‘Anne Hathaway’ by Carol Ann Duffy is a fourteen line sonnet that does not follow a specific pattern of rhyme. As is common within many of Duffy’s poems, this text is in the form of a dramatic monologue. This means that there is one speaker who is talking directly to the reader, or to a particular listener, without interruption.
Unlike Shakespearean and Petrarchan sonnets, ‘Anne Hathaway’ does not stick to a particular pattern of rhythm. There are moments in which Duffy chose to use iambic pentameter, but many of the lines break this pattern as well. A line structured with iambic pentameter contains five set of two beats, these are known as metrical feet. The first of these is unstressed and the second stressed. It would sound something line da-DUM, da-DUM.
One element of the Shakespearean sonnet that Duffy does make use of is the concluding couplet. This means that the last two lines rhyme, in this case, with the words “head” and “bed.”
Epigraph for Anne Hathaway
Before reading this piece it is important to take note of the epigraph that Duffy included at the beginning of the poem. An epigraph is a phrase, quote, or piece of information that gives the poem additional context. In this case, she chose to use a quote from William Shakespeare’s will. It reads, ‘Item I gyve unto my wife my second best bed…’ Or more simply, he wanted to leave his wife his “second best bed.”
The Bed in Anne Hathaway
One of the most important images of this piece is the bed itself. It is the one item included in the epigraph and is, in fact, the only item that he directly left to his wife. It is commonly thought that this was done in spite, showing that the poet held his wife in contempt. Duffy takes a very different perspective.
In the poem, the bed comes to represent a world unto itself. It is a “spinning world” that has within it only beautiful and wonderful things. These include the sea and forests. It is clearly, for Anne, who is the speaker of the text, a great place. Her love for her husband is also revealed through the way she speaks about the bed. It is a page on which he writes to her.
The “second best” part of the bed comes into play towards the end of the poem. This could be where the traditional sonnet turn or volta occurs. It is revealed, in Duffy’s retelling of history at least, that Shakespeare and Anne took that “second best bed” for themselves and let the guests use the best bed in the house. More than anything, the bed is a symbol for the everlasting love between the two that Anne can hold onto now that her husband has died.
You can read the full poem here.
Summary of Anne Hathaway
The poem begins with the speaker describing her husband’s second-best bed as a place of wonder. It was filled with wonderful things like “torchlight” and “clifftops.” Anne clearly feels very attached to this bed, and finds memories of her husband within it. It is not just their sex and love that she recalls there, but also his “words.”
In bed together, the speaker says, they mimicked and mirrored one another. She was the “softer rhyme” to his harder. Anne goes on to state that she wishes he had written her with his “writer’s hands.” Duffy decided to interpret the “second best bed” portion of Shakespeare’s will differently than most scholars do. Rather than making the willing of his second-best bed a spiteful gesture towards Anne, it was an expression of his deepest love.
Analysis of Ann Hathaway
In the first lines of ‘Anne Hathaway,’ the speaker immediately discusses the bed referenced in the epigraph. It was not a bad place, although it was referred to as “second best” by Shakespeare himself. The speaker, Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife, refers to the bed as “a spinning world”. It is a place that is always moving, and is filled with wonderful things like “torchlight” and “clifftops”. These are magical images that could come straight from Shakespeare’s plays.
The bed is also said to contain the sea, this is where her husband would go “dive for pearls.” Because Ann is discussing a bed, there are a number of phrases in the text which are inescapably sexual in nature. This is one of those. Although she does not state it explicitly, his “dive” into the bed for “pearls” seems to refer to their sexual relationship.
Anne clearly feels very attached to this bed and finds memories of her husband within it. It is not just their sex and love that she recalls there, but also his “words”. This makes sense as her husband was Shakespeare, his “shooting star” words become “kisses” which came to her.
In the next four lines, the speaker discusses how the two were in bed together. They mimicked and mirrored one another. She was the “softer rhyme” to his harder. They were assonance and consonance. These elements of poetry are perfectly placed and speak to the presence of literature in the life of husband and wife. Duffy was clearly interested in the deeper love the two might’ve had, and in attempting to recreate that love, chose to consider Shakespeare’s writing as an integral part of it.
In the next line, which runs into line nine, Anne states that she wishes that he had written her. This speaks to the high regard in which she holds her husband’s writing. She feels that if he had written or created her, she would’ve been happier. He was so skilled at crafting perfect characters, places, and emotions that surely he could’ve written her with his “writer’s hands”.
The bed that Anne has been referring to though the text was the one that Shakespeare called “second best”. The reasoning for this comes into play in line eleven. Duffy decided to interpret the line differently than most scholars do. Rather than making the willing of his second-best bed a spiteful gesture towards Anne, it was an expression of his deepest love.
Anne states that it was in this bed that they slept when there were guests. They chose to give visitors their “best bed” and they took this one for themselves.
The poem ends on a depressing note. She states that now that her husband is gone, she is going to hold “him in the casket of [her] widow’s head” as she once held his body. Her husband, her “living laughing love” is gone. All she has left are the memories of their relationship and his writing.