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O n 20 Maythe publisher Thomas Thorpe stepped off Ludgate Hill into Stationers' Hall, and registered what was to become perhaps the most famous poetic works of all time: Shakespeare's Sonnets. It was a slim Insearch of a lady on publication, containing poems over 67 s, and the edition is now extremely rare: only 13 copies survive.
But its influence has been all-encompassing, providing a template for language, for literature, for love, ever since. Recent years have seen the sonnets disseminated in ways that Shakespeare could never have imagined. Apps have been created in which famous voices recite the poems, sonnets are tweeted, T-shirts are printed, and poetry that was once said to circulate only among Shakespeare's "private friends" is now stored for ever in the cloud.
Yet despite the popularity of the sonnets, their mysteries continue to puzzle readers. Who were the young man and "dark lady" of the poems' sexual intrigues? And did Shakespeare want these poems published, or kept private? Literary theory advises against such biographical speculation. Yet modern bibliography stresses the messier side of literary life: that texts are physical not abstract entities; that printers were sometimes pirates, not always with their author's interests at heart.
In addition, text databases such as Early English Books Online allow one to isolate the unusual aspects of a writer's vocabulary, and therefore suggest what they might or might not have written. And these techniques help to link together a series of exciting discoveries about the sonnets: that an arch-rival of Shakespeare's may have masterminded their publication; that their publication was therefore an act of revenge; and that the "dark lady" at the centre of the story was not a poetic fiction but a real person.
Recent scholarship has asked whether these intimate, sexually charged poems were published with Shakespeare's permission, with the consensus being that they were not.
The poems end with images of disease — of "fever", "strange maladies" and a "seething bath" — seen by some to refer to the "sweating tubs" used to cure syphilis. Given these embarrassing personal details, it seems unlikely that Shakespeare would have approved of the sonnets' publication. Scholars point to the carelessness of the editing compared with Shakespeare's poems, "Venus and Adonis" and "The Rape of Lucrece"; the likelihood that Thorpe had published bootlegged material before; and the fact that Shakespeare's poems went through a of editions, whereas the sonnets were never republished in his lifetime.
And then there is another puzzle. The sonnets are entered in the Stationers' Register as "Shakespeares sonnettes", but when printed a few months later they had gained an additional long poem, attributed to Shakespeare, but very different in both style and language, entitled "A Lover's Complaint". It relates the psychological drama of a woman who has been Insearch of a lady by a sonneteering lover, yet many have found it perplexing in its archaic language and yet constant neologising:. From off a hill whose concaue wombe reworded, A plaintfull story from a sistring vale My spirits t'attend this doble voyce accorded, And downe I laid to list the sad tun'd tale, Ere long espied a fickle Insearch of a lady full pale Tearing of papers breaking rings a twaine, Storming her world with sorrowes, wind and raine.
According to the OED, the poem features 26 new words or usages — "acture", "fluxiue" — coining words 14 times more frequently than the preceding sonnets, or once every 13 lines. It seems odd that Shakespeare would have followed poems whose beauty lies in their rhythm and meaning with a work that is so awkwardly neologistic. As a consequence, many do not regard "A Lover's Complaint" as being Shakespeare's work.
In an exhaustive stylistic analysis the Russian linguist Marina Tarlinskaja concludes that it "cannot possibly belong to 'mature' Shakespeare", and sees it as untypical of the rest of his career. And while some have interpreted the poem as a reappraisal of the "female complaint" genre — where a wronged woman reflects on her abandonment — it seems to have left most readers cold. But when we read the poem with an open mind as to its author, another reading seems to emerge.
In other words, the poem looks like an assault on Shakespeare himself. It refers to the "gouty landlord" of his works Shakespeare had an extensive property portfolio by this timeand hints at his fathering of illegitimate children:. Heard where his plants in others Orchards grew, Saw how deceits were guilded in his smiling, Knew vowes, were euer brokers to defiling, Thought Characters and words meerly but art, And bastards of his foule adulterat heart. It is possible that Shakespeare knew Thomas Thorpe. But we are certain that the Elizabethan lexicographer and translator John Florio did.
