used in nb80 Aemilia Bassano, the daughter of an impoverished court musician, uses her intelligence and her considerable beauty to make her way amongst the upper echelons of Elizabethan court life. As the mistress of Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon, the patron of Shakespeare’s theatre company, Aemilia is soon noticed by the charismatic playwright William Shakespeare, and it is this abiding love/hate relationship between Shakespeare and Aemilia which is the real focus of the story. There is much debate about the identity of the mysterious ‘Dark Lady’ who features in the sonnets of William Shakespeare. This novel cleverly explores the alleged fascination which the playwright had for Aemilia Bassano, and it is entirely possible that she could have been both muse and his one true love.
Beautifully written, with a real authenticity, the story reads like a time travel journal effortlessly taking the reader into the very heart of Elizabethan London, to a land alive with political mayhem and society scandal. The glitterati of the great, and the not so good, of Elizabeth’s court are shown as bright and brittle butterflies, who flit into and out of the story, and yet it is in the minutiae of daily life where the story really comes alive. With comparable ease, we are taken from the squalor and stench of death-carts and plague-pits, through to the posturing and raucous swagger of the actors who parade centre stage at the Globe theatre. Throughout the novel, there is an authentic ripeness to the narrative with the inspired use of colourful and slightly risqué language, which helps to support the time travel idea, and thankfully, there is a good glossary which places the vocabulary into context.
There is no doubt that Aemilia’s unrivalled charm, wit and intelligence gave her the impetus to become the first professional female poet, and yet, it is her struggle for control, appreciation and survival in a male dominated world, which is her lasting legacy.
I am sure that reading groups with an interest in good historical fiction will find much to discuss about Shakespeare’s Dark Aemilia.