Aemilia Lanyer (1569-1645), was born in London to Baptista Bassano and his possibly common-law wife Margaret Johnson. At age 23, the then Aemilia Bassano married her cousin Alphonso Lanyer, supposedly after becoming pregnant by Henry Carey, Lord Hudson. She had two children, a son Henry and a daughter Odillya, who died at 10 months of age, and “many miscarriages” as well. The reported miscarriages are are brought to bear, as she is considered a candidate to be the Dark Lady, or Dark Musical Lady, in William Shakespeare’s sonnets #127-154, and thus would have been prone to affairs, and maybe have shared one with the Bard. Note that if she had an extended affair with Shakespeare, five years her senior, or even if they enjoyed discussing poetics and culture together around the court, he would have had an influence on her, and vice versa.
In 1611, at age 42, Lanyer became the first woman to publish a book of poetry in English, Salue Deus Rex Judaeorum, or “Hail, God, King of the Jews.” Within that book is the first known country house poem, “The Description of Cooke-ham“. It predates Ben Jonson’s “To Penshurst“, Andrew Marvell’s “Upon Appleton House, to my Lord Fairfax“, and Robert Herrick’s “A Panegyric to Sir Lewis Pemberton“. Here is Emma Jones discussing Lanyer’s poem in the essay Renaissance ‘country house’ poetry as social criticism:
Her country house poem The Description of Cooke-ham gives us an account of the residence of Margaret Clifford, Countess of Cumberland, in the absence of Lady Clifford, who is depicted as the ideal Renaissance woman—graceful, virtuous, honourable and beautiful. Lanyer describes the house and its surroundings while Lady Margaret is present, and while she is absent. While Lady Margaret was around, the flowers and trees:
Set forth their beauties then to welcome thee!
The very hills right humbly did descend,
When you to tread upon them did intend.
And as you set your feete, they still did rise,
Glad that they could receive so rich a prise.
Lanyer also may have been Jewish. If so, this would support the contention, being proffered by John Hudson, that she wrote the works we have always attributed to Shakespeare. The idea is that Shakespeare would not have had the requisite knowledge of Jewish lore, written into the plays, that a Jewish Bassano-Lanyer would; and that she agreed to be his ghostwriter, needing the cover of a man’s identity in order to have her work published and performed. Significantly, however, if she were no more Jewish than Shakespeare, the argument that he must not have written the plays, must apply to her as well on this score.
Lanyer’s father’s family, the Bassanos, were court musicians who had come to England from Venice at the end of Henry VIII’s reign. It has been argued that they were converted Jews (Lasocki and Prior; Rowse, “Revealed at Last,” and ensuing correspondence; Greer et al., s.v. “Aemilia Lanyer”), but Ruffatti has argued persuasively that the family was Christian.
Here is Michelle Powell-Smith discussing Lanyer’s possible Jewishness and the title of her landmark book, in Aemilia Lanyer: Redeeming Women Through Faith and Poetry:
It has been suggested that she was a converted Jew, largely on the basis of the title of her work. This, however, seems unlikely. Lanyer attributed the title of Salve Deus to a dream she’d had many years before its writing and internal clues in the poem, as well as Lanyer’s circle of acquaintances, lend far more certainty to the theory that Lanyer was actually a radical protestant. Susan Bertie, the Countess of Kent, was responsible for Lanyer’s education. Bertie had multiple connections to radical protestantism, including a close relationship with Anne Lock, who translated Calvin and Taffin into English.
Powell-Smith is there referring to the section of Lanyer’s book called “To the Doubtfull Reader“, wherein she writes:
Gentle Reader, if thou desire to be resolued, why I giue this Title, Salue Deus Rex Judaeorum, know for certaine, that it was deliuered vnto me in sleepe many yeares before I had any intent to write in this maner, and was quite out of my memory vntill I had written the Passion of Christ, when immediately it came into my remembrance, what I had dreamed long before; and thinking it a significant token, that I was appointed to performe that Worke, I gaue the very same words I receiued in sleepe as the fittest Title I could deuise for this Booke.
