Born Aemilia Bassano
Movement English Renaissance
Parent(s) Baptiste Bassano; Margret Johnson
Emilia Lanier (1569–1645), also spelled Lanyer, was the first Englishwoman to assert herself as a professional poet through her single volume of poems, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (1611). Born Aemilia Bassano and part of the Lanier family, she was a member of the minor gentry through her father's appointment as a royal musician, and was apparently educated in the household by Susan Bertie, Countess of Kent. She was for several years the mistress of Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon, first cousin of Elizabeth I of England. She was married to her first cousin, court musician Alfonso Lanier, in 1592 when she became pregnant by Hunsdon, and the marriage was reportedly unhappy.
3 Shakespeare links
3.1 The Sonnets
4 Feminist ideals, Lanier's poetry and Eve's Apolog
Emilia Lanier's life is well documented for the period through her letters, her poetry, her medical records, her legal records and through sources about the social contexts she inhabited. Researchers have used entries in astrologer Dr. Simon Forman's (1552–1611) professional diary, which is the first casebook kept by an English medical practitioner, which logs interactions with Lanier. Lanier visited Forman many times during 1597 for consultations that incorporated astrological readings, as was usual for the period. Forman was evidently sexually interested in her but was rebuffed.
Church records show that Lanier was baptised Aemilia Bassano at the parish church of St. Botolph, Bishopsgate, on 27 January 1569. Her father, Baptiste Bassano, was a Venice-born musician at the court of Elizabeth I. Her mother was Margret Johnson (born ca. 1545–1550), possibly the aunt of court composer Robert Johnson. Lanier also had a sister, Angela Bassano, who married Joseph Hollande in 1576. There were also brothers Lewes and Phillip, both of whom died before they reached adulthood. It has been suggested that Lanier's family were Jewish or of partial Jewish ancestry, though this is disputed. Susanne Woods says that evidence for Lanier's Jewish heritage is "circumstantial but cumulatively possible". Leeds Barroll says she was "probably a Jew", her baptism being "part of the vexed context of Jewish assimilation in Tudor England".
Baptiste Bassano died on 11 April 1576, when Aemilia was seven years old. Bassano's will dictated to his wife that he had left young Aemilia a dowry of £100, to be given to her either when she turned 21 years old or on the day of her wedding, whichever came first. Forman's records indicate that Bassano's fortune might have been waning before he died which caused him to be unhappy.:xv–xvii
Foreman's records also indicate that, after the death of her father, Lanier went to live with Susan Bertie, Countess of Kent. Some scholars have questioned whether Lanier went to serve Bertie rather than be fostered by her, but there is no conclusive evidence to confirm this. It was in Bertie's house that Lanier was given a humanist education and learned Latin. Bertie greatly valued and emphasised the importance of young girls receiving the same level of education as young men. Later evidence indicates that this decision may have greatly impacted Lanier and her own decision to publish her writing. After living with Bertie, Lanier went to live with Margaret Clifford, Countess of Cumberland, and Margaret's daughter, Lady Anne Clifford. Dedications in Lanier's own poetry seem to confirm this information.
Lanier's mother died when Lanier was eighteen. Church records show that Johnson was buried in Bishopsgate on 7 July 1587.
Not long after her mother's death, Lanier became the mistress of Tudor courtier and cousin of Queen Elizabeth I, Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon. At the time of their affair, Lord Hunsdon was Elizabeth's Lord Chamberlain and a patron of the arts and theatre (he supported Shakespeare's theatre company, known as the Lord Chamberlain's Men, but not until two years after their affair was over). He was also forty-five years older than Lanier. Records indicate that Carey gave her a pension of £40 a year. Lanier apparently enjoyed her time as Carey's mistress. An entry from Forman's diary reads "[Lanier] hath bin married 4 years/ The old Lord Chamberlain kept her longue She was maintained in great pomp ... she hath 40£ a yere & was welthy to him that married her in monie & Jewells".:xviii
In 1592, when she was 23, Lanier became pregnant with Carey's child. Carey paid her off with a sum of money. Lanier was then married to her first cousin once removed, Alfonso Lanier. He was a Queen's musician and church records show the two were married in St. Botolph's church, Aldgate, on 18 October 1592.
