shakespeare's conspirator

Did a Jewish woman of color write many of Shakespeare's plays?

Did she embed clues in the scripts pointing to her identity and authorship?

Explore the Shakespeare Authorship Question and the Evidence Pointing to Emilia Bassano Lanyer 


​​Fact and Fiction

This story is fictional but inspired by the lives of real people as recorded by historians and researchers. However, there are conflicting accounts. I have attempted to be true to the history of the time as it is commonly understood. The sequence of historical events, the production of Shakespeare’s plays, and the timeline of known activities in each character’s life are accurate to the best of my knowledge. Could events and relationships similar to those depicted on this story have actually taken place? Much is plausible. Historians believe many of the real characters portrayed in this novel probably knew each other. It is likely they were in the communities described in the novel at approximately the times depicted. What actually happened during those times is a matter of conjecture, and that is where the fictional parts of the story take over.

For as famous a person as William Shakespeare, relatively little is known about his actual life. In fact, more is known about Amelia Bassano Lanier. There are strong parallels in her life to the content, venues, character names, and timing of many Shakespearean plays. We do not know whether William Shakespeare and Amelia Bassano collaborated or if she was the principal author of some plays credited to him. Those parts of the story are products of the author's imagination based on theories of literary researchers and other scholars. Several have speculated about how Shakespeare could be so prolific and write in such detail about events and cultures to which he had little if any exposure. A brief bibliography is provided for those interested in exploring this fascinating area further. Internet searches will also generate a plethora of information.

Which characters are real and which are fictional? Here’s a brief profile of the key people:

Emilia (Æmilia, Amelia) Bassano Lanyer (Lanier) (January, 1569-April 3, 1645) is the daughter of Baptista Bassano. She lived with Catherine Willoughby and Susan Bertie after her father’s death, was the consort to Lord Hunsdon, probably lived in Venice at the time depicted in this story, and published the first book of poetry, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum, (and the fourth book overall) by a woman in England.

William Shakespeare (Baptized April 26, 1564-April 23, 1616) is credited with writing thirty-eight full-length plays and 154 sonnets in twenty-three years. There is no record of him travelling outside of England, yet his plays include events and venues in Venice, Verona, Rome, Milan, Padua, Florence, Vienna, Ephesus, Sicilia, Athens, Troy, Cyprus, Spain, France, Scotland, Denmark and various parts of the Roman Empire. Neither he nor his known friends were musicians, yet his plays contain nearly two thousand musical references. He had no known Jewish associates, with the possible exception of Amelia Bassano Lanier, yet his plays include references to ancient Jewish texts. (There were probably only 100–200 Jews living in England during his lifetime.) He was a co-owner of The Globe Theatre.

Other Characters in Alphabetical Order by Surname:

Giles Allen (dates of birth and death unknown) was a Puritan and the actual owner of the land upon which The Theatre was constructed. He leased it for twenty-one years (1597-1598) to James Burbage.

Andrea Amati (1505-1578) was one of the great violin makers in Cremona.  His sons Antonio Amati (c. 1550 – unknown) and Girolamo Amati (1551–1635) known as "The Brothers Amati," succeeded him. They introduced several innovations in the design of violin.

Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh (1570-1648) served as the rabbi of Venice. 

Baptista Bassano (between 1510 & 1520-April 11, 1576) was born in Bassano del Grappa, Veneto (now northern Italy).  He was Amelia Bassano’s father.

Giovanni (Zuane) Bassano/Gritti da Sebenico (1560-1617) was the son of Orsetta and Santo Gritti da Sebenico (Bassano).  He was a composer, cornettist, and director.   He had two sons, Santino and Antonio.

Jeronimo Bassano (Jewish name: Joshua ben Joseph ibn Vives al-Lorqui) (prior to 1490-1545), was born in Bassano del Grappa and moved his family to Venice early in the 16th Century. He was a well-known instrument maker. [His father (also Jeronimo) probably moved the family from Lorqui or Santa Fe, Spain to the Italian peninsula prior to the Inquisition. He may have used the secular name Jeronimo instead of Joshua ben Joseph ibn Vives al-Lorqui to convey a Christian identity, and adopted the last name Bassano after the village in which they settled.] He was a piffero (reed wind instrument) player to the Doge of Venice. His sons were Anthony, Jacomo, Alvise, Jasper, John, and Baptista Bassano.

Jacomo Bassano (1510/20-1566) was one of six sons of Jeronimo Bassano and one of Baptista Bassano’s older brothers. He was probably born in Bassano del Grappa but lived most of his life in Venice.  His wife’s was Julia de Nasis. Orsetta Bassano was his daughter.

Julia Bassano is a fictional character. The children of Giovanni (Zuane) Bassano/Gritti da Sebenico are unknown.

Miriam Bassano is a fictional character. The wife of Giovanni (Zuane) Bassano/Gritti da Sebenico is unknown. 