So Florio was involved in the two works published by Thorpe either side of the Sonnets. All of which makes the volume's dedication to "WH" look very likely to have been a reference to William Herbert who was later to fund the First Folio.
But it also puts Florio in closer proximity to the Sonnets than any other likely candidate. Besides, Florio knew or had known Shakespeare, sharing a patron with him in Henry Wriothesley in the early s. Florio had gone on to become one of the most important scholars of his time, translating Montaigne and Boccaccio and compiling the first proper Italian-English dictionary, A Worlde of Wordes Florio's involvement in the publication of the Sonnets would seem to be confirmed when we look at the language of "A Lover's Complaint".
Along with its incessant neologising — one of Florio's literary traits — it features a host of words never used by Shakespeare and rarely or never by his contemporaries, yet which can nevertheless be found in Florio. For example, neither Shakespeare nor Marlowe nor Jonson use "storming", "defiling", "maund", "blend", "blazoned", "outwards", "gouty", "amorously", "oblations", "plenitude", "laugher", "weepingly" "vnshorne".
All are used by Florio repeatedly — he uses "amorously" 19 times — and sometimes in an identical fashion: for example, both the poem and Florio write "vnshorne veluet". Florio, on the other hand, used them all. Given these linguistic fingerprints, and his working relationship with Thorpe, it seems very possible that Florio wrote "A Lover's Complaint" and organised the publication of the Sonnets as a whole.
Indeed the layout of the volume, with the poems spilling over theis strongly reminiscent of the pirated edition of Philip Sidney's "Astrophel and Stella"probably edited by Florio. Florio then added "A Lover's Complaint" to the text, passing it off as Shakespeare's. Why would Florio seek Insearch of a lady attack and embarrass Shakespeare in this way? In The Genius of Shakespeare Jonathan Bate speculates that the "Dark Lady" of the Sonnets might have been Florio's wifethe sister of the poet Samuel Daniel, and the daughter of a west country music teacher sonnet has her playing the virginal.
However, by the time of the publication of the Sonnets in she had probably died Florio remarried in The pirated publication of the Sonnets would therefore seem to represent Florio's revenge. This interpretation is more plausible when it becomes evident that Florio had form in this area: this was not the first time he had attacked Shakespeare in print. The address to the reader was ed "Hadrian Dorrell", and claimed that the poem had been found in the papers of his friend "Henry Willobie" — names that seem a smokescreen for someone who didn't want to be known.
The poem goes on to tell the story of a married woman named "Avisa" who is plagued by a of seducers, only to chastise them for doubting her constancy. It singles out two in particular: a young, impulsive aristocrat called "Henry Willobego", and an "old player" called "WS".
It goes on to invoke notions of "comedy" and "tragedy", calling "HW" and "WS" a "new player" and an "old actor" respectively. Unsurprisingly, many have taken "Henry Willobego" to be Henry Wriothesley and "WS" to be William Shakespearea reading supported by the homophobic insinuations that litter the text.
But who wrote the poem? A clue is given by the Italian proverbs it contains: Viui, Chi vince Who lives, vanquishes ; Ama, Chi ti ama Love him that loves you ; Il fine, fa il tutto The end makes all ; Grand Amore, grand Dolore Great love, great sorrow ; Chi la dura, la Vince Who suffers, overcomes ; and Fuggi quell piacer presente, chi ti da dolor futuro Flee present pleasures, that afterwards bring sorrow.
In a search ofbooks from the 15th to the 17th century, these proverbs only occur in three other texts. Chi la dura, la Vince is used in a translation of a Dutch emblem book of But the same proverb as well as the other five are only found in two other texts, both written by the same Insearch of a lady John Florio, in his language manuals, his First Fruits and Second Fruits of and That it is Florio who lies behind "Dorrell" and "Willobie" is also suggested by the poem's distinctive vocabulary.
