Historic Photo: Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Shottery, England, 1880 and today.

Shakespeare's wife grew up and lived here until her marriage in 1582.

Historic Photo: Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Shottery, England, 1880 and today.

This antique photo, dating from the year 1880, depicts the “cottage” (actually a farmhouse) that was owned by the Hathaway family who lived in Shottery, Warwickshire, England for hundreds of years. The portion of the house on a lower elevation was built in the 1400s, the higher section two centuries later. The reason this Tudor-era house has survived when tens of thousands of others in the English countryside have not is because one of the young Hathaway women who grew up in this house, Anne, married a fellow named William Shakespeare in November 1582. The village of Shottery is located right next to Stratford-Upon-Avon where Shakespeare was from. (April 23, generally regarded as Shakespeare's birthday, is tomorrow). He probably courted her in these gardens. She was pregnant with Shakespeare’s child when they were married, but there is some dispute over whether this situation in 16th century England carried the same social connotations as it did, for example, in the 20th century. Thus while it’s tempting to assume from this fact that William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway had a “shotgun wedding,” that may not be accurate. We actually know very little about Anne Hathaway’s life or personality, and what we do know comes mostly from mentions in vital records and legal documents.

I’m interested in photos of historic sites taken from long ago. It is always fascinating to see how they have changed, or not changed, as the means and context of how we remember the past has changed. Anne Hathaway’s Cottage is today a historic monument preserved by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust as one of the great historic and cultural treasures of Great Britain. A photo of the same house, from much the same angle, taken in this century, is below. I’m surprised at how similar it looks, especially the gardens which have been well-maintained since 1880. It’s much less likely that the house and gardens looked like this in 1582, but at least we have a sense of the ambiance of Shakespeare’s time, which was a fascinating transitional era in British and world history.

Anne Hathaway's cottage as it appears in this century. Photo by Flickr user Richard Peat, Creative Commons 2.0 license.

It's always a little tricky to post anything Shakespeare-related on the internet because there's a dedicated cadre of what you might call “Shakespeare truthers” out there who immediately pounce on anything that appears anywhere they can spam their ludicrous conspiracy theories about Shakespeare's plays supposedly not having been written by Shakespeare. Just for the record, it's abundantly clear that Shakespeare was a real person, and the plays attributed to him were really written by him, and not Francis Bacon, or Francis Scott Key, or Mark Rylance, or Hervé Villechaize, or whoever else the nuts favor this week. As I've pointed out many times before in this column, the study of history is a never-ending battle against conspiracy theories. Let's just put all that aside for now and enjoy this intriguing old photo and what it represents.

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