The Dark Lady’s Mask: A Novel of Shakespeare’s Muse by Mary Sharratt

4 Stars

Enter Aemilia Bassano. A woman with a nobleman’s education, this Dark Lady chafes under the restrictions that are the norm for her sex. A liaison with a powerful noble and court official left Aemilia pregnant and married off to a man she detests. Meeting Shakespeare by chance, and then again while pursuing her secret life as a cross-dresser, this novel tells the tale of their love from its infancy.

The Dark Lady’s Mask does follow Aemilia Bassano, daughter of a court musician in the employ of Queen Elizabeth I, through her entire life, giving the reader a wide and varied perspective of Renaissance England and Europe. Most of the book though, focuses on her relationship with William Shakespeare, both professional and personal. One of my favourite elements to the narrative is the weaving in of many of the tropes and comedic circumstances, even characters, that make up the plays of Shakespeare. The historicity is excellent, and the perspective and representation of William Shakespeare is very interesting. Highlighting aspects of his life that are often passed over, this novel offers a version of him that is quite refreshing to see.

Publication Date: April 19, 2016
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Hardcover, eBook, Audio Book; 416 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction

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Shakespeare in Love meets Shakespeare’s Sister in this novel of England’s first professional woman poet and her collaboration and love affair with William Shakespeare.

London, 1593. Aemilia Bassano Lanier is beautiful and accomplished, but her societal conformity ends there. She frequently cross-dresses to escape her loveless marriage and to gain freedoms only men enjoy, but a chance encounter with a ragged, little-known poet named Shakespeare changes everything.

Aemilia grabs at the chance to pursue her long-held dream of writing and the two outsiders strike up a literary bargain. They leave plague-ridden London for Italy, where they begin secretly writing comedies together and where Will falls in love with the beautiful country — and with Aemilia, his Dark Lady. Their Italian idyll, though, cannot last and their collaborative affair comes to a devastating end. Will gains fame and fortune for their plays back in London and years later publishes the sonnets mocking his former muse. Not one to stand by in humiliation, Aemilia takes up her own pen in her defense and in defense of all women.

The Dark Lady’s Mask gives voice to a real Renaissance woman in every sense of the word.

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Advance Praise

“An exquisite portrait of a Renaissance woman pursuing her artistic destiny in England and Italy, who may — or may not — be Shakespeare’s Dark Lady.”
— MARGARET GEORGE, internationally bestselling author of Elizabeth I

“Perfectly chosen details and masterful characterization bring to life this swiftly moving, elegant story. As atmospheric and compelling as it is wise, The Dark Lady’s Mask is a gem not to be missed.”
— LYNN CULLEN, bestselling author of Mrs. Poe and Twain’s End

“Mary Sharratt’s enchanting new novel, The Dark Lady’s Mask, is a richly imagined, intensely romantic and meticulously researched homage to lauded poet, Aemilia Bassano Lanyer, an accomplished woman of letters who many believe to be Shakespeare’s Eternal Muse. Sharratt unfolds a captivating tale, a compelling ‘what if ’ scenario, of a secret union that fed the creative fires of England’s greatest poet and playwright.”
— KATHLEEN KENT, bestselling author of The Heretic’s Daughter

“Mary Sharratt is a magician. This novel transports the reader to Elizabethan England with a tale of the bard and his love that is nothing short of amazing. Absorbing, emotional, historically fascinating. A work of marvelous ingenuity!”
— M.J. ROSE, New York Times bestselling author of The Witch of Painted Sorrows

“I enjoyed this exciting fantasy of Shakespeare’s ‘dark lady.’ There was adventure, betrayal, resilience, and above all, the fun notion that Shakespeare might have had far more than a muse to help him create his wonderful plays.”
—KARLEEN KOEN, bestselling author of Dark Angels and Before Versailles

“Through the story of Aemilia Bassano, a talented musician and poet, Mary Sharratt deftly tackles issues of religious and gender inequality in a time of brutal conformity. The Dark Lady’s Mask beautifully depicts the exhilaration and pitfalls of subterfuge, a gifted woman’s precarious reliance on the desires of powerful men, and the toll paid by unrecognized artistic collaborators. Resonant and moving.”
—MITCHELL JAMES KAPLAN, author of By Fire, By Water

“In The Dark Lady’s Mask, Mary Sharratt seduces us with a most tantalizing scenario —that the bold, cross-dressing poet and feminist writer Aemilia Bassano is Shakespeare’s mysterious muse, the Dark Lady. Romantic, heart-breaking, and rich in vivid historical detail and teeming Elizabethan life, the novel forms an elegant tapestry of the complexities, joys, and sorrows of being both a female and an artist.”
—KAREN ESSEX, author of Leonardo’s Swans and Dracula in Love

“Mary Sharratt has created an enchanting Elizabethan heroine, a musician, the orphaned daughter of a Jewish Italian refugee who must hide her heritage for her safety. Taken up by powerful men for her beauty, Amelia has wit and daring and poetry inside her that will make her a match for young Will Shakespeare himself and yet she must hide behind many masks to survive in a world where women have as much talent as men but little power.”
— STEPHANIE COWELL, author of Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet

“Prepare to be swept away by Mary Sharratt’s latest foray into historical fiction. Inspired by the true story of poet, Aemilia Bassano, The Dark Lady’s Mask explores her relationship with William Shakespeare. Richly detailed and well researched, this lush tale brings Aemilia out of the shadows of history and let’s her emerge as one of the founding mothers of literature. Drama, intrigue, and romance will have readers racing through this brilliant celebration of the muse.”
PAMELA KLINGER-HORN, Sales & Outreach Coordinator, Excelsior Bay Books

About the Author03_Mary Sharratt

MARY SHARRATT is an American writer who has lived in the Pendle region of Lancashire, England, for the past seven years. The author of the critically acclaimed novels Summit Avenue, The Real Minerva, and The Vanishing Point, Sharratt is also the co-editor of the subversive fiction anthology Bitch Lit, a celebration of female antiheroes, strong women who break all the rules.

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