William Shakespeare and The Dark Lady
Of all Shakespeare's 154 sonnets, published in 1609, those featuring the "Dark Lady" have inspired most conjecture. They refer to a woman whose "eyes are raven black"; she used to be the narrator's mistress, and he is now suffering owing to her infidelity with a fair-haired young man. Despite having spent his first 17 sonnets urging the same youth to marry and procreate, the poet clearly didn't intend for him to steal his own love interest, and cannot contain his despair at the pair's betrayal, stating: "My love is as a fever, longing still/For that which longer nurseth the disease/ Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill/The uncertain sickly appetite to please." No historian can say with certainty whether the Dark Lady was just a fictional character, or the flesh-and-blood subject of Shakespeare's own affections; she doesn't seem to fit the description of any of the playwright's female acquaintances, but he may have used poetic licence to preserve her anonymity. Yet the feelings expressed seem palpably real: the femme fatale allows the narrator to write lyrically and honestly about lust, infatuation, loyalty, torment, uncertainty and unfaithfulness, producing some of the greatest love poetry ever written.