With this background, let’s look at John Hudson’s website, dedicated in large part to the ideas that Aemilia Lanyer is both The Dark Lady of his sonnets and the “Shakespeare” who wrote them as well: Did this black Jewish woman, Amelia Bassano (the first woman to publish a book of original poetry) write Shakespeare’s plays?. Linked from that site are the following two videos, here from YouTube:
Who Wrote Shakespeare?: The Dark Lady Discovery
Amilia Bassano Lanier as Shakespeare
Lanyer’s book came out five years before Shakespeare died, so we need to note, that if she used his name as a cover before this, then the book she got published under her own name, Salue Deus Rex Judaeorum, would have been written in a mature “Shakespearean” style, or at least worthy of publication by a mature ghostwriter for Shakespeare. It seems obvious to me that it isn’t. Here are two of Shakespeare’s Dark Lady sonnets:
by William Shakespeare
In the old age black was not counted fair,
Or if it were it bore not beauty’s name:
But now is black beauty’s successive heir,
And beauty slandered with a bastard shame,
For since each hand hath put on nature’s power,
Fairing the foul with art’s false borrowed face,
Sweet beauty hath no name no holy bower,
But is profaned, if not lives in disgrace.
Therefore my mistress’ eyes are raven black,
Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem,
At such who not born fair no beauty lack,
Slandering creation with a false esteem,
Yet so they mourn becoming of their woe,
That every tongue says beauty should look so.
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun,
Coral is far more red, than her lips red,
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun:
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head:
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks,
And in some perfumes is there more delight,
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know,
That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
I grant I never saw a goddess go,
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
And yet by heaven I think my love as rare,
As any she belied with false compare.
Within Lanyer’s book is the title poem, the 1840-line “Salue Deus Rex Judaeorum” written in rime royal stanzas, ababbcc. That poem contains these significant sections: The Passion of Christ; Eue’s Apologie in Defence of Women; The Teares of the Daughters of Jerusalem; and The Salutation and Sorrow of the Virgin Marie. To begin the reading of her poetry, and to note Lanyer’s style, here is part of that last section:
(lines 1009-1056 of the poem “Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum“)
by Aemilia Lanyer
from The Salutation and Sorrow of the Virgin Marie
His woefull Mother wayting on her Sonne,
All comfortlesse in depth of sorow drowned;
Her griefes extreame, although but new begun,
To see his bleeding body oft shee swouned;
How could shee choose but thinke her selfe undone,
He dying, with whose glory shee was crowned?
None ever lost so great a losse as shee,
Beeing Sonne, and Father of Eternitie.
Her teares did wash away his pretious blood,
That sinners might not tread it under feet
To worship him, and that it did her good
Upon her knees, although in open street,
Knowing he was the Jessie floure and bud,
That must be gath’red when it smell’d most sweet:
Her Sonne, her Husband, Father, Saviour, King,
Whose death killd Death, and tooke away his sting.
Most blessed Virgin, in whose faultlesse fruit,
All Nations of the earth must needes rejoyce,
No Creature having sence though ne’r so brute,
But joyes and trembles when they heare his voyce;
His wisedome strikes the wisest persons mute,
Faire chosen vessell, happy in his choyce:
Deere Mother of our Lord, whose reverend name,
All people Blessed call, and spread thy fame.
For the Almightie magnified thee,
And looked downe upon thy meane estate;
Thy lowly mind, and unstain’d Chastitie,
Did pleade for Love at great Jehovaes gate,
Who sending swift-wing’d Gabriel unto thee,
His holy will and pleasure to relate;
To thee most beauteous Queene of Woman-kind,
The Angell did unfold his Makers mind.
He thus beganne, Haile Mary full of grace,
Thou freely art beloved of the Lord,
He is with thee, behold thy happy case;
What endlesse comfort did these words afford
To thee that saw’st an Angell in the place
Proclaime thy Virtues worth, and to record
Thee blessed among women: that thy praise
Should last so many worlds beyond thy daies.
Loe, this high message to thy troubled spirit,
He doth deliver in the plainest sence;
Sayes, Thou shouldst beare a Sonne that shal inherit
His Father Davids throne, free from offence,
Call’s him that Holy thing, by whose pure merit
We must be sav’d, tels what he is, of whence;
His worth, his greatnesse, what his name must be,
Who should be call’d the Sonne of the most High.
To contrast the writing style of Shakespeare with Lanyer’s, notice her usage of the verb did to emphasize the principal verb to follow, as in “did wash away” and “did pleade for love” (above), instead of “washed away” and “pleaded for love” or “pled for love”. One reason for her to do this would be to keep the iambic meter. Another might be her bilingual Mediterranean ear for language making it sound okay. In the entirety of the 1840-line poem “Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum“, she uses the word did 126 times; or 6.6% of her lines contain the word did. But, she is inconsistent, as the first occurrences are in lines 216-217:
Did worke Octaviaes wrongs, and his neglects.
