The Tempestuous Sexual and Creative Life of William Shakespeare and Emilia Bassano-Lanier

By Paul Kauffman, PhD FAIM, FASA.

Published by The International Journal of Literary Humanities

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Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: August 15, 2017 $US5.00

Nine scholars conclude that Emilia Bassano-Lanier was the “Dark Lady” of the sonnets, but the intellectual implications have not been previously considered. Shakespeare incorporated the plots of about forty Italian novelle and classical histories and plays—some of the most important never translated—into his plays. Shakespeare’s achievements become more comprehensible when one reads the Italian and classical sources, translated into English in the nineteenth century and recently available online. His most successful plays rely on the plots and characters of such sources. Shakespeare, as “chaste autodidact,” may have located, translated, comprehended, and assimilated such diverse sources. It is more plausible that he received help. Using historical and literary analysis this article concludes that the plays include debts to a highly educated Italian-speaking person(s) who understood the court and power and changed and developed his views about women. The bilingual poet Bassano-Lanier, mistress of his aged patron, was highly educated in classical literature and Italian and was familiar with the ways of the court. She is the person most likely to have provided such assistance. She is not the secret author of Shakespeare’s plays, but she or a person with her attributes is probably his secret inspiration, educator, and expositor. Such assistance provides the most plausible explanation for his knowledge of courts, classical and Italian literature, and love. Shakespeare was obsessed with sexual jealousy. Spirited, active, articulate, and sexual women are integral to his plays, women who were like Bassano-Lanier, as described by her physician Doctor Simon Forman, with whom she performed “sexual villainy” between 1597 and 1600. She performed at great houses in plays and masques and “was maintained in great pride” by the Lord Chamberlain, patron of Shakespeare’s company. She had the means and the motive to help Shakespeare write “immortal lines to time.” She argued at length in verse and probably inspired sonnets and his creation of women characters in plays such as Love’s Labour’s Lost, Much Ado about Nothing, The Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, Othello, and Anthony and Cleopatra. Shakespeare’s sonnets, published in 1609, included sexually explicit references to a musical Dark Lady with black wiry hair which would have harmed Bassano-Lanier’s ambitions for social advancement. Bassano-Lanier responded by publishing a book of poetry in 1611, which champions, theologically, a new status for women.

Keywords: William Shakespeare, Emilia Bassano-Lanier, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Much Ado about Nothing, The Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, Othello, Anthony and Cleopatra, Sexuality, Creativity, Sonnets

The International Journal of Literary Humanities, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp.1-20. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: August 15, 2017 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 678.103KB)).

Paul Kauffman, PhD FAIM, FASA

Adjunct Professor, University of Canberra, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia; Visiting Fellow, School of Literature, Language and Linguistics, Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia