A feminist revisioning of William Shakespeare’s life

Production offers insight into Anne Hathaway’s life.

Unless you skipped the majority of your high school English classes, most of us know at least something about William Shakespeare and the bounty of plays he produced during the English Renaissance. Perhaps less known is his wife, Anne Hathaway, an individual whose life and experiences are explored and fictionalized in Vern Thiessen’s play Shakespeare’s Will. Last week, The Performers’ Company, under the direction of Steven Puddles, presented this speculative one-actress- play, with Alison Hart starring in the lead role.

The plot of Shakespeare’s Will details the memories and experiences of Anne Hathaway, the famous playwright’s wife and lover. Because historians know very little of this figure, Thiessen’s play is an attempt to creatively elaborate upon this underrepresented individual. The play takes place after Shakespeare’s death, and details how she met and fell in love with the playwright, as well as the tragedies that befell the family as William became more and more distant from his wife and children.

The play ends with Anne recounting the horrible deaths of her mother and her son, and discovering that her husband left her nothing but “his second-best bed with the furniture” in his will. As Hart uttered her final despairing lines, a teary-eyed crowd leapt to their feet and erupted in applause to praise the actress’s incredible representation of this fascinating and dynamic figure.

By portraying this character, Hart transformed a mythic and mostly anonymous historical figure into a relatable, lovable human being. With the line “now it is time for my words,” Hart also encouraged a feminist revision of history by bringing to light the lives, experiences, and sexual identities of married women that are often left out of the history textbooks altogether. While Anne Hathaway may have differed greatly from the individual created by Thiessen and interpreted by Puddle and Hart, the very act of reconstructing this forgotten woman within an artistic and theatrical medium is crucial to our understanding of women in history.

Hart’s outstanding performance can be attributed to her experience as an actress, as well as her personal passion for this character and the play itself. In addition to working as a secretary in Mount Allison’s department of religious studies, Alison Hart has a long history of theatre performance. Originally from Wales, Hart has been involved with numerous theatre groups in the United Kingdom, and studied the dramatic arts at the Rose Bruford School of Drama and the University of Manchester, where she earned her master’s degree in theatre and performance studies.

Puddle founded The Performers’ Company in 2007. The company is intended to appreciate and promote the dramatic arts within the Sackville community, and to provide creative opportunities for local actors, actresses, and production assistants. Regarding their most recent production, Puddle writes: “When I was first presented with the script of Vern Thiessen’s play Shakespeare’s Will, I suspected I had in my hands something of significant value.”

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