OF THE BABY NAME EMILIA
Emilia Lanier (1569-1645) is thought by some scholars to be the “Dark Lady” of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Orphaned as a teenager, she became the mistress of the patron of Shakespeare’s theater company and was subsequently married to a court musician. She was a familiar face, and a dark and pretty one, in the court of Elizabeth I. It is thought that she and Shakespeare had an affair around 1597, when he was in a vulnerable state of grief over the death of his only son. The bard appears to have suffered some guilt over the issue, as well as having put himself in the embarrassing position of sharing Emilia with a younger man (William Herbert, whom he also immortalized in the sonnets). Whether or not she is ever proven to be the “Dark Lady”, Emilia claims fame on her own terms. She was one of the first women in England to publish a book of poetry (which has been referred to as very supportive of women and critical of their treatment at the hands of men). She also ran a school, supported her grandchildren and lived to be 76 years old – no mean feat in those days! So let’s hear it for Ms. Lanier, fair or dark, lady or not.
Emilia is the wife of the villain, Iago, in William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Othello, written around 1603. She is a virtuous and beautiful attendant to Desdemona. Although a relatively minor character in the play, she is in on all the larger than life activities, and everyone pays a high price for it. Although loyal to her friend Desdemona, Emilia also is afraid of her husband, and agrees to conspire in the theft of the handkerchief which will serve to implicate Desdemona in adultery. This single act results in the death of her friend. This is not an act she can reverse, but she can, and does, expose Iago and return honor to Desdemona’s name. Her own consequences are just as severe – Iago kills her in his rage, but she goes to her own death with pride and honor restored.
Emilia is one of the narrators in Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron, composed between 1349 and 1353, the series of 100 stories told in sets of ten by ten Florentine narrators who are hoping to escape the Black Death by quarantining themselves in a church. The lovely and alluring Emilia, whose stories concern the dichotomy between sin and repression, is a narcissist of the first order. Her finest past time is looking into the mirror at her own beauty reflected back at her. As if that weren’t bad enough, Emilia also seems to condone violence against women, as evidenced in one of her stories. We’ll give her a little bit of a break, however, and assume that she might just have had a little fever.