Shakespeare's Dark Lady
Print this chapter - 10 X A4 pages


O, blame me not, if I no more can write!
Look in your glass and there appears a face
That overgoes my blunt invention quite,
Dulling my lines and doing me disgrace.

Sonnets, 103
William Shakespeare

Lawrence having left for Washington and Amelia for a Sunday tea and sherry at Warren House, Daniel had the place to himself. The fire Maria had lit in the library before going to Mass was almost dead. He fanned it a few times with the journal he was reading. There was a snap from the embers and a flame sprang up. He worked on it until a new fire took hold.

With a tall Scotch and Perrier he settled himself deep in the wing chair to study Amelia's paper on Doctor Dee and Edward Kelley: The Skryer's Stone.

It was esoteric stuff but it made absorbing reading, and not just because Amelia was probably incapable of writing a dull line. He was fascinated by a bit about the hermetic circle that the Elizabethan magus Dee seemed to have been involved in. Perhaps even with Shakespeare and the Dark Lady. He reread the part about the priestly whore-virgin--apparently you could be both at once--and the idea that maybe the Rosy Cross of the Rosicrucians was actually a hermetic version of the Roman rota, a spinning wheel used to test slaves for epilepsy.

Amelia seemed to think this secret sect, in England and possibly elsewhere, had used one of these devices to experience a kind of transcendental high: to vivify the pineal gland as a modern Dr. Dee would have put it, all in the name of direct experience of God through reunification, that sort of thing. Drugs might well have been used, she theorized, to help them reach this state of exaltation. There was something about occult initiation and the mystery of the chemical wedding, the conjunction--the part about Christ resurrected as an androgyne, in particular--that rang a bell. Perhaps something she'd been saying in her lecture?

It all seemed pretty far-fetched, and Amelia admitted that the evidence for a lot of it--like the central female figure's being introduced to the rites of the sect at first menses--was only circumstantial. Of course, this reality hadn't discouraged her from going on at great length about " the metaphysical use of sex" in such ceremonies..

At a little past seven the author herself came tilting into the room full of smiles and brandishing her scarf. She twirled around, halted in front of him and stretched her arms out.

He got to his feet and gave her a peck on the cheek, which she returned with a lip-smacking kiss.

"Wouldn't have thought you'd find a tea party so exhilarating," he said.

"Actually, it was deadly dull. Some of us went on to the Skating Club."

"Care for a drink?"

"I'll get it."

"Let me fix you something special," he said and disappeared to the kitchen. He returned with cream of coconut, frozen strawberry juice, and shaved ice, all of which he put into a shaker with a dash of lime juice and three shots of rum. He popped the top with a last shake. . . .Your very own Bondi Bangaroo. Puts hair on a lifeguard's chest."

" Mmm. . .delicious. Let's sit on the polar bear." .

She snuggled up to him, cradling her head on her free arm, which she leaned against his shoulder. She gazed into the tongues of flame.

For several minutes he looked too, enjoying their closeness.

Until quite suddenly she rose to her feet. "Do you ever have erotic fantasies?" she said.

"All the time." She still didn't know about his Prozac thing.

"Here's mine," she said, giving a pert twirl that revealed black suspenders. "Don't laugh."

She stood back to the fire and a faraway look crossed her gaze.

He was kneeling in front of her, mystified and more than a little excited.

She looked down into his eyes, focusing coquettishly.

"Sir, will you visit my velvet garden? Will you pluck a red rose tied with a virgin knot and part the petals of my own sweet flower?"

She curtseyed to him. Her eyes focused and there was a raunchy glint in them.

It never even occurred to him to answer.

"Will you dance with a daughter of the sugared game?"

"What do you call yourself?"

"I am Jenny, sir." She threw away the words. "Will you help me fly these reeking stews?"

He was still kneeling in front of her. When he shifted position her eyes followed him.

"O sir, come, make your heaven in a lady's lap and taste the sweetest almond of them all. I ask no fee for such sweet traffic."

She rose to her feet and lowered her eyes for half a second. He pictured her assaying his weapon between both hands. It was that kind of look.

"In faith, sir, my sweet treasure is yours to use at your pleasure."

She did a pirouette, reached between her legs and slipped off her panties. She had on a flossy skirt that she held up as if she were going to dance the can-can. He could only kneel there, rooted, looking up her skirt at suspenders and belt, seeing a familiar sight from a totally different angle.

She gave a small gasp. Her eyes were fixed on him. He felt his ploughshare swell and he tilled and furrowed in his own fantasy.

"O sir, how you disport yourself in Venus' temple."

It was an excited voice interlaced with snuffling breaths, then she shut her eyes and dropped her skirt. She swayed for a moment and sank on to the rug, where she lay curled beside him.

Avoiding the glare of the bear's glass eyes and two vicious teeth, he leaned over and touched her shoulder.

She rolled on to her back and looked up.

"Would you leave me with child? Would you lie with me still were I covered with the blains?"

He heard a faint noise over by the door and turned his head. Cissy stood there dressed in a blue sweatsuit and matching sneakers. How long had she been skulking in the background?

