Here’s today’s serving of Shakespeare trivia.
There are a number of reasons why I’m forced to believe that the marriage of Will Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway was not a happy one. First off, of course, is that it was of the shotgun variety.
But there’s this, too. Usually, in the sixteenth century, when people from the provinces traveled to London and were successful in an art or profession, it was normal that they brought their family to the Big City so they all could live together.
Shakespeare never did. The above is his home, and he did travel home from time to time – it was a two-day trip – but Anne and the children stayed in Stratford. Will lived in a variety of lodgings in or around London.
Yes, he lived in London, but he didn’t write much about the city; he usually wrote about the countryside, especially about places like towns in Warwickshire where he was born and where he had been raised.
One of the most interesting examples of his life as a boarder was when he lived with a French family named Mountjoy.
The religious wars were then in full swing: the Catholics annihilated Protestants on the Continent and the English Protestants, just to show they could give as good as they got, slaughtered Catholics in England. Amazing battles, when you think of it. They were all Christians, they all believed in the same God and they were all religious, but some worshipped one way, some another, and that was all that was needed to inspire them to massacre each other.
So there were a lot of Huguenots – i.e., French Protestant refugees – in London in Shakespeare’s day.
It seems that Our Will lived with the Protestant Mountjoys like one of the family. This led to an interesting legal brouhaha in which he was involved. It gives us a fascinating glimpse into his private life in London.
The businessman Mountjoy had an apprentice named Stephen Belott, who married Mountjoy’s daughter, and it was Shakespeare who sort of arranged the marriage. So far so good.
But Belott later claimed that he never received the dowry that had been promised: he said he was supposed to get 60 pounds and also to receive an inheritance of 200 pounds on Mountjoy’s death.
What is of interest to us is that Belott claimed that all this had been told to him by William Shakespeare when he lived there.
So Will was summoned to court. He admitted he had encouraged the boy to marry the girl because Mountjoy had asked him to. (One gets the feeling as he testifies that he doesn’t want to get overly mixed up in this; he’d rather not take sides too strongly one way or another.) He told the court he didn’t remember the amount of the dowry and had never heard of the inheritance.
The court’s legal decision: both Mountjoy and Belott were criticized, but Belott was awarded a token payment.
As far as history can tell us, Mountjoy never paid it. :-)
Shakespeare knew French; it’s possible he learned a lot of it while boarding with the Mountjoy family. He uses a lot of French in the plays and there’s a wonderful scene in “Henry V” – read it if you haven’t already read it – where the French Princess, knowing she’s destined to become Mrs. Henry V, has an English lesson with her lady-in-waiting. She tries hard to learn the English words of her lesson and the clever bit is that, as she triumphantly announces that she finally knows them all, she manages to get them all a little wrong.
It’s a great scene.
1 year ago