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Keywords: female social investigation, Clara Collet, Beatrice Webb, female philanthropy, East End, working-class women, factory, sweating. How to Cite: Mearns G.
Updated at p. ET on June 7, On a spring night inI stood on a Manhattan sidewalk with friends, reading Shakespeare aloud. I remembered where I was when I first heard those lines: in my 10th-grade English class, startled out of my adolescent stupor by this woman rebelling magnificently and malevolently against her submissive status. And when the plays lean on historical sources Plutarch, for instancethey feminize them, portraying legendary male figures through the eyes of mothers, wives, and lovers.
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Theories that others wrote the corpus of work attributed to William Shakespeare who was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in and died in emerged in the midth century. But more than two centuries passed before alternative contenders began to be promoted—Francis Bacon; Christopher Marlowe; and Edward de Vere, the 17th earl of Oxford, prominent among them. In response, orthodox Shakespeare scholars have settled into dogmatism of their own.
The time had come, I felt, to tug at the blinkers of both camps and reconsider the authorship debate: Had anyone ever proposed that the creator of those extraordinary women might be a woman? None of the candidates has succeeded in dethroning the man from Stratford.
Eight disguise themselves as men, outwitting patriarchal controls—more gender-swapping than can be found in the work of any English playwright. Six lead armies. Check out the full table of contents and find your next story to read. The prevailing view, however, has been that no women in Renaissance England wrote for the theater, because that was against the rules.
The stage was off-limits. Yet scholars have lately established that women were involved in the business of acting companies as patrons, shareholders, suppliers of costumes, and gatherers of entrance fees. Lady looking sex Beatrice least one eminent Shakespeare scholar, Phyllis Rackin, of the University of Pennsylvania, challenges the blanket assumption that the commercial drama pouring forth in the period bore no trace of a female hand.
A tantalizing nudge lies buried in the writings of Gabriel Harvey, a well-known Elizabethan literary critic. Until recently, that is, when a few bold outliers began to advance the case that Shakespeare might well have been a woman. One candidate is Mary Sidney, the countess of Pembroke and beloved sister of the celebrated poet Philip Sidney —one of the most educated women of her time, a translator and poet, and the doyenne of the Wilton Circle, a literary salon dedicated to galvanizing an English cultural renaissance. But the candidate who intrigued me more was a woman as exotic and peripheral as Sidney was pedigreed and prominent.
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Could Bassano have contributed even more widely and directly? Was I getting carried away, reinventing Shakespeare in the image of our age?
Perhaps the time was finally ripe for us to see her. Their ideas about the authorship of the plays and poems differ, but they concur that Shakespeare is not the man who wrote them. Their doubt is rooted in an empirical conundrum. The more than 70 documents that exist show him as an actor, a shareholder in a theater company, a moneylender, and a property investor. They show that he dodged taxes, was fined for hoarding grain during a shortage, pursued petty lawsuits, and was subject to a restraining order.
The profile is remarkably coherent, adding up to a mercenary impresario of the Renaissance entertainment industry.
No such void exists for other major writers of the period, as a meticulous scholar named Diana Price has demonstrated. Many left fewer documents than Shakespeare did, but among them are manuscripts, letters, and payment records proving that writing was their profession. Ben Jonson, among others, got in his digs, too. How did the man born in Stratford acquire the wide-ranging knowledge on display in the plays—of the Elizabethan court, as well as of multiple languages, the law, astronomy, music, the military, and foreign lands, especially northern Italian cities?
Perhaps he traveled, ed the army, worked as a tutor, or all three, scholars have proposed. A wealthy man when he retired to Stratford, he was meticulous about bequeathing his properties and possessions his silver, his second-best bed. Nor did he leave any musical instruments, though the plays use at least musical terms and refer to 26 instruments.
He remembered three actor-owners in his company, but no one in the literary profession. Strangest of all, he made no mention of manuscripts or writing. My delving left me in agreement, not that the briefs for the male alternatives struck me as compelling either. Just think of how obsessed the work is with mistaken identities, concealed women, forged and anonymous documents—with the error of trusting in outward appearances. Hudson first learned of Bassano from A. Rowse, who discovered mention of her in the notebooks of an Elizabethan physician and astrologer named Simon Forman.
And that is only the start. And her imprint, as Hudson re the plays, extends over a long period. He notes the many uses of her name, citing several early on—for instance, an Emilia in The Comedy of Errors. Bassanio is a spelling of their name in some records. Bassano was still alive, and by then had known her share of hardship at the hands of men.
I have those hopes of her good that her education promises. InBertie was named ambassador to Denmark by the queen and sent to the court at Elsinore—the setting of Hamlet. Records show that the trip included state dinners with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, whose names appear in the play.
Was Bassano then just entering her teens on the trip? In any case, Hudson argues, she would have heard tales on his return. Later, as the mistress of Henry Carey 43 years her seniorBassano gained access to more than the theater world.
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And then, in lateBassano now 23 was expelled from court. She was pregnant.
A few months later, she had a son. Despite the glittering dowry, Lanier must not have been pleased.
Buckingham palace confirmed the couple tied the knot in an unannounced ceremony in front of her grandmother, queen elizabeth ii, and a small of guests.
Bassano was later employed in a noble household, probably as a music tutor, and roughly a decade after that opened a school. But the family link to the home country offers support for the fine-grained familiarity with the region that along with in-depth musical knowledge any plausible candidate for authorship would seem to need—just what scholars have had to strain to establish for Shakespeare. Perhaps, theories go, he chatted with travelers or consulted books. Her Bassano lineage—some scholars suggest the family were conversos, converted or hidden Jews presenting as Christians—could also help for the Jewish references that scholars of the plays have noted.
Thou wert as good kiss our arse. Hudson sees her misery reflected in the sonnets, thought to have been written from the early s to the early s. The overlap lies in the feminist content. Like a cross-dressing Shakespearean heroine, Bassano refuses to play by the rules, heretically reinterpreting scripture. Would male myths of inexplicable genius take a hit? Would women at last claim their rightful authority as historical and intellectual forces? I was curious to take the temperature of the combative authorship debate as women edge their way into it.
Was shakespeare a woman?
In the fall, I ed the annual meeting of the Shakespeare Authorship Trust—a gathering of skeptics at the Globe—feeling excited that gender would be at the top of the agenda. Some eyebrows were raised even in this company, but enthusiasm ran high. He favored Sidney. Others were eager to learn about Bassano, and with collaboration in mind, I wondered whether the two women had perhaps worked together, or as part of a group.
The night after the meeting, I went to a performance of Antony and Cleopatra at the National Theatre. I sat enthralled, still listening for the poet in her words, trying to catch her reflection in some forgotten bit of verse. Popular Latest. The Atlantic Crossword.
In Subscribe. To hear more feature stories, see our full list or get the Audm iPhone app. From our June issue Check out the full table of contents and find your next story to read. Stephen Doyle. Shakespeare in Love, or in Context Cristina Nehring. We have amended the sentences to clarify the chronology. But as the piece now notes, theories that he was not the true author, and the promotion of other claimants, emerged in the midth century.
Some do, but archival documents have led others to dismiss the possibility that the Bassanos were ever Jews. Given the reliance on circumstantial evidence by researchers on both sides, we have updated the relevant phrases to make clear that this issue is more contested than the article originally indicated.