In the 1609 Q order of the Sonnets there are twenty-six so-called ‘Dark Mistress’ sonnets, numbered 127 to 152 (some critics also include 153 and 154 while others have included numbers 35, 40, 41 and 42). Although some people refer to these sonnets as the ‘Dark Lady’ sequence there is no reference in them at all to ‘lady’ and the word ‘dark’ occurs only once, at the end of sonnet 147. The allusion to her colouring as ‘black’ appears in only five of the sonnets, while only three make any praise of her colouring. ‘Dark’ or ‘black’ may refer to her personality or manner, to her eyes, her hair or her complexion, or indeed to all of these. As we would expect there have been numerous and continuing attempts to equate the Dark Mistress with an actual contemporary woman. Some readers have identified her as a woman from the West Indian colonies or a Creole. Some have gone further and recognised her as Lucy Morgan or ‘Black Luce’, infamous madam of a Clerken well brothel. Other favourite Dark Mistresses have included Rosa the Italian wife of John Florio, Amelia Lanyer another Italian (nee Bassano), Penolope Rich (the dark mistress of Sidney‘s Astrophel and Stella) as well as Anne Hathaway, Pembroke’s mistress Mary Fitton, and even the Queen.
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- Fair’s Fair: the Dark Mistresses
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