Redefining Shakespeare - ‘My Second Best Bed’

Was Shakespeare an unfeeling, and even unpleasant character, who lacked generosity and compassion towards his family? Not according to Dr Amanda Bevan, Head of Legal Records at The National Archives, who gave an enlightening talk on the intricacies and confusion surrounding Shakespeare’s will, at this year’s Alumni Weekend.

Countless interpretations of the Bard’s last will and testament have focused on the gifts left, and the implications of these upon Shakespeare’s character. None more so than the mystery surrounding his ‘second best bed’, bequeathed to his wife Anne. Dr Bevan’s interpretation shines new light on the context of Shakespeare’s bequests and, thanks to detailed and cutting edge research, is able to provide some alternative suggestions.

Dr Bevan’s interpretation challenges several of the common assertions about the will, by reassessing the date of completion, analysing edits and amendments, and debunking a few of the myths and suppositions.

To read the full story and learn more on the techniques of analysis, the new interpretations and the mysteries of Shakespeare’s ‘Second Best Bed’ visit Dr Bevan’s Blog

Here are a few key observations from this alternative view:

  • Shakespeare’s will was written as a business document, about a future transfer of property to come into effect on his death
  • The will was not a deathbed declaration, and therefore no place for expressions of affection
  • Looking at the bequests of rings for his friends and the bed for his wife, added in March 1616, it seems that when seriously ill, Shakespeare wanted to give personal mementos to people who mattered to him

As for the gifts left to family and friends, these are examined under the subtle but crucial points of historical and social context to illustrate how all is not quite what it seems when studying the will of Will Shakespeare.

Dr Bevan said:
“Be careful when drawing up your will, you never know if someone may misinterpret your intentions!”

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