"What the hell are you doing?" he yelled.

"I'm just hanging."

"Well, go hang somewhere else."

She made no attempt to move until Daniel advanced on her.

She stomped out, slamming the door.

Amelia had risen to her feet."Get me a drink, will you? No alcohol."

He got up and poured her a ginger ale. She took a big gulp.

"That was some performance," he said. "How about an encore."

She picked up her panties from the floor and got back into them

"Not tonight, Bonaparte. Be a honey and get me a Tylenol , would you?"

When he returned she was sitting in a chair. Her face looked childlike. He popped the caplet into her mouth.

"Well, how do you like Elizabethan me?"

"Who in God's name were you, angel, talking like some Elizabethan tart with dialogue written by Shakespeare or at least school-of?"

"Were you as horny as I was?"

"Were it not for Cissy."

She was sucking her lower lip between her teeth and twisting her fingers around her empty glass.

"Y'see, I've got this neurosis problem," she said. " I guess I'm so immersed in Shakespeare I start to think I'm his Dark Lady or something."

"You mean you almost start to live your fantasy?"

"Kind of .....I've been seeing this psychoanalyst for the last four months." She was working her hands in a ball like a potter softening up a lump of clay for the wheel. "Her name's Katie Barber."


"Uncle David--our family physician, Dr. Bendix--referred me to her when I told him I had these fantasies that I was the Dark Lady. Supposedly she's the best analyst within a hundred miles of Boston. I see her three hours a week. She says she sees a lot of neurotic academics. One wrote the definitive biography of Voltaire and now he thinks he is Voltaire."

"So you should have turned into Shakespeare himself."

"I think the Dark Lady might suit me a bit better, don't you?" Her voice had a catch to it. She looked at him with appealing eyes. "Should I be telling you these things? It's not like I'm crazy, Katie says. I'll get over it."

He raised an arm and rode a finger along the studded back of the chair. There was so much he still had to learn about her

"How long have you been having this fantasy?" he said softly.

"Since I was a little girl, ever since I can remember."

"Has your Dark Lady got a name?"

"I call her Jenny .... Black Jenny. She's a total whore. All she talks about .....all I talk about is sex when I pretend I'm her.

She laughed, then was serious

He hesitated before asking," Who's the object of this fantasy? Shakespeare presumably?"

"I dream about him," she said simply. "He's not Shakespeare. At least not the way I'd like to think Shakespeare was He's got no name or face. He's rough. He comes like an incubus in the night to rob me of my soul. Then I have no choice but to play the whore to my master. Then I wake up feeling horny and - well - you know, wet."

"I'm jealous," he said. "Doesn't this guy look a little bit like me?"

"Sorry, lover. For some reason he reminds me of Othello. Katie would say my fantasies and dreams are a safety valve for the dark side of the unconscious, seeking a harmless alternative to acting them out."

What she was saying left him feeling slightly betrayed. It reminded him that there were times when he felt he was only there to provide an audience and applaud at the end. At times like that trust flew out the window.

She looked so vulnerable sitting there on the rug, smiling. . . .

"Katie says it's something I need to grow out of," she said. "Something to do with poor parenting, like isn't it always?"

He noticed the dimple that formed on her chin when it puckered, the fugitive smile that came and went around her eyes and would turn into crow's feet in twenty years. It made him want to hold her tight.

"I'm the living proof," he said.

She didn't reply, but she did accept his outstretched hand. He coaxed her to her feet.

"You need to get some sleep. You've told your analyst about us, haven't you?"

"Not yet." With her forefingers she smoothed her eyelids. "Please take me up to bed, lover. I'm sorry if I didn't tell you about this fantasy thing sooner. I guess it just kind of felt right today ..... by showing you, instead of just talking about it."

One of the clocks that threw up chimes at all hours erupted as they reached the first floor. He felt strong and inexpressibly tender.

So he wasn't the only one who could lose his grip now and again. With him it was the Valium thing, then the Prozac As for Amelia, she acknowledged the problem, she could talk about it, she was getting help. Birds of a feather, basically.

She flopped onto her bed and was asleep in minutes. Gently he took the hand that trailed over the edge of the bed and tucked it under the coverlet before going back downstairs to finish off their cocktails. Later he mounted a long vigil over her sleeping form.

"I say she's boffing her dad. Or maybe she's the boffee."

To emphasize the point Katie Barber waved her Gauloise, scattering ash across the table-something she tended to do when expressing more conviction than she actually felt. Her paper delivered to the American Academy of Psychoanalysis that spring had made her an overnight authority on the internalization of the father-figure in the female psyche, but she had doubts about her incest theory where Amelia was concerned.

She wasn't going to admit them to Rosalind Kahn, her junior partner in the psychoanalytic clinic they ran on Farrar Street-even though Katie valued second opinions and had sent Amelia to Rosie for just that purpose. Born Jewish and recently born again in Christ, Rosie was an experienced therapist with occasional flashes of dead-on insight that nobody else-including Katie-could find their way to.

"He's gone now, is he?" Rosie said.