What fruit did yeeld that faire forbidden tree,
So, subtracting out the first 215 lines, we have 1,625 lines beginning where her writing changed; and a recalculation shows that did is used in 7.8% of those lines, every 13 lines of iambic pentameter on average. Either way, rounding off, this is 6 times Shakespeare’s usage of the word in his sonnets. In his 154 sonnets, there are 2,156 lines, and only 26 occurrences of did, 1.2% of the lines, or once every 83 lines on average. Thus Lanyer and Shakespeare are poets with different poetic ears for whatever reason.
On the idea that Lanyer is Shakespeare’s Dark Lady, here is Peter Bassano, who is descended from her uncle Anthony, discussing this possibility in his article Emilia Bassano: Shakespeare’s Mistress?:
Despite an enormous age difference Emilia became Hunsdon’s mistress until 1592 when she became pregnant, she was hurriedly married off to poor old Alphonso Lanier. The son she bore was baptised Henry after his father and grand-father. Henry Lanier also became a musician joining the Kings Musick in 1629. It would take a constitutional historian to work out the hierarchy of this hapless young man’s claim to the English throne.
Here are Shakespeare’s own words on his adulterous lover, she is identified as dark in the extreme in Sonnet 127:
In the old age black was not counted fair,
Or if it were it bore not beauty’s name;
But now is black beauty’s successive heir,
And beauty slandered with a bastard shame:
The bastard shame according with Emilia’s unfortunate position in the days of life before birth control!
Let’s look at another of Shakespeare’s Dark Lady sonnets, and note that if Bassano is correct, his very great aunt Aemilia, posing as William Shakespeare, would have been writing about herself:
Two loves I have of comfort and despair,
Which like two spirits do suggest me still,
The better angel is a man right fair:
The worser spirit a woman coloured ill.
To win me soon to hell my female evil,
Tempteth my better angel from my side,
And would corrupt my saint to be a devil:
Wooing his purity with her foul pride.
And whether that my angel be turned fiend,
Suspect I may, yet not directly tell,
But being both from me both to each friend,
I guess one angel in another’s hell.
Yet this shall I ne’er know but live in doubt,
Till my bad angel fire my good one out.
Let’s suppose that Lanyer wrote sonnet 144 instead of Shakespeare. This would mean that instead of a reading of how Eros leads us to both comfort and despair–sometimes into the arms of an evil woman, sometimes into a dilemma-filled love triangle–we would have The Dark Musical Lady herself speaking about the social predicament of women in early 17th-century England. The line, “The worser spirit a woman coloured ill,” would refer to the idea that woman are put down, colored in a derogatory manner, that they have “foul pride.” Her male side could be that she is writing under cover of the respected Will Shakespeare: “The better angel is a man right fair”. But would roles reverse, could “my angel be turned fiend”? She cannot know this until the dark woman comes out from under the mask of the fair man, “Till my bad angel fire my good one out.”
I cannot rectify the writing styles, however, and so cannot jump on the bandwagon to announce, as Dr A.L. Rowse did to Peter Bassano, “it is she!” But I can include below her famous “Eves Apologie” that turns the tables of the “female evil” on the “man right fair” in Eden, the paradise from which, I will point out, they were both expelled or “fired out” of as a couple. We will then finish with Lanyer’s short essay To the Virtuous Reader, which is also in her book, and another section of the title poem in Salue Deus Rex Judaeorum titled “The Teares of the Daughter of Jerusalem.”
But first, how do we pose Aemilia Lanyer as we suppose from our perspectives? We pose her as a radical protestant, writing her fine religious poetry, and yet much of the information we have about her comes from “the astrologer Simon Forman whom Lanyer consulted about her husband’s prospects for promotion.” Apparently she consulted an astrologer. We pose her promiscuously, as at least rubbing elbows with William Shakespeare, with some imagined outside chance that she was his Dark Musical Lady; as having many miscarriages, and marrying one man after becoming pregnant by another, and yet: “Forman [himself] tried, unsuccessfully, to seduce Lanyer.” We pose her with gossip.
The way she posed herself can be seen in the positions she took within her remarkable accomplishments, that she published the first book by a woman, and in doing so circulated a book with the specific intent of showing that women are due considerable respect. She posed herself with gospel. She interpreted the same scripture being used by society to keep women down, and made her case that quite the opposite ought truthfully be done.
Her other significant literary first is her country house poem, “The Description of Cooke-ham“, written in tribute to Margaret Clifford, Countess of Cumberland. Above we quote the five lines Emma Jones cited in her essay Renaissance ‘country house’ poetry as social criticism. Jones then goes on to say:
A far more rational explanation would be that Lady Margaret resided at Cooke-ham during the summer months, and just after she left, autumn came upon the countryside. In order to flatter Lady Margaret, Lanyer implies that the countryside is mourning her departure, but in actual fact she sees the turn of the season, which is not affected by Lady Margaret. Just as in To Penshurst the lifestyle seemed too good to be true, in A Description of Cook-ham, the Lady of the house seems to be too close to perfection to be real. Perhaps Lanyer’s poem is a satirical take on the relationship between the poet and the patron.
