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Mrs. Shakespeare : muse, mother, matriarch, madonna, whore, writer, woman, wife - recovering a lost life

by Marilynn Loveless

  Thesis/dissertation : Thesis/dissertation : Manuscript   Archival Material

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Description of this provocative dissertation   (2011-11-26)

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What if an extraordinarily gifted woman, of humble birth, were born in Elizabethan England and circumstances conspired to give her rare access to a world of privilege and the opportunity to learn how to read and write; how might such a clever woman have worked the system to her advantage?  The absence of information about her life provides a space for speculation about Anne Hathaway.  The book also examines the relationship between the historical silencing of women’s voices and recent feminist-inspired efforts to discover and, in some cases, re-appropriate the work of lost and forgotten women writers.  This genre-defying study combines elements of historical scholarship, theoretical argument and a fictocritical narrative in order to tell the story of how Anne Hathaway was able to acquire the necessary skills, education and experience to write as she did.

 

Outline/annotated chapters “Mrs. Shakespeare:  Muse, Mother, Matriarch, Madonna, Whore, Writer, Wife – Recovering a Lost Life”:

 

I.          Introduction:  Embracing Contraries—a brief introduction to the Shakespearean authorship question, including an overview of the myriad candidates proposed and an examination of the rhetoric of religion used by scholars engaged in the debate.  The chapter concludes with an invitation to the reader to give fair consideration as they journey through Mrs. Shakespeare’s story in narrative chapters that alternate with critical chapters exploring the historical and theoretical support for her authorship.

 

II.        This Fair Child—The story begins with the first poem written by a three-year-old Anne and goes on to describe her early education and how she came to live in the home of one of the most powerful men in Elizabethan England, Sir William Cecil, who would later become Lord Burghley.

 

III.       Deconstructing Willy—Historical survey of those who have doubted that William Shakespeare wrote the works attributed to him including the reasons for the doubt, along with a discussion about the problem of a so-called, “Objective Reality.”   

 

IV.       From Thine Eyes My Knowledge I Derive—In this chapter we see Anne taking advantage of her access to one of the finest libraries in England, where she meets the 17<sup>th</sup> Earl of Oxford for the first time and eventually seduces him with her superior intellect--while allowing him to believe that it is his own superiority that enables him to seduce her.

 

V.        Revisionary Rereading—An argument for eschewing the traditional method documentary historians have used in their approach to historical evidence, in order to re-discover lost feminine voices in history and reappropriate feminine authorship of canonical texts, which are disproportionately attributed to male writers.  In this study, authorship becomes the text and the focus of a revisionary rereading.

 

VI.       The Lovely April of Her Prime—Made aware of the growing attraction between their royal ward, the 17<sup>th</sup> Earl of Oxford, and Anne Hathaway of Shottery, Lord and Lady Burghley move quickly to ensure that the errant Earl will marry their own daughter instead.

 

VII.     Orgasmic Misunderstandings—Perhaps understanding the long-preferred mode of discourse in the academy, with its history of patriarchal dominance¾and opposition to what has been typically attributed to a feminine mode of discourse—may be explained, in part, using the metaphor of gender-specific experience with single or multiple orgasms and a resulting—if not orgasmic envy—then perhaps an orgasmic misunderstanding informed by a masculine fear or dismissal of the unknowable.

 

VIII.    No Love, My Love--Like his father before him, The 17<sup>th</sup> Earl of Oxford finds himself married bigamously to two women—first to Anne Hathaway in a secret ceremony and later he is forced to also wed Lord Burghley’s daughter, the Lady Anne Cecil.  The Earl’s refusal to consummate his second marriage, forces Lord Burghley to take extreme measures with his recalcitrant son-in-law.

 

IX.       Preference Model For A Second-Best Bed--Were it not for the plays, sonnets and poems, no one would care why Shakespeare left his second best bed to his wife.  However, it is the absence of information about both author and spouse that creates a space for speculation and inference over the tantalizing shards of biographical information that have survived. This chapter surveys how various scholars and writers have read Shakespeare’s final bequest to his wife.

 

X.        My Love Is As A Fever—The Earl of Oxford’s hedonistic life is interrupted when he is placed under house arrest for impregnating the Queen’s lady-in-waiting, Anne Vavasour.   Now secretly pregnant with his child, Anne Hathaway is forced to consider her bleak future.

 

XI.       I Am Stupid—This chapter examines the meaning and use of the word, “Stupidity,” and the way that it has been used to demolish women and minorities, offering the argument that we are all foolish before “The Other.”  At the same time, the chapter looks at how the author of King Lear uses a fool to indict a world controlled by men, where the ethics of care and moral responsibility have given way to rigid rules that offer a falsely objective perspective.

 

XII.     The Marriage Of True Minds—There are several irregularities concerning the marriage of William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway, including the fact that two William Shaxsperes were married to two Annes—Hathaway and Whateley—on the same day in November 1582, provoking much romantic speculation over the years.  This chapter explains what really happened!

 

XIII.    Cats Do Not As A Matter Of Fact Go To Heaven—A survey of numerous historical accounts that insist that women cannot write, including Virginia Woolf’s bishop:  “And I thought of that old gentleman, who is dead now, but was a bishop, I think, who declared that it was impossible for any woman, past, present, or to come, to have the genius of Shakespeare.  He wrote to the papers about it.  He also told a lady who applied to him for information that cats do not as a matter of fact go to heaven, though they have, he added, souls of a sort,”from A Room of One’s Own (48). 

 

XIV.    Every Word Doth Almost Tell My Name—Having endured years of cruelty and heartache in her relationship with the Earl, Anne find’s her new young husband’s kindnesses a surprising change.  When the Earl of Oxford comes for her, she must decide between them.

 

XV.     How Many Feminists Does It Take to Change A Light Bulb?—A study of the research that examines the differences in the way men and women approach and use humor and how this might inform the way in which the author of works attributed to William Shakespeare, uses humor in the plays--particularly when female characters are disguised as men.

 

XVI.    As Black As Hell, As Dark As Night—At the top of their game, the Shakespeare’s are summoned to the Countess of Pembroke’s Wilton estate to perform for the noblemen and ladies gathered there.  Not realizing until it is too late that the Earl of Oxford is one of the guests, Anne and William find themselves in grave danger when faced with the envious earl.  

 

XVII.  At Once Cowardly and Absurd—A survey of historical writings by little-known female Shakespearean literary critics, that offers an intriguing insight into a parallel universe that exists quite apart from the one occupied by male members of the canonical literary criticism club and how the members of that club not only ratified the plays, poems and sonnets, but they also sanctioned the way in which literary criticism of the Shakespeare cannon was to be conducted.

 

XVIII. A Common Grave—As Anne lies dying in her “Second Best Bed,” her eldest daughter Susannah is summoned to read from her mother’s diary of sonnets.  The words bring back bittersweet memories of love, betrayal, and sorrow.

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