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No evidence shows that Aemilia Bassano was the ‘real Shakespeare’

A meme going around Facebook in South Africa claims that a woman named “Amelia Bassano” was the real writer of all of William Shakespeare’s plays. 

The meme says: “Amelia Bassano is the lady who wrote all of Shakespeare’s plays. Because she was black they would not publish her work.”

“She died in poverty because she never received a dime for her work” and “Shakespeare was illiterate and could barely write his own name”, according to the meme, which includes a painting of a black woman. 

Picture in the meme not of Aemilia Bassano

Mutual Art shows that the painting used in the meme to illustrate Amelia Bassano is actually a painting by Paolo Veronese, an Italian Old Master painter born in 1528.

The name of the painting is “Portrait of a Moorish woman”, and there is no clue to the woman’s real name.

Aemilia Bassano real poet, but ‘no evidence she knew Shakespeare’

It is not known when Aemilia Bassano, later known as Aemilia Lanyer, was born, but she was baptised on 27 January 1569, according to Poetry Foundation, based in Chicaga, USA. She was the “daughter of court musician Baptist Bassano, whose will describes him as a native of Venice, and Margaret Johnson, his common-law wife”, the foundation said.

Although Bassano “may well have encountered some of the Lord Chamberlain's Men (the theatrical troupe that included Shakespeare), there is no evidence that she knew Shakespeare”, the foundation said.

Aemilia Bassano was a published author, but her work was not “suppressed because of her race or gender”, according to fact-checking site Snopes, who investigated the same claims in 2015. 

The Shakespearean Authorship Trust notes that Bassano became the “first woman to publish a book of original poetry” when her work Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum was published in 1611.

Bassano wasn’t African

“Bassano was not black,” said Snopes, although biographies of her note that she “was part of a family of Italian court musicians of Moroccan/Semitic ancestry who lived as clandestine Jews”.

While it’s not certain, many think that a miniature portrait by Nicholas Hilliard depicts Aemelia Bassano. The painting shows a dark-haired and dark-eyed but white-skinned woman.

Was Shakespeare literate?

Some have said Shakespeare “had no education worth considering, and was an untutored natural genius”, and others that Shakespeare “would have been entitled to a free place at the grammar school because of his father’s position on the town council at the time”. But no experts appear to question whether Shakespeare was literate. –Taryn Willows


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