Another of Forman's diary entries indicates that the marriage was an unhappy one. It also indicates that Lanier was much happier as Carey's mistress. It reads "... and a nobleman that is ded hath Loved her well & kept her and did maintain her longe but her husband hath delte hardly with her and spent and consumed her goods and she is nowe ... in debt".:xviii
Alfonso and Aemilia remained married until his death in 1613. Forman's diary entries suggest Lanier told him about having several miscarriages. It is known that Lanier gave birth to a son, Henry, in 1593 (presumably named after his father, Henry Carey) and a daughter, Odillya, in 1598. Odillya died when she was ten months old and was buried at St. Botolph's, Bishopsgate. Lanier's son married Joyce Mansfield in 1623; they had two children, Mary (1627) and Henry (1630). Henry senior died in October 1633. It is implied from later court documents that Lanier may have been providing for her two grandchildren after their father's death.
In 1611, Lanier published her volume of poetry, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum. Lanier was forty-two years old at the time and the first woman in England to declare herself a poet. People who read her poetry considered it very radical and many scholars today refer to its style and arguments as "proto-feminist".
After the death of her husband, Lanier supported herself by running a school. She rented a house from Edward Smith to house her students but, due to disputes over the correct rent price, was arrested on two different occasions between 1617 and 1619. Because parents weren't willing to send their children to a woman with a history of arrest, Lanier's dreams of running a prosperous school ended.
Little else is known about Lanier's life between 1619 and 1635. Court documents state that, in this year, Lanier brought a lawsuit against her husband's brother, Clement, for money owed to her from the profits of one of her late husband's financial patents. The court ruled in Lanier's favour, declaring that Clement pay her £20. Clement couldn't pay her immediately, so Lanier brought the suit to court again in 1636 and in 1638. There are no records that verify whether Lanier was ever paid in full but it is known that, at the time of death, she was described as a "pensioner", someone who has a steady income or pension.
Lanier died at the age of seventy-six and was buried at Clerkenwell, on 3 April 1645.
The title page of Lanier's collection of poetry, Salve Deux Rex Judaeorum.
At the age of 42, in 1611, she published the collection of poetry Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (Hail, God, King of the Jews). At the time that she published her book, it was extremely unusual for an Englishwoman to publish and to do so as an attempt at making a living was even more unusual. Emilia was only the fourth British woman to publish a book of original poetry. Since the English poet Isabella Whitney published a 38-page pamphlet of poetry partly written by her correspondents, Anne Dowriche was Cornish and Elizabeth Melville was Scottish, Lanier's book may be said to be the first "booke" as she called it of original poetry to be published by an Englishwoman.
Source analysis shows that Lanier draws on the learned books that she mentions reading, including Edmund Spenser, Ovid, Petrarch, Chaucer, Boccaccio, Agrippa, as well as books by feminists like Veronica Franco and Christine de Pizan Lanier makes use of two unpublished manuscripts and a published play translation by Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke. She also shows a knowledge of theatrical plays by John Lyly, Samuel Daniel, the unpublished manuscript of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra and the allegorical meanings of the Pyramus and Thisbe scene in A Midsummer Night's Dream which were only rediscovered in the 21st century.:192 The work of Samuel Daniel informs her Masque, a theatrical form which has been identified in her letter to Mary Sidney and which resembles the Masque in The Tempest.
At the end of the book is the "Description of Cookham," commemorating Margaret Clifford, Countess of Cumberland and her daughter Lady Anne Clifford. This is the first published country house poem in English (Ben Jonson's more famous "To Penshurst" may have been written earlier but was first published in 1616). Lanier's inspiration came from her stay at Cookham Dean, where Margaret Clifford, Countess of Cumberland, lived with her daughter Lady Anne Clifford, for whom Lanier was engaged as a tutor and companion. The Clifford household was notable for its library some of which can be identified in the painting The Great Picture attributed to Jan van Belcamp. As Helen Wilcox has shown the poem is an allegory of the expulsion from Eden.