Here are the eight lines that follow the five Emma Jones used:
The gentle Windes did take delight to bee
Among those woods that were so grac’d by thee.
And in sad murmure vtterd pleasing sound,
That Pleasure in that place might more abound:
The swelling Bankes deliuer’d all their pride,
When such a Phoenix once they had espide.
Each Arbor, Banke, each Seate, each stately Tree,
Thought themselues honor’d in supporting thee.
She is not flattering the Countess of Cumberland. She is giving all due respect to another woman, the considerable respect that a women is Biblically due, what Jesus gave, as she says: “All which is sufficient to inforce all good Christians and honourable minded men to speake reuerently of our sexe, and especially of all virtuous and good women.”
(lines 761-832 of the poem “Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum“)
by Aemilia Lanyer
from Eue’s Apologie in Defence of Women
Till now your indiscretion sets us free,
And makes our former fault much lesse appeare;
Our Mother Eve, who tasted of the Tree,
Giving to Adam what shee held most deare,
Was simply good, and had no powre to see,
The after-comming harme did not appeare:
The subtile Serpent that our Sex betraide,
Before our fall so sure a plot had laide.
That undiscerning Ignorance perceav’d
No guile, or craft that was by him intended;
For had she knowne, of what we were bereav’d,
To his request she had not condiscended.
But she (poore soule) by cunning was deceav’d,
No hurt therein her harmelesse Heart intended:
For she alleadg’d Gods word, which he denies,
That they should die, but even as Gods, be wise.
But surely Adam can not be excusde,
Her fault though great, yet hee was most too blame;
What Weaknesse offerd, Strength might have refusde,
Being Lord of all, the greater was his shame:
Although the Serpents craft had her abusde,
Gods holy word ought all his actions frame,
For he was Lord and King of all the earth,
Before poore Eve had either life or breath.
Who being fram’d by Gods eternall hand,
The perfect’st man that ever breath’d on earth;
And from Gods mouth receiv’d that strait command,
The breach whereof he knew was present death:
Yea having powre to rule both Sea and Land,
Yet with one Apple wonne to loose that breath
Which God had breathed in his beauteous face,
Bringing us all in danger and disgrace.
And then to lay the fault on Patience backe,
That we (poore women) must endure it all;
We know right well he did discretion lacke,
Beeing not perswaded thereunto at all;
If Eve did erre, it was for knowledge sake,
The fruit beeing faire perswaded him to fall:
No subtill Serpents falshood did betray him,
If he would eate it, who had powre to stay him?
Not Eve, whose fault was onely too much love,
Which made her give this present to her Deare,
That what shee tasted, he likewise might prove,
Whereby his knowledge might become more cleare;
He never sought her weakenesse to reprove,
With those sharpe words, which he of God did heare:
Yet Men will boast of Knowledge, which he tooke
From Eves faire hand, as from a learned Booke.
If any Evill did in her remaine,
Beeing made of him, he was the ground of all;
If one of many Worlds could lay a staine
Upon our Sexe, and worke so great a fall
To wretched Man, by Satans subtill traine;
What will so fowle a fault amongst you all?
Her weakenesse did the Serpents words obay;
But you in malice Gods deare Sonne betray.
Whom, if unjustly you condemne to die,
Her sinne was small, to what you doe commit;
All mortall sinnes that doe for vengeance crie,
Are not to be compared unto it:
If many worlds would altogether trie,
By all their sinnes the wrath of God to get;
This sinne of yours, surmounts them all as farre
As doth the Sunne, another little starre.
Then let us have our Libertie againe,
And challendge to your selves no Sov’raigntie;
You came not in the world without our paine,
Make that a barre against your crueltie;
Your fault beeing greater, why should you disdaine
Our beeing your equals, free from tyranny?
