Study Guide

Anne Hathaway Analysis

By Carol Ann Duffy

  • Sound Check

    This sonnet is pretty quiet. There are a lot of s sounds (in words like kisses, stars, and softer), and we can almost picture Anne whispering the poem to us across a dark and quiet room; or, even better, two lovers whispering sweet nothings to each other in bed.

    While the poem has a lot of repeated sounds, it doesn't properly rhyme until the final couplet (two line pair) that ends the poem. After a lot of almost-rhymes throughout the poem, Anne rhymes her end-words perfectly: head and bed. You can't help but say these lines louder. There's something incredibly satisfying about this final, strong, rhyme. Even though it's a pretty quiet poem up until this point, these lines beg to be enunciated clearly and perfectly, simply because of the rhyme.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    The poem "Anne Hathaway" is spoken by, that's right, Anne Hathaway. Using the speaker's name as the title lets us know right away that Carol Ann Duffy, the poet, is not the one speaking. Instead, she's imagining the poem as spoken by a fictionalized version of a real historical figure (that means Anne Hathaway was a real lady, but Duffy is clearly giving her a particular personality here.)

    "Anne Hathaway" comes from a collection of Duffy's poems titled The World's Wife. In this collection, Duffy imagines the voices of many women (both real and imagined) who didn't have the opportunity to speak for themselves, or who were overshadowed by their husbands. She writes, for example, about Mrs. Darwin, Mrs. Freud, and Odysseus's wife, Penelope. Anne Hathaway is just one of the many women who get the final say through Duffy's poetry.

  • Setting

    While the setting of "Anne Hathaway" is not specified, we like to imagine that Anne is actually speaking to us from that second best bed that we've heard so much about. The bed is probably in Stratford-upon-Avon, a town in the south of England where Anne and Shakespeare lived (though Shakespeare spent much of his time in London).

    When you read the poem, imagine Anne reading her poem aloud to you in a dark room on this small but momentous bed, almost as if the existence of the bed is proof enough of Shakespeare's love for her. We bet that this is what Duffy is going for in "Anne Hathaway."

  • Speaker

    Anne Hathaway was Shakespeare's wife. Although we don't know too much about her, we do know what Shakespeare left for her in his will: their second best bed. While a lot of Shakespeare scholars assume that this was a sign that Shakespeare didn't love her, Duffy interprets the will differently in the poem. The second best bed in "Anne Hathaway" is a symbol of love and devotion.

    We may never get to know the real Anne Hathaway, but we get to know a fictionalized version of her through Duffy's work. She's a talented writer herself, and she appropriates (or borrows) a lot of Shakespearean stuff for her own sonnet. She's also a very sensuous woman, and recounts her passionate experiences with her husband in great detail. And like Shakespeare, Anne loves metaphors. (Can you tell?) For example, she describes her husband's words as kisses that fall to earth like shooting stars. Now that's poetry!

    Anne is not at all angry about Shakespeare's will, but she certainly does want others to understand their relationship. This poem is a rebuttal to all those people who think that Shakespeare didn't love his wife, and it's straight from the horse's mouth. Duffy's Anne is basically saying to them: he loved me, I loved him, we had awesome sex, and I'll always cherish our second best bed. So mind your own business and don't go nosing around in other people's wills.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (3) Base Camp

    This poem can be a little tricky if you don't know too much about Anne Hathaway or Shakespeare. But hey, we at Shmoop are here to help! Read what we've got to say about the historical context for this poem in our "In a Nutshell" section, and you should be good to go. The poem is a piece of cake once you realize that Duffy's not writing about Anne Hathaway the movie star. (Though we wouldn't mind reading a poem about the movie star, too. Carol Ann, are you listening?)

  • Calling Card

    Carol Ann Duffy is one of those writers who's a little obsessed with the fact that she's a writer. She just loves writing about writing (and sometimes even writing about writing about writing). Writing is one of her favorite metaphors for love (and for sex) and it appears across a number of her poems. Of course, Carol Ann Duffy didn't invent writing about writing. In fact, this motif is all over Shakespeare's sonnets, where he often comments that he will immortalize his beloved through his poetry. If you write it down, it's forever. In "Anne Hathaway," Duffy immortalizes Anne in the same way. She gives the fictionalized Anne a chance to speak for herself. And when she has this chance, what does she write about? Writing and love. It seems that Duffy's Anne and Shakespeare made a good pair after all.

  • Form and Meter

    Sonnet, Dramatic monologue

    Duffy's "Anne Hathaway" is a sonnet spoken in the voice of Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare's wife. Because Duffy imagines the speaker as one distinct character, we can call this poem a dramatic monologue. A dramatic monologue doesn't have to follow any set form, it just has to be spoken in the voice of a specific persona, real or imagined.

    "Anne Hathaway" does have a form, though. It's a sonnet! It follows the most basic sonnet rule: it has fourteen lines. But that's pretty much it – otherwise, it breaks a lot of rules. For example, it has no formal rhyme scheme and its meter is only roughly iambic pentameter.

