Synopses & Reviews
Little is known about Ann Hathaway, the wife of England's greatest playwright; a great deal, none of it complimentary, has been assumed. The omission of her name from Shakespeare's will has been interpreted as evidence that she was nothing more than an unfortunate mistake from which Shakespeare did well to distance himself.
While Shakespeare is above all the poet of marriage—repeatedly in his plays, constant wives redeem unjust and deluded husbands—scholars persist in positing the worst about the writer's own spouse. In Shakespeare's Wife, Germaine Greer boldly breaks new ground, combining literary-historical techniques with documentary evidence about life in Stratford, to reset the story of Shakespeare's marriage in its social context. With deep insight and intelligence, she offers daring and thoughtful new theories about the farmer's daughter who married England's greatest poet, painting a vivid portrait of a remarkable woman.
A passionate and perceptive work of first-rate scholarship that reclaims this maligned figure from generations of scholarly neglect and misogyny, Shakespeare's Wife poses bold questions and opens new fields of investigation and research.
"Signature Reviewed by Marilyn FrenchGiven the hysterical responses of some British critics to Germaine Greer's new book about Ann Hathaway, one expects wild-eyed surmises about that woman's life. Instead, Greer offers a richly textured account of the lives of ordinary women in Stratford and similar towns in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. We know very little about Shakespeare's life, and even less about his wife's, but this has not deterred generations of critics from inventing a narrative for them. In general, they aver that Ann, being eight years older than Shakespeare, was an unattractive woman who seduced and trapped him in an unwanted marriage, from which he escaped as soon as possible. His abandonment of his wife and three children supposedly without support is generally regarded as their just desserts, as is his will, leaving her with nothing but his second-best bed. Greer questions these critical judgments, but her real interest lies in tracing how the Shakespeare family could have survived. She meticulously traces the members of the Shakespeare and Hathaway families, their acquaintances, relatives of their acquaintances and notable people in Stratford. She reminds us of facts other critics have ignored: for instance, in the late 15th century, almost half the children died in their early years, often from malnutrition. Ann Shakespeare's children survived the two girls to adulthood, and the boy, Hamnet, until 11 so she must have been able to feed them. Greer shows that no one else would have been likely to step in to help Ann feed her family: she would have had to do it herself. Given a list of Ann's possessions at one point in her life, Greer theorizes she was a maltster: many women made decent livings by making ale. Greer's details of how ordinary people lived in this period are extremely interesting the contents of their houses, the value of their clothes, the number of rooms they occupied. These facts are also quite moving because death was omnipresent. Her theory about Shakespeare's relation with his wife is original and persuasive: she imagines there was real love between them, at least at some point. She cites the desire depicted in 'Venus and Adonis' (about an older woman and a younger man) and suggests that some of the sonnets were written to Ann. She offers theories and not, she is careful to state, a definitive narrative. The theory that seems most to have inflamed British critics is the idea that Ann may have paid to have Shakespeare's plays printed after his death. Since many wives do publish their husbands' work after their death, I'm not sure why this is considered so heretical, but Greer knew it would be. Marilyn French is a novelist and the author of Shakespeare's Division of Experience. The first two volumes of her four-volume history of women, From Eve to Dawn, will be published in March by the Feminist Press" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
“A riveting read…Not only Greers scholarship but her sympathy and her imagination are fully engaged.” Victoria Glendinning
“A richly textured account…Greers theory about Shakespeares relation with his wife is original and persuasive…She reminds us of facts other critics have ignored.” Marilyn French, Publishers Weekly (Boxed Signature Review)
“Lively, rigorous, fiercely imagined…an ingenious new book…” Katie Roiphe, New York Times Book Review
“Fascinating…Greer meticulously exposes the sexist biases underlying depictions of Ann…and re-creates in lavish detail the material realities of womens lives in 16th century England.” Entertainment Weekly
“Intriguing . . . A portrait of life in Stratford circa 1600 on almost every level and in every aspect.” Booklist
"Engrossing....Ms. Bordo offers a fascinating discussion. . . . a strangely tasty book."
and#8212;Theand#160;New York Times "Bordoand#8217;s sharp reading of Boleyniana and her clear affection for this proud, unusual woman make this an entertaining, provocative read."
and#8212;The Boston Globe "A fascinating and accessible study of Anne Boleyn's history and popular myth."
and#8212;Shelf Awareness "A feast of feminism and historyand#8230;fascinates readers, and informs and entertains along the way."
and#8212;Roanoke Times "Delightfully cheeky, solidly researchedand#8230;[Bordo] uses her good sense and academic training to shrewdly chip away at historical commentary, which has hardened speculation into supposed "facts."
and#8212;The Daily Beast "Engrossingand#8230;blending biography, cultural history and literary analysis with a creative writerand#8217;s knack for narrative and detail."
