Parallel Between Romeo & Juliet & The Marriage Of Shakespeare & Hathaway
Romeo and Juliet is a classic known the world over. It has been translated hundreds of times throughout hundreds of years because the universal themes of love and loss resonate with everybody. Because love is such a personal thing one cannot help but look to Shakespeare’s private life for clues. Can looking at Shakespeare’s own romantic life better help us understand the story that has been read millions of times? I will have you glimpse into the often scandalous inner life of Shakespeare and prove that his private life cannot substantially help us better understanding Romeo and Juliet without making very large assumptions. To begin with his wife would be an obvious choice which is exactly why we’re going to do it. William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway were married in 1582 when she was already pregnant with their first child.
Katherine Duncan-Jones argues that the main reason for their marriage was not love, but the pregnancy. She also believes that the relationship was a mere ‘dalliance’ that arose from boredom and sexual curiosity. This kind of a union would hardly qualify as the same kind of earth shattering, ground breaking love that Romeo and Juliet experienced. Stephen Greenblatt agrees with Duncan-Jones and is even more severe in his position saying that “Shakespeare was an artist trapped in a loveless marriage, miserably yoked to a woman who cannot share his art, from whom he must eventually escape to find love, success, and sexual satisfaction”. A characteristic of their relationship was that Hathaway was eight years Shakespeare’s senior and this was a bit unusual for the time.
Park Honan discusses this at great length in his biography, but, unlike Duncan-Jones, believes that they were “evidently in love”. Regardless of that, age is not included as an important theme in the play and if it is, it is only in the peripheral narrative of youthful folly. William being younger than his wife is only coincidental to any thread of teenage lunacy on the part of Romeo and Juliet. In order to become as successful as he did, Shakespeare had to move London which meant leaving Hathaway and his kids behind in Stratford-upon-Avon. If Duncan-Jones and Greenblatt are to be believed than he would have had no problem leaving her, but unless he was a completely terrible person he would have at least missed his kids, if not his wife. If Honan is to be believed than he would have missed his entire family, but a long distance relationship is barely equivalent to the grief and loss felt by many of the characters (Bevington 108).
By examining his wife, we are taking his sexuality for granted, but it is worth putting into question. Joseph Pequigney asserts that a certain set of sonnets points to Shakespeare’s homosexual tendencies. These sonnets describe a profoundly loving relationship between the speaker of the sonnets and another man. But how can we know for sure this is how Shakespeare felt and that it wasn’t just another fanciful tale he created for narrative purposes. In his other works he depicts both homosexual relationships like that of Antonio and Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice and obviously many heterosexual relationships like that of our very own Romeo and Juliet. If you were to assume Shakespeare was gay based on the sonnets and assume he was the speaker you could make a very thin connection between the relationships in the sonnets and how that would definitely be a forbidden romance because of the time period and the forbidden love between our protagonists.
Whether you believe Hathaway and Shakespeare were in a loving relationship or not you couldn’t say with much authority that she had any kind of impact on her husband’s choice to write the play or our ability to interpret it. A clearer line can be drawn from his sexuality to the play but it would require some grand leaps and is still far from definitive or conclusive. I hope you can see from this little glimpse of Shakespeare’s personal life that we need to look for outside reasons when it comes to understanding Romeo and Juliet.
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