PUBLISHED: 06:25 EST, 27 August 2012 | UPDATED: 08:40 EST, 27 August 2012
- Madam, also known as Black Luce, was ‘an arrant whore’ who ran a brothel in Clerkenwell, north-east London
- Inspired many of Bard’s sonnets 127 to 152
- Bard had friends, and possibly relatives, who lived in Clerkenwell
- Dr Duncan Salkeld cites evidence in diary of Philip Henslowe, who built Rose Theatre
- Henslowe knew Lucy Negro and her associate Gilbert East, another brothel owner
- They were both tenants of Henslowe, who had a rival acting company
Who is the ‘Dark Lady’ of Shakespeare’s sonnets? That is the question that scholars of the Bard have long asked about English literature’s greatest love poems.
Now, new research claims the temptress within his verse was a notorious London prostitute named Lucy Negro or Black Luce.
According to Dr Duncan Salkeld, a reader in Shakespeare studies at the University of Chichester,she was a dark-skinned madam who ran a licentious house in Clerkenwell.
To her contemporaries, she was known as ‘an arrant whore and a bawde’, catering for everyone from ‘ingraunts’ (immigrants) to ‘welthyemen’ and the aristocracy.
The sonnets give few details describing her, apart from her dark eyes, hair and complexion, with hints that she was married.
This identity was tentatively suggested in the 1930s but Dr Salkeld has now found public records that convince him that she is ‘the foremost candidate for the dubious role of the Dark Lady’, the Independent reported.
The Bard imagines an unidentified woman – known as the ‘Dark Lady’ but not actually named by him in that way – in an adulterous sexual relationship.
She is the inspiration for many of the sonnets 127 to 152. She is ‘my female evil’ and ‘my bad angel’ in sonnet 144.
Dr Salkeld discovered part of the evidence in the diary of Philip Henslowe, the theatre owner who built the Rose Theatre and whose acting company was a rival to Shakespeare’s.
Dr Duncan Salkeld discovered part of the evidence in the diary of Philip Henslowe, the theatre owner who built the Rose Theatre (right) and whose acting company was a rival to Shakespeare’s. Left, Geoffrey Rush as Henslowe in the film Shakespeare In Love
HER ‘EYES ARE RAVEN BLACK’: SHAKESPEARE’S SONNET 127
The first of the so-called ‘Dark Lady’poems…
In the old age black was not counted fair,
Or if it were, it bore not beauty’s name;
But now is black beauty’s successive heir,
And beauty slandered with a bastard shame:
For since each hand hath put on Nature’s power,
Fairing the foul with Art’s false borrowed face,
Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy bower,
But is profaned, if not lives in disgrace.
Therefore my mistress’ eyes are raven black,
Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem
At such who, not born fair, no beauty lack,
Sland’ring creation with a false esteem:
Yet so they mourn becoming of their woe,
That every tongue says beauty should look so.
Within its pages, there is mention of both Black Luce and her associate Gilbert East, who operated another Clerkenwell brothel.
Henslowe, who staged at least one of Shakespeare’s plays – Titus Andronicus – recorded 30 occasions when he dined with a Gilbert East who was also Henslowe’s bailiff for properties that he owned.
The discovery that Luce and East were also Henslowe’s tenants adds a definitive link to Shakespeare’s world, according to the scholar.
Dr Salkeld said: ‘The name “Gilbert East” is rare in London parish records and we are on safe ground in taking the brothel-owner to be East. It proves the connection between East and Henslowe.’
He adds: ‘To my knowledge, no one has spotted this connection before.’
Lucy also appears in a list of bawdy entertainments – the Gray’s Inn Christmas entertainments of 1594 – and in a few plays and literary texts of the period.
Apart from a midnight raid on her premises, Luce is not recorded as being arrested, though her girls were, and court documents include references to her successful brothel.
He says: ‘Black Luce’s bad name was so well-known that anyone reading Shakespeare’s… sonnets… in the 1590s and early 1600s is likely to have brought her to mind, and Shakespeare must have known this.’
Acknowledging that trying to unravel the Dark Lady is controversial, he concludes that there is sufficient ‘circumstantial’ evidence: ‘Whoever that person was, Shakespeare painted her with the reputation of Luce… This is new evidence.’
The link to Clerkenwell is further strengthened by Shakespeare’s own connections with the area. Not only did he know people who lived there, but he may also have had his own relatives there.
In parish records, Dr Salkeld found several Shakespeares, including a Matthew Shakespeare who was married to an Isabel Peele – sister of the dramatist George Peele, who probably collaborated with the Bard on Titus Andronicus.
In a London with only 200,000 population, such connections are significant.
Dr Salkeld also notes the lack of evidence for the supposition that prostitutes circulated around Southwark and Bankside, the site of the Elizabethan Rose and Globe theatres: ‘The stews were closed down by Henry VIII in 1546 and that drastically inhibited prostitution activity in the area.
‘The majority of cases were north of The Thames, including Clerkenwell.’
His new research will be published by Ashgate in Shakespeare Among the Courtesans in October.