Thursday, September 15, 2011

Marlowe and the Dark Lady by Maureen Duff

For those who do not know of Emilia (or Aemelia) Bassano Lanier, I recommend Martin Green’s essay, “Emilia Lanier IS the Dark Lady of the Sonnets,” which gives convincing evidence that she is the elusive Lady. Apart from finding a match between the description and temperament of Emilia Bassano and the girl in “Shakespeare’s” Sonnets, Green’s main thrust is that the word “basané” or “basanée,” according to Randle Cotgrave’s Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues (1611), means “duskie, swart, blackish, of a tawnie hue; also, smutched, bedusked." It was used in Montaigne’s Essais in the 1580s to explain that natural beauty need not be “fair” but can be “more," from the Italian moro, black or dark-haired. The Italian basano and basana had the same “dark, tanned or dirty” meaning. “Basan” or “bazan” was also a 16th-century leather tanning term in both Italian and English. Emilia’s family name had several forms, including Bassano, Bassany and Bassoni. Bassany-basanée is the sort of wordplay that the author of the “Shakespeare” plays loved. Emilia’s name, by definition, makes her a “femme basanée” – though her family origins lay not in France but in northern Italy, specifically the Veneto region.

A passionate and unsettling love affair between Emilia and the author of the Sonnets raises the question of the identity of the author. Relevant to this is the date of authorship. The best evidence shows that the Dark Lady Sonnets were written in the period 1591-95, indicating that the love affair started during this time.1

It is important to sketch certain established details of Emilia’s biography. She was born out of wedlock in 1569 to Margaret Johnson and Baptista Bassano, one of the numerous Venetian Bassano family (as above, Bassani or Bassany), many of whom worked in London as musicians for the Tudor and Jacobean courts and the theatres. Their family crest included the mulberry tree and silk moth whose Italian translation, “mora," means both “moth” and “moor” and in heraldic terms can be interpreted as a pun on their Mediterranean appearance. Much that is known about Emilia comes from the diaries of Dr. Simon Forman, a physician-astrologer whom she first consulted in 1597. She had black hair, black eyes and was strikingly beautiful. She was educated and musical. She was high-minded and fickle. She was a “lover of rank” and reputedly a courtesan. She was famously the teenage mistress of Sir Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon, the Lord Chamberlain, 45 years her senior, who kept her in splendour for several years. To avoid scandal, in October 1592, Hunsdon married her off, pregnant, to her musician cousin Alfonso Lanier whereupon she lost her privileged position in court circles. The marriage was unhappy. She tried over time to be re-accepted into the houses of the nobility. Aged 41 in 1611, she published a series of her own spiritual poems called Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum. She was exotic, intelligent, ambitious and determined at a time when the ideal of female beauty was fair-haired and temperamentally compliant. Simon Forman, who found her fascinating, tells us a very odd detail about her. She had “a wart or mole in the pit of the throat or near it."

So, who is the writer of the Dark Lady sonnets? There is no documentary evidence that William Shakespeare was connected with the London theatres before December 1594, leaving him little time to meet Emilia and write these Sonnets before the end of 1595.2 Quite apart from that, it seems very unlikely that such an ambitious girl would have looked twice at a minor actor without rank or fame, working for the theatre company whose patron was her ex-lover, Lord Hunsdon. So, if not Shakespeare, who?

Christopher Marlowe was living in London by 1587 and had already written his hit play Tamburlaine. It is highly probable that Emilia, mistress of the Lord Chamberlain who was responsible for the entertainment at the Tudor Court, would have known about the most famous playwright in town, perhaps admired his plays and would have met him in this context during the late 1580s. They could have met another way. By 1589, Marlowe was lodging in the Liberty of Norton Folgate, at that time little more than a village surrounded by fields where European immigrants, down-at-heel poets, and theatre folk rented rooms or leased properties. When Emilia’s mother died on July 7, 1587, Emilia inherited the unexpired leases on the family’s three Norton Folgate “messuages” or tenements that stood on the site of the former priory of St Mary Spital. There is evidence that she held on to one or more of the properties till at least Sept 6, 1599, when she buried her daughter Odilia at St Botolph’s, Bishopsgate, the local church for residents of Norton Folgate.3 With such a small population in the area, Marlowe and Emilia could easily have met as neighbours round about the time that Marlowe was writing Doctor Faustus.

