New evidence supports claim that William Shakespeare's 'Dark Lady' may have been a Clerkenwell prostitute

Shakespeare's lust object may have been Black Luce from Clerkenwell

The mysterious "Dark Lady" of Shakespeare's sonnets has long fascinated readers, with debate raging about her true identity. Now new research adds weight to the theory that the sexually voracious object of the poet's desire was an infamous London prostitute.

A Shakespeare scholar claims to have found evidence supporting a suggestion made in the 1930s that she was a madam called "Lucy Negro" or "Black Luce", who ran a notorious bawdy house in Clerkenwell.

Dr Duncan Salkeld, reader in Shakespeare studies at the University of Chichester, told The Independent that he has unearthed documentary records that lead him to conclude that she is "the foremost candidate for the dubious role of the Dark Lady".

Many of the sonnets 127 to 152 are addressed to an unidentified woman – the "Dark Lady" – with whom the Bard imagines an adulterous sexual relationship. She is a temptress, in sonnet 144 – "my female evil" and "my bad angel".

Dr Salkeld has found references to both Black Luce and her associate Gilbert East – who ran another Clerkenwell brothel – in the diary of Philip Henslowe, the theatre-owner who built the Rose Theatre and whose acting company was a rival to Shakespeare's. Henslowe, who also put on the Bard's plays, recorded dining frequently with Gilbert East.

Finding Luce and East together among Henslowe's tenants connects this couple definitively with the world of theatre, Dr Salkeld claims, making it highly likely she would have been known to Shakespeare. Given her sexual charms, it is not unreasonable to assume she would have been the object of his desires.

Furthermore, Shakespeare had strong connections with Clerkenwell. Not only did associates live there, but also, perhaps, relatives. Dr Salkeld has found other Shakespeares, including a Matthew Shakespeare, listed in Clerkenwell's parish records. He said: "The name was not uncommon and they may have been unrelated.

" But one aspect of Matthew's story is intriguing – his marriage to Isabel Peele." Dr Salkeld concludes this suggests a link with the Bard because her dramatist brother George is believed to have collaborated on Titus Andronicus.

The significance of this material has been overlooked until now, Dr Salkeld said: "To my knowledge, no one has spotted this connection before." He added: "Whoever that person was, Shakespeare painted her with the reputation of Luce… This is new evidence." Black Luce was described by contemporaries as "an arrant whore and a bawde', catering for everyone from "ingraunts" (immigrants) to "welthyemen" and the aristocracy.

She was listed in the licentious Gray's Inn Christmas entertainments of 1594, and surfaces in a handful of plays and literary texts: "She was a real person. Her girls were prosecuted, although not Luce, as far as we know."

Shakespeare's sonnet sequence offers few clues to the Dark Lady beyond her dark eyes, hair and complexion, with hints that she was married. Like the Fair Youth, the unnamed man whom many of the sonnets were addressed, there have been numerous other hypotheses for her identity.

This latest research – which coincides with the superlative Shakespeare exhibition at the British Museum – will be published by Ashgate in Shakespeare Among the Courtesans in October.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments