Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the The University of Warwick's online course, Shakespeare and his World. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds Hello, learners. And welcome to Shakespeare and His World. This is our first summary video for week one. I’m Jennifer Reid, and I am the mentor for Shakespeare and His World. So you might have seen me lurking on the comment board this week. Hi. I’m Jonathan. I think you know me by now. Some of you learners are taking this course for maybe the second time, perhaps even the third time. The first couple of times we ran it, we actually did a live Skype interview for the summary at the end of each week. But there were a few technical problems with that and time problems. So from now on, you’ll find that we’ve been gathering a cross section of comments.

Skip to 0 minutes and 48 seconds But this is actually a pre-record. We are not live. So in week one, we’ve been looking at the relationship between William and Anne. And it’s an interesting relationship, I think, for learners, because it goes against all the preconceptions about relationships at the time. Anne was older than William. And she was pregnant when they got married. How typical was it? Or how unusual was this? This was genuinely unusual. I remember working with one of the local historians. I had worked through the archives at the Birthplace Trust. And she reckoned that, in the 50 years of Shakespeare’s lifetime, there were only three recorded examples of a man under the age of 20 getting married.

Skip to 1 minute and 33 seconds And Shakespeare was the only one who married an older woman. Being pregnant at the time of marriage wasn’t quite so unusual. And indeed, some of the customs around marriage were quite interestingly different from ours, because a betrothal before a witness was regarded as legally binding. So there’s a sense, once you’re betrothed, you might then get pregnant, since the child wouldn’t be considered illegitimate. So I think that the pregnancy wasn’t unusual, but the fact of Shakespeare being so young certainly was. And of course, this, as we said in the films, has led to a lot of speculation about was it a shotgun wedding. My view of it is that we know that Anne Hathaway’s family were quite well-to-do yeoman farmers.

Skip to 2 minutes and 30 seconds And it was a good marriage from the point of view of the Shakespeare family, a good connection. There might well have been a financial incentive behind it. But that’s not to say they weren’t in love. Do we know anything about how they might have met or what their courtship would have been like? Well, we know something about the customs of courtship at the time. Of course, women were quite often chaperoned at the time. At the same time, there would’ve been a lot of possibilities, since you were living out in the countryside, for rural walks and so on. But it is all speculation. We don’t actually have the diaries or the love letters, much as we’d like to have them.

Skip to 3 minutes and 11 seconds And of course, how happy or unhappy the marriage was, again, very hard to work that out. The fact is, they had the three children. They did remain married. But Shakespeare spent much of his working life in London. On the other hand, he did come back to Stratford at the end. He didn’t, in any sense, desert Anne Hathaway. And then, of course, at the end, she was there. He left her the second best bed. Who knows what that means. It’s good to speculate, though. So this week, we’ve been looking at “Venus and Adonis”, letting people in gently, rather than having a feature play this week. How do you think that would have been received? Because it’s quite racy.

Skip to 3 minutes and 49 seconds It is very racy, but it was tremendously well-received. Again– we said this in the film– in terms of the number of times it was printed and the number of references to it in other works, we can genuinely say this was the most popular poem of the age. And we know it was particularly liked by young people, well-to-do people. It was almost used as a kind of courtship handbook. And it really was the poem that put Shakespeare’s name on the map. And who would have read it then? Well, as I say, younger people, in particular. It was cheap. It only cost a few pence. Although, having said that, books were a luxury, rather than a necessity.

Skip to 4 minutes and 41 seconds So your average labourer may not even have been literate. Certainly wouldn’t have read it. There’s lots of evidence of it being read by educated, smart young people, the kind of people who went to university. There’s a play by students of Cambridge University where there’s specific references to reading it. And also the kind of young men who would go down to the Inns of Court in London to train for the law, get involved in City life, it was very popular reading for them too. And I think there is some evidence of women reading it as well. And would it ever have been read in public? Is that something that happened? We’re not aware of it. It’s in an interesting thought.