If one weake woman simply did offend,
This sinne of yours, hath no excuse, nor end.
from the book Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum
by Aemilia Lanyer
To the Vertvovs Reader
Often haue I heard that it is the property of some women, not only to emulate the virtues and perfections of the rest, but also by all their powers of ill speaking, to ecclipse the brightness of their deserved fame: now contrary to this custome, which men I hope uniustly lay to their charge, I haue written this small volume, or little booke, for the generall vse of all virtuous Ladies and Gentlewomen of this kingdome; and in commendation of some particular persons of our owne sexe, such as for the most part, are so well knowne to my selfe, and others, that I dare undertake Fame dares not to call any better. And this haue I done, to make knowne to the world, that all women deserue not to be blamed though some forgetting they are women themselues, and in danger to be condemned by the words of their owne mouthes, fall into so great an errour, as to speake vnaduisedly against the rest of their sexe; which if it be true, I am persuaded they can shew their owne imperfection in nothing more: and therefore could wish (for their owne ease, modesties, and credit) they would referre such points of folly, to be practised by euell disposed men, who forgetting they were borne of women, nourished of women, and that if it were not by the means of women, they would be quite extinguished out of the world: and a finall ende of them all, doe like Vipers deface the wombes wherein they were bred, onely to giue way and vtterance to their want of discretion and goodnesse. Such as these, were they that dishonoured Christ his Apostles and Prophets, putting them to shamefull deaths. Therefore, we are not to regard any imputations that they vndeseruedly lay upon us, no otherwise than to make vse of them to our owne benefits, as spurres to vertue, making vs flie all occasions that may colour their uniust speeches to passe currant. Especially considering that they haue tempted euen the patience of God himselfe, who gaue power to wise and virtuous women, to bring downe their pride and arrogancie. As was cruell Cesarus by the discreet counsell of noble Deborah, Iudge and Prophetesse of Israel: and resolution of Jael wife of Heber the Kenite: wicket Haman, by the diuine prayers and prudent proceedings of beautiful Hester: blasphemous Holofernes, by the inuincible courage, rare wisdome, and confident carriage of Iudeth: & the vniust Iudges, by the innocency of chast Susanna: with infinite others, which for breuitie sake I will omit. As also in respect it pleased our Lord and Sauiour Iesus Christ, without the assistance of man, beeing free from originall and all other sinnes, from the time of his conception, till the houre of his death, to be begotten of a woman, borne of a woman, nourished of a woman, obedient to a woman; and that he healed woman, pardoned women, comforted women: yea, euen when he was in his greatest agonie and bloodie sweat, going to be crucified, and also in the last houre of his death, tooke care to dispose of a woman: after his resurrection, appeared first to a woman, sent a woman to declare his most glorious resurrection to the rest of his Disciples. Many other examples I could alledge of diuers faithfull and virtuous women, who haue in all ages, not onely beene Confessors, but also indured most cruel martyrdome for their faith in Iesus Christ. All which is sufficient to inforce all good Christians and honourable minded men to speake reuerently of our sexe, and especially of all virtuous and good women. To the modest sensures of both which, I refer these my imperfect indeauours, knowing that according to their owne excellent dispositions, they will rather, cherish, nourish, and increase the least sparke of virtue where they find it, by their fauourable and beste interpretations, than quench it by wrong constructions. To whom I wish all increase of virtue, and desire their best opinions.
(lines 969-1008 of the poem “Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum“)
by Aemilia Lanyer
The Teares of the Daughter of Jerusalem
Thrice happy women that obtaind such grace
From him whose worth the world could not containe;
Immediately to turne about his face,
As not remembring his great griefe and paine,
To comfort you, whose teares powr’d forth apace
On Flora’s bankes, like shewers of Aprils raine:
Your cries inforced mercie, grace, and love
From him, whom greatest Princes could not moove:
To speake on word, nor once to lift his eyes
Unto proud Pilate, no nor Herod, king;
By all the Questions that they could devise,
Could make him answere to no manner of thing;
Yet these poore women, by their pitious cries
Did moove their Lord, their Lover, and their King,
To take compassion, turne about, and speake
To them whose hearts were ready now to breake.
Most blessed daughters of Jerusalem,
Who found such favour in your Saviors sight,
To turne his face when you did pitie him;
Your tearefull eyes, beheld his eies more bright;
Your Faith and Love unto such grace did clime,
To have reflection from this Heav’nly Light:
Your Eagles eyes did gaze against this Sunne,
Your hearts did thinke, he dead, the world were done.
When spightfull men with torments did oppresse
Th’afflicted body of this innocent Dove,
Poore women seeing how much they did transgresse,
By teares, by sighes, by cries intreat, nay prove,
What may be done among the thickest presse,
They labour still these tyrants hearts to move;
In pitie and compassion to forbeare
Their whipping, spurning, tearing of his haire.
But all in vaine, their malice hath no end,
Their hearts more hard than flint, or marble stone;
Now to his griefe, his greatnesse they attend,
When he (God knowes) had rather be alone;
They are his guard, yet seeke all meanes to offend:
Well may he grieve, well may he sigh and groane,
Under the burthen of a heavy crosse,
He faintly goes to make their gaine his losse.