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Of course, we can never know. We don’t know much about the man at all, except that he was born, he married, his wife had three children, he moved to London and acted in plays, dodged a few tax collectors, and died.
So why am I posing the question? Because Anne – or Agnes, as she was christened – tends to be shoved aside when we gather to adore her husband. Many interpret their marriage as solely motivated by her being pregnant (the ‘bed trick’), and Shakespeare’s subsequent move to London as proof that he wanted to get away from her.
I have another take on it, but don’t read on if you don’t want your Rival Poet ruined by the complexity that is real life (or if you haven’t read it yet and don’t want ***spoilers***!).
So you’re reading on? Okay. Well, in my view, Shakespeare was bi, and possibly poly. Rival Poet, being a m/m romance, focuses on the biggest love of his life, Marlowe, but there’s a whole scrapped background from an unpublished bio novel that complicates the picture. My Shakespeare’s most prominent trait, apart from his phenomenal memory for words, is his ability to see things from several points of view. That was the first thing I decided when I started plotting his story: he should be both intellectual and materialistic, undecided when it came to religion, bisexual, equally at home in Stratford and London, and torn between wanting to be a poet and wanting to be an actor.
So yes, in my book (no pun intended… okay, yes, pun intended), Shakespeare did love his wife. In fact, he was besotted, but had a hard time convincing her that marrying a stripling like him was in any way sensible. She was pregnant with someone else’s child (I warned you about the spoilers!), and he jumped at the chance to save her from life as a social pariah. In the unpublished story about their marriage, he has to work really hard to get close to her, and the reward, in the end, came in the form of a pair of twins with Will’s DNA.
That doesn’t negate his all-consuming love affair with Kit. That’s the most important thing in his life, after all. It’s what kickstarts his career after Agnes has persuaded him to go to London to try his luck among the publishing houses, and it’s also what spawns the great tragedies. Kit is his biggest passion, no doubt about it, because theirs is a ‘marriage of true minds’. Their love of words and their almost telepathic communication makes the attraction instantaneous and irrestistible.
But a life is a life, and not a romance. Will had a life before Kit, and parallel with Kit.