The Dark Lady evoked in Shakespeare's Sonnets has been the subject of numerous speculations since the Victorian period. Several male writers and critics – George Bernard Shaw, Frank Harris, A. L. Rowse and Anthony Burgess, for example – have undertaken extended imaginative explorations of this alternative woman. More recently, the Dark Lady has become a central figure in millennial novels by women writers, designed primarily for a female reading audience. This article considers what's at stake by placing this imaginary woman at the heart of Shakespeare's artistic inspiration, and what this tells us about the meaning(s) of ‘Shakespeare’ for contemporary women writers and readers.
Katherine Scheil is Professor of English at the University of Minnesota. Her publications include The Taste of the Town: Shakespearian Comedy and the Early Eighteenth-Century Theater (Bucknell, 2003), Shakespeare/Adaptation/Modern Drama (University of Toronto Press, 2011, co-edited with Randall Martin), She Hath Been Reading: Women and Shakespeare Clubs in America (Cornell, 2012), Imagining Shakespeare's Wife: The Afterlife of Anne Hathaway (Cambridge, 2018) and Shakespeare & Stratford (Berghahn Books, 2019, editor). She is working on a book about the history of women in Stratford-upon-Avon, as well as a book on the afterlife of the Dark Lady of Shakespeare's Sonnets.