Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 1, No. 50. Friday, 7 Sep 1990.
Date: Thu, 6 Sep 90 19:40 EST
Subject: 2nd best bed
Whatever the legalities involved, the willing of the second
best bed to Anne will inevitably be read in the light of our
attitude toward the couple and our perception of their
relationship. Was that later addition to the will an act of
kindness or of spite? Can we ever know? Perhaps we would
do well to heed (an admittedly not always trustworthy)
Anthony Burgess. He says
With the name Hathaway chiming in our ears, we come
to the mystery of Will's bequest to his widow. He
left her 'the second-best bed' and nothing else.
Whatever the significance of that solitary item,
his provisions for her were less harsh than they
seem. She had her widow's dower at common law, and
her dowager's place in the great house that Susanna
and her husband took over. She was content to live
with Susanna and she got on well enough with her
son-in-law. The second-best bed was installed in a
particular chamber, and this chamber was to be
inalienably hers. The best bed was in the master
bedchamber, and the inheritrix took that by right.
It was thus a means of clarifying accommodation. To
show Will in an unpleasant light, we can prefer to
believe that the second-best bed was the double bed
she brought from Shottery, and all he did was to
give her what was already hers. This implies a
failure of love, an absence of love, a detestation
long hidden from the world, a desire to humiliate
from the grave. Let us try to keep Will likable.
(*Shakespeare*, London: Jonathan Cape, 1970)