The delicious and dark eroticism of the Dark Lady sonnets reaches its peak, I think, in Number 132.   Oh, how the Poet loves and lusts for the Dark Lady, though she doesn’t love him.   That unrequited love is epitomized in Shakespeare’s pun of the words ‘morning’ and ‘mourning.’ And what of the Elizabethan perception of female beauty? Plain and simple, it was misogynistic and racist. Will Shakespeare turns that on its head: for the Poet, black is sublimely beautiful, and this beautiful woman is more powerful than the Poet himself. 


Thine eyes I love, and they, as pitying me,
Knowing thy heart torments me with disdain,
Have put on black and loving mourners be,
Looking with pretty ruth upon my pain.
And truly not the morning sun of heaven
Better becomes the grey cheeks of the east,
Nor that full star that ushers in the even
Doth half that glory to the sober west,
As those two mourning eyes become thy face:
O, let it then as well beseem thy heart
To mourn for me, since mourning doth thee grace,
And suit thy pity like in every part.
Then will I swear beauty herself is black
And all they foul that thy complexion lack. 

So odd, so strange that these sonnets were written in the Elizabethan era–the late 1500’s and the very earliest years of the new century. As I’ve said before, Will Shakespeare never published these sonnets–they were printed without his permission. Little wonder. What was going that he should write such dangerous stuff–verses that were surely shocking in their time? 

It all makes me wonder–and believe–that there was more than just imagination behind all the sonnets to the ‘Young Man’ (homoerotic and very much against he the law), and more than imagination behind all the sonnets to this magnificently dark and angry and beautiful ‘Dark Lady.’ 

The image is of David Tennant and Nina Sosanya in a Royal Shakespeare Company production of As You Like It. They look lovely together, don’t they? If the Dark Lady sonnets were indeed autobiographical, might there once have been a scene like this played out in Shakespeare’s own life? We’ll never know for certain.

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