Marlowe’s Faustus was entered into the Stationers Register on December 18, 1592. It was written sometime in the period 1588 – 1592, the most likely date being 1588-89.4 In Scene 10 of both the A-Text and the B-Text, an Emperor asks Faustus to conjure up Alexander the Great and his “beauteous paramour." He does so. In order to verify that they are the real thing, the Emperor says to Faustus (A-Text): “Master Doctor, I heard this lady while she lived had a wart or mole in her neck.” On examination of the “beauteous paramour," the identifying “wart or mole” is found – in the same location as Emilia’s “wart or mole” as described by Simon Forman!5

There is another contemporary literary reference associating Marlowe with Emilia in Robert Greene’s moral fable, A Groats-Worth of Wit Bought with a Millionth of Repentance, printed just after Sept 20, 1592. In the first part, a character called “Lucanio” is taken to meet a “beauteous” Italian courtesan called “Lamelia," who seduces Lucanio with her musical skills. She then brings Lucanio to a state of emotional misery. If “Lamelia” represents Emilia Bassano, who is “Lucanio”? There are two pointers to Marlowe. In Greene’s fable, the character Gorinius presents Lucanio with a copy of Machiavelli’s works and suggests that he follows the wisdom therein. As is well known, Marlowe used Machiavelli’s theories to good dramatic effect and several of the characters in his plays follow Machiavelli’s “wisdom." Secondly, surely “Lucanio” is Christopher Marlowe, the translator of Lucan’s First Book, already written by 1592 but not yet presented at the Stationers Register.6 It appears that Greene is saying that Marlowe embarked on an affair with Emilia Bassano prior to September 1592.

If Marlowe did not “die” at Deptford on May 30, 1593, but instead went into exile in northern Italy, a love affair with the Dark Lady makes sense. Through Emilia’s family connections, Marlowe’s Italian destination comes into view. In the 1590s, Emilia’s Anglo-Venetian relatives had business connections in the Veneto region. Her musician uncles owned property in Venice, Borgo de Leon, and possibly Crespano, both villages just outside Bassano, a small sleepy town on the River Brenta, 40 miles north of Venice and 30 miles from Padua. Bassano was so well off the beaten track it would have made a good hiding place for a man who wanted to lie low for a couple of years.7

As the “Shakespeare” plays are peppered with references to a lady of Emilia’s name, appearance, behaviour and relatives (see post-script), these several strands support the view that Christopher Marlowe was not only the author of the Dark Lady Sonnets but also of the plays attributed to Shakespeare. This would explain why so many of the plays were set in the Veneto region of northern Italy.
* * *
Post-script: Evidence of Emilia Bassano’s relatives’ names in the “Shakespeare” plays

The “Shakespeare” plays are full of references to the Bassano or Bassany family. There are Amelias or Emilias in The Winter’s Tale, The Comedy of Errors and Othello. She can be found as Rosaline (R & J), Phoebe (AYLI), Rosalind (Love’s Labour’s Lost), Hermia (Midsummer Night’s Dream), Cleopatra; Katherina (Taming of the Shrew) and Cressida (Troilus and Cressida). They are all dark-haired, black-eyed, striking, and of tempestuous or wanton behaviour.

Emilia’s family name Bassan(i)o appears in the plays as do the first names of many of her relatives : Antonio (Twelfth Night, Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing, The Tempest, Two Gentlemen of Verona); Bassanio (Merchant of Venice), Bassanius* (Titus Andronicus), Baptista (Taming of The Shrew), Lodovico (Othello). Isabella and Angelus (Measure for Measure & Comedy of Errors). Isabella was Emilia’s cousin. Angela was Emilia’s sister. In A Taming of A Shrew, (a possible version of The Taming of The Shrew, performed in 1593 at the Rose Theatre) there is an Aemilia and Alfonso. This list does not include Emilia’s cousin, Mark Antony, as his name represents a historical figure.8

*Bassanius is also the Roman name for the town of Bassano del Grappa.

© Maureen Duff, August 2011

Thanks to Dr. W. Anderson and Peter Farey for their invaluable comments.

Maureen Duff was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and was educated at the University of Glasgow (MA, English Literature and Philosophy). She has worked in the entertainment industry for many years, first as a theatrical agent, then as a casting director in films and television. She worked for Director Richard Attenborough on Closing the Ring and Director Danny Boyle on several films, including The Beach and 28 Days Later. Her filmography can be found on the imdb. She has won or been a finalist in several UK national magazine writing competitions, notably winning a trip for two to Hawaii for a short story entitled "Krakatoa, East of Java." She once cast As You Like It for the Northcott Theatre, Exeter. She lives and works in London.