It has a taste for neologisms and uses a of rare words which, although not found in either Shakespeare, Marlowe or Jonson, can nevertheless be found in Florio. In addition to the linguistic evidence, Florio also knew the printer, John Windet, from his edition of Sidney's Arcadia.
But perhaps the most important factor linking Florio to the text is the fact that he knew both Wriothesley and Shakespeare — the targets of the poem's satire. Despite its ostensibly fictional status, the narrator is at pains to affirm that the story is based in reality: "Though the matter be handled poetically, yet there is some thing under these fained names and showes that hath bene done truely.
If "Willobie his Avisa" was therefore intended as a defence of his wife's chastity, the pirated sonnets and "A Lover's Complaint" would seem to be Florio's revenge for the fact that it had failed. His attack in may have been only partly successful: Wriothesley may have broken with Shakespeare, but it had not proved fatal to Shakespeare's career.
But 15 years later, and with his wife now dead, Florio set about trying to destroy Shakespeare's reputation. To some extent, the plan worked. The sonnets were never republished in Shakespeare's lifetime, which suggests that they were immediately Insearch of a lady. And in the following year, Shakespeare seems to have left literary London and returned to Stratford, giving up writing soon after. One question remains. Who was Mrs Florio, the woman at the heart of the scandal? We know from 17th-century sources that Florio married Samuel Daniel's sister.
But as to further biographical facts, details are scarce. Avisa, "Willobie" tells us, was born "At wester side of Albion's isle". Samuel Daniel came from the west country, but his baptismal record has never been found. But a ly unnoticed note in William Slatyer's History of Great Britain would seem to associate Daniel with the villages of Wilton and Great Bedwyn, a few miles south of Marlborough.
There is even a "Well Cottage" on the main street. So this could be Samuel Daniel's father and mother. There is no mention of a Samuel Daniel in the parish records, but what about a sister? No one knows the name of Florio's wife. Nevertheless the author of Willobie cannot resist giving a clue as to Avisa's real name. He says that he knows of one, "AD", who could "indure these, and many greater temptations with a constant mind".
Obviously this would seem to allude to Avisa's maiden name — "AF" might have been a little too obvious for Florio's liking.
And then in the additions made to the edition of "Willobie", the reader is warned against attempting to work out Avisa's real identity:. From this we deduce that her real name began with an "A", and sounded similar to "Avisa". And so we return to St Mary's, Great Bedwyn, with its tomb to John Seymour, its 12th-century nave, and its doleful 1 ton bell. For here, on 8 Februarya female child was baptised whose name cannot help but invite speculation.
born to John and Joan Danyell, but given a relatively uncommon name ranking 58th most popular at the time. that grew into a woman — if she is that woman — who inspired some of the greatest writing of all time, but survives only as a series of poetic relics: her eyes, her breasts and her hair.
A woman who was musically talented, but who died, along with most of her children, probably of the plague at the turn of the 16th century. In search of Shakespeare's dark lady. Without a true story of adultery and retribution, Shakespeare's intimate, sexually charged sonnets might never have been published. Saul Frampton reveals the Insearch of a lady played by the playwright's arch rival and the identity of the mysterious Dark Lady.
Out of the shadows The Dark Lady of the Sonnets. Saul Frampton. It relates the psychological drama of a woman who has been abandoned by a sonneteering lover, yet many have found it perplexing in its archaic language and yet constant neologising: From off a hill whose concaue wombe reworded, A plaintfull story from a sistring vale My spirits t'attend this doble voyce accorded, And downe I laid to list the sad tun'd tale, Ere long espied a fickle maid full pale Tearing of papers breaking rings a twaine, Storming her world with sorrowes, wind and raine.
It refers to the "gouty landlord" of his works Shakespeare had an extensive property portfolio by this timeand hints at his fathering of illegitimate children: Heard where his plants in others Orchards grew, Saw how deceits were guilded in his smiling, Knew vowes, were euer brokers to defiling, Thought Characters and words meerly but art, And bastards of his foule adulterat heart.
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In Search of the Woman Who Sailed the World