Anne Hathaway

Carol Ann Duffy

‘Anne Hathaway’ by Carol Ann Duffy is told from the perceptive of Shakespeare’s wife who discusses their enduring love through the symbol of a bed. 


Carol Ann Duffy

Nationality: Scottish

Carol Ann Duffy is considered to be one of the most significant contemporary British writers.

She is recognized for her straightforward, unrelenting approach to gender issues.

‘Anne Hathaway’ by Carol Ann Duffy first appeared in “The World’s Wife” in 1999. The reference to William Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway is interesting concerning the theme of the poem. It seems that the poet tries the capture the essence of love by using the metaphor of the bed. However, the bed also appears as a world in itself and for two loving souls, it’s nothing less than heaven. At last, it can be said that the lovers’ bed and the emotions addled with it remain the same for ages. What changes, is the manifestation and the expression of showing love for each other.

Anne Hathaway by Carol Ann Duffy


Anne Hathaway’ by Carol Ann Duffy is told from the perceptive of Shakespeare’s wife who discusses their enduring love through the symbol of a bed. 

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.


‘Anne Hathaway’ by Carol Ann Duffy is simplistic in meaning but deep in thoughts that can be captured by a heart who loves. The reference to Anne Hathaway, William Shakespeare’s wife, is interesting. In the epigraph section, the poet quotes, “Item I gyve unto my wief my second best bed…” from Shakespeare’s will. Likewise, the poet talks about the bed on which she and her beloved made love. So, the connection is clear. Carol Ann Duffy exemplifies why Shakespeare called his bed “my second best”. As a reference, in the last section of the poem, the poet also talks about two beds and says in the last line, “as he held me upon that next best 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.” 


‘Anne Hathaway’ by Carol Ann Duffy contains several important themes. The foremost theme that constitutes the essence of the poem, is love. Here, the poet refers to the love between two genuine hearts. This love is glorifying in nature and contains a world in itself. For this reason, the simple bed becomes a new dimension of the lovers as it is a place on which two souls come closer both physically and mentally. Apart from that, there is a theme of literature as a whole. The lovers’ world appears as lyrical and living. Whereas, the real world appears as prosaic and impassive.

Another interesting theme of the poem is physical love. Here, the poet presents how the fulfillment of love finds an expression in physicality. There is nothing wrong with it and it neither pollutes the divine sense of the word love. It makes the feeling divine with the proximity of two loving minds.


‘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 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 sets 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”.

Analysis of Ann Hathaway

Lines 1-4

The bed we loved in was a spinning world
were shooting stars which fell to earth as kisses

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. 

Lines 5-8

on these lips; my body now a softer rhyme
Some nights I dreamed he’d written me, the bed

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”. 

Lines 9-14

a page beneath his writer’s hands. Romance
and drama played by touch, by scent, by taste.
I hold him in the casket of my widow’s head
as he held me upon that next best bed.

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. 

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 clear, 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 of the everlasting love between the two that Anne can hold onto now that her husband has died.


‘Anne Hathaway’ by Carol Ann Duffy neither follows the conventional “phallocentric” diction nor it steps into the shoes of an orthodox sonneteer. It is a pure “gynotext” that flows like the rhythm inside a woman. The poem voices the expression of love that purely a woman captures with her heart. However, it also illustrates how a woman reacts to the physical sensation caused by her beloved. In one line of the poem, the speaker says, “his touch/ a verb dancing in the centre of a noun”. Here, the expression is both original and unorthodox. The use of such words to convey one’s feelings is very rare in conventional poems of the past. Such lines give the poem a modern outlook and a new way to visualize things.

Moreover, the description of their love-making reflects a love story in which the lover and the beloved mutually participate in the union. In orthodox scenes, the process of love-making appears as a union between two uneven entities. But, in Duffy’s poem, the poetic persona, and her beloved participates in the process as two souls having a similar magnitude. In this way, ‘Anne Hathaway’ by Carol Ann Duffy resonates with the essence of feminism.

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.

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