I'm haunted by a ghost. She wanders in that way you wander at a party when you can't leave but don't want to talk to anyone. She sways to avoid the ghost of Hamlet's father, of Banquo, of bulky, jovial Sir John. She pauses, though, to reach an insubstantial and wistful hand to two little princes, who may remind her of her own dead son.
Like all ghosts, she has a strange and troubling story. A grown woman, capable and at least relatively prosperous, she married – for reasons unclear – a brilliant, restless teenager, who left her before too many years to go to London and do, of all things, theatre. I see her roll her eyes, even now. Even though his success kept her and the girls well, she saw him seldom, bore the grief for a dead child essentially alone. She outlived her husband by seven years, famously given the "second-best bed" in the will. There's not much more to say, really. But questions – no shortage of them.
Why did she marry the just-beyond-boy William Shakespeare? The glib answer – because she was knocked up – merely begs the question. Why was she intimate with him? What did she see in him? Was she the only one to see it in him, or did he turn heads across Warwickshire? (Later portraits are less than flattering; his appeal was likely more charisma and wit than hottitude.) Did she, seeing his genius, encourage him to go to London? Was theirs, perhaps, a true partnership?
I find it easy to imagine her appeal for him: his jones for strong, smart, capable women is obvious in his plays, and there's no reason to doubt he'd been any different back in Stratford. She and her stepmother had successfully been managing her family's property and raising her younger siblings for quite some time after the death of her father. She knew what was what – she was clearly not one to take any crap, not one to naively let herself be beguiled, impregnated, and abandoned.
Did she resent her husband's absence? Or did she push him out the door? Was it a disgusted dismissal of this man, this disappointment, or a falsely cheerful push, designed to hearten both of them against crying as he turned is face toward London?
I've been to Stratford. You can walk across the town of Shakespeare's day in a blink. That was the size of illiterate, family-bound Anne Hathaway's world. Yet her husband had all London at his feet, words that that would shake heaven and earth ringing in his brain, and the very reaches of time and space at his fingertips. But – what if he had stayed in Stratford?
Do we have Anne Hathaway to thank for William Shakespeare? Was her desperate loneliness and grief the price paid to ensure his genius?
And yo, what's with the second-best bed thing?
The Anne Hathaway who haunts me is not forthcoming with her answers. But from what glimpses I get of her, I'm not happy with the Anne-as-victim story, left alone with three impossibly small children (including twins, no less) to weep after a wastrel husband. I'd rather think of her as part of a team, and not the weaker part, either. I like to think that together, Anne Hathaway and William Shakespeare made sure these words, this poetry, these characters and plots and jaw-dropping revelations about what it is to be human – that these things were set loose for all time to come.
I wish I could thank my ghost for what I suspect she did.