Those lips that Love’s own hand did make
Breathed forth the sound that said “I hate,”
To me that languish’d for her sake:
But when she saw my woeful state,
Straight in her heart did mercy come,
Chiding that tongue that ever sweet
Was used in giving gentle doom,
And taught it thus anew to greet:
“I hate” she alter’d with an end,
That follow’d it as gentle day
Doth follow night, who like a fiend
From heaven to hell is flown away;
“I hate” from hate away she threw,
And saved my life, saying—“not you.”
The image that greets the audience are the words to Sonnet 145, “Those lips that Love’s own hand did make,” written in a large, blue font on a white sheet, two stories tall, flown from the ceiling upstage center. The sheet is positioned as a three dimensional rectangle as if it covered the famous Bed of Ware, built in 1590, and so grand and famous an artifact (the owners boasted it could hold four couples), that Shakespeare alludes to it in his merry comedy Twelfth Night. The Bed of Ware’s visitors (it was a tourist attraction) would carve their names into its massive bedposts.
By the end of Shakespeare’s Will, the opening production in Shakespeare & Company’s 450th anniversary celebration of Shakespeare’s birth, a lusty Kristin Wold, as Shakespeare’s widow Anne Hathaway, has in the course of 87 minutes ripped the sheet down, wrapped it around herself in post-coital bliss (multiple times), and finally, while the applause builds in the air, whisked the sheet away like Ariel dancing on the waves free at last from all commands. It’s a beautiful, spry last image in a performance as lively and forceful as the actress who creates it. Shakespeare’s Will weaves a little Shakespearean history, apocrypha, text from his plays and sonnets, song and dance to create a fantasia centered on a single line in “Bill’s will” leaving his “second best bed” to his wife.
The uses Anne Hathaway made of said bed are the stuff that this dream is made on here.
Though less imposing than the sonnet sheet wrapped around the massive bed, the objects hung from the ceiling create an airy space for Wold to work her wonder in. There’s a Shaker feel to the blue paneled wall upstage of the sheet, and the blue washbasin hanging above upstage left, the blue Shaker-style pedestal against the up-left wall, the blue table downstage right, the blue chair and desk down left, the blue cradle flying above upstage right. Patrick Breenan’s set design (coupled with Matthew Miller’s lighting design) creates all the world Wold needs to take the audience on Hathaway’s journey from her present, to her past, to an imagined future, always weaving and connecting her life, her much younger and more famous husband’s, her children’s, her parents, and her lovers.
“I long for the sea,” Hathaway tells the audience, taking off her mourning clothes after seeing her husband interred, “the sea was a better lover than you, Bill. When it had me, I was wet and warm.” Shakespeare’s Will creates an Anne Hathaway far ahead of her time, having an “open marriage” with Will: “Do you like boys?” she asks him after their first literal and metaphorical “roll in the hay.” “Don’t know,” she says as the sullen and stunned 18-year-old Bill. “It’s OK,” she smiles grandly,” I like boys, too . . . or men (smile deepens), but boys, too, that’s why I come to the fair every year,” she ends the joke with a huge laugh.
Wold’s Anne is earthy, though it’s the sea that is a constant motif in the play, responsible for the play’s strength; there are poignant moments in Shakespeare’s Will that create an ache that lingers in Anne’s adversity. As often as Anne breaks into song and dance during the play—the music by Alexander Sovronsky, the lyrics often by director Daniela Varon, the dances always by Shakespeare & Company’s redoubtable choreographer Susan Dibble—there’s a depth to Wold’s acting, as if the strength, edge, laughter, breath, and life in Shakespeare’s heroines sprung from his wife. As often as Anne reenacts her encounters with “Richard, Frederick, Alexander, Matthew, Caleb,” among others, she waits for Will. The sonnet, its ending couplet’s pun “hate away” for “Hathaway” according to scholars Andrew Gurr and Helen Vendler, Anne claims and recites as for her, as the play claims and ascribes the plays inspired by her.
“You give me more than that,” Anne says as Will on one of his returns to Stratford, “you give me my work, you give me life.” Though it slanders Shakespeare by taking the then common “second best bed” bequeath in his will as an abandonment of Anne—she received as the usual one-third of his money and their home for life, while giving the “second best bed” was in many wills of the time—Shakespeare’s Will offers a loving portrait of a remarkable character whom Kristin Wold brings to full life in a tour-de-force performance.