Sample Chapter

Chapter 9: Aemelia Bassano Lanyer as the Dark Lady 


A miniature by Hilliard in 1593—but is this Aemelia? It says she's 26, but Aemelia would have been 24 that year. The yellow silkworm moths, mulberry branches, and stag trippant (for her husband's connection with Essex) on the white front of her dress could be the right emblems for Lanyer.

Other Chapters in my book use the name pun substitution code to identify:

1.  The youth as Henry Wriothesley, the Third Earl of                     Southampton & 

2. The main rival poet and spy as                      Christopher Marlowe.

Using the same code method, I can show how many minor characters are named as well—including:

The Second Earl of Essex, Robert     Devereux

Queen Elizabeth I

Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester 

Thomas Heneage

Countess Mary Southampton 

Sir Philip Sidney 

Lady Penelope (Devereux) Rich

Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford

Lord Burleigh

Sir Francis Walsingham

Lady Elizabeth de Vere

Lady Elizabeth Vernon Southampton 

Anne Hathaway

Robert Greene

Robert Johnson

Sir William Herbert

Philip Henslowe

King James I  

Astronomer Thomas Digges 

And many more.

Good Musicology Book about Bassano Family



in Black"



by Geeraerts

Braided Double Embedded Name Code: Aemelia + Bessano:

BE X 2 in two "BEtrays"

SS in "groSS"

AA in "thAt" and "mAy"

NO in "NO"

ON in "reasON"

VD: Chlamydia



A. L. Rowse


Susanne Woods




NOTE: I have written a new chapter that tests whether Will & Aemelia write texts that dialogue back and forth.

All for one, one for all


Tout pour un, un pour tout

The French, Wriothesley Family motto from the Middle Ages

"... this








The Bassano family name comes from the town of the same name near


Here are some of the possible matches between Aemilia Lanyer's life and the dark lady of the Sonnets:

        • She was probably a musician and could play the virginal as             the dark lady did in Sonnet 128. In her book on Lanyer,                    Woods interprets lines from Lanyer’s poem about the                        country-house Cooke-ham as showing that Aemelia “served             as music tutor for Anne Clifford” (daughter of Margaret                    Clifford, countess of Cumberland).

• She probably had “wiry,” black hair (Sonnet 130) from her possibly Jewish, definitely Italian father, Baptist Bessano, who came from Venice to London to be a court musician under Henry VIII.

• Her breath may have “reeked” (Sonnet 130) along with Will's after she cooked Italian garlic dishes for him. Remember Bottom's advice: "And, most dear actors, eat no onions or garlic...."

• She was a famous mistress to Henry Carey, Queen Elizabeth's cousin, who cast her off—the cad—and married her off on October 18, 1592 to another musician, Alfonso Lanyer (her second cousin), after Carey got her pregnant (Woods The Poems... xviii).

• Carey was also known as Lord Hunsdon, the Lord Chamberlain, the Queen’s personal supervisor of both the theatrical and the musical scenes, and he became patron of Shakespeare's company starting in 1594 (Gibson Sonnets 147; Woods Lanyer 93).

• Her (possible) cousin, Robert Johnson (c. 1583 —1633), related to her mother Margaret Johnson, wrote music for Shakespeare's (and Ben Jonson's) songs and was "musician for Shakespeare's company" (McBride n. p.).

• Aemilia was considered a "brave," loose, and independent woman by a horny astrologer Simon Forman (Woods The Poems... xx). Forman winds up calling Aemilia a "whore" because she didn't sleep with him— Men! But Forman gave Rowse his first (perhaps mistaken) clues, and Woods uses Forman as a straw man in her battle against Rowse's claiming Aemilia was "promiscuous" (Woods Lanyer 25). Later, I want to say how I think both Rowse and Woods may be right about Aemilia Lanyer at two very different stages in her life.

