The Dark Lady of the Sonnets

I had great fun finding a voice for the Dark Lady of the Sonnets for the Fickle Favours production, Shakespeare’s Sisters in the Black Box.
Here she is.



How should a woman better herself,
if not in the bed of a powerful man?
Virtue or preferment: faithfulness
or advantage: to fuck or not to fuck?
That is the question for us women.
So from an early age I do what I have to,
the patron, the astrologer. the playwright,
Of course I am the guilty party,
a woman always is: black deeds and lies,
making men mad, making men sin.

 Men should remember that it is through
a woman’s cunt that they arrive upside
down into the world, screaming for the milk
of mother’s kindness. They should treat us better.



 A man says what he thinks, not so a woman.
I’d be called shrew if I told you Will’s belly
is too big, his head too domed, his hair just silly,
fingers always stained with ink. The number of times
he’s insulted me – my breath reeks indeed! –
and where else should I tread but on the ground.
I resent the constant whinging wringing of his soul
as if his soul is bigger, better, more worthwhile
than mine. My sensitivities are never taken
to account, he’s always only looking for the rhyme.

Poets are no better than the rest, worse perhaps,
turn everything to metaphor, hide behind
the words, suck the life from you for the sake
of a poem. Turn you into a line on a page.


So dear reader, are you interested in what I think,

what makes me tick, what I might want?

Or do I only count because I’m the woman
that Will wrote about? The colour of my breasts,
my raven blackness; I’m his most precious jewel;
false speaking, cruel, taking his reason from him,
making him sin, awarding him pain. Go on,
speculate. Am I this person, or that: who am I?
Still just cipher, just the muse, object of desire,
passive subject – the dark lady has been written about.

Is it a woman’s place, to be content with this?
Many women, many muses through the years
have, will suffer the same fate I fear; for me
at least I ‘d wit enough to hitch my star to excellence.


And he is excellent, my Will, despite my complaints I know
he’s something special. Masked, watching from a gallery
in the Globe, I am willing victim, seduced every time;
for what is sexier than language to a lover of language.
Will’s words run through my mind, my heart, my being,
making me love him, making me jealous of him.
I wouldn’t be surprised if down the next century and the next,
boys still play Ophelia, Desdemona; actors make
their reputations with Hamlet, Lear, Macbeth. Could I bend
thoughts to words as he can, I might be content with that.

At night I light a candle, take out quill and ink, write

my own Gertrude; she is born to say something different,
won’t have to remarry in such haste, might not need
a man at all in order to survive the state we live in.


I have such imaginings in me; I could believe

no daughter would be put to death for
refusing to marry her father’s choice, no wife
sent to prison on a husband’s jealous whim.
A clever woman wouldn’t need to dress up as a man
to make her courtroom argument; each would be
queen of herself, not merely muse or drudge or wife
or whore – let tyrants fear, when we reveal that
every woman has that same strength of heart
and stomach shown by glorious Queen Elizabeth.

 Women could translate themselves; all femaleness 

in loops of verse, loosening form like leaving corsets off;
put paint on canvas to reveal their vision; compose music
that soars as high and wide and splendidly as any mans.


 And what a brave new world it would be

that had such women in it; citizens of an equal
earth, each willing her own destiny, each
governing her own life, and free to do it.
Likely you think I’m mad, bad, a dangerous
drab, to think such things, to attempt
a vindication of the rights of women.
I should know my place, accept my lot;
spare rib, second sex, female eunuch
– as I’m held to be – you’ll hardly listen to me.

Listen, a chorus of voices, future, present,

past, set up a clamour that cannot
be ignored, and I hold fast to dreaming
of this change of world.

There will be another chance to see the whole production on Saturday 1st June in Downpatrick Arts Centre.




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