1Hieatt, A. Kent, Hieatt, Charles W., & Anne Lake Prescott. 1991. "When Did Shakespeare Write 'Sonnets 1609?'" Studies in Philology, Vol. 88, No. 1 (Winter, 1991), pp. 69-109. The authors show that there are early rare words but no late rare words in the Dark Lady Sonnets 127-152, hence their claim for early composition, 1591-95.
2Shakespeare first appears connected with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men in the Tudor court payment records of December 1594.
3The suggestion is that while Emilia was living first with Hunsdon in the Strand (1588 – 1592) and then after October 1592 with Alfonso Lanier in the parish of Aldgate, she still retained a financial interest in the Norton Folgate properties, as the purpose of “tenements” was to rent them to “tenants."
4Scholars’ opinions vary on the date of composition of Faustus. David Bevington and Eric Rasmussen, eds., Revels Plays (Manchester University Press, 1993), suggest 1588, due to topical references concerning Antwerp, Dutch fire-ships and the Duke of Parma. Dr. F. S. Boas suggests it was written in 1592, when its German Faustbuch source was translated into English, though manuscripts could have been in prior circulation.
5Sir Henry Carey was a successful military leader, hence the comparison to Alexander the Great. Regarding blemishes: according to John Lyly in his Introduction to Euphues: the Anatomy of Wyt (1578), blemishes such as moles were an indicator of special beauty. He tells us: “Venus had her mole in her cheek which made her more amiable: Helen her scar on her chin which Paris called cos amoris, the whetstone of love. Aristippus his wart, Lycurgus his wen.” In Faustus Text A, the line reads “a wart or mole in her neck." In Text B, it reads “a little wart or mole in her neck." This shows that the phrase was in the original text, no matter which version came first. Moles or warts also turn up as identification marks in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Comedy of Errors and Cymbeline. So far I have not been able to find them used in this way by any other English Renaissance playwright.
6Regarding the dating of Marlowe’s translation of Lucan’s First Book, some scholars prefer 1582, others 1592.
7Ruffatti, Alessio. 1998. “La Famiglia Piva-Bassano Nei Document Degli Archevi Di Bassano Del Grappa.” Musica e Storia (2 Dec. 1998). I have not read this essay but according to an article on the Laniers which can be found at, I understand that Dr. Ruffatti says that the Bassanos were called “Piva” while they lived in Bassano. They changed their name to that of their ancestral town only when some of them departed to live in Venice. Their silk moth and mulberry tree heraldic motif may be associated with the town of Bassano itself and may not be a reference to a former family occupation of working in the silk trade.
8The Bassano family tree can be found in The Bassanos by David Lasocki & Roger Prior (Ashgate, 1995).Emmerich Anonymous movie

Click here for the blog's home page and recent content.THE MARLOWE PAPERS


daver852 said...

I'm sorry, but this seems quite a stretch to me.

Alex Jack said...

Maureen offers compelling evidence for a connection between Marlowe and Emilia Bassano. The connection between the Dark Lady and Corinne in Marlowe’s rendition of Ovid’s Elegies also bears scrutiny. As M. L. Stapleton observes in Harmful Eloquence: Ovid’s Amores from Antiquity to Shakespeare, the narrator of the Sonnets is “a reincarnation and revision of Marlowe’s young blade and Ovid’s desultor Amoris [desultory lover].” (1) The Shakespearean poems, in his view, share the same voice, themes, diction, sensibility, and even the same bawdy rising and falling metrical puns of Ovid and Marlowe’s couplets.

Patrick Cheney and Brian J. Striar, in their introduction to a recent edition of Marlowe’s poetry agree that Corrine anticipates the Dark Lady and offer several parallels, including her appearance. (2) “Then came Corinna in a long loose gown, / Her white neck hid with tresses hanging down” (1.5.9-10). Her luxurious hair was her most prominent feature, and one elegy entirely devoted to her locks opens with this couplet. “”Leave colouring thy tresses, ‘ I did cry; / ‘Now hast thou left no hairs at all to dye’” (1.14.1-2). Though not described explicitly as black, her dyed hair is clearly dark. Later, in a general paean to women, young and old, fair and dark, the poet exhibits his fondness for necks and hair: “If her white neck be shadowed with black hair, / Why, so was Leda’s, yet was Leda fair” (2.4.41-42). In Book 3, he repeats his fascination with these two features: “Like one start up, your hair tossed and displaced, / And with a wanton’s tooth your neck new-raced [marked]?” (3.13.34-35). But as for the wart or mole on her neck, Corrina was without blemish: “Stark naked as she stood before mine eye, / Not one wen in her body could I spy” (1.5.17-18).

The musical connection between the two putative lovers offers further reflection, since Kit won his scholarship to Cambridge based largely on his skill as a chorister and his ability to read plain song. Corinna played the lute, the Dark Lady played the virginal, and presumably Emilia, coming from a musical family, was also skillful in this regard. Marlowe himself may have played the pan-pipes, to which he compares his poetry in his tribute to Mary Sidney.