• Aemilia may or may not have been writing poetry in 1592, which she later published in 1611 containing her feminist views. She failed to get the kind of female patronage from her book that she really needed. But back in 1592, she may have been looking for both a male writing mentor and a male poetic patron, which may make her the second, main rival poet to seek financial help from Henry and challenge Will as well as want to learn writing from him. Maybe it is the angry and ambitious, 23 year old Aemilia, dark haired and olive skinned, who Tom Stoppard should have written into Shakespeare in Love.

• When she and her husband Alfonso were having hard times in 1604, none other than Henry Wriothesley (our hero) suggested that Cecil and the new King James I give her husband a hay and straw weighing position in London.

• Oscar Wilde brings up two women’s names that make glancing
references to the dark lady. Cranley wrote a poem, published after Shakespeare’s death, for a woman named “Amanda,” who sounds like the dark lady (1188). And Wilde thinks Shakespeare’s love for the dark lady had ended before 1594 because Henry Willobie writes asking love advice about a reluctant woman named “Avisa” from his “friend W. S.,” who was “newly recovered from the same infection” (1190). So I wondered if the Amanda/Avisa/Aemelia three syllable, A-a names were any kind of historic echo among Shakespeare’s contemporaries, who heard more current London gossip than we ever can.

• In 1592, Aemilia was 23, Will was 28, and Henry was 19.

• After the birth of her first baby, Henry (Hunsdon’s child) in early 1593, Aemilia had trouble carrying babies to term.  Woods quotes Forman, who writes, “She hath mani fals conceptions” (23). She had another miscarriage in 1597. Forman writes that before this miscarriage, she had “moch pain in the bottom of the belly, womb, stomack and hed / & redy to vomit” (23). Finally, her baby daughter dies at nine months old in 1599. In a group of ten sonnets in which he discusses his own venereal disease, Shakespeare says he believes he caught some kind of venereal disease from the dark lady.

In a January 2007 interview with Chris Larkin, son of my doctor Jeff and a Ph.D. candidate planning to write his thesis on Alchemy, Chris mentioned Chlamydia as the most likely disease. A visit to the Wikipedia web page on “Chlamydia” reveals a possible symptom list for both Will and Aemelia: him—fever, burning urine, and eye infection; her—burning urine, womb pain, spontaneous abortion, and pneumonia for any new born.

In addition to all this, there is a very good Chapter 8 (entitled “Was Emilia Bassano the Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s Sonnets?”) by Roger Prior in a book he wrote with Lasoki called The Bassanos: Venetian Musicians and Instrument Makers in England, 1531—1665. Although Prior is a Literature researcher and writer, this book is essentially on musical history and musicology. So I have found it quite useful to go outside “the field” of Literature to gain new and “forbidden” insights. This pastoral vision of the “field” of Literature as the sole property of Ph.D.’s in English is a quaint notion that begs the question of who owns the pasture.

The truth is, Shakespeare owns this pasture. Some times it is imperative to leave the “Literary” pasture behind and join the wild men in the woods. I have found that historians, poets, musicologists, art historians, mathematicians, chemists, journalists, and many others are sometimes much more willing to be daring than some “great” professors of Literature. Perhaps some of their “greatness” stems from their unwillingness to stray from the “party line,” the great consensus of slow-to-change opinions that has hardened into “Shakespeare Studies.”

But within the protective cover of a musical family’s history, Prior feels freer to explore if Aemelia were the dark lady. He thinks that Aemelia was forced to have sex with Hunsdon even after she was married off to Alphonse Lanier (118). Thus, Shakespeare could see her as a raped wife like Lucrece. Prior also questions whether the dark lady is playing a “virginal” in Sonnet 128. He believes the word “jacks” points to a different instrument that the Bessanos made as well as virginals: the clavichord (119). This instrument required its player to dampen the sound with the palm of her hand, thus coming in contact with the strings and the jacks. The Bessanos made and sold those jacks. Prior believes this explains why Will envies those wooden jacks and sees them more blessed than his “living lips” (Sonnet 128).

Prior finds a three-way tie for the phrase “base touches” in Sonnet 141. But these touches are “base” in four ways: 1. They are base because both Aemelia and her infant son Henry were illegitimate; 2. They are base because they are (both wanted and unwanted) sexual touches; and 3. They are base notes on the strings of a lute or a keyboard (124), and I want to add 4. They are base because her name is Bassano.

