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The Hair of the Head of Shakespeare

Taking a look at first digitised objects: "The Hair of the Head of Shakespeare" and "The Hair of Anne Hathaway".

Robyn Greenwood

Our first digitised artefacts are also related to Shakespeare’s Elizabethan tour and are two of several items used to interpret Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. ‘The Hair of the Head of Shakespeare’—said to be taken at age 16 and within 10 years of his death— and ‘The Hair of Anne Hathaway’ are two exciting objects in the SBT collection that have never been digitised. As mentioned in last month's blog, these two items were chosen as a result of this fact as well as their interesting historical and theatrical connections to Shakespeare. 

Historically, both items are dated around the 1790s and have possible connections with the Shakespearean scholar J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps. Halliwell-Phillipps was well known for his 1862 archaeological dig at New Place (Shakespeare's last home) but equally as popular for his substantial collection of information concerning Shakespeare's life and times. Although the authenticity of the hair is still in question, the resemblance of Halliwell-Philipps' signature on the back of both SBT objects suggests that they once passed through the scholar's hands and were probably regarded as important and interesting relics. 

According to Peter Hewitt, an Arts and Humanities Research Council funded collaborative doctoral student with the SBT, the act of chopping off and preserving locks of hair for personal or sentimental use was not popular in Shakespeare's time, however, he notes that a much more accepted practice would have been to further incorporate the hair in hand crafted mementoes such as necklaces or bracelets. Could these two SBT objects be the raw materials once intended for such purposes?

It is through this rather romanticized narrative that the app explores these two objects— combining the historical and sentimental value of these 'hair trinkets' with the powerful and emotional writer of those famous love plays and poems. In Henry VI part 1 Shakespeare writes:

She’s beautiful, and therefore to be wooed; She is woman, and therefore to be won

(Act V, scene iii)

Isn't it lovely to imagine Shakespeare 'wooing' Anne Hathaway at her cottage? Exchanging such sentimental gifts and writing her sonnets?

The Hair of Anne Hathaway
The Hair of Anne Hathaway
The Hair of the Head of Shakespeare: Halliwell-Phillipps detail
The Hair of the Head of Shakespeare: Halliwell-Phillipps detail
The Hair of the Head of Shakespeare
The Hair of the Head of Shakespeare