Skip to 5 minutes and 21 seconds A few years ago, the Royal Shakespeare Company dramatised it as a show with life-sized puppets. Actually, it was a marvellous show. And it has a very dramatic quality to it. But we don’t have any evidence of public reading or reading aloud. So the popular object this week is the parish register, one of the most popular objects in our collection. Why is Shakespeare’s name spelled the way it is? Well, I think the thing we have to remember about spelling in Elizabethan England is it’s highly erratic. There are lots and lots of documents referring to Shakespeare and, indeed, other members of his family. And there’s about a dozen or more different spellings.

Skip to 6 minutes and 3 seconds The idea that your name was spelled one way, like the idea that any word is spelled one way, it was really only in the later 17th century, the 18th century, with regularisation of patterns of spelling, of orthography, that that occurred. So there’s just nothing unusual about variety of spelling. And that continues throughout Shakespeare’s life. He signs his name multiple different ways. Exactly. Yes. Hard idea for us to get our heads around someone spelling their own name different ways, but it was perfectly common. And some eagle-eyed learners have spotted that Shakespeare was born in Latin, but dies in English. Why is that the case? Yes. That’s an interesting one.

Skip to 6 minutes and 44 seconds I mean, there was a general move towards the use of English in official documents as time went on. If you go back to mediaeval times, Latin is the language of the learned, the language of the clerks. And official documents tend to be in Latin. Through the Tudor period, in all sorts of different fields of public life, and things like diplomatic letters and political exchanges, more and more English, the vernacular, is being used. So in that sense, we can say it’s part of a larger pattern. Also, I suppose there’s the simple possibility that the clerk who’s entering into the register happened to be educated in Latin at the beginning, and not at the end.

Skip to 7 minutes and 33 seconds So next week, we’re looking at The Merry Wives of Windsor, quite an unusual one. Lots of people haven’t read it, I imagine. Do you have any tips? Yes. I mean, Merry Wives of Windsor, it’s a lovely follow-on for us, having introduced Shakespeare on Stratford, because it is, in many ways, his most English play. Windsor’s not Stratford, but it is a small English town. And that’s really why we chose it. Also, it’s quite easy to read in that a lot of it is written in prose.

Skip to 8 minutes and 2 seconds That said, some of the jokes are a little bit hard to understand. It’s very much of its period. I would say, the thing to do is to read it fast. Think of it as a farce, as a sitcom, the Elizabethan equivalent of a television sitcom. Don’t worry too much about the detail, but just read it as quickly as you can. It’s not been staged or filmed, as much as so many of the other plays. With lots of the plays we’ll be looking at later in the course, it’s very easy to find a download or an online screening of a movie version. That’s not so easy with Merry Wives of Windsor. So I would just say, throw yourself into it.

Skip to 8 minutes and 50 seconds Any key scenes to look for? I think we are particularly interested in some of the scenes that open the window onto provincial life. But the one that I think is particularly good to look at, because it relates to Shakespeare’s education, is the lovely scene where you have the Welsh schoolmaster and the little, cheeky, clever schoolboy, called William, having a Latin lesson. I would suggest that’s the most autobiographical scene in the whole of Shakespeare. Lovely. Well, thank you very much, Jonathan. We’ll see you next week.

Week 1 summary

In this summary video, we bring together some of the themes and ideas from Week 1 of Shakespeare and His World.

Where are you?

Just to remind you, if you missed it at the beginning of the week, we’d like to invite you provide an insight into where you’re studying this course, by using this interactive map> With this we’ll all see just how global the love of Shakespeare is.

Click the + button in the top right-hand corner of this map and select your location. Please DO NOT enter your exact location (home or work), rather please the general location for your town/city/country, this will be sufficient. Please use your FutureLearn ‘name’.

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Shakespeare and his World

The University of Warwick

Get a taste of this course

Find out what this course is like by previewing some of the course steps before you join: