The Mask of Shakespeare’s ‘Dark Lady’: Fictional Representations of Aemilia Lanyer in the Twenty-First Century Historical Novel

Emily Buffey


This article explores a new stage in the reception and mediation of the Renaissance poet Aemilia Bassano Lanyer by considering works of historical fiction by women writers published in the twenty-first century. By comparing Lanyer’s own methods of historical and authorial self-fashioning (in her sole extant publication, Salve Deus Rex Judæorum, 1611) with the techniques used by contemporary female novelists, we see a number of parallel interests, particularly in the ways that both sets of writings seek to interrogate and challenge a number of historical, literary-critical and canonical assumptions. In turn, I consider the extent to which, and to what ends, authors of modern historical fiction have sought to revise, re-create, contest or transform the myths associated with Aemilia Lanyer’s own name and biography, and to reclaim some of the more stigmatizing labels and images that have attached themselves to Aemilia Lanyer name since her ‘discovery’ by A.L. Rowse in 1973.


Shakespeare, Lanyer, historical fiction, women's writing

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