This is based on a true story.
According to the note on the poetry website at : https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47789/marrying-the-hangman
Jean Cololère, a drummer in the colonial troops at Québec, was imprisoned for duelling in 1751. In the cell next to his was Françoise Laurent, who had been sentenced to hang for stealing. Except for letters of pardon, the only way at the time for someone under sentence of death to escape hanging was, for a man, to become a hangman, or, for a woman, to marry one. Françoise persuaded Cololère to apply for the vacant (and undesirable) post of executioner, and also to marry her.
—Condensed from the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Volume III, 1741-1770
What I admire most about this piece is the way it makes its point by leaving it to the reader to work out what the point might be. In a perfectly pitched declarative language, Atwood tells a strange and unforgetable story, drawing the readers in, inviting them to imagine the situation. Then having suggested more is happening here beyond the biographical details, the story seems to shrug, put its hands in its pockets, and walks off, whistling, leaving the audience to unwrap the parcel. It’s an effect I like very much.