Another Dee-Shakespeare historical novel
- Some time back, we had a short discussion on this group about the "Orpheus Book," an
historical novel in the files section of this group, which makes some interesting
speculative links between Dee and Shakespeare. I spent quite a bit of time trying to track
down its author.
Just recently, I found another "web novel" making similar connections. Some of you here
may recognize the name of the author, Dr. Ian Wilson.
Shakespeare's Dark Lady - a novel by Ian Wilson-- can be found on the web at:
He sketches out his main thesis on that page. I don't necessarily agree with him (or at
least, I think it might be a lot more powerful to consider Shakespeare's Dark Lady as Isis,
first and last and with all the manner of symbolic resonances one might attach, rather than
worrying about whatever historical personage we might attach her to), but he does make
an interesting argument, particularly in how he's connecting the Pembrokes to Dee,
Shakespeare, and Marlowe. Here's an excerpt from chapter seven:
An excerpt from chapter seven:
(the chapters two main characters are talking, when suddenly . . .)
From this half-world he listened to her telling him about the correspondences between all
things. There was, she informed him, a symmetry, a synchronicity. When he opened his
eyes she was looking down at him, a pack of Tarot cards in her left hand.
"Would you like a reading?" she said. "This is a Frieda Harris deck. Lawrence gave it to me
for my eighteenth birthday. It used to be Edgar Hungerford's."
"Kind of. This reading's for you, kid."
She shut her eyes. Her right hand was suspended over the cards while her lips moved
silently. Then, while her mouth still flickered she shuffled the cards.
"These are the twenty-two major arcana. We'll do a quickie three-card spread. I shouldn't
really be doing this for you, I know you too well and I can feel your anxiety trying to get in
"Am I meant to do anything?"
She was still shuffling. "You've got to say what questions you want the Tarot to answer.
"I want to know if I'll find the vaccine."
"I can tell you that without the cards. You'll make a major discovery. Whether it will be the
vaccine I can't say."
"Will you and I stay together?"
From left to right she laid out the top three cards from the shuffled pack, face up.
"Art," she said quietly, "then the Empress and Death."
He rolled toward her, supporting himself on his elbows.
"It will be difficult for us to stay together," she said, "but not impossible. The answer will
depend on you, not me. Art paired with Death could be very positive, transformative. But
the Empress stands in the way."
"Who's the Empress? Cissy? Your analyst?"
"We're dealing with archetypes, not people. Art is a clear warning that you mustn't rush
into things. The Empress could be your own driving ambition."
He stared hard at the profiled Empress holding a flower. There were twin crescent moons
and a bird that could be a swan or a pelican. The female figure of Art beside her was more
sinister: a woman in green with two faces and four breasts pouring liquid into a gold
cauldron at the edges of which hovered a white lion and a red eagle. A Latin inscription
formed a halo around the woman. The right-hand card, number XIII, was Death, a
helmeted skeleton wielding a scythe over a phantasmagoric background of humanoid
forms and a snake, a fish and a scorpion.
"Am I doing the right thing by going to California?"
"Yes. Going or not going isn't going to change any risk that's already been laid down. Nor
will the trip change you and me--our relationship, that is. This isn't about our
"What's it about, then?"
"The Empress is ill-defined in the middle position. You must overcome your greatest
weakness--your oh-so-English reluctance to express your feelings to anyone. Without
that you won't find the answer to the questions that matter in your life."
"The questions I asked?"
"The questions that are unconscious and unarticulated." She frowned. "This is your
reading, but it's also someone else's and I can't see whose. It's as if there's a still higher
"Will I find out who my mother was?"
He saw the pain move across her face. Then she gathered up the cards. "You should only
read the Tarot for a stranger."
He sat up straight. "Murdered," he whispered.
She dropped the cards again. They fanned out around her knees. "I feel danger
"I don't know. . . but someone is going to-or has already--died a violent death."
"Don't know that, either. End of reading."
Her face was ghostly in the faint pre-dawn light. She talked about Shakespeare for a little
while--familiarly, as if the Bard were a close friend. Then, sprawled beside him on her
stomach, she asked him if he had any idea who Mary Herbert was.
"Let's see¼.She was the Countess of Pembroke and the sister of Philip Sidney the soldier
poet. Also the center of a talented circle of scientists and writers who visited her at
Wilton--some even lived there--in the heyday of the Elizabethans. People like her uncle,
the Earl of Leicester and Thomas Digges the Oxford mathematician and Sidney himself,
before his death at Zutphen in 1586. Oh, and Dr. John Dee the astrologer."
"My, my, my. You've been doing your homework."
"What do you expect if you shut me up in your library with your books for the better part
of three weeks?"
She rolled onto her back and folded her arms. "Doesn't it strike you that a lot of this
woman's friends seemed to come from Wiltshire?"