"And Amelia's stepped up her sessions from three hours a week to five."

Katie crushed out the cigarette and sat back in her chair. She knew she and Rosie made an odd pair in more ways than one. Katie was a big woman--some would say obese-whose caftans and long hair made her look like the last of the great earth mothers: Mama Cass cum spectacles, twenty years too late, and happy about it. Though Rosie was by no means pretty, in comparison with Katie she wasn't a mile short of ravishing: sharp and skimpy, almost birdlike.

"Don't you think it would help to tell her what she said under hypnosis?" Rosie said.

"Oh, I confront her with some of it. The rest will come up in its own good time." Katie got up from her easy chair and opened the sash window a fraction at the bottom. "Looks like spring isn't far off¼.What do you make of this Black Jenny fantasy?"

"Seems to be some kind of trauma at the bottom of it."

"More than seems," Katie said. "And she is very suggestible"

"You know me. The Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways. There could be a positive side"

Katie lit another Gauloise. "I'm happy for you, Rosie - you know I am. And you know I can't start treating all my patients through the power of the Holy Spirit. I ask you-is it not more likely that all of this adds up to partly recovered memories? Her fantasy has to come from somewhere. It's worth remembering that I drew her attention, very gently, to the fact that unconsciously she associates her father with Shakespeare."

"Well, I'd say Amelia is very mediumistic," Rosie said. "She's got that quality of the mediatrix, if you'll pardon the Jungianism."

"That's very insightful."


"No, I mean it," Katie said. "Amelia is mediumistic. Of course, magical thinking is common in neurotic personalities. They can have a kind of sixth sense, intuition that amounts to telepathy, almost. Rosie, you really ought to have gotten into bed with Carl Jung, not just Sigmund Freud and Jesus Christ."

Rosie smiled. "I also got that Amelia has a high sex drive.".

"Did she tell you that?"

"We talked a bit about her love life and I kind of guessed."

"She's been promiscuous for years-pseudo-sex, the kind that's used to avoid intimacy. Exciting but lacking the genuine emotion that makes sex loving." Katie sighed. "She has a vivid fantasy life and two figures dominate it: Lawrence Hungerford and William Shakespeare."

"I did catch the dependence on the father and--"

"Her father's the only love in her life, only love is precisely what it isn't. It's infantile dependence on a controlling father figure. In her unconscious he's god in her universe and she's in thrall to him. Or to William Shakespeare, which amounts to the same thing. Sometimes, apparently, he takes the form of Othello. And in her dreams she explodes in massive orgasms triggered by her obsession."

"You mean with Shakespeare?"

"And anything to do with him. She's been obsessed that way since adolescence, maybe longer--addicted, in a way. With her mother it was alcohol. With Amelia it's Shakespeare."

"Where does her mother's death fit into the picture?"

"I think when Amelia was twelve and her mother died, she felt responsible. Anything else you noticed, Rosie?"

Rosie paused for a moment. "I think there's a strong masochistic tendency."

Katie chortled. "I never thought I'd hear that coming from a feminist, but I'll bet you're right. The orientation needn't be sexual, of course, but in Amelia it probably is."

"With her father?"

"There's no doubt she idolizes him. Not surprisingly she's learnt to manipulate him, so she has some sort of power over him."

"But when all's said and done Lawrence Hungerford's the one in the driver's seat," Rosie said.

"That's right. He's her jailkeeper. Her psychopathic jailkeeper."

"That's a bit strong, isn't it?"

"Think about your pathological narcissists. While they're using people they're often charming, witty, even charismatic. But there's zero concern for other people's feelings, thus zero capacity for real love or remorse. They can be brilliant actors or politicians--even Presidents of the United States--using a false persona to fake all the emotions they never really feel. In a word, psychopathic."

"Who exactly is this Dark ......Black Jenny who's at the core of her pathology ?

"I see this fantasy woman as a dissociative part of her ego." Katie tamped out her cigarette.

"So you think she can be helped?"

"I hope so," Katie said. "I care about her a lot-she could almost be a daughter. Call it counter-transference."

"I'd call it love," Rosie said. "And love heals."

"Yes, but meanwhile whatever skeletons she's got lurking in her childhood closet, she's going to have to face them. Otherwise, what a waste! Hell's bells, d'you realize what a gifted scholar she is, and a good musician and painter to boot?"

"And brave, let's hope."

Katie slumped in her chair. " There'll be a lot of resistance. . .Even if I'm wrong about her and her dad."

"Couldn't it be just psychological--I mean subclinical--incest?"

"It could. But you know incest trauma is somewhere just below the surface in most cases like this."

"And you know how unreliable recovered memories can be. Do you want to join thousands of therapists being sued for false memory syndrome?"

"An Elektra complex is one thing, but diddling your dad when he's sixty-six and you're twenty-seven? If she is, it's going to have to stop. If it's stopped already, she still needs to be free of the past"

Rosie sighed. "I'll pray for her."

"You do that. It can't hurt, and I have a feeling Amelia's going to need all the help she can get."

Back to top   

   Chapter 7...