Emilia’s family name, Bassano, also finds resonance in Tamburlaine with its many “Bassoes,” a title given to Turkish officials (also spelled "Pashas”). A much more striking parallel is that in Greek “Bassano” means Touchstone, the name of the jester in As You Like It. (Emilia’s family hailed from Italy but prior to that may have come from Greece or Spain.) John Hudson, director of the Dark Lady Players in New York, is the major proponent of the theory that Emelia wrote the Shakespearean plays, using Touchstone as her autobiographical persona. (3) In his view, she and Kit were lovers, and she mourns his slaying as the “Dead Shepherd” in the play. Hudson builds a fascinating case that Emelia’s family were Marranos, or converted Jews, and she secretly kept the faith, accounting for Jewish allegorical themes in the Shakespearean canon. Emilia was the first female poet in England to have a book published in her own right. Her Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (“Hail, God, King of the Jews”) is an iconoclastic work paralleling some of the radical religious and feminist themes found in the early Marlovian plays.

1. M. L. Stapleton, Harmful Eloquence: Ovid’s Amores from Antiquity to Shakespeare, U of Michigan Press, 1996, 139.

2. Patrick Cheney and Brian J. Striar, edit., The Collected Poetry of Christopher Marlowe, Oxford U.P. , 2006, 8.



DresdenDoll said...

I agree with Mr. Jack. Ms. Duff makes a very good connection.

Isabel Gortazar said...

I am sorry to see you never read my essay:

Anyway, here is what I said about a Venetian family named Bassani.

“I found no Basconi or Bosconi families in the Padua records. The Padovan Archivists suggested that Irving may have misread the family name and advised me to look for the Bassani family in the relevant period; there I found one Antonio Bassanio curiously enough, though I could not find details about his life. And here is a tricky one for Stratfordians: Apart from three students called Rosenkrantz, and one Ioannes Gulderstiern (16) I found the family of the Ottelli, (spelt variously as Otelli, Ottelli and Othelius), which means there would have been individuals walking the streets of Padua surnamed “Otello.””

I was told (but did not check), that the name of the nearby town of Bassano derives from the “bassano stone”, which, as I also said, could be a reference to Touchstone and Bassanio.

The University of Padua specialized in Arts and Law, which would explain both Shakespeare’s puzzling knowledge of legal matters, and the plot of the Merchant of Venice, in which the anti-Semitic Antonio is protected from Shylock’s revenge by a legal quibble. In support of the hypothesis that Marlowe was in Padua (rather than in Bassano) would also be the fact that I found those Othelli in the various University records. The idea that Marlowe may have been made welcome by the Italian relatives (probably Catholic), of his mistress I find questionable. However, if Washington Irving' was right, Marlowe may have died in the house of somebody called Bassanio.

If Marlowe managed to get all the way to Padua around 1596/7, somebody must have paid for the long trip (horses and all), and provided passports, so it seems to me more probable that he was there either as a Government Agent of sorts, or as companion to a visiting nobleman, such as young Rutland, or Zeroitin.

Your reference to “Lucanius” sounds interesting, although Marlowe’s “Lucan” was not published until 1600, if memory serves. Which again begs some questions.

That "Shakespeare" was obsessed with a black-haired, or dark skinned, lady seems obvious, but who the lady was is another matter. Iago's wife, Emilia, would have been Italian if not necessarily Venetian. That “mole” you mention is also interesting but, as you point out, moles were common and taken for a sign of beauty (as in Faustus).

Still, worth further analysis; thanks for all that information.

Maureen Duff said...

Hi Alex,

You have made some most interesting points. Well done for spotting the literary through line from Marlowe’s Ovid translated poems to the Shakespeare sonnets and for the pointers in Tamburlaine and As You Like It. Regarding John Hudson’s theory that Emilia wrote the plays … Hudson has compiled some great information on the Bassanos though I don’t agree with his conclusion that Emilia wrote the plays. So far there is no consensus among scholars as to the ethnic or religious origins of the Bassanos. David Lasocki and Roger Prior believe that they were originally Jewish. However, Alessio Ruffati says he cannot find any evidence of this even though he took a Jewish scholar to Bassano del Grappa to aid his researches there. Even if Emilia was secretly Jewish, this is hardly a qualification for authorship of Midsummer Night’s Dream on account of its alleged Jewish imagery. Surely a Cambridge theology graduate, ie Marlowe, would have been up to speed on his Bible and Rabbinical texts? Also, Hudson’s claim that Emilia wrote the Dark Lady sonnets about herself is just baffling.


Maureen Duff said...

Isabel, Thanks for your comments. I will shortly reply to the points that you raise. In the meantime, yes I did read your essay at one time but would like to read it again before replying. I'll get back to you very soon.

Alex Jack said...

I agree with Maureen that the jury is still out on Emilia’s religious background, as it is on Kit’s. Marlovians Jean Jofan and Roberta Ballantine contend that Marlowe himself had Jewish ancestry on his mother’s side. I pointed this out to John Hudson earlier this year in context of the whole case for Marlowe. He said that he had read my book on Hamlet and was now open to the possibility that Kit survived and may have gone on to pen the plays (with Emilia!).