Orsetta Bassano (c. 1530-unknown) was the daughter of Jacomo Bassano and married Santo Gritti de Sabenico.  Their son was also named Jacomo and their daughter was Julia de Nasis. 

Santo Bassano (aka Gritti de Sabenico) (1530-1586) was the husband of Orsetta Bassano and an instrument maker.  He inherited his father-in-law’s (Jacomo Bassano) instrument making business.

Zev Bassano is a fictional character. The offspring of Giovanni (Zuane) Bassano/Gritti da Sebenico are unknown.

Zuane Bassano (See Giovanni [Zuane] Bassano/Gritti da Sebenico)

Peregrine Bertie, 13th Baron Willoughby de Eresby (October 12, 1555-June 25, 1601) was the son of Katherine Willoughby and Richard Bertie, a Member of Parliament. Peregrine was born in Germany after his mother fled England. He became a naturalized English citizen in 1559. In 1582, he became England’s ambassador to Denmark. Bertie became a member of the House of Lords in 1580. He, his father, and sister (Susan Bertie) are ancestors of Diana (née Spencer), Princess of Wales, first wife of Charles, Prince of Wales.

Susan Bertie, Duchess of Suffolk / Countess of Kent (1554-unknown, c. 1600) was the daughter of Katherine Willoughby and raised at Grimsthorpe. Amelia Bassano Lanier honors her memory at the beginning of Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum. Susan married Reginald Grey of Wrest when sixteen and was a widow at nineteen. Eight years later she married Sir John Wingfield. After her mother (Katherine) died, Susan tutored Amelia. Susan, her father, and brother (Peregrine Bertie) are ancestors of Princess Diana (née Spencer), Princess of Wales, first wife of Charles, Prince of Wales.

Thomas Bilson (1547-1616) was the Anglican Bishop of Winchester, wrote The Perpetual Government of Christ's Church, and supervised the editing and printing The King James Bible.

Cuthbert Burbage (1566-1636) was a co-owner of The Globe Theatre. He was the son of James Burbage and older brother of Richard Burbage.

James Burbage (1531-February 2, 1597) was an actor who built and owned The Theatre in London’s Shoreditch district. 

Richard Burbage (January 6, 1568-March 13, 1619) was an actor who played lead roles in several Shakespearean plays including Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear. He was the son of James Burbage, owner of The Theatre and co-owner of The Globe.

Sergio Caloprini is a fictional character, father to Marcello.

Marcello Caloprini is a fictional character. 

Carlotta Caloprini is a fictional character, mother to Marcello.

Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon / the Lord Chamberlain (March 4, 1526-July 23, 1596) was the son of Mary Boleyn, one of Henry VIII’s mistresses. His aunt was Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife who was beheaded. Queen Elizabeth I was his first cousin. He was a Member of Parliament and had a long political and military career. He was knighted in 1558.

William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley (Burleigh) (1521-1598) was Queen Elizabeth I’s senior advisor. He served as Secretary of State between 1550-1553 and 1558-1572 and Lord High Treasurer after 1572.

Gasparo da Salò (1542-1609) was a one of the great violin makers in Cremona.

John Dee (1527-1608/09) was a mathematician, astronomer, and alchemist. He was known for his knowledge of cartography and navigation. He designed The Theatre and The Globe Theatre.

Thomas Dekker (c. 1572–August 25, 1632) was an English playwright. Little of his work still exists and he had a mixed reputation. (The depiction of Dekker in this novel, including the author’s portrayal of him as a playwright driven to uncover the truth about Shakespeare, is entirely fictional.)

Enid Fletcher is a fictional character born in 1559 and ten years older than Amelia. 

Simon Forman (December 31, 1552-September 12, 1611) was an astrologer, herbalist, and “medical practitioner” in London. He kept casebooks on many of his clients, including Amelia Bassano Lanier, who he saw from 1597 to approximately 1600—both inside and outside his practice..

Anne Hathaway (1555/56-1623) was the wife of William Shakespeare.

John Johnson (c. 1545-1594) was an English lutenist and composer. He is the brother of Margaret Johnson, Amelia Bassano’s mother.

Margaret Johnson (1545-July, 1587) was the mother of Amelia and the common-law wife of Baptista Bassano. Very little is known about her.

Alphonso Lanyer (c. 1572-June 20, 1613) was the son of Lucretia and Nicholas Lanier. He was first cousin to Amelia Bassano and married her in 1592 after she became pregnant by another man. He was a musician and member of the Queen’s recorder consort. He served on the Islands Voyage to the Azores under the command of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex. He played at Queen Elizabeth’s funeral.  

Ellen Lanyer (c. 1578/84-1638) was the daughter of Lucretia and Nicholas Lanier. She married Alphonse Ferrabosco, a musician.

Henry Lanyer (1593-1633) was Amelia Bassano’s son. Henry Carey (Lord Hunsdon, the Lord Chamberlain) is thought to be his father. Amelia was pressured to marry Alphonso Lanier as a result of her pregnancy. Henry married Joyce Mansfield in 1623 and had two children.

