Friday, September 9, 2016

G746 Book Review of the dark lady's mask by Mary Sharratt

Name of Book: The Dark Lady's Mask

Author: Mary Sharratt

ISBN: 978-0-544-30076-7

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Type of book: William Shakespeare, England, Italy, 1576-1600s, friendships, relationships, muse, secrets, ambition, hidden Jews, home, love, Queen Elizabeth, King James and Queen Anne, poetry, money, travel, cross-dressing

Year it was published: 2016


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.


There are quite a lot of important characters such as Aemilia Bassano Lanier who happens to be a daughter of a Converso Jew and is yoked with a lot of responsbility and scandal at a very young age. She comes from a musical family and is talented in writing and playing musical instruments. She often chafes at society's responsibilities and wishes for more freedom. She is also daring and bold. William Shakespeare isn't described as positively in this book; he has his own secrets and also is best described as fickle although he is picky about which aspects to remain loyal. There is also Ben Jonson, Aemilia's cousin and William's rival who is supportive of Aemilia. Other characters include Lord Hunsdon, Aemilia's first lover,  Alfonso Lanier who happens to be Aemilia's husband and is best described as luckless and Margaret and Anne Clifford who played a big role in Aemilia's life towards the end of the book and are her supporters and often encouraged her to write.


Passion can last forever


The story is in third person narrative from Aemilia's point of view, and it begins from the time Aemilia is seven in 1576 up until 1600s. The strong points of the story include the chemistry Aemilia and William Shakespeare have had, the background and descriptions of various scenes as well as the friendships between Aemilia and some other women. In my opinion, the whys and hows of Aemilia's and William's demise of relationship wasn't explained very well and I found it a bit baffling.

Author Information:
(From HFVBT)

About the Author

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.



First of all, I have to compliment on the book cover; how beautiful and elegant it looks. I also like the title of the story because it really matches the story. I found myself enjoying the narrative a lot, especially seeing Aemilia's growth from the time she was a little girl to the time she became a young woman and how her language has changed. Having a background similar to that of Aemilia's, I have to admit that I didn't find it comfortable when she was writing christian poetry although I get that its part of the story, and I don't think I understood the redemption or forgiveness themes. Aside from those minor quibbles, I enjoyed Aemilia's character and could really understand her desires and wishes in terms of having more freedom and desires instead of being tied down to life. It's a fun story of what-ifs, Shakespeare doing the unthinkable and how some of these plays came into existence.

This is for HFVBT

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, August 22
Review at Unabridged Chick
Tuesday, August 23
Interview & Giveaway at Unabridged Chick
Wednesday, August 24
Review at Jorie Loves a Story
Thursday, August 25
Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Monday, August 29
Review at I’m Shelfish
Friday, September 9
Tour Wrap-Up on Passages to the Past

4 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)


  1. Cool, I didn't know Aemilia Bassano Lanier existed until today. That's kind of embarrassing to admit, but perhaps I have heard her name and just forgot. :p
    I assume most of the events are fictionalized?
    I like that the novel doesn't romanticize Shakespeare too much. He gets enough of that already.

  2. That's ok :) I have heard of her recently but not back at school. Unfortunately I don't know too much post Medieval history so I can't answer how much is fiction and how much is true. In this story Shakespeare is a real jerk, and he really has some interesting sides to him...I was never a fan of Shakespeare nor Dickens, which shocks people I meet. Shakespeare I guess because I was forced to read him in school, and Dickens loves to hear himself talk. (Tried to read a tale of two cities but detested the book.)

  3. I like several of Shakespeare's plays, but I think I've read enough of him for lifetime, lol. I think I read 8 or 9 of his plays?? Maybe more. As for Dickens...I'd just rather not. Couldn't finish Tale of Two Cities and never will.

  4. Wow, that's a whole lot more than I read. (I probably read five or so...) I couldn't finish The Great Expectations. I read that A Tale of Two Cities is polarizing, but thought I'd give him a shot with Great Expectations, yet I read all the way to the middle and just gave up. (Heck I still can't remember what Great Expectations was about.) LOL I wrote an opinion on my blog of sorts about Dickens. You are welcome to read it and let me know your thoughts about it.


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