Overall, I find his view that she was the principal author of the canon over the top, as I do the cases made by other scholars for Mary Sidney and Mary Fitton. But I do feel Hudson, Jofan, and others have identified striking Hebraic themes in the Marlovian and Shakespearean works that warrant further investigation.

Hudson is currently writing his own book on the subject. For those who are researching Kit’s afterlife in Spain as a spy in the mid 1590s to early 1600s, another thread to pursue would be Marlowe’s own quest for links to his possible Jewish or Marrano heritage prior to the expulsion of the Jews in 1492.*


*For a fascinating case of secret spiritual exile, see “Christopher Columbus” by Salvador de Madariaga, the classic 1940 study of Columbus’s likely Jewish origins and secret Marrano faith. The famed explorer sailed on his first voyage to the Americas on the same day the Jews were expelled from Spain and his writings contain Kabbalistic references.

Maureen Duff said...

Hi Isabel,

Your essay is full of wonderful information and possibilities. I didn’t refer to the mystery of Pietro Basconi (or perhaps Bassani) and Washington Irving in my essay as I was writing specifically about the Dark Lady. I may come back to Washington Irving in the future as I have a couple of ideas about this.

Here are my replies to the other points you raise.

1. I take your point about the Otelli family names abounding in Padua, especially in connection with the University. However, Roger Prior (who believes Shakespeare wrote the plays) has written that the family name “Otello” was very common in Bassano itself. He found nine Bassano Otellos in the accounts of the renaissance artist Jacopo Bassano (from the same town but no relation to the musical Bassanos). In the 1590s, there were two apothecaries in a square in Bassano; one was called “The Moor” and the other was part owned by a “Giovanni Otello” and was a popular meeting place in the town. Prior suggests that the only time Shakespeare could have been there and seen this square was sometime during the period 1593 – 94, when plague shut down the London theatres and he was associated with the Southampton family. From a Marlovian point of view this sits well with the idea that Marlowe went “beyond the alps” shortly after May 30, 1593. It is entirely possible that he visited different places in the Veneto region. Padua is not far from Bassano and would have been a terrific pull for a serious scholar.

2. Emilia’s relatives need not have known that she was having an affair with Marlowe. The sonnets were not published until 1609.

3. According to Greene, the affair started before September 1592 and presumably the writing of the Dark Lady sonnets would have been concurrent with the affair. I suggest that Marlowe, therefore, would have first gone to Italy at the end of May 1593 (not 1595/6) financed by whichever moneyed group or person prepared to help him.

4. Although Lucan’s First Book was published in 1600, it was presented at the Stationers Register along with Hero and Leander on Sept 28, 1593.


Isabel Gortazar said...

Hi Maureen:
That’s wonderful information. I look forward to reading your ideas about the Irving letter. John Hunt and I gave up on it as the information seemed full of errors about the details of Irving’s visit. I must confess that, having dismissed the letter, I have forgotten the details.

Before I continue, my mind is totally closed to the suggestion that Emilia Bassano wrote the plays. Also, I need to work out Marlowe's supposed romance before 1592 in the light of the "one Morley" dates and the Flushing affair.

Names: As we know, people often had surnames associated with their town/place of origin; so, most Bassani families would have originated in Bassano, but the presence of Otellis there is news to me and very interesting.

Two points, though: Why do we need that Marlowe should have known the Veneto before he wrote sonnets to a lady who lived in England? Even if Emilia talked to him at any time about her Italian family, Marlowe could have written those sonnets before he ever set foot in Italy.

Lucan: would the fact that it had been entered into the SR signify that the MS was available to be read by Greene before publication?

The Venetian trip, I’ll get on to that, but you've made me do some mathematics, for which I am grateful. I'll let you know what conclusion I reach, if any.

About Jewish origins:
So far nobody knows where Columbus came from. His expedition was paid by the Spanish Crown, the crew and ships were Spanish, but as for the man “Colon” nobody really knows where he was born. The Genoese claim him, but so do the Catalans and I have a Genoese friend who says Columbus was a Basque. So, who knows. But it is difficult to believe that Queen Isabella would have entrusted this expedition to a Jew. AND, at the moment, there is also an International group of researchers claiming that Cervantes was Jewish.

With all European Jews at the time trying to hide their origins, we are going to find theories for hundreds of could-be Jews doing important work in the Renaissance.

Quite honestly, I think the Arthur family's origins is irrelevant to our enquiries; that Marlowe was interested in the political and social predicament of Jews and Moors is obvious, so was he a Jew or a Moor? Or could it be just his liberal mind speaking?

daver852 said...

