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New Exhibition To Ensure That 2024 Becomes the Year to Discover the Hidden Voices of the Women Who Made Shakespeare


Visitors to the Shakespeare family homes in Stratford-upon-Avon will have the opportunity to gain an insight into the stories of life, loss, commerce and healing as the voices of the remarkable women who helped shape the life and career of William Shakespeare are explored at a fascinating new exhibition.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, the custodians of the Shakespeare family homes in Stratford-upon-Avon, and a dedicated learning and heritage charity are focusing their programming in 2024 on exploring William’s female relatives and what they can tell us about the world Shakespeare inhabited and the under-represented lives of women in the period.

The centrepiece of this programme will be a new exhibition at Shakespeare’s New Place, that will explore the often-overlooked stories of the women who lived and worked alongside William Shakespeare.

“Prompted by the 400th anniversary of the death of Anne Shakespeare (nee Hathaway) in August 2023, we are embarking on an ambitious, multi-year project that will explore the sometimes hidden, often ignored, erased or forgotten stories of the many women who have influenced, as well as secured William’s legacy.

For this first year, we could think of no better place to start than exploring the lives of the women in Shakespeare’s immediate family. The people who must have had the greatest impact on him.”

Commented Rachael North, Director of Museum and Public Programmes at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

The exhibition, entitled Hidden Voices: The Lives of the Women Who Made Shakespeare, will open in Spring 2024 and will focus on the five women who lived and worked in New Place during Shakespeare’s lifetime. Exploring the intergenerational links of Shakespeare’s closest female family members and discovering ways to reimagine their lives through documentary evidence and surviving objects from the period stored in the Trust’s world-class collection.

The women explored in the exhibition will be:

  • Mary Shakespeare (Nee Arden) Shakespeare’s mother
  • Anne Shakespeare (nee Hathaway) Shakespeare’s wife
  • Susanna Hall (nee Shakespeare) Shakespeare’s eldest daughter
  • Judith Quiney (nee Shakespeare) Shakespeare’s youngest daughter, and twin of Hamnet (d. 1596)
  • Elizabeth Barnard (nee Hall, Nashe) Susanna’s daughter, Shakespeare’s granddaughter 

“Early modern women often only become visible in the archives when their husbands die, through legacies, the law courts, business transactions or in wills, and so we will use these as starting points to re-populate the gaps in women’s histories, and re-discover these hidden voices. 

By using objects from our collection, including artefacts from the late 16th and early 17th centuries, we will explore the impact of these women, as businesswomen and effective managers of a grand and busy household at New Place as well as challenging many of the myths that relegate women to the margins: that William didn’t love Anne, because he left her the ‘second best bed’, that Susanna was the favourite, that Judith was illiterate and that because Mary was a farmer’s daughter, she was less upwardly mobile, for example.”

Said Professor Charlotte Scott, Director of Knowledge at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

In addition to the exhibition there will be a full programme of activities, events and talks at the other Shakespeare family homes, which will be announced early in the New Year. All focused on elements of The Women Who Made Shakespeare. The interpretation at each of the properties will also be augmented to ensure the stories of the women of the period are highlighted.

Importantly, the programme has been developed with women and female-identifying people at the heart of the conversation, a key aim of the Women Who Made Shakespeare project. This also means that the delivery of the programme will prioritise women and female-identifying practitioners, ensuring that the authentic female perspective is at the heart of the activity. 

What About William?

The Trust are keen to stress that this focus does not take away from the importance of the Shakespeare story but adds to it.

“We are approaching William Shakespeare not as a single genius, but as the figurehead of a community and network of people who enabled and secured his place in the canon of Western literature.

He wrote at a time when society was highly patriarchal and socially stratified. However, as we will explore in 2024, his own life and much of his career were enabled by women. From the monarch to home life.”

Continued Prof. Scott. 

Hidden Voices: The Lives of the Women Who Made Shakespeare will open at Shakespeare’s New Place on Saturday 16 March 2024. More information, including booking information and more details on the full programme of activities for the year, can be found at