"Not surprising, if that's where she lived." He leaned over to kiss the Bump.
"Wilton wasn't far from Brook House--one of the homes of the eighth Lord Mountjoy,
Charles Blunt, in the mid-1590s. It wasn't far from Wardour Castle, home of the Arundels.
Henry Wriothesley--the third Earl of Southampton, who received the dedication of
Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis, and Lucrece--came from a family with Wiltshire origins."
"And Wriothesley's sister married an Arundel, didn't she?"
She nodded, turned onto her back and propped herself on her elbows. "Who else in the
1590s lived close to Wilton, Brook House and Wardour?"
"Henry Willoughby, who's supposed to have written about the Dark Lady in a poem he
called his Avisa." He smiled when he saw from her look that he'd got it right. Then he
leaned forward to push back a silky strand of hair that had drifted from behind her ear.
This wasn't the first time he'd come across Henry Willoughby. He knew he was supposed
to have been a friend of Shakespeare's and maybe the missing link in the whole Dark Lady
puzzle. The bizarre poem Willobie His Avisa, which had appeared in 1594, was obviously a
parody on a real-life married woman and her affairs with six real-life men. One of these,
"W.S.," was widely held to be Shakespeare, raising the possibility that if the true Avisa
could be identified, so would the Dark Lady. He knew this to be Amelia's main line of
inquiry in her search for Shakespeare's mysterious lover.
"Henry Willoughby wasn't quite the insignificant second son in a bastard line that he's
been taken for," Amelia said. "A bit of a black sheep, maybe. He was Lord Mountjoy's third
cousin and a distant relative of Southampton's in-laws the Arundels, through the
Nottinghamshire Willoughbys. His uncle John Willoughby was involved in a land
transaction with Southampton's sister."
Her fingers moved along the edge of a cushion. "Henry Willoughby's family were tenants
of land belonging to the Herberts. He probably visited Wilton now and again and was on
familiar terms with some of the Herberts' guests, one of whom was William Shakespeare.
We know Shakespeare stayed there later in James's reign. Essex too, probably. Essex was
on good terms with most members of the group and married Mary Herbert's former sister-
in-law, Frances Walsingham. I've got a very interesting Elizabethan document, a letter or
the draft of one, signed by a William Willoughby. Who I think was Henry Willoughby's son."
"Can I see it?"
"It's locked away in a vault. And it doesn't identify the Dark Lady or give any clues."
He looked over at the window, saw the faint gray light in the sky. A thaw had set in. Rain
was falling, a drizzle so fine it was little more than morning dew. He hated dawn.
"What connected all the people you're talking about?"
"One person and his occult philosophy - the visionary Dr Dee. For a time he lived in the
Herbert household. He was certainly the closest thing in Elizabethan England to the
Renaissance ideal of the universal man."
"Like Philip Sidney?" he said.
"Sidney didn't come close. It isn't surprising Dee attracted Sidney's interest as well as Mary
Herbert's. When I started hunting for the seeds of Rosicrucianism in the early 1600s I
looked at Dee.
"There's little doubt a cult of the hermetic trinity existed at that time, practiced by an
educated and aristocratic elite. Its adherents were illuminati or perfecti, men who
measured up to the neoplatonist ideal of androgyny and perfectibility. That's the
outstanding feature of Henry Willoughby as Shakespeare depicted him in the Sonnets.
"There couldn't have been more than a few dozen of these men in the whole of Europe.
The cult was really aimed at putting its members in touch with a mystical truth: the reality
beyond the world of illusion. They weren't really interested in political power.
"They earned themselves another name--like the Rosicrucians, they were the 'invisible'
ones. The cult's rituals might have involved a resurrectionist and a dualist element. But
they probably bore almost no resemblance to early masonic rites and certainly had little to
do with the mythical Christian Rosenkreutz who's meant to have founded the Rosicrucian
fraternity. And they're probably still around. Think of all the more esoteric orders in
Freemasonry like the Rose Croix and the Knights Templars and the Red Cross of St.
"I never knew many Freemasons apart from my ex-father-in-law and my lawyer," he said.
"Never even felt a secret masonic handshake." He lay on his back again.
She leaned over and with a wicked laugh shook her hair all over his face till he choked and
blew it away in a mock attempt to breathe.
"And you seriously believe that such a sect could still exist?"
"I'd be surprised if it didn't. We're not talking about Freemasons or Rosicrucians or
thirteenth-century Templars--all those groups used a modern Christian Cross. The Tau
cross is much more ancient and much more like the actual cross of Christ's crucifixion. My
sense of it is that we're talking about a small sect that goes right back in a direct line to
one branch of the Gnostics of the early centuries after Christ."
"Could they be in America?"