Prior finds, as I do, name code in Sonnet 127 in the phrase “each hand.” He spells it out: each = H (spoken with a dropped h) + hand = Hund, so these 2 words are a name code reference for the unwelcome, continued “base touches” of Lord Henry Hunsdon (130).

Prior is right to point out that Sonnet 127—on the surface, a clichéd protest against the false picture cosmetics can create—actually conceals a meaning below blonde versus black beauty. A very powerful nobleman is continuing to make Aemelia miserable. She is not just superficially protesting against social “racism” and bigotry against dark women. She is mourning her continued sexual slavery under the man who would not help her enough after he got her pregnant (131). Thus, the superficial social contrast between dark and light women and fashions covers over a much more dangerous personal situation that Aemelia is in and that she tells Shakespeare about. Once again, thanks to Prior this time, the code reveals new depth and power behind Shakespeare’s surfaces.    


Here's a painting from the collection of Lord Hundson's decendants called "Unknown Lady in Black" (1592) by Marcus Geeraerts the Younger. A leading Aemelia [Bassano] Lanyer scholar, Susanne Woods, thinks this may be Aemelia and uses it on her book cover. It is from the right year—the year Aemelia was forced to marry her cousin Alphonse Lanyer—and it belongs to the right family now. It seems one of a pair with a painting of Lord Hunsdon from 1591. Geeraerts painted the Ditchley portrait of Queen Elzabeth I c. 1592.

But (I hear you say) this is all circumstantial evidence. So I tore Sonnet 151 apart looking for her name, and I found it! Get ready for one of Will's funniest, bawdy jokes. Remember the rhetorical figure Deixis, which means "pointing" in Greek? In this Sonnet's name line, Will brags about getting an erection after naming her, and what does he "point" out her "name" with? His penis! Line 9 again says: "But rising at thy name doth point out thee [.]"

This Sonnet has 7 p-words, so if we didn't get it the first time, he ends the couplet with a repeat, 

            "I call/ Her 'love' for whose dear love I rise and fall."

I wondered what line 9 was pointing at. Well, if it is pointing up like Will's proud member, then it is pointing at the second quatrain right above it, which reads like this (with my emphasis and analysis added) in lines 5—12:

        "For, thou betr-A-ying mE, I do betr-A-Y            AE/AY
            M-y nobler part to M-y gross body's tr-EA-son;   MM/EE (sound)
            My soul doth te-LL my bod-Y th-A-t h-E m-A-y   LL/YA/EA
            Triumph in love; flesh stays no further reason,
           But rising at thy name doth point out thee     Name pointing line
            As his triumphant prize, proud of this pride:       6 p-sounds       
            He is content thy poor drudge to be,
            To stand in thy affairs, fall by thy side."           stand/fall

So I didn't find doubled code words punning on her name; I found doubled letters instead:


(a lover's elongated call) a double anagram with two spellings of her name embedded in three lines like the letters for Onan used earlier. [Note: after my book was published, I discovered that a doubled BESSANO is also braided with her first name above. Can you find it? Start with the double BE- of the two "betrays."] It’s interesting to note that Shakespeare may be contrasting a wonderful double orgasm with the lady here to the earlier empty results of masturbation. Here, Will is not alone or lonely; he is creating “the beast with two backs” with the dark lady. Many have commented on the sexual nature of this sonnet, but they should not stop there as if there were nothing deeper than sex and climax. As always with Shakespeare, explaining the hidden “dirty joke” may not be going far enough.

The doubled word “betray” in line 5 starts off the code with the
fact that the lady is also sleeping with Henry. A sexual triangle generates a
moral triangle. Since she betrays Will, he must betray his own reason to make love to her. Of course, the doubled word “betray” may also point out other doubled betrayals: Will betrays Anne; the lady betrays her husband. The “body’s treason” comes at a cost, but his soul gives his body permission. Does this trouble his “conscience?” The Latin proverb says, “An erect penis has no conscience.”  But yes, his betrayals do trouble his conscience. Nothing in Shakespeare’s thought is simple or one-sided for long.

