had died the year before, leaving her some money for the day when she got married. He had married twice and Anne, the oldest daughter of the first marriage, had to help his second wife look after her four young children. Anne probably found the clever young man attractive and wanted to have her own children. She had known Shakespeare since he was a boy. Many years before, John Shakespeare had helped her father when Mr Hathaway could not pay his bills. William Shakespeare, at this time, was probably a young man in search of romantic experience.

In November, when Anne was expecting a baby, the couple were given special permission to get married the next day. Shakespeare was under the age of twenty-one, so he also needed his fathers permission. Perhaps Shakespeare’s parents did not agree to the marriage until they were sure of Anne’s condition. Towards the end of May 1583, Anne gave birth to a daughter, Susanna. There is reason to believe that Susanna was the person that Shakespeare loved most and the member of his family who was most like him.

For the next two years at least, the young couple lived with Shakespeare’s parents. At the end of January 1585, they had twins, a boy and a girl. They called them Hamnet and Judith after their friends Hamnet Sadler, the baker, and his wife. Most Elizabethan wives had children almost every year, so it is a little surprising that Shakespeare and Anne had only three. It is true that he was not often at home after he moved to London, though he probably returned to Stratford once a year. It is also possible that Anne could not have more children after she had twins; in those days it was more difficult and dangerous to give birth than it is now.

During this time, we suppose that Shakespeare helped his father. It was useful for a businessman to have a son who could read and write. But it is unlikely that Shakespeare wanted to spend the rest of his life in Stratford, making gloves.

We do not know when or why he left the town. He probably went to London a year or two after the twins were born. Perhaps he carried with him a letter to Lord Strange’s company of actors from friends in Lancashire. Long after his death Nicholas Rowe, who wrote the first life of Shakespeare, said that he had to leave Stratford. It was a punishment for hunting in a park that belonged to Sir Thomas Lucy. If the story is true, Shakespeare took his revenge in The Merry Wives of Windsor, a play that contains many memories of his childhood. Lucy was a judge in Stratford and Shallow, the foolish country judge in the play, may be like him.

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