Monday, February 8, 2010

Laid-Back Shakespeare #2

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.


willow said...

It IS a great scene. I particularly like Emma Thompson's performance in Kenneth Branagh's version.

Jeanne said...

In 1995, I got a chance to visit England, and of course went to Stratford to see the Bard's home and even caught a staging of Romeo and Juliet.

Great story! Thanks for sharing.

French Fancy said...

and it's also just a little bit naughty :)

Berowne said...

willow: "It IS a great scene."

Hurrah for the nick; hurrah for the bilbow. :-)

Berowne said...

Jeanne: "Great story! Thanks for sharing."

My thanks to you, Jeanne.

Everyday Goddess said...

I wonder what would have happened if the entire family had lived with Will.

Maybe he would have given up his writing with all the distractions? Egads!

Berowne said...

E. Goddess: "I wonder what would have happened if the entire family had lived with Will."

Well, if it was a forced marriage, and it certainly seems to have been, it could not have been a happy household for either man or wife.

Berowne said...

French FancyL "And it's also just a little bit naughty."

Right -- except that it's a lot more than a little bit. The French princess is shocked at some of the English words she's supposed to learn; they sound to her like several of the most obscene words of the French language. One wonders how teachers of the Victorian era, to whom Shakespeare was almost a kind of saint, managed to explain such words to their classes.

lakeviewer said...

Ah,a bit of this, a bit of that, and our man Will's imbrogli keep coming.

Jeanie said...

Sometimes the back story is the best story. I'm loving this information you are sharing.

Anonymous said...

Your post has made me miss home!!

Derrick said...

Fascinating tidbit. No doubt Will didn't want Anne and the kids cramping his style!

Berowne said...

lakeviewer: "...our man Will's imbrogli keep coming."

Yes. Pretty much like ours. :-)

Berowne said...

Jeanie: "I'm loving this information you are sharing."

And I'm loving the comments I'm getting.

Berowne said...

Derrick: "Fascinating tidbit. No doubt Will didn't want Anne and the kids cramping his style!"

That could have been part of it.

Berowne said...

Eternally Distracted: "Your post has made me miss home!!"

Thanks for your comment, Eternally.

Sandy said...

Great post! I really enjoyed the story. I visited Stratford many years ago as a teenager and I thought it was so cool to be in Shakepeare's house but it wasn't until years later that I really understood his significance.

I love your blog. So glad I found it.

Berowne said...

Sandy: "I love your blog. So glad I found it."

What a great comment -- thanks.

By the way, Sandy:
I don't feel dull, I don't feel hollow.
I found myself in your "Blogs I Follow." :-)

Shakey said...

Another great blog. also love the comments. I recently discovered that Hinckley, Leicestershire,where I now live, gets a mention in Henry IV Part II. 'and Sir,do you mean to stop any of William's wages,about the sack he lost the other day at Hinckley fair?'

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