But once given the reason that he “may triumph in love,” Will’s flesh does grow erect with pride and points her out. And Aemilia is on top in this love-making, double orgasmic sonnet, a position in which Will still points to her with "pride" here as he identifies her. First, he calls out her name; then, he reaches climax with six, pulsing p-words or sounds: point, —phant, prize, proud, pride, and poor. Finally, he is “contented” to go from triumphant pride to poor drudge and fall by her side. (Elsewhere, he laments when she is really on top and in control of their love affair.) But here, in the next to last personal sonnet, that double spelled out name may be the only laughing, sexy proof of the dark lady's identity we'll ever get from Will. But of course, her married name is close to Lunar. Should we call the 28 sonnet cycle of the dark lady—Will’s own, very mysterious Mona Lisa—the Lanyer cycle?

Sonnet #152 is the final personal sonnet for Will’s Queen of Summer, the “inconstant Moon.” While Sonnet #151 is all about sex, pride in her, and the dark lady’s name, the next sonnet is all about lies and vows broken and oaths taken and cursed. In this sonnet, Will places the blame on himself. True, he begins with blame for the lady and her willingness to break “thy bed-vow.” But the sonnet’s turn comes early in line 5 this time. In lines 5 and 6, he accuses her of breaking her vows to her husband and to Will. “But why of two oaths’ breach do I accuse thee, / When I break twenty?” He has sworn and forsworn ten times what she has, and all his “vows are oaths but to misuse thee” (line 7).

Those who would brand Shakespeare a “misogynist” should reread with a sharper eye and wonder instead at his intelligent complexity. In this sonnet, his final speech to the lady, his final judgment goes against himself. Honestly, he swore falsely to sleep with her. All his swearings by her “kindness,” “love,” “truth,” and “constancy,” had a dishonest, foul, sexual motive. In lines 13 and 14, he delivers his final judgment of himself:  

        “For I have sworn thee fair: more perjured eye,/
        To swear against the truth so foul a lie.”

His very last personal word to her is a pun that tells the truth about his loving lies. He swore twenty lies to lie with her. Turn the pages beyond the double envoi Sonnets 153 and 154, and, in “A Lover’s Complaint,” the maid says that she would fall for the youth’s lies all over again. Here, Shakespeare seems to say he would lie again to the dark lady. He spends almost twenty years revising his sonnets to her. She may have been the love of his life, his only chance for a literate, female soul mate. No one should discount the importance of this half-Italian, possibly Jewish, half-English woman poet and lover to him. Almost half of his plays have Italian settings or connections. Some of his most wonderful female characters may be based on her, too. All of this is worth a much more rigorous, long study.

The lunar cycle ends with double envois in Sonnets 153 and 154. Not only does he end the dark lady sequence with love that burns him, Shakespeare also has a case of venereal disease or Chlamydia that he cannot cure in the hot waters of the Roman baths of Bath or the “mercury-infused sweating tub” (Duncan-Jones Ungentle… 219). In fact, images of disease show up in ten sonnets and give us some medical evidence to speculate about the identity of the dark lady. Here’s a possibly chronological list of those ten, disease-related sonnets:

           Table 3. Ten sonnets that may track venereal disease.

1.    #137:         “this false plague”
2.    # 140:     “As testy sick men” … “No news but health from their physicians know.”
3.    #141:         “my plague” … “she that makes me sin awards me pain.”
4.    #144:         “her foul pride” … “Till my bad angel fire my good one out.”
5.    #145:         “But when she saw my woeful state”
6.    #147:         “My love is as a fever” … “nurseth the disease” … “preserve the ill” …                             “Past cure I am”
7.    #60:         “the pebbled shore” … “And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow.”
8.    #153:         “seething bath” … “Against strange maladies a sovereign cure” …                                     “love’s brand new fired” “I sick withal the help of bath desired” … “a                             sad distempered guest” … “But found no cure”
9.    #61:         “My slumbers” … “broken” … “From me far off, with others all too                                     near.”
10.    #154:         “fire” … “bath” … “remedy” … “For men diseased” … “Came here for                             the cure” … “Love’s fire heats water, water cools not love.”
From this chronology, we can glean some possible conclusions about Shakespeare’s love and his disease. He believes he caught both love sickness and venereal disease from the dark lady, who perhaps caught it from her husband. (Today, of course, people have to do such path of infection charts when faced with tracking the much more deadly, sexually transmitted disease, AIDS.)

