The Woman behind William Shakespeare and Simon Forman

By: Paul Kauffman  

Henry Carey, the sixty-one-year-old married patron of Shakespeare’s company took Emilia Bassano as his mistress when she was eighteen. Shakespeare aged twenty-nine in 1593 fell in love with a musical “wise…powerful” woman (probably Emilia Bassano then aged tweenty-four) and wrote sonnets to cure his “frantic madness.” He was distraught when she seduced Fair Youth Southampton. Trilingual, highly educated, Emilia Bassano probably introduced Shakespeare to the Italian and French novelle whose plots he used in about thirty-seven of his plays. She probably inspired his creation of powerful, articulate women characters. John Hudson lists borrowings, references, and similarities between Emilia Bassano-Lanier’s book of poetry and passages in thirty-three of Shakespeare’s plays and argues that she wrote all of Shakespeare’s works. A simpler explanation is that they knew each other and borrowed from each other. If Emilia Lanier was the Dark Lady, her relationship with Fair Youth Southampton would explain why Shakespeare became distraught. Dr. Simon Forman was self-taught, self-made, and achieved wealth and status through self-invention. Medical notes document his sexual relations with numerous female patients, including with Emilia “Bassano-Lanier,” then twenty-eight. She gained a state income with Southampton’s help. She started a school and sued adversaries. Some of Shakespeare’s sonnets published in 1609 libeled “the Dark Lady” for “black deeds.” In 1610 Emilia wrote a book of poetry championing the Old Testament’s violent women and imagining a new female destiny. She survived Forman and Shakespeare by thirty years. Rediscovered in 1974, she became a flag-bearer for feminists.

Shakespeare, E.Lanier, Forman
Literary Humanities
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Dr. Paul Kauffman