The years when she brought delight, desire and disgust to Shakespeare came after the Spanish Armada of 1588 and before the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, a long, unsettled period of theatre, music, warfare and brutal death. Those years were dramatically rich. Shakespeare wrote plays including Romeo & Juliet, Twelfth Night, and King Lear. And he met the `Dark Lady'. She was musical, alluring, married and faithless. Shakespeare never identified her. Scholars have - but for different women. She was well-born, or a slut, or a housewife, even a phantom of Shakespeare's poetical mind. She was an anchor and agony to him. His sonnets sang of her loveliness and cursed her for her infidelity.
The quest to discover her name began in Elizabeth I's reign, became an obsession in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and continues today. Card-sharps challenge passers by to `find the lady' from one of the three playing-cards shown, turned upside-down and shuffled. Take your pick. Aubrey Burl's challenge also is to find her. But there is no deception. The `Dark Lady' can be found in Shakespeare's unshuffled sonnets.
Aubrey Burl is a historian and archeologist of forty years standing. He is Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and an Honorary Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. He is particularly interested in the early societies of prehistoric Britain. He lives in Birmingham.