Dark Lady of the Sonnets HTML version

Dark Lady of the Sonnets
How the Play came to be Written
I had better explain why, in this little piece d'occasion, written for a performance
in aid of the funds of the project for establishing a National Theatre as a
memorial to Shakespear, I have identified the Dark Lady with Mistress Mary
Fitton. First, let me say that I do not contend that the Dark Lady was Mary Fitton,
because when the case in Mary's favor (or against her, if you please to consider
that the Dark Lady was no better than she ought to have been) was complete, a
portrait of Mary came to light and turned out to be that of a fair lady, not of a dark
one. That settles the question, if the portrait is authentic, which I see no reason to
doubt, and the lady's hair undyed, which is perhaps less certain. Shakespear
rubbed in the lady's complexion in his sonnets mercilessly; for in his day black
hair was as unpopular as red hair was in the early days of Queen Victoria. Any
tinge lighter than raven black must be held fatal to the strongest claim to be the
Dark Lady. And so, unless it can be shewn that Shakespear's sonnets
exasperated Mary Fitton into dyeing her hair and getting painted in false colors, I
must give up all pretence that my play is historical. The later suggestion of Mr
Acheson that the Dark Lady, far from being a maid of honor, kept a tavern in
Oxford and was the mother of Davenant the poet, is the one I should have
adopted had I wished to be up to date. Why, then, did I introduce the Dark Lady
as Mistress Fitton?
Well, I had two reasons. The play was not to have been written by me at all, but
by Mrs Alfred Lyttelton; and it was she who suggested a scene of jealousy
between Queen Elizabeth and the Dark Lady at the expense of the unfortunate
Bard. Now this, if the Dark Lady was a maid of honor, was quite easy. If she were
a tavern landlady, it would have strained all probability. So I stuck to Mary Fitton.
But I had another and more personal reason. I was, in a manner, present at the
birth of the Fitton theory. Its parent and I had become acquainted; and he used to
consult me on obscure passages in the sonnets, on which, as far as I can
remember, I never succeeded in throwing the faintest light, at a time when
nobody else thought my opinion, on that or any other subject, of the slightest
importance. I thought it would be friendly to immortalize him, as the silly literary