"They could be anywhere. This is a group so secret that almost nothing is known about
"What kind of secrets would a sect like that have?"
"Christian Kabbalistic. You've got to remember, what keeps all esoteric orders going is the
idea that they alone are the repositories of some ancient knowledge. It's often identified
with a great treasure, like the Holy Grail or the philosopher's stone."
"What's the mors osculi?"
She raised herself from the floor. "Where'd you get that from?"
"Just something I came across in the library."
"Not something written by me."
"You're holding back. I can tell."
She agreed with a hunch of her shoulders. "Not much is known about Death from the Kiss,
the kiss of Shekinah. Or the mors iusti, the Death of the Just as it's also called. It's one of
the best-kept secrets of Kabbalistic ritual."
"So I've read."
"My theory is that it's some kind of rite of beatification. Death in the body that's a rebirth
of the soul. Death in the body may even be literal, not just symbolic--almost a martyrdom.
There may be a sexual element on the quintessential level. The Kabbalists' Shekinah was
God in his-her, if you like--female persona. The mors iusti may even be the final
ceremony all adepts go through, kind of like the last rites but more. . . interactive."
"You mean actual human sacrifice?"
"Sort of. The sexual element suggests a role for Venus, probably in her avatar of Libitina
the Roman deity in whom love and death are brought together."
"You say you have this 'paranormal thing. "Like some sort of sixth sense?"
She looked from the ceiling to his face. "What about it?"
"Is that like angel magic?"
"It's more what Dr. Dee called a 'wild talent.' A kind of gift--runs in my family. They used
to call my great-great-grandfather 'the ghost-seer.'"
"Could he see ghosts?"
"Mmm. . . sometimes. Right here in this house. . . and in the garden."
He sat up. "Sometimes I think I may be a bit psychic too. Especially since I met you. What
does it feel like?"
She stared at the fire. "It's like being everywhere at once, other places, even the future.
Like I just know something is going to happen and then it happens."
"Not like angel magic?"
"Well, maybe a little bit, only nowadays we call it parapsychology. Wouldn't you like to be
able to make time go slower instead of faster as you grow older? Have you ever seen a
primary color that isn't supposed to exist?"
He shook his head. She was losing him now.
"That's kind of what it feels like. It's not something rational, but it's an ability that's latent
in everyone. Like you said--you too, maybe. I think the sect was designed to put its
members in touch with their abilities, to bring them to the surface. . . . When that magic
ability is at its most advanced, there's power over the future and peoples' lives."
"What kind of power?"
"Total control, for good or evil."
"Now you're putting me on."
She didn't laugh or smile. She didn't say anything for a while. Then, finally, "Why don't you
catch up on your sleep? I have an early faculty meeting."
In front of the library fire with Falstaff that afternoon, he tried without success to find a
link between Mary Herbert Countess of Pembroke and an occult circle that might lead him
to the Dark Lady's identity. When he left Hungerford House he'd lose his best chance to
work out her identity. He read through the Dark Lady sonnets again, but if a clue to her
name was there, he wasn't able to find it.
When Amelia came home in the evening, direct from her appointment with Katie Barber,
he asked her what had come up in her hour. She downed two drinks and retreated into
stony silence--which got his dander up, as usual, and as usual he let it go. Pressing
Amelia when she was in one of her moods was about as rewarding as trying to have a
meaningful conversation with Cissy.
In two days they'd be heading for Manhattan.
He yawned, mesmerized by the windshield wipers. The moon disappeared from one
moment to the next behind clouds that brought flurries of a wettish snow. Amelia
punched the radio switch on the dash and squeezed his knee.
"You look bushed," she said. "Why don't you sleep?"
Through his half-doze he noticed they'd come to a stoplight: Storrow Drive.
Her hand was on his knee again. He woke up, startled. Snow still fell. The wipers beat
faster. He took in the slick pavement.
"Where are we?"
"The Mass Turnpike. We should make Highway Eighty-six by¼" She checked the clock.
"Quarter past three."
He floated in and out of a light sleep, half-listening to public-radio classical selections
during his waking moments. The snow had stopped. The Mass Turnpike was almost empty
The radio was down low. . . .
He was roused by a newscaster's voice, much louder than the classical deejay's. A dry
recap of the day's headlines had him nodding off again, then: "England's Shakespeare saga
continues with a new twist. US Immigration have confirmed that Dr. Daniel Bosworth, the
genetic scientist with the clue to Shakespeare's genes, entered the United States through
Logan Airport three weeks ago. More on that story as soon as we have details. I'm Burt
Auerbach, WEEI 590 News."
Amelia turned the radio off. "Marcus's controlled information leak. That's the start, and
this is where things begin to heat up."
How had she known to have the right channel on and turn it up at the right time unless
she'd been talking to Marcus?
"Good morning, Miss Hungerford."