The main poem is prefaced by ten shorter dedicatory works, all to aristocratic women, beginning with the queen. There is also a prose preface addressed to the reader, comprising a vindication of "virtuous women" against detractors of the sex. The title poem, a long narrative work of over 200 stanzas, tells the story of Christ's passion satirically and almost entirely from the point of view of the women who surround him. The title comes from the words of mockery supposedly addressed to Jesus on the cross. The satirical nature of the poem was first identified by Boyd Berry. Although the topics of virtue and religion were considered to be suitable themes for women writers Lanier's title poem is a parody of the crucifixion which uses imagery of the Elizabethan grotesque found for instance in some of the Shakespearean plays, to mock Jesus on the cross. The views expressed in the poem are "independent of church tradition" and utterly heretical. However they resemble the religious satires that scholars have found in the Shakespearean works including the poem The Phoenix and the Turtle and in many of the plays, which the experimental New York Shakespeare ensemble The Dark Lady Players has been performing onstage since 2007.
Paralleling the expulsion from Eden in the final Cookham poem, in the central section of Salve Deus the poem takes up the Querrelle des Femmes by redefining the Christian doctrine of 'The Fall' and attacks Original Sin which is the foundation of Christian theology and Pauline doctrine about women in particular. Lanier defends Eve, and womankind in general, arguing that Eve has been wrongly blamed for the original sin of eating the forbidden fruit, while no blame has been pointed at Adam. She argues that Adam shares most of the guilt by concluding that Adam was stronger than Eve, and thus, he should have been able to resist the temptation. She also defends women by pointing out the dedication of the female followers of Christ who stayed with Him throughout the Passion, and looked for him first after the burial and resurrection. She also draws attention to Pilate's wife who attempted to intervene and prevent the unjust trial and crucifixion of Christ. Lanier reproaches mankind by accusing them of crucifying Christ. She also notes the male apostles that forsook and even denied Christ during His crucifixion and Passion. Lanier repeats the anti-Semitic aspects of the Gospel accounts including hostile attitudes towards the Jews for not having prevented the crucifixion: these views are of course the norm for her period.
After Bassano was no longer at court, and two years after her affair with Lord Hunsdon had ended, he became the patron of the Lord Chamberlain's Men, the theatre company which performed the Shakespearean plays after 1594. Some have speculated that Lanier, an apparently striking woman, was Shakespeare's "Dark Lady". This identification was first proposed by A. L. Rowse and has been repeated by several authors since, notably David Lasocki and Roger Prior in their 1995 book The Bassanos:Venetian Musicians and Instrument makers in England 1531–1665 and by Stephanie Hopkins Hughes. Although the colour of her hair is not known, records exist in which her Bassano cousins were referred to as "black," a common term at that time for brunettes or persons with Mediterranean coloring. That she came from a family of Court musicians fits Shakespeare's picture of her playing the virginal in Sonnet 128, and that he claims she was "forsworn" to another in Sonnet 152 fits her relationship with Shakespeare's patron, Lord Hunsdon. The theory that she was the Dark Lady was doubted by the first generation of Lanier scholars like Susanne Woods (1999). Barbara Lewalski notes that Rowse's theory that Lanier was Shakespeare's "Dark Lady" has deflected attention from Lanier as a poet. However Martin Green has argued that although Rowse's argument was erroneous, he was correct that Lanier is referred to in the Sonnets. John Hudson and Joseph Atwill have argued that Lanier is the author of some or all of the works of Shakespeare (including the sonnets as well as the plays), and as such her references to the "Dark Lady" should be interpreted as self-referential or autobiographical.
