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Commemorating the Women Who Made Shakespeare – New Pictures Released of Objects in Hidden Voices Exhibition

Amy Hurst, Collections Manager at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust with an Embroidered cap now mounted onto a fabric-covered board RESIZE

Amy Hurst, Collections Manager at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust with an Embroidered cap now mounted onto a fabric-covered board.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has marked International Women’s Day (Friday 8 March) by releasing more details of their upcoming exhibition; Hidden Voices: The Women Who Made Shakespeare, including a new set of images of the objects going on display in Stratford-upon-Avon.

William Shakespeare may have written that ‘There is a history in all men’s lives’ in Henry IV, but a leading educational charity is ensuring that visitors know that there’s also a history in all women’s lives, too, and that it is harder work to find it, understand it, and acknowledge it.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, the charity that maintains and shares the Shakespeare story through the Shakespeare family homes in and around Stratford-upon-Avon has released more information on their upcoming exhibition. One that will explore the more hidden and forgotten stories of the lives of women in the Early Modern period, focusing initially on the women in William’s immediate family, and seeks to understand why these rich subjects of historical interest have been forgotten.

“The women in Shakespeare’s family have received more attention than is typical, but as bit-parts in his life.

This exhibition is about the women of New Place, the largest house in Stratford and home, at one point or another, to the women of Shakespeare’s family: his mother, Mary, wife, Anne, daughters, Susanna and Judith, and granddaughter, Elizabeth.

Each one had a unique relationship with Shakespeare and a life and loves of their own and we’re excited to share their stories with visitors this year.”

Said Professor Charlotte Scott, director of knowledge at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

Indeed, this focus on the hidden histories of women is at the core of a multi-year programme from the West Midlands-based charity. Entitled ‘The Women Who Made Shakespeare’ the Trust is looking to explore the sometimes hidden, often less-explored, and unfortunately, erased and forgotten stories of the women who both influenced Shakespeare during his lifetime and the female-identifying people who have contributed to his legacy.

“A big part of the work of planning this exhibition was untangling fact from fiction. For example, reframing Anne’s story from that of simply the dutiful, yet jilted wife left the ‘second best bed’ to a person in her own right and standing. She was a businesswoman, managing the household and the various financial endeavours in Stratford for the family.

This exhibition wants to strip away some of those fantasies and look at the more nuanced networks through which the women of this period would have operated in and interacted with society.”

Continued Prof. Scott.

The new exhibition will use documentary evidence and items from the Trust’s extensive collection of over 1 million individual artefacts to place the women who lived and worked at New Place back into the Shakespeare story.

“The sources about the women in the Shakespeare family build a picture of their lives, but it is tantalisingly brief. For example, there are no known portraits of these women. So how do we put flesh on the bones of their biographies? We can look to sources about their peers and draw on art and literature to reach out and try and understand their experiences and develop a fuller picture of them.”

Added Amy Hurst, collections manager at the SBT.

Amy Hurst, Collections Manager with a document from John and Mary Shakespeare to Robert Webbe, to perform covenants RESIZE

Amy Hurst, Collections Manager at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust with a document from John and Mary Shakespeare to Robert Webbe, to perform covenants.

Some of the highlight objects on display include:

  • Textiles from the 16th and 17th centuries, including the unfinished coif. Designs like this would have been worn by women of the Shakespeare’s family’s social status.
  • Medicine jars and cabinets. Women who have acted as the main healers in the family and had an understanding of the medicinal properties of many plants.
  • Legal letters, including deeds to property. Most of what we know about the lives of women in the Early Modern period is through these documents, when they inherit property in their own right.

Visitors will have the chance to explore the exhibition for themselves from Saturday 16 March when Shakespeare’s New Place reopens to the public for the season. They will also be able to explore the wider impact of the Women Who Made Shakespeare across the other properties, including object handling at Shakespeare’s Birthplace and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage with the Shakespeare’s Story ticket which gives visitors unlimited entry to each property in a 12-month period.

For more information on the Hidden Voices exhibition and to pre-book the Shakespeare Story ticket please visit