and#8212;Louisville Leo Weekly "Rivettingand#8230;Bordoand#8217;s eloquent study not only recovers Anne Boleyn for our times but also demonstrates the ways in which legends grow out of the faintest wisps of historical fact, and develop into tangled webs of fact and fiction that become known as the truth. "
"Bordoand#8217;s skills are sharp as ever as she compares narratives from history and popular culture, revealing the bits of truth we know to be for certain about one of history's most elusive characters."
and#8212;Bitch Media and#12288; "The perfect book for anyone interested in Anne Boleyn. Highly readable, interesting and thought provoking."
and#8212;The Anne Boleyn Files "Susan Bordo'sand#12288;Boleynand#12288;did the impossible - it made me excited to read about the Tudors again while reminding me to approach history and historical fiction with curiosity and a questioning mind."
and#8212;Historical Fiction Notebook "The University of Kentucky humanities chair does a superb job of separating fact from fiction in contemporary accounts of Boleynand#8217;s life, before deftly deconstructing the myriad and contradictory portraits of her that have arisen in the centuries since her death. . . . The young queen has been the source of fascination for nearly half a millennium, and her legacy continues; this engaging portrait culminates with an intriguing exploration of Boleynand#8217;s recent reemergence in pop culture." and#8212;Publishers Weekly "A great read for Boleyn fans and fanatics alike"
and#8212;Kirkus Reviews "Susan Bordo astutely re-examines Anneand#8217;s life and death anew and peels away the layers of untruth and myth that have accumulated since. The Creation of Anne Boleyn is a refreshing, iconoclastic and moving look at one of historyand#8217;s most intriguing women. It is rare to find a book that rouses one to scholarly glee, feminist indignation and empathetic tears, but this is such a book."
and#8212;Suzannah Lipscomb, author of 1536: The Year that Changed Henry VIII "If you think you know who Anne Boleyn was, think again. In this rigorously argued yet deliciously readable book, Susan Bordo bursts through the dead weight of cultural stereotypes and historical clichand#233;s to disentangle the fictions that we have created from the fascinating, elusive woman that Henry VIII triedand#8212;unsuccessfullyand#8212;to erase from historical memory. This is a book that has long been needed to set the record straight, and Bordo knocked it out of the park. Brava!"
and#8212;Robin Maxwell, national bestselling author of Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn and Mademoiselle Boleyn and#8220;By turns sassy and serious, playful and profound, Susan Bordo cuts through the layers of legend, fantasy, and untruth that history and culture have attached to Anne Boleyn, while proving that the facts about that iconic queen are every bit as intriguing as the fictions.and#8221;
and#8212; Caroline Weber, author of Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution
"In The Creation of Anne Boleyn, we watch Anne Boleyn the woman transform into Anne Boleyn the legendand#8212;a fascinating journey. Susan Bordo covers Anne's historical footprints and her afterlife in art, fiction, poetry, theater and cinema, each change reflecting the concerns of a different era. Meticulous, thoughtful, persuasiveand#8212;and fun."
and#8212;Margaret George, author of The Autobiography of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I
A Review From Open Letters Monthly:
"'Why is Anne Boleyn so fascinating?' Susan Bordo asks at the beginning of her richly engrossing new book The Creation of Anne Boleyn. 'Maybe we donand#8217;t have to go any further than the obvious. The story of her rise and fall is as elementally satisfying and#8211; and scriptwise, not very different from and#8211; a Lifetime movie: a long-suffering, postmenopausal wife; an unfaithful husband and a clandestine affair with a younger, sexier woman; a moment of glory for the mistress; then lust turned into loathing, plotting, and murder as the cycle comes full circle.' The invocation of the syrupy American cable network Lifetime is both a neat stroke and a warning flag and#8211; readers traumatized by flippant pseudo-history grow hyper-sensitive to such showbiz namedropping, and Bordoand#8217;s credentials as a feminist scholar can, in such circumstances, increase the fear of grating anachronisms (the past was a different country, a wise man once said, hardly needing to add, "They called and#8216;applesand#8217; and#8216;orangesand#8217; there"). Nightmare visions of 'Anne the Party Grrrl' loom, hardly alleviated by Bordoand#8217;s puckish choice of section titles ('In Love (Or Something Like It),' 'A Perfect Storm,' etc.).
But such worries are dispelled early on in The Creation of Anne Boleyn and never return. Bordo spends the first part of her book, 'Queen, Interrupted,' recounting much of what we know about the actual history of Anneand#8217;s rise, reign, and ruin. Itand#8217;s nimbly done, managing the small miracle of not feeling redundant despite the staggering number of times the story has been told before. But itand#8217;s the bookand#8217;s second part, 'Recipes for 'Anne Boleyn',' and its third part, 'An Anne For All Seasons,' that gaily raise this book to the status of something quite memorable; itand#8217;s in these parts that Bordo gets at the real heart of her subject and#8211; not Anne Boleyn, but rather the infinite variety of cultural reconstructions of Anne.