In Sonnet #144, Will is in doubt whether the dark lady and the youth are still making love because he says that if the young man gets VD, it will constitute proof they are. This is true even though he was so sure they had double-crossed him back in the time-paired Sonnets #40 and #133. We could assume that he is not sleeping with the youth in Sonnet #144, if ever. Who knows? Perhaps we can think that Anne in Sonnet #145 saw signs of Will’s disease, realized it meant he’d been unfaithful, but took pity on him.

He has a fever from the disease. Perhaps it went dormant during his later life and flared up again when his fever came back during his fatal illness in 1616. Many feel that he went to the springs at Bath to try hot water as a cure. Today, you can ride a canal boat down the River Avon to Bath. But the waters did not cure either his VD or his lust. Many see this as the sad end of the sonnets in #154, but I think we need to go from there to Sonnet #62, which appears to be a lonely, honest, funny, masturbatory poem, and then read from #63—the mid-point of the solar sonnets—through to Sonnet #126, which finishes off the real time of these Sonnets with a twelve-line envoi ending in two silent lines both encased in the little crescents of parentheses, perhaps signs for (two times) a lunar month.

I do not know if this medical analysis and symptoms of Chlamydia will ever give us scientific proof that Aemilia Lanyer, with her difficulties in carrying babies to term, was the dark lady, but I wish we could find more information and a picture of her. I asked in the library at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford in the summer of 2001 with no luck. According to Forman, she had a mole "in the pit" of her throat in 1597 (Woods The Poems... xxi).

Susanne Woods has come up with an intriguing, plausible painting, "Unknown Woman in Black," who may be Aemilia Lanyer, but this woman has red hair (dyed like older Queen Elizabeth’s?) as well as dark eyes. She wears a high collar, so we can't see if there is a mole. In 1592, she was painted by the same painter, Marcus Gheeraerts, who had painted Hunsdon in 1591. Perhaps he wanted a memento of the mother of his bastard to remember her by. Woods reproduces both paintings from collections of the Lord Chamberlain's descendents (Lanyer 17, 18).

Like a zany Shakespeare detective (think of me here as Peter Seller’s Inspector Clouseau), I want to make an identification mountain out of Aemelia’s mole. In Hamlet’s early, oversimplified theory about the tragic flaw, before he knows that Claudius is a murderer and thinks of him only as a heavy drinker, he uses the image of “some vicious mole of nature ... the stamp of one defect” (Hamlet I.4.23 ff). At the end of 12th Night, when Viola and Sebastian are reunited, they can hardly believe it, so they trade family identification secrets such as the fact that their father had a mole “on his brow.” There is a third important mole in Cymbeline. When Iachimo wants to falsely prove that he and Imogen have made love, he describes to her jealous husband Posthumus, “On her left breast/ A mole cinque-spotted, like the crimson drops/ I’the bottom of a cowslip” (Cymbeline II.2.37-39). This “stain” hooks Posthumus, who is as easily deceived as Othello.

I don’t know why Shakespeare didn’t use the mole as an identifying mark in the Sonnets. Perhaps it was too visible in the pit of Aemelia’s throat, and Will is no Iachimo. The lady may be flawed, but a gentleman doesn’t go out of his way to identify his lover to her husband or the curious mob. Use a secret code perhaps—see how long it has taken to find out—but a mole? Monsieur, do you take William Shakespeare for a paparazzi? 

