Shakespeare in Love meets Shakespeare’s Sister in this novel of England’s first professional woman poet and her collaboration and love affair with William Shakespeare.
London, 1593. Aemilia Bassano Lanier is beautiful and accomplished, but her societal conformity ends there. She frequently cross-dresses to escape her loveless marriage and to gain freedoms only men enjoy, but a chance encounter with a ragged, little-known poet named Shakespeare changes everything.
Aemilia grabs at the chance to pursue her long-held dream of writing and the two outsiders strike up a literary bargain. They leave plague-ridden London for Italy, where they begin secretly writing comedies together and where Will falls in love with the beautiful country — and with Aemilia, his Dark Lady. Their Italian idyll, though, cannot last and their collaborative affair comes to a devastating end. Will gains fame and fortune for their plays back in London and years later publishes the sonnets mocking his former muse. Not one to stand by in humiliation, Aemilia takes up her own pen in her defense and in defense of all women.
The Dark Lady’s Mask gives voice to a real Renaissance woman in every sense of the word.
American Renaissance Festivals and the Yearning for Merry England
by Mary Sharratt
When I was a student in the 1980s, I spent my late summer weekends in another realm. Donning a green gown I had sewn myself, I became a Renaissance woman, or a low-budget facsimile thereof, my cheap, silver-plated goblet hanging from my belt to save me from the indignity of drinking from a paper cup.
For three summers from 1983 to 1985, I was a performer at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, in those days a much more low-key and grassroots affair than it is today. My character was a historically inaccurate hybrid between a village minstrel and a faery queen out of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. (I was trying very hard to channel Stevie Nicks.) I even spoke in a fake British accent, largely informed by Monty Python.
For the most part, I was unpaid, although I did earn minimum wage the summer I worked in the information booth. This involved giving directions and handing out site maps. The most exciting part was when some unsuspecting person asked the way to the restroom.
Leaping out from behind the counter, I’d grab my victim’s arm and race off, hell for leather, with them in tow. “Make way!” I’d yell, compelling the crowd to part for us. “Privy run!”
After depositing the blushing and winded individual in front of the plastic Portalet, I’d dash back to the information booth. As minimum-wage jobs went, it was far more amusing than fast food.
When I wasn’t working at the information booth, I played Elizabethan music on my violin, but this proved far less interesting for the paying crowd. The most enthusiasm I could drum up was some drunk guy asking me to play Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.”
I soon learned to leave the violin at home and focus on street theatre, which is what most people seemed to be coming for. Having my picture taken with festival goers’ children who thought my dress was pretty. Joining my fellow peasants under an oak tree in the late afternoon. Sitting in the grass with floral garlands in our hair, we would sing ballads of such yearning that they would transport us to another time and place. This transpired late afternoon when everything seemed suffused in golden light. Such pastoral bliss! As a Reagan-era teenager, this was the closest I ever got to the Woodstock experience.