Shakespeare in love

by Rijuta Dey
24 January 2010
Originally published in The Hindu ( short url: )

No sooner met but they looked;
No sooner looked but they loved;
No sooner loved but they sighed;
No sooner sighed but they asked one another the reason;
No sooner knew the reason but they sought the remedy;
And in these degrees have they made a pair of stairs to marriage...

William Shakespeare
As You Like It

Anne Hathaway's CottageThese words have been immortalised in literary history, and a visit to Anne Hathaway’s cottage can explain just what might have fired the Bard’s imagination. Famed as the family house of William Shakespeare’s wife, this quaint, thatched cottage attracts visitors all-year round.

Stratford-upon-Avon and Anne Hathaway’s cottage are the two cornerstones for anyone on a literary pilgrimage, as I was. Stratford-upon-Avon impressed me as having a Disney-esque quality, complete with vendors brandishing their wares under Shakespeare’s legacy (for example-As You Like It Cafe, Iago's Treasures).

This cottage, on the other hand, is a well-preserved memorabilia from the olde English days gone by. The term ‘cottage’ hardly does justice to the Hathaway family home, which, by the standards of the day, was a substantial residence of a wealthy farmer.


‘Literary’ trees

Located in Shottery, a hamlet within the parish of Stratford, the property includes a pretty orchard and the Shakespeare Tree garden. The garden is special as it grows all the plants that have been mentioned in his writings. It was breezy and mellow the day we visited the property, though people around us were exclaiming about the ‘hot’ weather.

A charming cobbled pathway led to the cottage, where we met our guide Angus, a fellow boisterous enough to put any Shakespearean court jester to shame. Angus took us around the low-ceilinged rooms, taking special pains to point out a ‘love seat’.

It wasn’t difficult to imagine Shakespeare going down upon his knees to propose marriage to Anne Hathaway seated on that very seat. The cottage is frozen in time and the various artefacts recreate 16th Century life quite accurately. Among the pots, pans, plates, fireplace, shelves, etc, the Hathaway Bed occupies pride of place.

The pretty four-poster bed from Anne’s time looks small, though it was sheer luxury in the days of yore. The canopy existed for more than just decorative purposes; those days, houses had little or no roofing — the canopy prevented insects from dropping on the bed.

Angus explained the origin of the idiom, ‘sleep tight’. Before the advent of modern mattresses, ropes were spread across the bed frame in a criss-cross pattern to form a sleeping platform. The ropes would sag with time and weight and had to be tightened periodically.

Likewise, ‘upper crust’ comes from the practice of serving the lord of the house the uppermost layer of freshly baked bread, as the base layer would be hard and coated with soot.

The William Shakespeare-Anne Hathaway marriage was nothing less than a scandal. The aspiring playwright was under-age (he was 17 or 18) and a very wealthy Anne was eight years his senior, and already in the family way. That made her a ‘disgraceful’ 26-year-old.

The adjoining orchard was dotted with heavily-laden apple trees. I was transported to another era, sipping apple cider and eating scrummy apple scones sitting beneath an apple tree.

Content and happy, I watched another visitor rest on the thick carpet of green grass and read out Shakespearean love sonnets to his companion. William would have surely approved.


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