This is very interesting, but I am not convinced. First of all, Bassano does not mean dark or dusky in Italian. It means "short or thickset." And it's not a descriptive surname, either. It derives from a place name; there are at least five villages named Bassano in Italy. As for the "coat of arms" thing: after several hours of searching I discovered there is an English achievement of arms granted to a Bassano family; it is blazoned as follows: "per chevron, argent and vert, three silkworm flies palewise en arriere in fesse; in base, a mulberry branch; all counterchanged." These arms were granted to someone named Bassano in Lichfield, Staffordshire. Unfortunately, I can't find the date of the grant. I doubt, however, that it dates to the 16th or 17th century, or that there is any connection whatsoever to Emilia.

Maureen Duff said...

Hi Daver,

Answers to your doubts about Emilia can be found in Martin Green’s sssay “Emilia Lanier IS the Dark Lady of the Sonnets”, English Studies, Vol. 87, No. 5, October 2006, 544-576, It is available at for a modest fee.

In the meantime I’ll quote the following from p 560 of Green’s essay which shows that “Bassano” (however we spell it) was in use as a 16th century Italian tanning term :

“In the Grande Dizionario della Lingua Italiana, the word Basana is equated with the word Bazzana, which is defined as ‘‘Pelle di montone o di pecora semiconciata (per foderare scarpe, pantofole, borse; anche per la rilegatura di libri)’’, that is, ‘‘partially tanned ram or ewe skins (for lining shoes, slippers, purses; also for binding books).’’ The accompanying etymological note derives the word from the Arabic bitana (meaning leather lining), which word in common usage assumed the form batana, passing into Spanish badana, ‘‘tanned sheep skin’’ whence, eventually, the Italian bazzana; the other Italian form, basana is presumed to derive from the French basane, documented from the end of the thirteenth century.
The same dictionary defines Basano (stated to be derived from basana) as ‘‘Sudicio, lercio; triviale’’, words which mean, respectively, dirty, filthy and vulgar. (‘‘In nothing art thou blacke [Basana] save in thy deeds [Basano]’’?)”

In Appendix 3 of his essay, Green says: “The word Bassana/Bazzana exists also in English, in the forms basan and bazan, which the OED defines as ‘‘Sheepskin tanned in larch or oak-bark.’’

Randle Cotgrave's Dictionary of the French and English Tongues (1611) can be found at:

Your heraldic doubts are also covered in Green's essay. Apart from that, Emilia has been identified (by Tony Haygarth, actor) as the girl in a painted miniature in the Victoria and Albert Museum, complete with moths and mulberry branch. You can find her picture on google/images.

I am sure that you are right about there being more than one town named Bassano in Italy. However, the five Bassano brothers whom Henry VIII invited over from Venice in the 1530s in order to be his musicians and instrument makers, definitely came from Bassano (del Grappa) in the Veneto region. It has been thoroughly documented in the Italian and English records. Bassano used to have a thriving silk industry, hence the mulberry tree and moth motif. Perhaps a look at Peter Bassano’s website, and also Roger Prior and David Lasocki’s fantastic piece of research on this family, The Bassanos, Venetian Musicians and Instrument Makers in England, 1531 – 1665, Ashgate 1995, will convince you.

In Appendix 1 of this book, we discover that a great-grandson of Emilia's uncle Anthony Bassano (2nd generation of the Venetian Bassanos)....“Christopher Bassano (1680-1745) was the Vicar Choral of Lichfield Cathedral, Staffordshire. His brother, Richard (1681-1720) was also a Vicar Choral there: and his sister Mary (1684-1741), who inherited the family’s Mark Lane, London property, married John Stephenson (d 1743), a Sub-Chanter of the cathedral.” They are all descended from the original Venetian Bassanos. They are the connection to the heraldic mulberry and moth motif you found. Well done!


Maureen Duff said...

Isabel, I would agree with you that the Sonnets start being written before any trip to N.Italy is in sight. There are no references to Italian place names in them at all. It is the later marriage plays and some of the tragedies that contain detailed information about the Veneto region. According to the content of the Sonnets (but not their structure which follows the sonnet writing conventions of the time), as is the way with affairs of the heart, this affair appears to have had different phases, easy and uneasy, ending up in a rather bitter parting – so for dating purposes, I think we should be looking at its intermittent changing nature over, at a guess, say 1 or 2 or 3 years, or possibly longer? I will be interested to know if you can make a mathematical fit with Marlowe’s known activities in the 1580s/90s.

Regarding Lucan: While we cannot know for certain that Lucan’s First Book was available privately, it is not unreasonable to assume that the author's friends would have seen it in manuscript form prior to its appearance on the SR in Sept 28, 1593. In 1598, Francis Meres in his Palladis Tamia tells us Shakespeare’s “sugar’d Sonnets” were already circulating “among his private friends” presumably until they were first published in 1609. Though I can’t remember my source, I understand that some intellectuals at the time thought that a manuscript copy of an author’s work was more exclusive and therefore more valuable than a published one. In some elite corners publishing was deemed to devalue a literary work.


daver852 said...

