Anne Hathaway By Carol Ann Duffy
Background and Narrative Voice
Anne Hathaway was married to William Shakespeare. When Shakespeare died, despite being wealthy, all he left her in his will was his ‘second-best bed’. Many people thought this was very mean of Shakespeare but Duffy sees this differently. A person’s best bed would have been kept for guests to their house. Therefore, Duffy sees this bequest as an affirmation of their love.
Anne Hathaway as a sonnet
Anne Hathaway is a sonnet spoken in the voice of Anne Hathaway. Because Duffy imagines the speaker as one distinct character, we can call this poem a dramatic monologue.
The poem is a sonnet in that it follows the most basic sonnet rule – it has fourteen lines. However, it also breaks a lot of rules. It has no formal rhyme scheme and its meter isn’t always exactly iambic pentameter.
Why does the speaker (Hathaway) choose to narrate her thoughts in the form of a sonnet?
– Perhaps as a tribute to her lost husband who devoted his life to producing sonnets and poetry?
– To represent her love for him? Remember that the sonnet is often associated with the theme of love.
– To help create a realistic speaking voice? The rhythm involved in iambic pentameter is often
said to mimic natural speaking voice.
– Perhaps the fact that it is not a perfect sonnet is a tribute in itself. It is as if Hathaway is saying to her late husband that only he is capable of creating a perfect sonnet.
Summary and Analysis of the Poem
• As it was a favourite of Shakespeare’s, Duffy may be paying homage to the Bard.
• Sonnets are traditionally written as love poems by a man and sent to the focus of his affections. The fact that Duffy is using this format therefore helps us to understand the key theme. That she writes from a female point of view is interesting, as this goes somewhat against tradition, but could be seen as Duffy’s way of empowering and giving voice to a woman who had previously been unheard.
• Duffy creates a busy picture with her long list of images. Coupled with the
use of the word ‘spinning’ there is a sense that their relationship is heady and exhilarating.
• The images used to describe their bed all have romantic connotations
and are features often used in literature, including some of Shakespeare’s plays. Duffy could be suggesting that their relationship was an inventive and creative one.
• The phrase ‘dive for pearls’ is an erotic one and emphasises the very sexual nature of their relationship.
• Duffy compares Shakespeare’s words to shooting stars (bursts of energy from the movement of a meteor, seen occasionally from earth and associated with wishes), suggesting that his talent as a writer was energetic, beautiful and rare. For the persona in the poem, however, it is
much more realistic and down to earth as they become ‘kisses on these
lips’. The image could suggest that she feels that her wishes are being
• The sibilance created by the phrase ‘shooting stars’ reflects the movement of the meteor and is echoed again in ‘kisses’, linking the two together.
• The phrase ‘My lover’ has connotations of romance and excitement as well as reflecting a sense of pride and possession through the use of ‘my’.
• Duffy uses lots of references to literary features (rhyme, assonance, verb, noun) to create an extended metaphor for the persona’s body linking Shakespeare’s skill as a writer to his skills as a lover. The fact that these features are coupled with very tender, gentle words (‘softer’, ‘echo’) increases the impact and creates a very romantic, sensual image.
• The culmination of these images is a metaphor for his physical contact (‘a verb dancing in the centre of a noun’) with her. Once again, this image is sexual as we can imagine what his verb and her noun are.
• The fact that Duffy associates him with action may be significant as it could reflect the stereotypical male role within relationships during the Elizabethan era. Her association with names is perhaps even more significant however as naming has been considered a very powerful tool historically and is a concept reflected in other literary texts. (Jeanette Winterson, for example, explores the issue in her novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.)
• The image is sexual and is used to describe their physical relationship.
• Duffy states that it is a dream, suggesting Hathaway fantasises about being touched by her husband in this skilful way. This also creates the image of Hathaway as a sexually confident woman who explores and dreams of physical contact.
• The fact that he writes her may indicate that she feels that his touch brings her to life, that he has created her through their sexual relationship.
• The image also maintains his prowess as both writer and lover.
• The reference to ‘Romance and drama’ suggests that their relationship is
exciting and adventurous. The connotations of both words evoke feelings of passion.
• Through their encounters in the second-best bed, the two of them are
creating their own place to which to escape.
• At the end of the analogy, Duffy lists three senses emphasising the fact
that their embraces are very sensual, involving taste and smell as well as
the touch mentioned previously.
• The tone is quite abrupt and non-descript – the bed described primarily as ‘the other’, the concept of it being the best added only as a brief,
• The sentence is lacking in description, a harsh contrast to the elaborate,
symbolic images seen previously. Adjectives used (‘dozed’, ‘dribbling’)
have negative connotations and create the image of a dull, laborious
relationship and unskilful lovers.
• The repetition of the soft ‘l’ creates a melodic sound, echoing her feelings towards her husband.
• The fact that she refers to him as ‘living’ despite the fact that she then refers to herself as a ‘widow’, tells us that his memory lives on as she dreams of their passionate time together.
• Using the word ‘laughing’ emphasises the happiness she associates with the memory of her husband.
• Referring to him as ‘my…love’ creates the impression that he has been her only love and will remain so even after his death.
• She tells us how Hathaway retains the images of her husband in her head so instead of picturing him in a coffin, his resting-place is her memory.
• Having presented several very sexual images, Duffy leaves us with the picture of them holding each other suggesting that their relationship involved much more than just sex.