Her enthusiasm is infectious, and her range is impressive, covering a dozen major novels and#8211; from Francis Hackettand#8217;s 1939 novel Queen Anne Boleyn to Margaret Campbell Barnesand#8217; Brief Gaudy Hour (1949), Norah Loftsand#8217; The Concubine (1963), and more modern bestsellers like Phlippa Gregoryand#8217;s The Other Boleyn Girl and Hilary Manteland#8217;s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies (partisans may wish sheand#8217;d spared a mention for Suzannah Dunnand#8217;s sly and extremely impressive 2005 novel The Queen of Subtleties) and#8211; and all the major film and stage interpretations of Anneand#8217;s tempestuous relationship with Henry VIII, including the Charles Laughton camp-fest The Private Life of Henry VIII, the BBC mini-series The Six Wives of Henry VIII, the great 1969 movie Anne of the Thousand Days, and of course Showtimeand#8217;s vamping, moronic The Tudors. Itand#8217;s a shrewd strategy: now that Bordo has supplied her readers with the history, she can thrill and provoke them by citing the countless ways all these adaptations get the history wrong:
Anne of the Thousand Days, in addition to numerous other alterations of history, has that invented and#8211; yet somehow perfect and#8211; scene in the Tower between Anne and Henry. The Private Life of Henry VIII turns Anne of Cleves into a wisecracking cardsharp who is physically disgusted by Henry rather than (as history tells it) the other way around. A Man for All Seasons neglects to mention that Thomas More, besides being a witty intellectual, also burned quite a few heretics and was apparently not quite the devoted husband he appeared to be. The BBC production of The Six Wives of Henry VIII barely notes that there was a conflict of authority between Henry and the Church, beyond the issue of the divorce; its actually much more the wife-centered, 'feminized' history that [David] Starkey berates than [Showtime's] The Tudors, which spends a lot of time on the more 'masculine' (and for Starkey, historically central) end of things: diplomatic skirmishes, wars, and court politics.
Half the fun of these segments of the book will be arguing with them. For instance, the claim that thereand#8217;s no dramatization of the conflict between king and Church in The Six Wives of Henry VIII is starkly wrong and#8211; indeed, itand#8217;s in the Jane Seymour episode of the series that its star Keith Michell gives one of his most passionate performances, on precisely the subject of Henryand#8217;s struggles with Rome. Likewise the sustained, extremely intelligent attention Bordo lavishes on The Tudors, and especially petite, slope-mouthed Natalie Dormer, whose Anne Boleyn is about as sexually alluring as a distracted basset hound: the reader might fundamentally disagree with the elevation of such an unworthy subject (so to speak), but the discussion itself is too interesting to forego (when Bordo interviews Genevieve Bujold, who shot to fame in Anne of the Thousand Days, the actress simply says 'Anne is mine').
Bordo charts the changes in Anneand#8217;s portrayal over the years, drawing up handy lists of historical errors, sparing nobody, not even Mantel, whose books come in for some sustained nit-picking (although nothing on the order of the full-dress deconstruction Gregory gets)(and yet itand#8217;s all done with such wonderful candor that it wouldnand#8217;t be surprising to learn the novelists themselves enjoyed the critiques). The focus of the book in these parts shimmers all over the fictional landscape, always with an acute eye:
The Tudors has replaced Charles Laughtonand#8217;s blustering, chicken-chomping buffoon with Jonathan Rhys Meyerand#8217;s lean, athletic bad boy. Wolf Hall exposes Thomas More as coldly, viciously pious and turns the ruthless, calculating Cromwell we know from depictions of his role in Anne Boleynand#8217;s death into a true and#8220;man for all seasonsand#8221;: warm, loyal, and opportunistic only because his survival requires it.
The Creation of Anne Boleyn creates in its readers the deep hunger for more of the same; itand#8217;ll be a cold-hearted reader indeed who doesnand#8217;t finish the book wishing Bordo would have expanded it into a big fat study of the history and fiction of all the wives and#8211; or better yet, of Anneand#8217;s own daughter, Queen Elizabeth I. But our author is something of an intellectual dynamo, and unlike poor Anne, sheand#8217;s got plenty of options."
A ground-breaking retelling and reclaiming of Anne Boleynand#8217;s life and legacy from a preeminentand#160;cultural thinker puts old questions to rest andand#160;raises some surprising new ones.