I do not doubt the scholarship, only the conclusions. To me, arguing that the word "basanee" means swarthy should have anything to do with the complexion of someone named Bassano is akin to saying that Smith could mean someone is bald because "smooth" sounds like Smith, and smooth can be another word for bald. As for the supposed miniature of Emilia, I am quite familiar with it. First of all, I don't think it's her. The dates are wrong. Emilia Bassano was born in 1569, so at the time the portrait was painted (1593) she would have been 23 or 24, and the portrait plainly says the sitter is 26. As for the mulberry trees and moths that are supposedly on her clothes, one must need better eyes than mine to find them. Furthermore, if the miniature is of Emilia, it's difficult to reconcile it with the other evidence; the lady in the miniature has dark hair and eyes, but a fair complexion. Maybe Emilia Bassano Lanier is the Dark Lady. I don't know. But it doesn't seem that there is enough evidence at this point to reach that conclusion.

Maureen Duff said...


As Martin Green has pointed out, the “blackness” described in the Sonnets does not refer to the "swarthy" complexion of the Dark Lady but to her black hair, black eyes and dark deeds. Her hair is described as “raven black” and “black wires”, her eyes “as black as hell”, “as dark as night” and “as black as mourning”. Phoebe in As You Like It has “inky brows”, black silk hair”, “bugle eyeballs” (1) and a “cheek of cream”. Romeo, talking about Rosaline, is “stabbed with a white wench’s black eye”. Emilia Bassano gave Simon Forman the run-around to the point where he first refers to her in his diary as a “friend” but later adds that “she was a whore and dealt evil with him after”. Emilia had black hair and black eyes but Forman does not mention her skin tone. As she was only half-Venetian she could easily have had light skin, unlike two of her cousins who, after a fracas in the street in 1584, were described thus: “a little black man who was booted” and “a tall black man”. This is thought to refer to their black hair and Mediterranean complexion, a rarity in England at that time.

Regarding the portrait: According to Tony Haygarth the insects on the lady’s bodice are moths with double wings. Other telling motifs on the portrait are discussed at As you say she was 23 or 24 at the time. The portrait says in Latin that she was "in her 26th year" ie 25. We're only a year out and this may have something to do with the two conflicting calendars in use at the time.

As much as we can believe that any portrait of Shakespeare is of Shakespeare or Marlowe or someone else or that the well-known portrait of Marlowe is really of Marlowe, we can believe or not believe, as we like, that the miniature is of Emilia Bassano. Until more evidence turns up in the records, they are all constructs.

(1) eyes like black beads


Jim said...

The dark lady was nothing black except her deeds: "In nothing art thou black save in thy deeds." (sonnet 131)

Perhaps we can reconsider all descriptions about her.

eyes, unlike sun: views, not shining as the orthodoxy.
lips, not red: words, not stirring.
breasts, unlike snow: affections, not cold as snow.
hairs, like wires: characters (OED 6), like wires controlled puppet (actor).
cheeks, not red not white: temper, not bloody not ruthless.
breath, reek: whisper, but with pungent words.
voice, unlike music: command, of a patron.
walks, tread: conducts, tread stately on the ground.
Coral: marrowless, skeleton-like ornament.

Breasts are dun — passions are hidden.

Eyes are Raven black — views are white but blackened by god (someone powerful). Raven was white before blackened by Apollo for it told bad news.

Black eyes and hairs are reasonable, but black voice and smell can hardly be used to praise a lady.

Maureen Duff said...

Hi Jim,

This is thought provoking. However, I suspect it’s simpler than that. Without going into the meaning of every line in Sonnet 130 and Sonnet 131… Sonnet 131 can be read as the poet telling his mistress that even though “thy black is fairest” he is telling her how cruel she is to betray him with another, hence “in nothing art thou black save in thy deeds”. Sonnet 130 is a parody of the Petrarchian and Ronsardian literary convention that girls spoken about in sonnets should be matchless in their beauty and capable of inflicting cruelty by remaining aloof from the adoring poet. Thomas Watson, Marlowe’s friend, wrote such a sonnet sequence, printed posthumously in 1593 as “The Tears of Fancie or Love Disdained”, in which the poet pines after a disdainful and impossibly beautiful girl. The author of “Shakespeare’s” Sonnet 130 on the other hand is saying that his mistress has none of the ideal attributes of beauty but at the end he says that despite her unusual and “imperfect” qualities, he still loves her. "And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare As any she belied with false compare." It is meant therefore as a witty and amusing compliment. He is gently laughing at the sonnet convention.


Jim said...

