Was Shakespeare’s ‘Dark Lady’ a London prostitute?

Updated: Aug 28, 2012, 14:09 PM IST

London: The elusive Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets might have been a woman of ill repute as new research has identified her as a Clerkenwell prostitute.

Research by a Shakespeare scholar from the University of Chichester claimed to have found evidence supporting a suggestion made in the 1930s that she was a madam called “Lucy Negro” or “Black Luce”, who ran a brothel in Clerkenwell, north-east London, The Independent reported.

Dr Duncan Salkeld said that he has unearthed documentary records that lead him to conclude that she is “the foremost candidate for the dubious role of the Dark Lady”.

Many of the sonnets 127 to 152 are addressed to an unidentified woman – the “Dark Lady”. She is a temptress, in sonnet 144 – “my female evil” and “my bad angel”. Salkeld has found references to both Black Luce and her associate Gilbert East – who ran another Clerkenwell brothel –in the diary of Philip Henslowe, the theatre-owner who built the Rose Theatre and whose acting company was a rival to Shakespeare’s.

Henslowe, who also put on the Bard’s plays, recorded dining frequently with Gilbert East.

Since Luce and East were together among Henslowe’s tenants it connects this couple definitively with the world of theatre, Salkeld claimed, making it highly likely she would have been known to Shakespeare.

Furthermore, Shakespeare had strong connections with Clerkenwell as his relatives also might have lived there.
Salkeld has found other Shakespeares, including a Matthew Shakespeare, listed in Clerkenwell’s parish records.

“The name was not uncommon and they may have been unrelated. But one aspect of Matthew’s story is intriguing – his marriage to Isabel Peele,” Salkeld was quoted as saying by the paper.

This suggests a link with the Bard because her dramatist brother George is believed to have collaborated on Titus Andronicus. “To my knowledge, no one has spotted this connection before,” Salkeld added.

The research will be published by Ashgate in Shakespeare Among the Courtesans.