First 502 words of the document:
Anne Hathaway (15561623) was a real woman famous for being the wife of William
Shakespeare. (We do know some things about her she was nine years older than her
husband, but outlived him by seven years. They married in 1582, when Anne was already
pregnant, and had three children together. Although Shakespeare spent many years working
in London, he made frequent visits to their home in StratforduponAvon.)
In the poem Anne sees her relationship with Shakespeare in terms of his own writing. She
uses the sonnet form (though she does not follow all the conventions of rhyme or metre)
which Shakespeare favoured. She suggests that as lovers they were as inventive as
Shakespeare was in his dramatic poetry and their bed might contain "forests, castles,
torchlight", "clifftops" and "seas where he would dive for pearls". These images are very
obviously erotic, and Ms. Duffy no doubt expects the reader to interpret them in a sexual
sense. Where Shakespeare's words were" shooting stars" (blazing in glory across the sky)
for her there was the more downtoearth consequence of "kisses/on these lips".
She also finds in the dramatist's technique of "rhyme...echo...assonance" a metaphor for his
physical contact a "verb" (action) which danced in the centre of her "noun". Though the
best bed was reserved for the guests, they only dribbled "prose" (inferior pleasure) while
she and her lover, on the second best bed enjoyed the best of "Romance/and drama". The
language here has obvious connotations of sexual intercourse we can guess what his verb
and her noun are and what the one is doing in the other, while the guests' "dribbling"
suggests a less successful erotic encounter.
The poem relies on double meanings very like those we find in Shakespeare's own work. It
gives a voice to someone of whom history has recorded little. The language is strictly too
modern to be spoken by the historical Anne Hathaway (especially the word order and the
meanings) but the lexicon (vocabulary) is not obviously anachronistic that is, most of the
words here could have been spoken by the real Anne Hathaway, though not quite with these
meanings and probably not in this order.
What does this poem say about the nature of imagination?
Explain, in your own words, how the central image of the "second best bed" works
in the poem.
How well does the poet adapt the sonnet form here?
In what ways does this poem appeal to the senses?
Is this poem more about Anne or her husband, or is it about them both, as a couple?
Does this poem change the way you think of William Shakespeare?