Apart from the scholarly research, playwrights, musicians and poets have also expressed views. The theater historian and playwright Professor Andrew B. Harris has written a play The Lady Revealed which chronicles Rowse's identification of Lanier as the 'Dark Lady'. After readings in London and at the Players' Club, it received a staged reading at New Dramatists in New York City on 16 March 2015. In 2005 the English conductor Peter Bassano, a co-lateral descendant of Emilia, suggested that she provided some of the texts for William Byrd's 1589 Songs of Sundrie Natures dedicated to Lord Hunsdon. He further suggested that one of the songs, the setting of the translation of an Italian sonnet: Of Gold all Burnisht may have been used by Shakespeare as the model for his parodic Sonnet 130: My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun. Irish poet Niall McDevitt believes Lanier was the Dark Lady, saying "She spurned his advances somewhere along the line and he never won her back ... It's a genuine story of unrequited love."
Tony Haygarth argued that a particular miniature portrait by Nicholas Hilliard, 1593, depicts Lanier.
Janet Adelman thinks it likely that Shakespeare met the Bassano family. If they were converted Jews, it possibly influenced the choice of names in The Merchant of Venice. "Given the centrality of conversion and intermarriage to Merchant's Jews, it seems to me not altogether implausible to imagine that Shakespeare might have been influenced in his choice of the name Bassanio (in place of the Gianetto of his main source, Il Pecorone) by the presence of this family."
A number of commentators have concluded that it cannot be just coincidence that in Shakespeare's two Venetian plays, there is an Emilia in one (Othello) and a Bassan(i)o in the other (The Merchant of Venice). In addition in Titus Andronicus there is an Aemilius and a Bassianus, Bassanio being the original version of the name the family used on arrival in London which is found in their burial records. In 2008, Roger Prior suggested that in 1593 Shakespeare visited Bassano (del Grappa) where he saw the fresco of Goats & Monkeys that he apparently cites in Othello (IV.i.263) on the external wall of a house there. More recently however, the relationship between these items has been identified. It has been pointed out that the name Emilia in Othello and Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice each coincide with a mention of a swan dying to music, which is the standard Ovidian image of the great poet.
This is a literary device used in classical writings to conceal the name of the author of a literary work. Furthermore, as Prior observed, the play Othello refers to a location in the town of Bassano, the title of the play refers to the Jesuit Girolamo Otello from the town of Bassano, the character Emilia speaks the first feminist lines on an English stage and is a contemporary allegory for Amelia Bassano herself, and the musicians in both plays, as Prior shows, are allegories for members of her family. For these and other reasons it has been argued that Lanier herself was a co-author of these plays, and especially of the 1623 First Folio version of Othello which contains 163 key lines not present in the 1622 Quarto. In addition, another 'signature' exists in Titus Andronicus where there is an Aemilius and a Bassianus each holding a crown. Each of these mirrors the other's position at the beginning and end of the play as rhetorical markers indicating that the two names are a pair, and book-end the bulk of the play.:163, 230 For reasons such as these, Emilia Bassano Lanier has been named by the Shakespeare Authorship Trust as one of twelve leading candidates for authorship of the plays and poems attributed to William Shakespeare.
Feminist ideals, Lanier's poetry and Eve's Apology
Aemilia Lanier's book of poetry, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum has been viewed by many critics to be one of the earliest feminist works of British literature. Barbara Kiefer Lewalski in her article, "Writing Women and Reading the Renaissance," actually calls Lanier the "defender of womankind" Lewalski claims that with the first few poems of the collection, as dedications to prominent women, Lanier is initiating her ideas of the genealogy of women. The genealogy follows the idea that "virtue and learning descend from mothers to daughters". Marie H. Loughlin continues Lewalski's argument in her article, "'Fast ti'd unto Them in a Golden Chaine': Typology, Apocalypse, and Woman's Genealogy in Aemilia Lanier's Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum," by noting that the genealogy of women began with Eve. Loughlin claims that Lanier is advocating the importance of knowledge of both the spiritual and material worlds in connection with women. She argues that women must focus on the material world and their importance in it to supplement their life in the spiritual world rather than focusing solely on the spiritual. This argument stems from Lanier's desire to raise women up to the same level as men.