Hi Maureen,

Yes, it's debatable. We need something more solid, maybe sonnet 129. I believe it talks about those Black Deeds by the dark lady. Its first twelve lines hint at twelve plays. Some of my solutions:

3. "Is perjured, murderous, bloody full of blame" — Macbeth.

4. "Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust" — Titus Andronicus.

8. "On purpose laid to make the taker mad" — the Merchant; Shylock is the taker.

10. "Had, having, and in quest, to have extreme" — All's Well.

12. "Before a joy proposed behind a dream" — A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Line 10 is a mark. Helena HAD a husband Bertram (he ran away). Helena was HAVING him during her QUEST of ring and child, and she did HAVE the EXTREME (Bertram) at the end.

1. Timon or Tempest (I'm not so sure); 2. Much Ado; 5. Romeo and Juliet; 6. Comedy of Errors; 7. Hamlet; 9. Othello; 11. King Lear.

Sonnet 129 seems greater if this reading is accepted.

Isabel Gortazar said...

Maureen and all:

Just as a matter of curiosity, I thought you might want to see this::

A Poem by William Herbert:
"In praise of my Mistress":

My Mistress has a precious eye,
But that, alas, it looks awry.
And like the silver is her hair,
But it is nitty everywhere;
And for a Brow, as black as Jet,
But it is greasy all with sweat.
As for her nose, o dainty bill,
But it is ever dropping still.
And for her lips, both fair and smooth,
But slavers like a launderers Booth;
And not a tooth within her head,
But like a pearl unpolished. (Etc)

Unfortunately I have the book of Pembroke's Poems in London, so cannot quote the whole thing now, but the rest of the lines go on in the same vein.

I find sonnet 129 crystal clear in its meaning, without any need for hidden clues. I do have a problem matching 130 with 131, but cannot propose a theory.

Maureen; I am doing the mathematics for the Venetian trip, but it may take me a while to come to a conclusion that will satisfy me, if nobody else.

About Meres' ref to S's "sugared Sonnets": I already offered an explanation for that in my essay Our Ever Living Poet; you can find it in the IMSS website. I am not sure that solution is applicable to the Lucan. Even if by by chance Green had access to the MS before publication, his reference to "Lucanio" would have been unintelligible to everybody else.
That said, it's tempting.

Jim said...

Thanks for the example. Is there any poem praising breath reek, sound unpleasing, and walks tread? That would be the point.

After the compare of eyes, breath, etc., the last line gives a hint, "As any she belied with false compare."

To belie: to give a false representation or account of, to misrepresent; to present in a false character (OED v.2 4, 1601).

Maureen Duff said...

Isabel et al,

Well, the Herbert poem is amusing. It looks as though these young men were competing in anti-Petrarchian poetry, thinking up the worst possible words to describe girls for the sheer entertainment value of it.

Regarding Groatsworth and Lucanio – as you know Henry Chettle, the printer of Groatsworth, was forced, in his preface to “Kind Heart’s Dream”, published later the same year, to issue an apology to two people who were furious at their less than flattering descriptions in Groatsworth. Chettle does not mention them by name. However, one is most likely to have been either Edward Alleyn or Richard Burbage, both of whom could “bombast out a blanke verse” and got rich on the playwrights’ efforts. I favour Edward Alleyn. To whom was the other apology addressed? How would Marlowe (if he is Lucanio) have felt at being presented as a naïve fool who couldn’t tell the difference between a nice young lady and a deceitful courtesan, announcing his adoration publicly by wearing her jewel in his beaver cap, losing all his money to her at cards, ending up emotionally and financially drained by associating with her and then deciding to pimp for her as a way out of poverty incurred in pursuit of her? And to add to the derision, Greene suggests “Lucanio” could profit by taking lessons from Machiavelli. I guess the intended victim of this derision would find it all prestty insulting - hence the demand for an apology? I suspect several of Marlowe’s friends, and a few of his enemies or jealous rivals, could have seen Lucan’s First Book in manuscript. However, even if only Greene knew about Lucan, Marlowe himself could not have failed to realise who “Lucanio” was meant to be and that Greene was having a cruel laugh at his expense. As a footnote, Henry Chettle at the time was widely suspected of being the real author of Groatsworth even though he denied it.

All this, of course, is speculation but, as you say, it’s tempting – especially if the lady with whom Lucanio is besotted is called Lamelia.


Jim said...

Can the dark lady play virginal as in sonnet 128? Or it's another false compare as "breasts are dun" doesn't mean the lady has dark skin.

In sonnet 128, music, wood, jack, is the metaphor for script, actor, audience. Marlowe twisted some words to create this effect. Wood should be key, and jack is never touched by hand. Wood can mean idol (OED 6e), similar to actor controlled by script. Jacks are common people or audiences.

I believe Marlowe wrote these dark lady sonnets, but the praises to the lady are not about sex or complexion, but stage play.