|Was Shakespeare really having |
an affair with the Dark Lady?
Shakespeare's sonnets are, usually, divided in three: the Fair Youth poems, the Rival poems and the Dark Lady poems. Just as there is no way of categorically knowing who Shakespeare's Fair Youth was, academics and Shakespeare enthusiasts have spent years trying to attach a name to the Dark Lady.
What Does Shakespeare Tell Us About the Dark Lady?
The information contained within sonnets 127-152 (the Dark Lady sonnets) are incredibly light on detail. The things we do know for sure about this woman are that she had dark hair, eyes and complexion, which is why she came to be nicknamed 'The Dark Lady'. It's also insinuated that she was married and that the Bard was either engaged in an affair with her or, at the very least, had designs on a romantic or sexual entanglement of some kind.
The only other thing we know with any degree of certainty is that the Dark Lady laughed and danced, and lit the candles one by one....oh, no, wait. That's Cher not Shakespeare.
Do We Now Know Who The Dark Lady Was?
|Philip Henslow - the man who built The Rose - is the link |
between Lucy Negro and William Shakespeare
According to Dr Salkeld, the subject of twenty six of Shakespeare's sonnets may have been a woman known as Lucy Negro or Black Luce, who ran a brothel in Clarkenwell.
What did she have to do with Shakespeare? Well, the evidence comes from the diaries of Philip Henslow, who built the Rose Theatre and was the manager of a theatre company which was rival to Shakespeare's troupe.
In his diary, Henslow mentions Black Luce, who happened to be one of his tenants. Given that London only had a population of 200,000, the fact that Lucy knew people who knew Shakespeare indicates, to Dr Salkeld, that she must have crossed paths with the playwright. And, of course, this is perfectly possible.
Additionally, Lucy was notorious during the era, her name appearing in a number of plays, texts and the bawdy entertainment at the Gray's Inn Christmas festivities. This leads Salkeld to believe that Shakespeare's veiled references to her would have been none too veiled to the Elizabethans who read his poetry. Everyone would have known who Lucy Negro was and they would, undoubtedly, have picked up on Shakespeare's references to her.
Although Dr Salkeld presents a good case for Lucy Negro filling the Dark Lady's shoes, he admits that the evidence is 'circumstantial'. We have no way of knowing if Shakespeare ever met her, but, even if we assume he did, does that mean she has to be the Dark Lady?
|Mary Fitton is another candidate for the |
Dark Lady's crown
The assertion that Black Luce is the Dark Lady also poses more questions than it answers. For example, if we assume that Lucy Negro was the inspiration for the Dark Lady, was she also the inspiration for Phebe in As You Like it, "He said mine eyes were black and my hair black"?
Moreover, what does it tell us about the relationship between Shakespeare and Lucy? It seems difficult to believe that a fairly well-known playwright would happily pen an unveiled stream of sonnets to a renowned madam with whom he had a sexual relationship. So, does this mean that the sonnets are purely fictional accounts of an affair the two never actually engaged in? Maybe.
For me, Lucy Negro may be another candidate, but it cannot be claimed that the Dark Lady's identity has been revealed. The evidence is far too circumstantial. Lucy may be the Dark Lady, but it could just as easily be any number of other women that Shakespeare met.
And of course, the Dark Lady might even have existed only in Shakespeare's head. I doubt we'll ever know for sure. But the mystery is a big part of the fun, isn't it?
If you'd like to learn more about Shakespeare and his sonnets, check out What's It All About, Shakespeare? An Introduction to The Bard of Avon.