IN SEARCH OF SHAKESPEARE’S GHOSTS
AS the summer season of Shakespeare plays enters full swing, new light is being shed on the deepening mystery of the Shakespearean ‘fringe’.
Almost four hundred years after the death of the ‘master writer’, scholars and Shakespeare enthusiasts in Yorkshire are paying increasing attention to the ghostly figures who haunted Shakespeare’s life - and key to them might be a tantalising glimpse of the so-called ‘Dark Lady’ of his famous sonnets.
The contention over the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays is well known. Some academics and theatre lovers down the years have long contended that the greatest works in literature could not have been penned solely by the son of a gentlemen glover from Stratford.
Various rival suggested authors have included fellow playwright Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe, the Earls of Oxford and Derby, Francis Bacon and even a spurious suggestion that Elizabeth I might have influenced ‘bardoltry’.
But beyond such arguments lie a ghostly halo of characters, which are purported to have influenced Shakespeare’s life
And thanks to a new twist in the detective story, enter stage right a new candidate- a ghostly rival to Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway who just might just have been the ‘dark lady’ of his famous sonnets.
Anne Hathaway, a moniker now famous under another guise, was much older than Will, and some say the subject of a so-called ‘shotgun’ marriage.
The mother of three children to Shakespeare, Anne married William in 1582 and though she outlived Will Shakespeare by seven years, very little is known about her beyond a few references in legal documents.
Many have speculated for years that the marriage might not have been harmonious – Shakespeare left her his ‘second best bed’ in his will (though this might not have been a sign of disrespect) – and he spent much time away, in London, from the family home.
Thus enter the mysterious Anne Whateley, increasingly the focus of academic and pseudo speculation, who has been alleged to have been the intended wife of William Shakespeare before he married Anne H.
Most scholars believe that Whateley never existed, and that her name in a document concerning Shakespeare's marriage is merely a clerical error.
However several writers on Shakespeare have taken the view that she was a real rival to Hathaway for Shakespeare's hand – and that the ‘tug of love’ between the three might have played a part in his writings.
She has also appeared in imaginative literature on Shakespeare and in Shakespeare authorship speculations, while others have suggested she is the shadowy figure of the ‘dark’ lady, infamous in Shakespeare’s sonnets.
Shakespeare's biographer Russell A. Fraser describes her as "a ghost", "haunting the edges of Shakespeare's story".
And in the best fashion of a Shakespeare romance itself, her existence has been deduced from an entry in an Episcopal register at Worcester, which states in Latin:
"Anno Domini 1582...Novembris...27 die eiusdem mensis. Item eodem die supradicto emanavit Licentia inter Wm Shaxpere et Annam Whateley de Temple Grafton."
The entry states that a marriage licence was issued to Shakespeare and ‘Anne Whateley
The entry in the register was discovered in the late nineteenth century by Reverend T.P. Wadley.
Hathaway herself was from Shottery, four miles away from Temple Grafton.
Various explanations have since been offered. Initially it was assumed that Whateley was an alternative surname for Anne Hathaway herself.
Wadley believed that it was probably an alias, used by Hathaway in order to keep the date of the marriage secret to obscure the fact that she was already pregnant.
Another suggestion was that Anne Hathaway might legitimately have used the name, either because her father Richard Hathaway was in fact her step-father, her mother having previously been married to a man called Whateley, or because Anne herself may have previously been married to a man named Whateley.
But tantalisingly other biographers, notably Ivor Brown and Anthony Burgess, have portrayed Whateley as Shakespeare's true love.
In 1970 Burgess wrote,
‘It is reasonable to believe that Will wished to marry a girl named Anne Whateley. The name is common enough in the Midlands and ….her father may have been a friend of John Shakespeare's.
‘But why, attempting to marry Anne Whateley, had he put himself in the position of having to marry the other Anne? I suggest that, to use the crude but convenient properties of the old women's-magazine morality-stories, he was exercised by love for the one and lust for the other.’
According to Stanley Wells in the Oxford Companion to Shakespeare, most modern scholars take view that Whateley was "almost certainly the result of clerical error".
