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
Countess Mary Southampton
Sir Philip Sidney
Lady Penelope (Devereux) Rich
Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford
Sir Francis Walsingham
Lady Elizabeth de Vere
Lady Elizabeth Vernon Southampton
Sir William Herbert
King James I
Astronomer Thomas Digges
And many more.
Good Musicology Book about Bassano Family
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"
A. L. Rowse
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
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:
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.
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 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 [.]"
“For I have sworn thee fair: more perjured eye,/
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.
"Though your faire eyes farre better Bookes have seen;
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:”
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).
“More than enough am I, that vex thee still,”
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.
Note: The spelling of the Bessano name is as varied as most
Last updated: 31 December 2009