In the lobby the Olympic Tower's concierge inclined his head in Daniel's direction and
handed an unmarked key to Amelia. As they emerged from the elevator forty-eight floors
later, the operator helped them with their bags and wished them a pleasant stay in New
The unnumbered door had a tiny spyhole. Twice the key turned full circle. He found
himself in a sitting room with floor-to-ceiling glass on two sides looking up Fifth Avenue
toward the oasis of Central Park. Most of the wall on the right was filled with a light
impasto Ascension by Mantegna, hung in a gilt frame in deliberate contrast to the
contemporary style of the room.
"Does Lawrence stay here much?" His voice sounded ragged even to him, and his nerves
jangled from lack of sleep. It was barely dawn.
"He'd rather be out at Oyster Bay. If he's stuck late he crashes here. How about a drink?"
He stood with his nose pressed against the glass that formed the north wall, staring at the
specks that were early people and cars on Fifth Avenue. He stifled a yawn.
She was at his side with a glass in her hand. "Suppose we go to bed? You want to be alert
for the meeting. " She slipped her free hand into his.
He moved behind her and put his arms around her waist, resting his chin on her shoulder.
They looked through the glass at the morning skyline until she turned in his arms, careful
not to spill her drink, and looped her arms around his neck.
"You're my very own mad scientist and I love you madly."
He set her glass down on a shelf and within a minute had taken off her clothes. Without
removing his own he made love to her slowly against the warm glass with New York
spread out below.
Amelia wore a simple, elegant black silk suit. Daniel was dressed down in absent-
minded-scientist's crumpled jacket and trousers under an old gabardine Burberry that had
outlived fashion more than twice around. He felt scruffy beside her as they walked through
the front entrance to where Lawrence's Bentley was waiting
"Good morning, Jasper," she said.
The chauffeur stood holding the door open, umbrella poised. They settled into the back
seat for the trip up Madison Avenue to 61st Street, where they swung left toward Fifth
Avenue. When they halted outside the Pierre Hotel, the chauffeur followed them at a
Inside the Cafe Pierre, a maitre d' in wing collar and black tie greeted them as if they were
reigning monarchs. He took Daniel's coat, passed it to a flunky, and minced ahead of them
across the black marble floor with its inlaid bronze dore. Daniel glanced around at the
trompe-l'oeil murals and caught his reflection in an etched mirror. They were ushered to
the table in the far corner.
Lawrence rose to kiss Amelia. Marcus stood and extended his hand-- fingers flat, thumb
up, like a child pointing a pretend revolver. Daniel shook it and sat down on the gray
banquette, his back to the wall beneath a bouquet of electric candles.
Lawrence's rap on the table with his knuckles produced the wine waiter in five seconds.
"Herve, another bottle, please."
"Glad you could make the orientation meeting," Marcus said. In a two-button blazer and
knit turtleneck, he looked younger and even better-looking than Daniel remembered. "I
see you're not wearing sunglasses."
"Not much sun in here," Daniel said.
"I guess by tonight everybody will know you're with the Rostrum."
The neighboring tables were still largely empty. It wasn't yet noon.
Marcus produced a zipper folder and took out a thick volume. "The whole game plan's
here, right down to your lab layout and the list of equipment. I'll run it by you on the plane
tonight, and we can hash out any problems. By then the AIDS Campaign will have been
relaunched with the Shakespeare Search."
"After what Marcus has planned, every man and his dog's going to want to talk with you,"
The wine waiter returned with a bottle he opened and placed in the bucket beside
Lawrence's chair. Daniel turned his attention to the menu. As soon as they had ordered,
Marcus returned to the business at hand.
"From here on media coverage is all-important."
"You don't expect me to appear on TV, do you?"
"I'll be doing most of that. Though the media have already gotten wind of the Search. We
can't keep the lid on much longer. So far no one knows you're involved, and the less
scuttlebutt the better. All the more reason why we have to move fast."
"What time's the press conference?"
"Four o'clock. It should be over soon after five, then you and I will be off to the Coast
before it breaks on the tube."
Daniel considered this last statement as he looked from Marcus to his feuillete of scallops
and mussels and found his appetite. Below table level Amelia stretched out a hand and
squeezed his knee.
Lawrence turned to him. "What do you want to see happen if you actually find your green
"Is that your Shakespeare guy?" Marcus said.
"Yes," he said. "Cunliffe-Jones mounted a green tell-tale lamp on top of the computyper
we're using to test for Shakespeare's version of the weeping gene. When we get a match,
the green lamp lights up."
"I'd like to use that for publicity," Marcus said. "'Green lamplighter'--just the right touch."
"To answer your question," Daniel said, turning to Lawrence, "I think if we do find
someone it's up to him what happens. He may not want to be in the limelight."