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Shakespeare: The Original Toyboy?

William Shakespeare is a man who needs no introduction. As a writer of some of the greatest literature in the English language, The Swan of Avon has truly stood the test of time. Millions of people watch his plays being performed in theatres across the globe each year. Thousands of school children study his plays and poetry. Books about the Bard’s life and work continue to be published and devoured by an avid fan base. Yet so little is actually known about this great man (even the oft-quoted fact that ‘he was born on his birthday’ is open to debate!).


The one fact about the playwright of some of the richest comedies and tragedies ever written that no one can ever dispute is that he married when he was just eighteen years of age. People are often shocked when they discover this, yet it was not uncommon for people to marry at a younger age whether it be for money, status or even just to squeeze in a family before a premature death in the plague-ridden Elizabethan times.  One more undisputable fact is that he married a lady by the name of Anne Hathaway in 1582, a farmer’s daughter who was three months pregnant with Shakespeare’s daughter at the moment wedding vows were being exchanged.  Modern critics will vehemently state that it was an early form of ‘shotgun’ wedding, with both parties being forced into it to preserve their respective families’ reputations. Historians, however, would argue that these types of weddings were not uncommon at all during this period of history, with some one in three marriages featuring a pregnant woman. The liberality of the modern era finds no shame in this type of union, in any case, and I’m sure that it wouldn’t even warrant a raised eyebrow on The Jeremy Kyle Show nowadays.


If we look a little deeper into the famous marriage it is another fact that we may find more surprising: Hathaway was eight years older than Shakespeare. This would have been unusual in that era as men strove to marry a younger woman who would have his children thus allowing him to leave behind a legacy in the event of death. For Shakespeare to buck the trend and marry a woman eight years his senior would have taken courage, strength of character and great passion.

It can be argued therefore that Shakespeare was a trailblazer for younger men in terms of his outlook on love and attitude towards relationships. This is the man who wrote lines of love poetry that is quoted as seduction gospel to this day. Critics can only speculate as to whether or not it was this marital occasion that led to the creation of one of Shakespeare’s most popular sonnet, ‘Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments’ which echoes the words of the famous wedding vows. This sonnet, often overshadowed by the more universally famous Sonnet 18 (‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day’), gets to the heart of Shakespeare’s true feelings about love. He views love and passion as entities that transcend material possessions, wealth and obligation. His unaltering love for his own older woman shines as a modern beacon for toyboys everywhere. His message is a simple one: if you find someone attractive, age is no barrier!


This post was written by our new guest blogger TC.

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