Innocent Lanyer (c. 1569-1625) was the son of Lucretia and Nicholas Lanier. He did not marry.

Lucretia (Lucreece) Bassano Lanyer (1556-1633) was the daughter of Anthony Bassano (Baptista’s older brother) and Amelia Bassano’s aunt and mother-in-law. She married Nicholas Lanier. She was the mother of Alphonso, Innocent, and Ellen Lanier.  

Nicholas Lanyer (1530-1611) was a flautist and cornet player. He married Lucretia Bassano, Amelia Bassano’s aunt. He was French and a court musician for King Henry II of France before moving to England. He was Alphonso Lanier’s father and Amelia Bassano’s father-in-law.

Odillya Lanyer (December, 1598-September 6, 1599) was the daughter of Amelia Bassano Lanier and Alphonso Lanier.  She lived for only nine months.

Henry Lanman (dates of birth and death unknown) managed The Curtain Theatre which opened in 1577 in the Finsbury Field, Shoreditch section of London. It was the second public theater in the city. The first was The Theatre.

Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) was an English playwright, poet, and competitor of Shakespeare. He is known for his tragic dramatizations especially The Jew of Malta, Tamburlaine the Great, and The Tragicall History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus. He was arrested in 1583, probably for blasphemy for writing “vile heretical concepts.” Some speculate he was a spy and mystery surrounds his death. The depiction of his death in the novel is based on credible but unproven accounts. (There is no evidence that Marlowe knew or had any relationship with Amelia Bassano. That part of this story is a product of the author’s imagination.)

Vincente Ponti is a fictional character.

Rafael Tolendano is a fictional character.

Hamnet Shakespeare (1585-1596) was the son of William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway, and twin to Judith.

John Shakespeare (c. 1531-1601) was the father of William Shakespeare. He married Mary Arden. He was a glover (leather smith), illegal wool dealer, and local alderman. He was arrested for usury.

Garvan Shaw is a fictional character.

Peter Smith (dates of birth and death unknown) was the master carpenter who built the Globe Theatre in 1599-1600. 

Edward Stafford, 4th Baron Stafford (1572-1625) followed his father as a patron of a traveling theater troupe called Lord Stafford's Company. He married Isabel Forster who was a chambermaid working for his family. (The depiction in this novel of Stafford’s relationship with Amelia Bassano Lanier is entirely fictional.)

Elizabeth Tudor (Queen Elizabeth I) (September 7, 1533-March 24, 1603) ruled England from November, 1558 until her death. She was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Elizabeth never married and was called The Virgin Queen. Her reign ended the Tudor dynasty.  

Sebastian Westcott (c. 1524-1582) managed Paul’s Theater, known for its children’s plays. “Children of Paul’s” was associated with Saint Paul’s Cathedral, where Westcott was an organist.

Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk (March 22, 1519-September 19, 1580) was an English noblewoman in Henry VIII’s court and devout Protestant. Grimsthorpe was her home, to which she had title. For her time, she was a progressive thinker and feminist. She married Charles Brandon (his fourth wife). After Brandon’s death in 1545, she married Richard Bertie. Speculation exists that Henry VIII wanted to marry her as his seventh wife, while he was still married to Catherine Parr. After Henry’s death she was given custody of Mary Seymour, his daughter by Catherine Parr. Katherine had four children, Henry and Charles Brandon (both of whom died young on July 14, 1551 of sweating sickness), Susan Bertie (1554-unknown) and Peregrine Bertie (1555-1601). Willoughby fled England to Germany and Poland to avoid arrest and prosecution for her Protestant faith after the coronation of Queen Mary I in 1553 (following the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI). Mary restored Catholicism to England. Katherine returned to England in 1559 after Queen Mary I died and Elizabeth I was crowned. Records show Katherine was given custody of Amelia Bassano after her father, Baptista, died in 1576.

John Wingfield (dates of birth and death unknown) was an English military man. He married Susan Bertie in 1582.  

Il Ghetto in Venice was the first confined enclave in which Jews were forced to live. It was established on March 29, 1516. The order stated, “The Jews must live all together in the Corte de Case in the Ghetto at San Girolamo.” The site once housed a deserted 14th-century copper and cannon foundry. There are different schools of thought about the origin of the word “ghetto.” One is that it comes from the Italian word “Borghetto,” meaning little conclave of houses. More likely, its derivation is from the Venetian word “geto,” meaning slag or waste, or possibly “gettare,” which means to swing, cast, or vibrate.

Author’s Note: The spelling of names in Elizabethan England was often inconsistent. For example, in some sources Amelia Lanier is spelled Aemilia or Emilia Lanier or some combination of the three. Sometimes Katherine Willoughby’s given name is spelled with a C. There are numerous other examples. I chose how names with historical spelling variations would be presented in this novel. Some choices were made to enhance readership and others based on how it seemed the actual person spelled their own name, where that information was available or can be deduced.