At age 18 Shakespeare himself was married, to Ann Hathaway who, before Batman and Les Miserables, was just a country girl like the Bard’s mother. At Ann Hathaway’s Cottage in Shottery, a mile from Stratford, we learned the origins of many common expressions. The cottage is constructed of crossed timbers and a plaster made of dab (a combination of mud, cow manure, and water) which was thrown at the waddle (a cross-weave of oak and willow branches) to fill it and form the wall. The dab often penetrated the waddle being secured by a workman on the other side, giving us the expression “Here’s mud in your eye.” The ceilings of these early buildings are low and their doors head bumping affairs because heat is more easily contained in small rooms. The early English were not a height challenged race as even their beds might lead us to believe. The beds are short because the folks slept upright propped against what we today call a “head board” in order to avoid the illness of consumption. The pillows on the beds were made of straw in a coarse woven bag and were softened by a good whacking before one retired for the night. Hence the expression “hitting the sack.” The straw mattress was supported by ropes which after a few nights with a heavy load, tended to sag. A screw on the frame could be turned to draw the ropes up, giving us the old saying, “sleep tight.”
In the kitchen we learned that the bread of a meat pie was purposely burned on the bottom to provide a plate for the diner. A dog would consume the burnt portion while the diner enjoyed the “upper crust.” To clean the chimney, our ancestors tied a rope to a rooster’s leg and thrust the poor bird down the chimney; the flailing of his wings served as a feathered chimney sweeper. There is no etymology tied to his practice, just thought you’d want to know.
Shakespeare was only 18 when he married Ann who was 8 years his senior and in a family way at the time. After their marriage they moved to the family’s house on Henley St. in Stratford. This was our next visit on Shakespeare Day.