The Woman behind William Shakespeare and Simon Forman

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  • Title: The Woman behind William Shakespeare and Simon Forman: The Creativity of Emilia Bassano-Lanier Explained
  • Author(s): Paul Kauffman
  • Publisher: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Collection: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Series: New Directions in the Humanities
  • Journal Title: The International Journal of Literary Humanities
  • Keywords: William Shakespeare, Dark Lady, Simon Forman, Emilia Lanier, Sonnets, Sodomy, Romantic Love, Elizabethan History, Feminism, Revenge Porn, How a Person’s Life Affects Great Art, “Me Too”
  • Volume: 16
  • Issue: 2
  • Year: 2018
  • ISSN: 2327-7912 (Print)
  • ISSN: 2327-8676 (Online)
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.18848/2327-7912/CGP/v16i02/15-31
  • Citation: Kauffman, Paul Richard. 2018. "The Woman behind William Shakespeare and Simon Forman: The Creativity of Emilia Bassano-Lanier Explained." The International Journal of Literary Humanities 16 (2): 15-31. doi:10.18848/2327-7912/CGP/v16i02/15-31.
  • Extent: 17 pages

Abstract

Henry Carey, the sixty-one-year-old married patron of Shakespeare’s company, took Emilia Bassano as his mistress when she was eighteen. Probably in 1593 when aged twenty-nine, Shakespeare fell in love with a musical “wise…powerful” woman (probably Emilia Bassano, then aged twenty-four), writing sonnets to cure his “frantic madness.” He was distraught when she seduced “Fair Youth” Southampton, his patron. Trilingual and highly educated, she probably introduced Shakespeare to the Italian “novelle” whose plots he used in thirty-seven plays. She probably inspired his powerful, articulate women characters. John Hudson lists borrowings and references between her trail-blazing book of poetry and passages in thirty-three of Shakespeare’s plays and argues that she wrote them. A simpler explanation is that they borrowed from each other. Dr. Simon Forman was self-taught and succeeded through self-invention. He documented his sexual relations with numerous female patients, including Emilia Lanier, then aged twenty-eight. She gained a state income with Southampton’s help. She started a school and sued adversaries. There is no explicit historical acknowledgement of Shakespeare’s and Emilia Bassano-Lanier’s relationship, but together with Forman, they shared nine close acquaintances. Some of Shakespeare’s sonnets published in 1609 libelled the “Dark Lady” for “black deeds.” Sonnets 135 and 136 constitute “revenge porn.” Either she was the “Dark Lady” or courtly women believed she was. In 1610, Emilia’s poetry-book attacked “men…[who] like vipers deface the wombs,” railing against “their want of discretion…their unjust speeches.” In an intellectual construct grander than “Me Too,” she championed Old Testament avenging women, women saints, and independent women. She survived Forman and Shakespeare by thirty years. Rediscovered in 1974, she became feminism’s flagbearer. Forman’s and Lanier’s tumultuous sexual lives provide insights into Shakespeare’s world, a man of his time, a man for all time.