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Mrs. Shakespeare by Robert Nye

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BBC Radio 7, 11 December 2009
 
This play hinged on the fact that Shakespeare's wife Anne (Maggie Steed) was only bequeathed her husband's second best bed on his death in 1616. The best bed was deemed too significant to be given to the wife, having been bought for Shakespeare (Kenneth Cranham) by one of his wealthy patrons, Sir Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton. Anne told the listeners in flashback exactly why this was the case.
 
In Robert Nye's retelling, Anne is not really interested in Shakespeare's work; she stayed in Stratford while her husband moved to London to seek his fortune. Anne comes down to stay, and finds that Shakespeare has discovered fame and fortune, as symbolized by the presence of a large four-poster bed in his room. Hitherto the couple have not enjoyed a healthy sex life (despite producing two children), but by sheer luck they discover a mutual love of sex games played out on the bed. Anne takes on many of the parts associated with Shakespeare's plays: Rosalind in As You Like It, Miranda in The Tempest, Goneril in King Lear, while her husband plays opposite her as Touchstone, Caliban and Lear. However their love life soon peters out once Anne discovers that Shakespeare is bisexual, as he carries on a parallel love-affair with the attractive twenty-one-year-old Sir Henry. Anne eventually moves out of the house, and only receives the second-best bed, because Sir Henry's bed had a special significance for her husband - a memento of his homosexual affair, as well as the place where he could experiment (so to speak) with various dramatic situations.
 
Patrick Rayner's production characterized Anne as a down-to-earth person, willing to accept a subordinate role in her marriage yet determined to maintain her identity as a person. Although her husband seldom respected her (except as an object for his sex-games), she nonetheless retained sufficient presence of mind to tell the story in an affectionate, though somewhat relieved manner. It seemed as if she was somehow glad to escape from her marriage and begin a new life on her own.