Though there was a Whateley family in the area, no independent evidence has ever been found of the existence of an Anne Whateley in Temple Grafton or anywhere else nearby.
But a counter argument is made by William Ross in his book
In such, Ross claims Whateley was a nun who was his "lover and consort in their spiritual union".
Living a secluded life among the nuns of the Order of St. Clare when she met Shakespeare, they are purported to have fallen in love; Anne W was about to leave the order to marry him when Hathaway revealed her pregnancy.
Ross argues her authorship can be deduced from the sonnets, which she wrote as ‘gifts to Shakespeare’ and in which are described the history of her spiritual relationship with him.
Again according to Ross, Hathaway is the ‘Dark Lady’ of the sonnets, while Shakespeare himself is the Fair Youth.
Their intimate friendship is purported to have continued after his marriage to Hathaway with its deepening spirituality being explored in the later sonnets.
Eventually, the counter claim suggests, the friendship was broken up by Hathaway's jealousy, and Shakespeare left for London. It alleges she wrote ‘A Lover's Complaint’, which was appended to the sonnets, to express Anne Hathaway's point of view.
Ross's speculations were developed by his friend W.J. Fraser Hutcheson in his book Shakespeare's Other Anne
It seems the more likely explanation is that Anne H and Shakespeare were in a rush to marry, and rather than wait for three marriage banns to be read over consecutive weeks, they received a special licence from the Bishop of Worcester.
The entry on 27th November 1582 refers to the marriage of "Wm Shaxpere et Annam Whateley de Temple Grafton; while the entry on 28th November 1582 refers to the marriage of "William Shagspeare and Anne Hathwey".
Notwithstanding the fact that two pairs of entirely different people might have been involved, most academics now suspect a clerical error, rather than subterfuge.
Professor Lisa Hopkins from Sheffield Hallam University, is of the opinion that a writing error is most likely.
“Weird as it may seem, 'Whateley' is actually not that strange as a transcription / pronunciation error for 'Hathaway' and in many cases when recording names, errors are made by vicars and others in official documents, as I have discovered through my own research. Many readers will know of Sonnet 145 in which Shakespeare seemingly makes a deliberate pun on the name Hathaway in his lines. ‘Where hate from hateaway she threw’ is usually taken to be a pun on Anne Hathaway’s name and hence an indication of how it was probably pronounced. It’s likely to be a transcription error because if ‘hate away’ in sonnet 145 is, as suggested, a pun on ‘Hathaway’, then the two names would sound similar when spoken.’
Prof Francis O’Gorman, from the University of Leeds, is fascinated by the idea of the real and imagined on the edges of writers’ biographies.
He says: ‘Mysterious figures about whom little for certain is known haunt the biographies of great writers. The Whateley case is extreme because she almost certainly never existed. But we know the Victorian poet Algernon Charles Swinburne had a ‘”lost love”, a woman whom he wanted to marry but never did. We are pretty sure she existed, but not entirely certain who she was.
The possible secret wife of the poet Andrew Marvell, and the possible lovers of the novelist Emily Brontë—a writer about whom we know almost nothing definite—are others. These are intriguing, compelling, puzzles.
US author Karen Harper, writer of the forthcoming novel Shakespeare’s Mistress, says the possibility of there being two ‘Annes’ has long intrigued her.
“Although I write fiction, the more I researched the Bard's life, the more I became convinced that Anne W. could have existed and been "his London wife”. Especially interesting is Shakespeare’s leaving of the Blackfriars Gatehouse to someone not his wife, nor did he want it sold. I think that's more telling than the oft quoted "second best bed" in the will. Also, Shakespeare's "cursed be he that moves my bones" quote on his tombstone, I think, means he did not want to be moved to be buried with Anne H.”
· Karen Harper’s novel will be published by Random House in the UK this autumn.
· Anne Hathaway died some seven years after William Shakespeare.
· Prof Hopkins is the Co-editor of Shakespeare at www.tandf.co.uk/journals/titles/17450918.asp