“I had done a reading of ‘The Last Will’ at the Vineyard Playhouse in Martha’s Vineyard, where I have a house,” says Adams, who is married to Tony Shalhoub, one of Brustein’s students at Yale and later an ART company member. “I usually do readings there for Bob, or for other people, and so Bob asked me to do it here.”
Her character was also a new experience. “I knew nothing about Anne Hathaway,” she acknowledges, “but I’m not as embarrassed to say that as I would have been before I read all the books that I’ve now read, because there is very little to know about her.
“I just finished reading Germaine Greer’s ‘Shakespeare’s Wife,’ ” she continues. “It seemed as plausible as anything else. Greer is such a scholar and a research person that you get an incredible picture of the world they lived in. She points out that, with as little information as we have on Anne, why every Bardite scholar has decided to make her this villainous character, it smacks a little of misogyny. From what she puts together, and I think it makes a lot of sense, they probably had a pretty good relationship in the beginning, and she may have been much more understanding about his having to go off and work and was probably managing independently, selling malt and possibly doing some haberdasher kind of work.”
Maler articulates a similar view of the relationship between Shakespeare and his wife. “Many people assume that it was a bad marriage and they were always unhappy and that he ran away to London and abandoned his family,” he says. “But there’s no real reason to assume that to be the case. And though it’s become part of the lore of Shakespeare biographers, I think we’ve found that there’s something very loving and warm and generous in the relationship. Certainly there are problems. In Bob’s imagining, the final stages of Will’s life were plagued by mental deterioration, his paranoia about Anne’s fidelity to him. And part of the journey of the play is his coming to terms with that and realizing that what he thought of her is not what she was, and that they reconnect with what initially brought them together.”
So does Brustein think of “The Last Will” as the likeliest scenario of Shakespeare’s final years? “I see it as one of the scenarios,” he says. “No, I didn’t invent anything that couldn’t have happened. I think it all could have happened, and I dreamt a lot of it, so I assume it did happen!”
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.