An Apology for Eve: The Pursuit of Aemilia Lanyar’s Passion
Man has never been too kind to his better half, woman. Throughout history, women have allowed the storied sharing of an apple “to eclipse the brightness of their deserved fame”(Anth. 1315). We will see, through the life experience, work and tribulation, of Aemilia Lanyar, that women belong in a higher esteem, particularly amongst the men of canonical literature.
Aemilia Lanyar was raised in Bishopsgate, a London borough where “foreign musicians and theatre-folk lived,” in 1569 (Rowse 13). She was born to the musical Bassano family, who had come to England to play in Henry VIII’s court. In fact, performance would come from both sides of her family. Her mother was related to a flutist in William Shakespeare’s company (DNB; Woods 3-4). So, naturally Aemilia would find herself among Queen Elizabeth’s courtiers often. Often enough to become the mistress of a much older Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon, who paid her well and “maintained [her] in great pomp” (Rowes 11), this having been said by her astrologer and jilted lover, Simon Forman. Having been taken by her, but unable to sexually have her, Forman ponders “whether she is an incuba,” and labels her a whore (Rowse 12, 13). Most of Simon Forman’s recollections of Lanyar are of as dark a tone. Her connection to William Shakespeare deepens with the passage of time. The rumor that Shakespeare’s Dark Lady is none other than Aemilia Lanyar does not lighten her reputation, as the sonnets that speak of said Lady are bawdy and sexual in nature.
Lanyar begins an eventful life, being educated at Countesses homes. Of particular import is the Countess of Cumberland’s estate. This Countess exposes Aemilia to “learning, piety and poetry.” Aemilia repays this education with a poem, illustrating her thanks for religious conversion in the company of God, Nature, the Countess and the estate. Lanyer receives the encouragement to publish her poetry. She outpaces...