With Mother’s Day coming up, it only seems appropriate to make some wild assumptions and perform some psychoanalysis regarding Shakespeare’s relationship with his mother. Well, perhaps not, but it is interesting to wonder about it given how mothers are often portrayed in Shakespeare’s plays.
Here’s what we know about the woman who was to mother the Bard. Mary Shakespeare was born around 1540 and was a daughter of a wealthy land owner from the prominent Arden family. She married John Shakespeare, a farmer below her in social status, in 1557, one year after her father’s death. She bore daughters Joan and Margaret in 1558 and 1562, both of whom died soon after birth. Her son William, born in 1564, was the first child to survive. He was followed up by four more children, one of whom yet again died after a few years. Thus her life was not without tragedy, but probably not too out of keeping with the usual run-of-the-mill tragedy of trying to raise a family during a plague epidemic.
William himself married the 26-year-old Anne Hathaway when he was still a teenager and a few months later, she became the mother of their first child, Susanna. In 1585, she would give birth to twins Hamnet and Judith. So what was William’s relationship to his own mother and the mother of his child? Much of his life was spent in the society of London, while the women lived their lives in Stratford-upon-Avon; however he did spend some time there. He also ultimately chose to retire with Anne rather than in London.
When looking at Shakespeare’s plays, mothers are often absent. While father figures abound, Hamlet’s Ophelia, both Jessica and Portia in The Merchant of Venice, Miranda in The Tempest, and the daughters in King Lear are all motherless. Shakespeare scholars posit that this could be partially a logistical issue. Since women did not appear on Shakespeare’s stage, and young men took the roles of women, it was easier to slot in a young man whose voice had not yet changed for a young woman. Maybe so. But that doesn’t explain why the older women who do appear in Shakespeare’s play are often anything but motherly. Lady Macbeth is a prime example as she talks openly of infanticide. And Hamlet’s mother Gertrude is hardly the picture of virtuous motherhood as she marries her brother-in-law shortly after her husband’s murder. Juliet’s mother, Lady Capulet, is one of the few instances of a mother in Shakespeare truly seeming to have her daughter’s best interests at heart, and for her troubles she is given a small and fairly ineffectual role.
Nevertheless, as creators of greeting cards, and lovers of Shakespeare, regardless of his own possible mother issues, we couldn’t help but make a card from his works for one of our favorite holidays. Don’t forget your own matriarch this mother’s day, and make sure to “say it with Shakespeare”!