    Side note: iambic pentameter is a fancy way of explaining the consistent da-dum, da-dum, da-dum, da-dum, da-dum (yep, five times!) rhythm of the lines. A perfect example is line 5 of Shakespeare's Sonnet 116.

    O no! It is an ev-er fix-ed mark (sonnet 116, line 5, where the italics show the stress)

    Compare this to a line from Duffy's poem:

    drib-bling their prose. My liv-ing laugh-ing love – (12)

    Close, but no cigar!

    Duffy definitely takes a lot more liberty with the form than Shakespeare does. But her poem does include what is perhaps the signature Shakespearean sonnet feature: the couplet. Duffy's sonnet, like all of Shakespeare's, ends with a strong couplet (a pair of rhyming lines). Adds a nice punch, we think.

    If you're interested in learning more about sonnets, check out what we have to say about them in our poetry glossary. If you want to know more about Shakespeare's sonnets in particular, we've got some handy study guides just waiting for you.

  • The Bed

    The poem begins with an epigraph from Shakespeare's will. It says that the only item that he bequeaths (gives) to his wife, Anne, is their second best bed. While a lot of Shakespeare scholars have interpreted this to mean that Shakespeare didn't love his wife, Duffy totally turns the tables in her poem. Through the voice of Anne, she imagines that this second best bed is a sentimental reminder of the Shakespeares' passionate relationship. The bed, which many scholars interpret as a low blow, becomes a pretty moving symbol of love.

    • Epigraph: The quote from Shakespeare's will provides us with the context we need to understand the poem. For more on this, check out what we have to say in the "In a Nutshell" section.
    • Lines 1-3: Anne tells us that the bed was more than just a bed. It's a "spinning world," and it's filled with all kinds of beautiful and amazing things – forests, clifftops, and even the sea. She's speaking metaphorically; it's not like these things are actually in bed with her! Still, the bed is a place of magic for Anne.
    • Lines 8-10: Here, Anne creates another metaphor by saying that the bed is like a page upon which her husband has written her. (She is the writing and the bed is the page.) Since her husband was Shakespeare, it makes a lot of sense that she'd use a writing metaphor. What's interesting about this is that it seems like Anne is admitting that she herself is a product of Shakespeare's imagination. Strange, right?
    • Lines 11-12: These lines are the crux of the bed scenario. Anne explains that she and Shakespeare reserved the best bed for their guests, and took the second best one for themselves. So, the will is not an insult after all. It's a reminder of the good times she and her husband had in that second best bed. She puts it this way: she and Shakespeare have had poetry, romance and drama in the second best bed, while the guests are just left "dribbling their prose." (We all know that poetry, romance, and drama are a lot more fun than prose!) We having a sneaking suspicion that Anne is alluding to sex here: let's just say she has no complaints about her husband's performance in bed.
    • Lines 12-14: This is the saddest part of the poem. Anne tells us that she will hold onto the memory of her dead husband just as he once held her while lying in that second best bed. The bed becomes a symbol of her enduring love for him.
  • Writing

    This poem is as much about writing as it is about love. Duffy uses a constant stream of writing metaphors to characterize Anne's relationship with Shakespeare. This is no surprise: Shakespeare was a writer after all. Still, though Bill may have been a writer, Anne Hathaway probably wasn't. In the poem, Anne appropriates (or borrows) Shakespeare's mode of communication for her own purposes by using the sonnet, a form popularized by Shakespeare through his 154-poem sonnet sequence. So in Duffy's poem, Shakespeare isn't the only writer in the family.

    • Lines 3-5: Duffy makes a double metaphor here. Shakespeare's words are shooting stars, and they are also kisses that fall upon Anne's lips. Words become real objects out there in the world that Anne can see and feel.
    • Lines 5-7: Get ready, get set, more metaphors! Anne's diction (or word choice) here – "rhyme," "echo," "assonance," "verb," "noun" – is very writing-focused. These are all poetic devices and parts of speech used by writers, but once again, Anne makes these words come to life; this time, she links this poetic vocabulary to the body. It's almost like we can reach out and touch the "softer rhyme's in the poem.
    • Lines 8-9: Anne tells us that she's dreamed that Shakespeare has written her; maybe she imagines that she's a character in one of his plays, or maybe that he has created her completely out of his imagination. Both are interesting images.
    • Lines 9-10: In these lines, Anne references some of the genres in which Shakespeare wrote – romance and drama – and says that the real-life version is better, more sensuous. Rather than seeing a play about lovers, she gets to touch, smell, and taste hers.
    • Lines 11-12: We find out here that the best bed is reserved for guests. While Anne and her husband may be stuck in the second best bed, it seems a lot more fun than being in the best one. In the best beds, the guests are "dribbling their prose." Anne and Shakespeare, on the other hand, have poetry, romance, and drama. Anne seems to be slyly telling us that her sex life is much more exciting than that of her guests. They're stuck with prose, while she has poetry.
  • Steaminess Rating


    Some of the sexual references may go over the head of the little ones in the room, but we can't help but discern a lot of sexual metaphors and innuendos in this poem. They're not right there on the surface, but dig just a little deeper and you'll definitely find a PG-13 poem. Maybe you shouldn't read this one to your little brothers and sisters at bedtime.