Shakespeare's Will (play)
Shakespeare's Will is a play by Canadian writer Vern Thiessen. It was commissioned by Geoffrey Brumlik, then Artistic Director of the River City Shakespeare Festival in Edmonton as a performance vehicle for Jan Alexandra Smith and premiered at the Citadel Theatre in February 2005. It has been regularly revived and was performed at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in 2011. The American premiere of Shakespeare's Will was produced at Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills, California. The production starred Jeanmarie Simpson, was produced by Leonard Nimoy and directed by Susan Bay Nimoy.
It is a one-woman monodrama that focuses on Anne Hathaway on the day of her husband William Shakespeare's funeral. Its form has been described as a "poetic monologue that is fragmentary, and richly allusive."
The drama begins with Hathaway arriving home after the funeral, holding a copy of Shakespeare's will. She reminisces about her first meeting with Shakespeare at a fair, and remembers that they were attracted to one another because they recognised their mutual sexual ambiguities and freedom from convention. They become lovers. When Anne becomes pregnant they are married. They agree in private vows that they will have an open marriage which will "allow our separate desires". Anne is left alone with their children when William leaves for London. She has many lovers during his absence. William does not seem to object, but when their son Hamnet drowns, William blames Anne for neglecting him. After his return to Stratford their relationship is strained. He later dies from a fever. In his will he leaves most of his goods to his married daughter Susanna in the hope of male succession through a grandson.
The critic Anne Wilson interprets the play as an exploration of recent debate in Canada about non-traditional marriages and relationships, and of the relationship between sexual freedom and patriarchal norms of male succession. She notes the repeated emphasis on imagery of the sea, flows and voyages to express the fluidity of desire and human intimacies.
Reviewer John Coulbourn believed that "not much of it rings true, either to the heart or to the period of the piece", considering that Anne's musings were too generic to convince. J. Kelly Nestruck objected to the "anachronistic proto-feminist" portrayal of Hathaway, arguing that "there's no getting away from the fact that Shakespeare's Will is ultimately a drama once removed. Hathaway is of interest only because of whom she married. Thiessen's play, likewise, is riding on his coattails."
Critic Katherine Scheil says that the play "recasts the poet's domestic life into a familiar narrative for a twenty-first-century audience, a sort of inspirational 'Chicken Soup for the Lonely Married Woman' based on the Shakespeare marriage", setting up Shakespeare as a "vengeful husband" who fails to appreciate the sacrifices his wife made.
- Stratford Shakespeare Festival
- Anne Wilson, "Waves and Wills: Van Thiessen's Shakespeare's Will", Borrowers and Lenders: the Journal of Shakespeare and Appropriation, Winter, 2007.
- Canoe Media, review.
- Shakespeare's Will: In bed with the Shakespeares, The Globe and Mail, Friday, Jul. 15, 2011.
- Katherine Scheil, "Filling the Wife-Shaped Void: The Contemporary Afterlife of Anne Hathaway", Peter Holland (ed), Shakespeare Survey: Volume 63, Cambridge University Press, 2010, p.227.