Language and Imagery
Much of the imagery in this poem is sexual and allows us to see the relationship between husband and wife as one that is both spiritually and physically fulfilling. From being a mundane gift to a neglected spouse, the bed in Anne’s eyes is transformed into “a spinning world/of forests, castles, torchlight, clifftops, seas”.
Duffy creates a magical world of romance and intrigue, with subtle nods towards key elements in Shakespeare’s own plays, such as the forest and castle in Macbeth or the sea of The Tempest. She creates a fantasy landscape where Shakespeare’s writing and his love for Anne are intertwined.
Shakespeare’s words become “shooting stars which fell to earth as kisses/on these lips”. His words are stars up in the sky that everyone can see and admire, but his poetry is also something intimate that only Anne can experience and fully comprehend. For her, his works are something physical that she can touch, an experience of Shakespeare that nobody else can have.
Duffy further develops this notion by using the language of poetry to describe the lovemaking between Anne and Shakespeare. Sex and poetry are interwoven as his touch becomes “a verb dancing in the centre of a noun”. Anne imagines she is a product of her husband’s imagination, written into existence through their passionate
exchanges, whilst the second-best bed functions as “a page beneath his writer’s hands”. She is his ultimate muse, not just inspiring him to produce great works but actually becoming them. Rather than living in an atmosphere of hostility, the couple lives in a world of “romance and drama”, brought into being through their physical and emotional love for each other.
It was customary in Shakespeare’s time to give up the best bed in the house for guests. Anne imagines the guests in the next room, “dribbling their prose”, whilst herself and her husband create poetry and drama. Anne and Shakespeare inhabit a world full of senses, “played by touch, by scent, by taste”, whilst all the guests are able to do is dribble. The poem concludes with Anne claiming that all her memories of her husband are stored “in the casket of my widow’s head”. He is preserved not in a coffin or urn, not even in his writing, but in the thoughts inside Anne’s head, implying that the real William Shakespeare was a man that only his wife could ever truly know.
The poem is written in the form of a sonnet. Shakespeare’s most famous poems about love were written in this form, and Duffy’s choice here suggests that this poem is both a homage to Shakespeare’s romantic sonnet and at the same time a re-examining of the poet and playwright from a different angle. Whilst she keeps the rough outline of the sonnet, Duffy does not use the traditional rhyme scheme that all Shakespearian sonnets follow; ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. She keeps the rhyming couplet at the end, but otherwise, her lines are only loosely joined together through assonance, for example, “world” and “words”. The lines are softly and subtly joined together as if to echo the physical relationship between Anne and Shakespeare. Duffy’s choice to subvert the form of the sonnet emphasises that these are the words of his wife and represent her own insight into her husband, an insight that cannot be shared or replicated by anyone else.
The poem is rich in metaphors, such as the “spinning world” of the bed or the “lover’s words” as “shooting stars”. The metaphors allow the world of Shakespeare’s poetry to intertwine with the physical reality of his marriage to Anne. Enjambement is used to allow the lines to flow into each other, again implying the deep and intricate connection that existed between Anne and Shakespeare. The sibilance in lines such as “shooting stars which fell to earth as kisses”, allow Duffy to evoke the sense of Shakespeare’s words sweeping across the sky in an arc that begins and ends with Anne. The alliteration in “living laughing love” allows the words to dance across the page, suggesting the effervescence of the poetic relationship between the pair and is suitably juxtaposed with the dull “dribbling” of the prose of the guests. The poem contains many verbs such as “dancing”, “dive”, “dozed” and “dribbling”. The verbs help to suggest that the couple’s relationship is an active and passionate one.
This is a poem about love and one that could usefully be compared to Shakespeare’s own sonnets on the topic, in particular Sonnet 130, where he compares his mistress to the standards normally required of women in poetry and concludes that even though she is not the divine goddess other poets write about, to him she is just as beautiful in spite of, or maybe even because of, her human imperfections. “Anne Hathaway” is about a marriage where the couple creates their own romance, one that does not involve conforming to other people’s expectations. The poem allows the reader an insight into a relationship of mutual love and respect, where the couple creates a retreat from the rest of the world through poetry, a world which is symbolised by the second-best bed. The power of literature and the imagination is hence a central idea in the poem. The poem creates significance around the bed which can only be truly understood by the couple themselves. The poem is hence in one sense about reinventing material objects.
Another theme that runs through the poem is Anne’s loss of her husband and her genuine grief. A reader might perhaps expect Anne Hathaway to be angry and resentful, permanently overshadowed and sidelined by her husband, but Duffy’s Anne is only full of admiration and love for her husband, cherishing her precious memories that nobody else can share. Although Duffy gives Anne a voice, she actually subverts the reader’s expectations through the emotions expressed by the character. This is in contrast to another poem by Carol Ann Duffy, “Havisham”, where Miss Havisham from Great Expectations remains bitter and vengeful towards the lover who jilted her.
There is no such anger or resentment in this poem, only a widow grieving a beloved husband. “Anne Hathaway” allows us a different perspective of Shakespeare, a man sometimes represented as a philandering husband who put his writing above all else. We instead perceive him as a devoted husband, who saw writing not as something separate to marriage, but as something deeply embedded within it. Therefore another key theme in the poem is the true identity of William Shakespeare, a man about whom scholars still know surprisingly little. By presenting this poem in the voice of Anne Hathaway, Duffy wants us to appreciate that Anne was a central part of his life, as well as a passionate, creative and articulate woman in her own right.
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