Germaine Greer on Mrs. Shakespeare

To preface an examination of Ann Hathaway (not the actress, but the 16th c. Mrs. Shakespeare) with a discussion of a former student's feelings about penetrative sex might seem off-topic, but it suits Germaine Greer to a G--gender issues are tantamount to her scholarship. Her academic career in England has centered on Elizabethan drama, but the Australian author of The Female Eunuch (1970) has her antennae well-tuned toward misogyny in all its guises and ages.

Half Elizabethan, Half 21st Century
The ostensible occasion of this "On Point" podcast episode is Greer's 2008 book,  Shakespeare's Wife (just released in paperback), but it takes 9 minutes for host Tom Ashbrook and Greer to get back to the Elizabethans, and although they manage to stay there for about half the interview, the conversation creeps back to contemporary feminist issues and the phallocentrism of corporate culture. Whatever century she's commenting on, Greer is never dull, and she gives the lie to the "feminists have no sense of humor" stereotype by laughing often. The 45-minute episode is available from WBUR's site and, at least of this posting, from the "On Point" iTunes listing.

Reclaiming Ann Hathaway
At Minute 10 Greer gives a vivid account of the moment that she was provoked by Stephen Greenblatt's Will in the World (2005) to take up the rehabilitation of Ann Hathaway. Since there are so few direct records of the Shakespeares' ménage, most details must be construed. Greer riffs interestingly on Elizabethan mores around marriage (Ann was the "right" age at 26, and Will was "too young" at 18), and she presents (the few) Hathaway family facts that led her to believe that Ann might have been the "great catch," not Will (Minute 18), even though she was pregnant when they married. Greer refutes the older-woman prejudice by citing the concordant presentation of older woman-younger man romance in the plays, and waxes a little creepy on the attractiveness of teenage boys (Minute 20). After studying parish records on Elizabethan infant mortality rates, Greer posits that Ann must have been quite strong both to survive the birth of twins, and to keep them alive (Minute 17).

The Inspiration for Portia?
Greer suggests that Ann Hathaway might have been like Shakespeare's Portia of Belmont--a clever and desirable woman of property--and dares to conjecture that perhaps Hathaway even financed the First Folio (Minute 22). Greer opines that Hathaway may not have been illiterate, a fact which she feels her male colleagues find abhorrent (Minute 25). Since the data is so scarce for either side, Greer at least gets credit for putting forth a more positive portrait of the woman who had the wit to marry the insolvent and hugely talented William Shakespeare.