The University of North Texas just presented The Lady Revealed, a play about the Dark Lady of the sonnets. She’s the mysterious lover who appears in William Shakespeare’s poetry. As KERA’s Jerome Weeks reports, one North Texas couple has a personal interest in her identity.

“Evil men — like vipers — do deface the very wombs wherein they were bred. It was by men such as these that Christ, his apostles and prophets were dishonored.”

These are the words of Emilia Bassano. She published them in a book in London in1611, titled Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (Hail God, King of the Jews). The volume features Bassano’s account of her conversion to Christianity (hence, the title). But it’s notable because it also includes several poems extolling great women as well as Bassano’s early, one might say pre-feminist defense of women against men.

But Bassano’s book is also noteworthy, some scholars believe, because she is specifically defending herself – against William Shakespeare.

Bassano was the young, kept mistress of the man who would become the patron of Shakespeare’s theater company, Henry Carey, the Lord Chamberlain (and Queen  Elizabeth’s cousin). When Emilia became pregnant, Carey had her married off to Alfonzo Lanier, a court musician — who also knew the Earl of Southampton, Shakespeare’s other patron, the man to whom he dedicated his poetry. With all these connections, it’s extremely likely Bassano knew Shakespeare — and may have been his lover, the famous ‘Dark Lady’ of the sonnets. Printed in 1609, Shakespeare’s poems depict a bewitching and unfaithful woman – he calls her “my female evil.” And two years after the poems were printed (some believe, without Shakespeare’s permission), Bassano published her fiery attack against men slandering women. 

Was it, perhaps, a pointed reply, a specific counterattack? [continue reading or listen here]

Tags: Emilia Bassano, Shakespeare, dark lady, play, sonnets

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