You are here


Emilia Bassano Lanier: Shakespeare's Dark Lady

Poet Niall McDevitt tells the widely known but little appreciated story of Emilia Bassano, Shakespeare’s lifelong muse, and – as Emilia Lanier – the first woman to publish a book of original poetry in England. 

In the heart of London McDevitt will evoke the world of Emilia and her contemporaries in the Elizabethan-Jacobean Renaissance. He will explore what is known of Lanier’s relationship with Shakespeare, how her influence can be pinpointed from the earliest to the final plays, and how she was ‘discovered’ in the 1970s by the maverick Elizabethan scholar AL Rowse. 

Emilia Bassano was born into the illustrious Bassano family, musicians who had been induced to emigrate to England by Henry VIII himself. Their Italian and Sephardic Jewish ancestry accounted for the complexion that gave rise to the legend of the 'Dark Lady'.

McDevitt will explain the schism in Lanier studies between some scholars who teach her poetry but refuse to accept the idea she is the character from Shakespeare's sonnets 127-154, and yet others who feel that here at last the mystery is solved. As an aside, McDevitt will also quickly dismiss the lunatic fringe who claim Emilia Lanier wrote Shakespeare.

What emerges is the vista of a fascinating friendship between a male and female writer which forces us to think of Shakespeare and Lanier as something akin to the modern literary partnerships of Robert Graves and Laura Riding, or Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. McDevitt will argue that the high minded cadences of Lanier's Salve Deus Rex Judeaorum (1611) are a deliberate riposte to Shakespeare's scurrilous portrait of her in Shakespeare's Sonnets (1609). 

McDevitt will examine the work they wrote in the light of their connection, contrasting the controlled religious poetry of Lanier with the sometimes unhinged sonnets of Shakespeare.


Meeting outside Tower Hill tube station by the statue of Trajan at 2pm. The walk will last approx. two and a half hours and finish within walking distance of Shoreditch station or Old Street tube.

Dates and times
2:00 pm | Sun 22 Apr 2018 or Sun 29 Apr 2018
Tower Hill Tube Station
Tower Hill