Behind every successful man, there stands a woman. This quotation, dipped as it is in veracity, came home to me particularly as I wandered through Anne Hathaway’s cottage in the village of Shottery, Warwickshire. I had already visited Shakespeare’s birthplace, seen his old home, and the home he died in. Seen the second edition of his collected works, housed as it was behind a glass case. Been astounded by his prodigious works, his overwhelming talent for tackling any subject matter, and transforming it for the appetite of his times and the times thereafter. The bard of Avon had rightfully earned his place in History as a literary giant of gargantuan proportions.
But what of his wife? There is very little known about Anne Hathaway except that she was 26 to his 18 years, and with child when they married. Neither fact was particularly outstanding in those days. Women, unless they were of noble houses, often married later, and sometimes, enceinte. There has been speculation that it was a shotgun wedding. Regardless, it was a marriage that lasted; in fact, survived long separations, the death of a child, and Shakespeare’s rumoured peccadilloes.
So why is so much of her life shrouded in mystery? Why so little of his works devoted to her? Mainly, I imagine, because, then as now, in many countries and cultures, women were relegated to the background. They were and are the spinal columns that support the ambitions of their partners. Yet so few are given their due.
Talking to a friend over lunch the other day, she mentioned how hard they were working as a couple. On the surface, this seemed like an interesting turn of phrase, seeing as he was the one with the career, and she was a stay at home mum. But of course, for him to have that career, to work those long unsociable hours, it fell to her to hold the entire structure up. Without her, he would not be able to soar or to achieve.
Conversely, I know of many a man, who has made a similar sacrifice. In a modern day marriage, where women are equally capable, and sometimes get the career opportunities denied to the spouse, it is the husband that takes the back seat. The only down side to this trend is the statistical data that shows that despite this, it is often the woman who still takes on the lion share of housework and child rearing.
At any rate, it is time to acknowledge the contribution that these unsung heroes make. For every Shakespeare, there is an Anne. For every Margaret Thatcher, there is a Dennis. For without these strong, often stronger mates, the other would be rudderless.
To that end, I must thank my own husband, without whom I could not do what I do. The job that I do, the hours I spend away from home, and the hobbies he lets me indulge in, without censure. To use that oft repeated cliché: He is the wind beneath my wings.