Susanne Woods really objects to A. L. Rowse’s interest in Aemelia Lanyer as the dark lady, but it seems to me they may both be right. They may be talking about the same woman 19 years apart: a sexy, angry, cast-off, pregnant, 23 year-old mistress in the spring of 1592 and a radical Protestant, 42 year-old feminist poet hoping for female patronage in 1611. I know my friends and I changed a lot from ages 23 to 42.  Certainly, our theories of both the dark lady and Aemilia should allow both women (or are they the same?) to mature and change.

Two years after Will's Sonnets were published, Aemilia Lanyer published her own book of religious and personal poetry (which includes 2 sonnets or fourteeners). So we have a clear self-portrait of her feminist, independent, and poetic intelligence, a lady lover who once may have been worthy of both Will and Henry (neither of whom is just any “downstream” man), and a woman who may have changed quite a bit between 1592 and 1611. (Think of John Donne's changes from young rake to older sermonizer and writer of Holy Sonnets that pun on his name Donne and on his wife’s name Ann More, as well.)

By 1611, Lanyer had grown into the first English woman to publish her own book of poetry, some good proof that she was a great, love-worthy woman. Unlike William Shakespeare, she is a sincere believer at age 42, and she gives voice to her beliefs without much irony (except that directed at sexist men) and without using much of the more famous “double voice” techniques of Shakespeare.

I have not found any reference to a relationship with William Shakespeare in her work. Woods believes her poems show that she was influenced by her reading of Will's "Venus and Adonis" and "The Rape of Lucrece"—both dedicated in public writing to Henry—and may have met Shakespeare (98). These two long, published poems are quite powerful and were popular and may have interested Lanyer in meeting both Will and Henry. I can’t help thinking about the importance of this possible meeting for both Will and Aemelia. Neither of them seems like the kind of person not to recognize the high value of the other. Whatever happened, I think this possible love affair is worth a speculative book and movie of its own. Too little is known about the women who influenced Shakespeare to let go of this possibility easily.

In one of Lanyer’s sonnets, addressed to King James I's and Queen Anne's 15-year-old daughter, Princess Elizabeth, Aemilia writes,

        "Though your faire eyes farre better Bookes have seen;
            Yet being the first fruits of a woman's wit,
            Vouchesafe you favour in accepting it."
                                                                                                                                      (Woods The Poems... 11)

There are many "better Bookes" she could mean, including Shakespeare's Sonnets. Unfortunately, none of the ladies or royals she appealed to for funding—including Prince Henry (Stuart) on whom so many disappointed hopes were pinned—helped her enough for her to publish more poems. The first English woman poet to publish her own book may have stopped writing in 1612, the year of Prince Henry’s death and about the same time as Shakespeare retired.

Perhaps both writers were disappointed when in 1611 King James appointed a right wing Archbishop of Canterbury, George Abbott, who began a crackdown on Catholics, Puritans, and all those in favor of religious tolerance using the 1611 King James Bible. Of course, the earlier Gunpowder Plot and the assassination by a “deranged friar” of the tolerant King Henry IV of France in 1610 may have caused the English King’s crackdown. Was this the end of royal tolerance for Shakespeare’s complex views? Some scholars, including Clare Asquith, believe that Shakespeare was asked to write simplistic, pro-Stuart, religious propaganda, and, when he refused, he was forced to retire (263 & 271). It was in this period of religious repression that The King James Bible was published and that both Ben Jonson and Henry Wriothesley converted from Catholicism to the Church of England.

What of Shakespeare’s feelings for the dark lady after the Sonnets? We know of his passionate interest in Italy and in Rome. Could Cleopatra be a farewell portrait of Aemelia Lanyer with Will imagining himself as a fading Mark Anthony? Back in Sonnet #40, in lines 1—4 addressed to the youth, Shakespeare had punned (twice) on Aemelia’s “darkness:”

            “Take all my loves, my love; yea, take them all;
                What hast thou then more than thou hadst before?
                No love, my love, that thou mayst true love call;
                All mine was thine, before thou hadst this more:”

“This more” is a pun on Moor. But, before those wanting the lady to be an African-English woman (like madam Lucy Morgan) get too excited, I want to warn you that there’s more going on here as well. I have a Cockney friend who grew up in Britain, who married an Italian woman from Brooklyn. When his mother first met his bride, all were shocked when the mother called her a “darkie!” Both husband and wife were shocked at his Mum’s racist word, but could this be a Cockney leftover from Elizabethan days when it was really common to call almost any Mediterranean woman “dark?”

