Shakespeare's Dark Lady

William Shakespeare’s supposed mistress may be the reason behind his remarkable, yet dark last twenty seven sonnets. She “has come to be known as the Dark Lady, a name that reflects her morals as well as her complexion” (Andrews “Love…” 64). Along with being Shakespeare’s mistress, the Dark Lady was married and musically inclined (Love). She challenged not only her bed vows, but Shakespeare’s also. The Dark Lady influenced a significant deal of Shakespeare’s sonnets and life and will never be identified, but Emilia Lanier proves to be the best candidate, for she had similarities in both the social and literature world with Shakespeare.

Emilia Lanier was a woman of several talents. She came from the Bassano family, a family of Venetian Jews, who also happened to be the greatest musical family in Elizabethan London (Wood). Her father’s death left her the option of becoming the mistress of Lord Hunsdon. After becoming pregnant, her career as Lord Hunsdon’s mistress came to an end, and she was married off to another musician, Alfonso Lanier.

After spending lavishly, her husband left her and their debts (Love). Emilia found comfort with Simon Foreman, an analyst, astrologer, and doctor. She asked him if her husband was to return and if she were ever to be a lady (Wood). Though her intentions were to receive advice from Simon, Emilia occasionally found herself in his bed. Later in life, Emilia earned the title of the first woman to publish a book of poetry (Love).

Emilia’s volume of poetry was pro-feminine. In it, she criticizes men by declaring that without women, men “would be quite extinguished out of the world” (Love). Emilia’s scandalous reputation may have intrigued Shakespeare into acquainting himself with her.

Shakespeare and Emilia did not just meet by chance, but by circumstance. Emilia could have met Shakespeare through Lord Hunsdon, because Lord Hunsdon was also Shakespeare’s patron. It is also possible that they met through Simon Foreman. Simon was a part of Shakespeare’s theatrical circle. In 1597, Shakespeare lost his only son. As Shakespeare mourned for his son, Emilia saw that “he was famous and seemingly going places” and took advantage of him.

“A visit by death often has a habit of inspiring a greater hunger for life” and the alleged affair between the two ended the hunger. Besides Shakespeare’s vulnerability and confusion, another reason for the affair between Shakespeare and Emilia may have been that Shakespeare wanted a mistress to prove “his abiding power and virility” as a nobleman. It undoubtedly was not an accident that the two met. (Love) Emilia and Shakespeare had several connections in society and more connections in their writings.

Emilia’s volume of poetry, Salve Deus, and Shakespeare’s sonnets were very similar in “literary style, vocabulary, imagery, verse form, theology, composition, sources, dramatic devices, and use of innovation”. Emilia incorporated fictional passages and characters into Salve Deus, as did Shakespeare in his works. For example, the Gospel of Matthew is the most common Biblical source for both authors. It may not be by coincidence that Shakespeare and Emilia had similar thoughts. (Hudson)

The sonnets Shakespeare composed during the affair were “vengeful, obsessive, pornographic” (Love). Poet William Wordsworth called Shakespeare’s sonnets the key with which “Shakespeare unlocked his heart” (Andrews “Interpreting…” 94). The Dark Lady Sonnets, Sonnets 127-154, express emotions that range from sexual obsession to regretful humor (Andrews “Love..” 64). Sonnet 142 makes a direct reference to the Dark Lady’s sexual relationship, “Robbed others' beds' revenues of their rents.” (Dave).

The Dark Lady most importantly affected Shakespeare’s marriage with Anne Hathaway. Shakespeare had a guilty conscience as a husband and as a Catholic by breaking his bed vow with Anne (Love). The Dark Lady drove him “mad with desire and guilt”, but inspired by madness, Shakespeare formed beautiful poetry (Wood).

In Shakespeare’s private life, the Dark Lady added to his time of disasters, but professionally it provided “fantastically creative” writing (Wood). The Dark Lady not only influenced pages of marvelous poetry, but she convinced Shakespeare to break his bed vow. Her character and personality are referred to in twenty seven sonnets, but her name is never to be revealed. Finding the Dark Lady may be impossible, but there is enough evidence that points to Emilia Lanier. Even with evidence, only Shakespeare can provide the answers to the mystery of the Dark Lady.

Works Cited Andrews, John. “Love in the Sonnets.” Shakespeare’s World and Work. St. Louis: Turtle Back Books, 2001. Print. Andrews, John. “Interpreting the Sonnets.” Shakespeare’s World and Work. St. Louis: Turtle Back Books, 2001. Print. Dave, Nigel. “The Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.” The Place 2 Be. Yahoo, 2009. 16 May 2012. . Hudson, John. “Amelia Bassano Lanier: A New Paradigm.” The Oxfordian 11 (2009): 67-82. Web. 02 May 2012. In Search Of Shakespeare. Dir. Wood, Michael. PBS Home Video, 2003. DVD. Love, Mark. “Emilia Lanier (Dark Lady).” In Search of Shakespeare. MayaVision International, 2003. Web. 28 April 2012. .