Performed by students of Napier University, this speculative piece about the turbulent love life of William Shakespeare reconsiders the relationship he had with his wife Anne Hathaway, and various other suitors. Shakespeare is glorified in this production, free of any genuine consequence for his misdemeanours, however the star is Hathaway, and it is her who provides the more genuine and human moments of the play.
The production succeeds in giving Hathaway, a typically silent, or villainised character in Shakespearean history, agency and sympathetic motivations, and continues to make refreshing assumptions about her role in her husband’s life. She is portrayed as the Muse for Shakespeare, in the sense that he is merely the device used to record the words Anne says, and to convey the emotions that she felt, rather than describing his own. The ‘marriage’ of the title, however, is not just that between William and Anne, but the relationship Shakespeare has with his work. Anne is convinced she has married a liar and a cheat, forced into matrimony by an unplanned baby, but resolves to sacrifice her happy ending so that her roguish husband can live his dream. Meanwhile, Shakespeare feels as though he has too much love to give, and effortlessly seduces his way through women, trying to find a home in them all, only to find that the only place where his love can be fully expressed and understood is in his portfolio.
There is a great argument about whether Anne and William were together out of convenience, pulled together by the social conventions of their time, but the play argues that it is fate instead, opting for the romanticised version of their tense and tender union. In a way, it is genuinely upsetting that both have to suppress their true feelings in order to keep up appearances. With all the pain it has caused Anne, it feels as though she has no option but to surrender to mediocrity in order to ‘sigh no more’ and find meaning in life. I am left wondering if this ending for her, which is unsatisfying, is for the benefit of William’s character, if it is impossible to have Shakespeare be the antagonist in a play about his life. With the focus arguably on Anne, who undergoes the most character development in the show, who is present in every conversation, it feels unjust to have her end up stuck with a man she cannot trust. However, this is perhaps one of the facts of history that the company cannot re-write.
The storyline flits between what feel like self-contained scenes, hastily and clumsily glued together to make a patchwork narrative that is stilted and awkwardly grandiose. Additionally, a play that boasts an analysis of the secret life of Shakespeare skips over details such as the death of Shakespeare’s child, Hamnet, and there is only the slightest allusion to his much-debated bisexuality that is, in the end, disappointingly rendered a moot point as the character we believed to be a boy was really just another woman in disguise.
The cast is small, with members doubling up roles, and they deliver largely compelling and impressive performances. However, the unnecessarily wordy script and awkward staging interrupts the otherwise engaging momentum of the production. Some scenes are ripped straight out Shakespeare plays altogether, and the constant spouting of sonnets verges on the pretentious.
The idea that Shakespeare’s talent and success was a destructive force, and he himself was as volatile, is an interesting one, but does not feel as though it has been fully examined by the end of the 70 minute run time. I am left wanting more depth, more genuine love, but instead watch the final scene, William and Anne in a final embrace, with a sense of doom.