There is a second, more personal pun in this word “more.” One of Leonardo da Vinci’s patrons was Luduvico il Moro. In one painting of the walls in a room in Milan, there are the large trunks of decorative trees whose “branches rise to intertwine on the ceiling in a sort of fictive pergola” (Marani 245).

This decoration has been interpreted as a representation of the classical literary topos of the Vale of Tempe—the wilderness where Apollo dwelt. The trees may be mulberries, a pun in Italian on Ludovico’s nickname, Moro, since the Italian word for mulberry is gelsomoro. (251)

Oddly enough, on the coat of arms of Aemelia’s Bessano family from Venice, there is a mulberry tree, morus in Latin. It is emblematic of their family tree. Does the presence of that tree as their family icon mean that the Bessano family was engaged, along with Ludovico, in planting mulberry trees around Milan or Venice in order to start a domestic silk-producing industry in Northern Italy to compete with more expensive silk from China? Do the Jewish loan-maker Shylock and his daughter Jessica, the name of one protagonist Bassanio, the name of the merchant Antonio (Aemelia’s Italian uncle in England, whose grandson Alfonso Lanyer she married), and the character of the cross-dressing Portia as a lawyer in a Venetian court in The Merchant of Venice, owe anything to Aemelia’s Italian roots, family, and stories she told Will? 

What does the legendary mulberry tree Shakespeare planted in his garden behind the New Place say about the dark lady, his old flame? What year did he plant that tree? After his death, people came from all over to get a cutting from that tree. How many descendants of that tree now grow in England? The new, cranky owner of New Place was so “bothered” by “relic” seekers, he cut down the tree and tore New Place down. Ah, the innocent, peaceful days before tourism became a part of the economy! Did that tree in his family yard make Will Shakespeare smile at his private joke?  In the dark lady Sonnet #135, the one that uses 13 wills and one wilt for a total of 14, he again puns on “more” two times in lines 3 and 12:

            “More than enough am I, that vex thee still,”
                            *       *      *
               “One will of mine, to make thy large Will more:”

What more could we ask for? The pun is threefold or more. This is a common Renaissance name pun. And it’s Shakespeare’s funny naming code! Once you accept the code, you see it pop up everywhere. For those who don’t see it, I repeat the punch line to a joke about a complaining believer stuck on a roof in a flood. He had prayed to God for deliverance, but he drowned when God did not lift him up. God responds: “What do you mean I didn’t try to save you? I sent a floating tree, a rowboat, and a helicopter!”

In the winter of 2006, I wondered where to go to get more of the latest information on any proven ties between William Shakespeare and Aemelia Lanyer’s large family. I know this is an exciting new area for research. I hope my discovery and/or merely my claim of cracking a name code here will help stimulate more work. After reading of a relevant 1995 book in an academic chat room, in June 2006 I sent for and read Lasoki and Prior’s book, The Bessanos, which answered much of my need for more about the Bessano family.

These two writers—Lasoki a musicologist and Prior a literary author—gave me a new boost and took me from the Bessano family straight to Aemelia and from the Sonnets to the plays and back again. I have added their specific insights where they seemed to be needed in my text. To any one wanting more reasoning about Aemelia as
Shakespeare’s dark lady, I refer you to Prior’s Chapter 8. In it, he looks at name puns as evidence in both the Sonnets and the plays. I will return to this subject in Chapter 24, pages 147—163.                  


                Note: The spelling of the Bessano name is as varied as most
                names were then: Elizabeth Woods uses “Bassano” while
                Aemelia’s father Baptist spelled it “Bassany” in his will. 
                In some of the plays, Shakespeare spells it “Bessanius,”
                and “Bessanio.”