Amelia the Bard
It goes without saying that Jewish women have so many accomplishments to be proud of. A quick search through the Jewish Women's Archive's Discover pages reveals women both lauded and nearly forgotten who have made strides in business, medicine, philosophy and the arts. Telling their stories is our mission. And this story is a big one. It's a big maybe, but it's a big one. John Hudson, a Shakespeare scholar and fellow at the Shakespeare Institute in Great Britain, has put forth a theory that William Shakespeare was in fact a woman. A Jewish woman, in fact, named Amelia Bassano Lanier (or Lanyer).
Amelia Bassano Lanier is a big deal anyway. She is the first woman known to have published a book of poetry in England, a volume called Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum, published in 1611, and she was an early feminist critic of the Christian gospels. And now, basing his research on recent scholarship that has pointed to Amelia as the mysterious "Dark Lady" of Shakespeare's sonnets, the idea that many of the dramas are based around Jewish themes, as well as the discovery of her literary signature on some of the plays, Hudson has put out a paper identifying her as a "possible new collaborator in the Shakespearean works." How cool is that?
The next question, of course, is why, if William Shakespeare was in fact Amelia Bassano Lanier (or at least partially her) why we didn't know it until nearly 400 years later. First of all, for Amelia to have published a book of poetry was an almost unbelievable trick, since in Elizabethan London it was nearly impossible for women to publish literature under their own names. So to also have plays put up, Amelia would have needed to assume a man's name. Secondly, Amelia's family, Italian court musicians who had been forced to convert to Catholicism during the Spanish Inquisition, but who maintained a secret Jewish identity, was likely to be accustomed to living a double life. I have to say, that if I had Shakespeare's genius beating inside my little Jewish heart, I would have done whatever it took (including writing under a pen name and possibly waiting 400 years to be discovered) to get those ideas and verse out into the public sphere. Because as we know,
"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages."
To read Rebecca Honig Friedman's interview with John Hudson, click here. And to find out more about the Dark Lady Players -- Hudson's theater company, which "[Performs] the deep allegorical levels of Shakespeare's plays, demonstrating that they contain Jewish religious satires AND THUS were written by England's ONLY Jewish poet," visit www.darkladyplayers.com.
How to cite this page
Rabinoff-Goldman, Lily. "Amelia the Bard." 11 July 2008. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on November 29, 2014) <http://jwa.org/blog/amelia-the-bard>.