‘I give unto my wife my second best bed with the furniture’, wrote William Shakespeare in his will of March 1616, a month before his death. The repercussions of this phrase have shaped the trajectory of Anne Hathaway’s life for almost 400 years. As an object of material domesticity as well as a reminder of sexual activity, the ‘second best bed’ embodies both the sexual and domestic sides of this famous wife, linking her physically to Shakespeare and to the domestic life that likely kept her in Stratford for the duration of her life.
In late nineteenth- and twentieth-century America, hundreds of Shakespeare clubs met regularly to read, study, and perform Shakespeare's works. Their motives ranged from personal improvement to community betterment, and they were frequently involved in initiatives designed to memorialize Shakespeare and celebrate their own intellectual achievements. Dozens of public gardens, libraries, and other civic projects are a result of the efforts of clubwomen, in small towns and large cities. Privately, club members also memorized Shakespeare by incorporating a variety of domestic practices into their Shakespeare-centered labors, which preserved Shakespeare as a prominent part of American cultural life.
According to actor Nick Asbury, Stratford-upon-Avon is ‘a wonderful, strange, old place … a place of dreams’. As the site of literary pilgrimage since the eighteenth century, the home of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the topic of hundreds of imaginary portrayals, Stratford is ripe for analysis, both in terms of its factual existence and its fictional afterlife. The essays in this special issue of Critical Survey consider the various manifestations of the physical and metaphorical town on the Avon, across time, genre and place, from America to New Zealand, from children’s literature to wartime commemorations. We meet many Stratfords in this collection, real and imaginary, and the interplay between the two generates new visions of the place. The essays in this collection, summarised in Nicola Watson’s afterword, begin to write a history of these imagined Stratfords.
This essay considers the phenomenon of non-Warwickshire cities and towns that have imported the name of Stratford for their locales, and the later ramifications of this inescapably Shakespearean place name. My aim is to explore why citizens around the world have chosen 'Stratford' as a name for their locale, what connotations they were hoping to evoke and to import, and how the choice of place name has affected the subsequent development of the space. The various imported Stratfords discussed in this essay, from America to New Zealand, suggest the complex associations between the name of 'Stratford' and its most famous original resident, from evoking a sense of tradition, stability and history; to the complicated relationships between national identities. This often tumultuous partnership is indicative of the shifting values and meanings behind both 'Stratford' and Shakespeare, from the nineteenth century to the present, and in various geographical locales and economic circumstances.
This article focuses on how the Shakespeare courtship and marriage are interpreted in a number of recent biographies. This small piece of Shakespeare's life story can serve as a microcosm, both for biographical studies of Shakespeare, and for the way his relationship with his wife affects interpretation of his life, and (perhaps) his work. The various configurations of the Shakespeare courtship help determine how the Stratford parts of Shakespeare's life fit into the larger biographical design. A glimpse into the window of 'Shakespeare as lover' may reveal how biographers and readers around the millennium would like him to be as a wooer, lover, and husband.
The Dark Lady evoked in Shakespeare's Sonnets has been the subject of numerous speculations since the Victorian period. Several male writers and critics – George Bernard Shaw, Frank Harris, A. L. Rowse and Anthony Burgess, for example – have undertaken extended imaginative explorations of this alternative woman. More recently, the Dark Lady has become a central figure in millennial novels by women writers, designed primarily for a female reading audience. This article considers what's at stake by placing this imaginary woman at the heart of Shakespeare's artistic inspiration, and what this tells us about the meaning(s) of ‘Shakespeare’ for contemporary women writers and readers.
Shakespeare and 'the Personal Story'
Katherine Scheil and Graham Holderness
"It seems to be a kind of respect due to the memory of excellent men, especially of those whom their wit and learning have made famous, to deliver some account of themselves, as well as their works, to Posterity. For this reason, how fond do we see some people of discovering any little personal story of the great men of Antiquity, their families, the common accidents of their lives, and even their shape, make, and features have been the subject of critical enquiries. How trifling soever this Curiosity may seem to be, it is certainly very natural; and we are hardly satisfy’d with an account of any remarkable person, ‘till we have heard him describ’d even to the very cloaths he wears." (Nicholas Rowe, 1709)
The Shakespeare Ladies' Club and Reading Habits of Early Modern Women
Katherine West Scheil
In the 1730s a group of women known as the Shakespeare Ladies’ Club promoted performances of Shakespeare’s plays and supported the creation of the Shakespeare monument in Westminster Abbey. The Shakespeare Ladies’ Club (SLC) has been accorded a footnote in the reception history of Shakespeare, but no one has yet taken account of their importance for women’s participation in the intellectual and cultural life of eighteenth-century London. By tracing the dynamics of this group, we may increase our understanding of women’s reading habits, their effect on the theatrical repertoire, and their role in the public life of clubs and philanthropic endeavours. The convergence of several factors made the SLC possible; this article contextualises the SLC within the literary and cultural life of the eighteenth century, and examines the importance of the SLC in the life and work of one member, Elizabeth Boyd.
Clara Calvo, Christy Desmet, Susanne Greenhalgh, Julie Sanders, Katherine Scheil, and Nicola J. Watson
Notes on contributors
Sonja Fielitz, Paul Franssen, Graham Holderness, Park Honan, Reiko Oya, Robert Sawyer, Katherine Scheil, Wolfgang Weiss, and Stanley Wells
Notes on contributors