Question About Shakespeare: Will

One of the oft-repeated fun facts about William Shakespeare’s Last Will and Testament is that he bequeathed to his widow (Anne Hathaway) his second-best bed.

Do historians know who got his VERY best bed?

Almost everything else, unless otherwise stated, went to his daughter and her husband.

Question about Shakespeare will what?

Specifically, his elder daughter, Susanna. His younger, Judith, was specifically placed low in priority for anything but the handful of lands and items specifically earmarked for her, because her father did not like, nor trust, her husband.

The standard explanation for the bed situation is that the best bed was normally kept separate for the use by guests. The second-best bed would be the one that Will and Anne slept in and therefore the one that represented their life together, with all the sentiment that implies.

Whenever we deal with Shakespeare we need to remember we’re looking at a different culture and can’t simply apply our own meanings casually.

As opposed to . . .

Question About Marlowe: Christopher

Well, presumedly, it was the one Anne was still sleeping in, so his death didn’t yank the bed out from under her.

And the thread title was "Shakespeare: [last] Will [and testament] I assume. The Marlowe equivalent would be “Marlowe: Will.” The confusion is because the word “Will” is capitalized I guess because it’s a thread title.

Also, it wasn’t even so much that Shakespeare didn’t like Judith’s husband (he didn’t), but that he did like Susanna’s husband John Hall, and had designated him as his heir since Shakespeare’s son predeceased him. Apparently Shakespeare and Hall were great pals, and had a number of business ventures together, and were both plaintiff in some of Shakespeare’s famous lawsuits.

Yes. For all the gumph about Shakespeare being for all time he was as much a man of his time. There is every indication Shakespeare would have left the vast majority of his goods to his first born son. Hamnet’s early death scuppered that plan, but any eldest living son of Susanna’s were to inherit the family property.

“all and singular the said premises, with their appurtenances, unto the said Susanna Hall, for and during the term of her natural life, and after her decease, to the first son of her body lawfully issuing, and to the heirs males of the body of the said first son lawfully issuing; and for default of such issue to the second son of her body, lawfully issuing, and so to the heirs males of the body of the said second son lawfully issuing; and for default of such heirs, to the third son of the body of the said Susanna lawfully issuing, and of the heirs males of the body of the said third son lawfully issuing; and for default of such issue, the same so to be and remain to the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh sons of her body lawfully issuing, one after another, and to the heirs males.”

Im sure there is a Play to be writ, containing an excellent sub-plot, about an unloved second son with a chip on his shoulder over inheritance rights.

The head of legal records at the National Archives, Amanda Bevan, has recently proposed a number of new interpretations about the will, in the wake of their latest efforts to conserve it. Most radically, she re-dates parts of the text. That has a bearing on the significance on the issue of the second best bed, which she sees as an indication of affection. She is also rather sceptical of the idea that Shakespeare was snubbing Judith.

(Apropos of not very much, their exhibition at Somerset House, which drew on that research and which has literally just closed, was a bit rubbish.)

Which has absolutely nothing to do with the OP.

Awww! I’m touched!

Shut up. I’m fully capable of being “touched,” in ALL its meanings. :rolleyes:

Lawyerese, completely unchanged in hundreds of years! But the spelling has been cleaned up, probably by his para, since lawyers can’t spell.

Questions about Shakespeare? As Matthew Arnold put it:

The OP was answered before I posted, so I added some additional info. Terribly sorry for the wear and tear on your eyeballs.

It explains why Will’s will left her his second-best bed, which seems totally relevant to me.

^^^ That. ^^^

Also an attempt at pun, because the question is about his Will.

Personally, I favor the hypothesis that the second-best bed was an in-joke between Will and Anne, and that there’s no chance we could understand it absent the context, and that even if we somehow had the context, it would fall flat.


He explained the “fun fact,” and why it was not such a weird thing if you take the culture of the time into account. It only seems like a “fun fact” because we are thinking in terms of modern culture.


I highly recommend this movie, which addresses the “second-best bed” and a number of other issues from Shakespeare’s final years.