Part biography, part cultural history, The Creation of Anne Boleyn
is a fascinating reconstruction of Anneand#8217;s life and an illuminating look at her afterlife in the popular imagination. Why is Anne so compelling? Why has she inspired such extreme reactions? What did she really look like? Was she the flaxen-haired martyr of Romantic paintings or the raven-haired seductress of twenty-first-century portrayals? (Answer: neither.) And perhaps the most provocative questions concern Anneand#8217;s death more than her life. How could Henry order the execution of a once beloved wife? Drawing on scholarship and critical analysis, Bordo probes the complexities of one of historyand#8217;s most infamous relationships.
Bordo also shows how generations of polemicists, biographers, novelists, and filmmakers imagined and re-imagined Anne: whore, martyr, cautionary tale, proto and#8220;mean girl,and#8221; feminist icon, and everything in between. In this lively book, Bordo steps off the well-trodden paths of Tudoriana to expertly tease out the human being behind the competing mythologies.
About the Author
Germaine Greer—an Australian-born writer, broadcaster, and retired academic—is widely regarded as one of the most significant feminist voices of our time. Greer's ideas have created controversy ever since The Female Eunuch
became an international bestseller in 1970, turning her into a household name overnight and bringing her both adulation and criticism.
Greer received her PhD from the University of Cambridge in 1967 with a thesis on Shakespeare's early comedies, and she has taught at universities in Australia, Britain, and the United States. In 1986 she was invited to contribute to Oxford University Press's prestigious Past Masters volume on Shakespeare. In 1989 she set up her own publishing imprint, Stump Cross Books, and went on to publish scholarly editions of Katherine Philips, Anne Wharton, and Anne Finch, Countess of Winchelsea. She lives in northwest Essex with two dogs, thirteen geese, and a fluctuating number of doves.
An Interview with Germaine Greer
1. Other biographers of Shakespeare claim that Ann was "a homely wench" who may have set out to catch herself a much younger husband by seducing him.
GG: It wasn't Ann's but rather Will's age at marriage that would have raised eyebrows in Elizabethan England, where 25 was the conventional and most common age for young men to marry. Will was 18 (Ann was 26).
2. Other Shakespeare biographers claim that Ann and Will had a shotgun marriage, because Ann was pregnant at the time.
GG: Evidence from the local archives shows that it was not at all unusual for Elizabethan brides to be a few months pregnant at the time of their marriage ceremony. It's only in our own time that there remains some shame attached to this condition.
3. Other Shakespeare biographers claim that Ann and her children went to live with Shakespeare's parents when he moved to London.
GG: The local census shows that it is extremely rare to find 3 generations of a family under one roof in Elizabethan times.
4. Other Shakespeare biographers claim that Shakespeare, in purchasing New Place in 1597, provided Ann and the children with a dream house.
GG: The house was more likely in disrepair and a wreck of a building. It was Ann who restored it and made it habitable.
5. Other Shakespeare biographers claim that Ann had no life in Stratford while Shakespeare wrote plays and sonnets and dallied with dark ladies and young men in London.
GG: Ann ran a malt business, and probably brewed ale and raised pigs. She raised silkworms, started a haberdashery and knitting business, and was an industrious, resilient, and unusually capable woman. She also had a wide circle of friends, acquaintances, and business contacts.
6. Other Shakespeare biographers claim that Shakespeare abandoned his family, leaving them destitute and helpless.
GG: It was common for men in Elizabethan England to move to where the work was, often away from their families. Shakespeare's move to London should be seen in that light. Ann supported the family and managed quite well without him.
7. Other Shakespeare biographers maintain that Ann was illiterate and could neither read nor write.
GG: Given Ann's strongly Protestant family, it is very likely that she had been taught to read and write. Shakespeare himself may have taught her to write. In any case, she was literate.
8. Other Shakespeare biographers contend that Ann was an invisible woman, and Shakespeare felt her to be a burden. They claim she had nothing to do with his work, and never inspired any of it. They also contend that Shakespeare's fellow players published the First Folio of 1623.
GG: Ann's partnership with Shakespeare played an important part in his life and works. Sonnet 145 was written by Shakespeare for his wife. Why should not others, too, have been addressed to her? At least half a dozen other sonnets may have been addressed to Ann as well, including Sonnet 110. It is also suggested that Ann deserves credit for seeing Shakespeare's Sonnets into print in 1609. Shakespeare's Wife also argues that it was Ann who published the First Folio of 1623, not Shakespeare's fellow players.
Germaine Greer marshals a convincing body of evidence for her assertions in Shakespeare's Wife: local archives that provide a rich social context for the lives of men and women like Ann Hathaway and William Shakespeare who grew up, worked, married, had children, bought homes, grew old and died in Warwickshire in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Greer is the first literary scholar to do this kind of historical research.