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The Dark Lady's Mask

by Mary Sharratt

The Dark Lady's Mask by Mary Sharratt X
The Dark Lady's Mask by Mary Sharratt
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  • Linda J. (Ballwin, MO)
    An Interesting Blend of Fiction and Non-Fiction
    When I first started "The Dark Lady's Mask," I had some mixed feelings about how this book would go. I liked author Mary Sharratt's descriptions of life in 17th century England and Italy, and Queen Elizabeth's court.

    Then, the writing seemed to get a little melodramatic, especially when Aemilia Bassano kept referring to Lord Hunsdon as "my love."

    By then, however, I was caught up in Aemilia's story and I started overlooking some of the, what I thought, overly dramatic prose.

    Sharratt has written a compelling story about a little known Renaissance woman who may or may not have been William Shakespeare's muse or "Dark Lady."

    Born the illegitimate child of Battista Bassano, an exiled Jew from Venice who was a musician in in Queen Elizabeth's Court, Aemilia would listen to her father and brothers play music in the basement when they would visit.

    While the family was far from well-to-do, Bassano made an adequate living and loved his family dearly, especially Aemilia.

    She dreamed of being a poet like her neighbor, Anne Locke, who spent much time with 8-year old Aemilia, reading to her and encouraging her to be educated and continue her musical abilities on the virginals and lute.

    Life begins to change when Aemilia's sister marries a cad who goes through what money the Bassano's have, and when Baptiste dies, Aemilia goes with Anne to live with Locke's family at their elegant country home, Grimsthorpe.

    There, under Anne's tutelage, Aemelia becomes a well-educated young woman, but her idyllic life comes to an abrupt end, and she becomes the mistress of Lord Hunsdon, Queen Elizabeth's cousin....

    [Edited for potential plot spoilers]

    I read the story of the real Aemilia Bassano Lanier, and was impressed by how Sharratt weaved the fiction and non-fiction together, although one could see how Aemilia was, indeed, Shakespeare's "Dark Lady."

    The term "Dark" was a term used to describe anyone with dark features, usually of Moorish/Italian descent. Aemilia's black hair and dark eyes caused many to look at her as "black."

    One could say that Sharratt's Aemilia did "suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune," in her life.
  • Linda V. (Independence, KY)
    The power of persistance
    Though not my favorite time period, I soon fell in love with The Dark Lady's Mask. The flow of the main character's struggles kept me coming back for more. Ms. Sharratt's writing is fluid,descriptive and seems historically accurate both in language and place. Her interwoven connection with Shakespeare and "his" plays was thought provoking as well. The historical afterword helped me savor the depth of her knowledge and research. This was a jewel of a book!
  • Mary B. (Laguna Woods, CA)
    Shakespeare & Women in Elizabethan times
    As historical fiction is my favorite, I enjoyed this book very much. It showed how difficult it was for intelligent women to use their brains. The heroine was a real person who self published her poems. She, and all women, were at the mercy of their husbands financially & psychologically. It also showed a personal side of Shakespeare.
  • Carol S. (Pawleys Island, SC)
    Shakespeare's Muse
    There's a period in Shakespeare's life that's a mystery. From 1585 until 1592, when he is an established playwright and actor, it's not known how or where he made a living or how he got started in the theater. This has lent much historical speculation and several novels that attempt to recreate his "story."

    I find Mary Sharratt's solution to his whereabouts and life one of the most creative and best that I've read. Her extensive knowledge of the 'Bard of Avon' and her historical research has made Aemilia a fascinating collaborator and muse for Shakespeare.

    Aemilia Bassano's own life as a woman during the Renaissance in itself was fascinating. The similarities of some characters in the novel to those of Shakespeare's plays made this novel filled with comedy and tragedy. I loved it!
  • Barbara G. (Lisle, IL)
    Masks for Everyone
    The Dark Lady's Mask presents a feminist answer to the ongoing question of who really wrote Shakespeare's plays. No one in this novel acts exactly as they are presumed or claim to be. Aemilia Bassano, a gifted free-spirited English woman who dreams of becoming a poet, discovers her father, despite his Italian surname, is actually Jewish. Aemilia herself often dresses and acts as a young man. Aristocrats take common women as their lovers and treat them as aristocrats. Those thought dead are revealed to be alive. Men marry their wives for their wealth, not for love. And in this novel Will Shakespeare, an impoverished poet, is not above rejecting Aemilia, his lover, wife and mother of one of his children, recasting their collaborative comedies as solely his own tragedies, thereby raising his own status and wealth. There are twists and turns galore in this tale written in its own poetic language to bring the times, places and people to life, making a plausible argument for yet another possible author of Shakespeare's works.
  • Florence K. (Northridge, CA)
    Dark Lady's Mask
    A fanciful romp of offbeat characters late in the sixteenth century makes the DARK LADY'S MASK a delightful read. Recounting the adventures and tribulations of Aemilia Bassano Lanyer, an educated female poet (!), a rarity in her time, gives us insights into the customs and mores of five hundred years ago in England and Italy.

    Whether she was or wasn't the muse, the inspiration, the collaborator, the lover of the penniless poorly-educated writer from Stratford who became the renowned William Shakespeare -- does it really matter? Suffice it to say: suspend disbelief, savor and enjoy the book. I did.
  • Rosemary C. (Austin, TX)
    An Engaging Story about Shakespeare
    This was a very readable and engaging novel. The author vividly creates the time period, presents lively characters, and weaves a plausible story about Shakespeare's collaborator.


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