Meet the woman who might be Shakespeare

The true bard? Bassano’s poetry had strong female ideas for the time.

Was Shakespeare a woman? For centuries, scholars have puzzled over Shakespeare’s true identity. Now, there is a new contender: Emilia Bassano, England’s first-published, female poet.

What’s happening

For centuries, people have wondered if Shakespeare really wrote all the plays published in his name. Was it the Earl of Oxford? Or Sir Francis Bacon?

However, a new theory suggests that everyone has been looking in the wrong place. Perhaps, it was actually an Italian woman named Emilia Bassano.

Find out more

In 2018, the Globe theatre put on a play called Emilia about Bassano’s life. In it, Shakespeare copies some of his most famous lines from her words.

Emilia Bassano was born in London to a family from Italy (the setting of many Shakespeare plays). She was the first English woman to publish a book of poetry.

Many people think she is the “dark lady” mentioned in Shakespeare’s sonnets.

She had an unhappy marriage, which may have inspired some of the rebellious wives in the plays. The names Emilia, Bassianus and Bassanio all crop up too.

In Elizabethan England, women were not allowed to write plays. Did Bassano use Shakespeare’s name as a disguise?

Some say…

Yes. “Shakespeare has no heroes — only heroines,” wrote art critic John Ruskin. With the restrictions women faced, it makes perfect sense that a talented woman like Bassano would use a man’s name as a cover for her work.

Others think…

No serious experts think that anyone but Shakespeare wrote the plays. The similarities can be explained easily. You do not have to be a woman to write great female characters — that is Shakespeare’s genius. Let’s just enjoy the plays!

You Decide

  1. Do you think Shakespeare wrote all of his plays?


  1. Do you think girls and boys are treated more equally today than in Shakespeare’s time? Write at least two paragraphs explaining the ways in which girls and boys are treated equally today — and if there are instances when they are treated differently and unfairly.

Some People Say...

“Let husband know their wives have sense like them.”

Emilia in Othello

What do you think?

Word Watch

Sir Francis Bacon
A nobleman who served as Lord Chancellor of England under James I.
A poem of 14 lines, usually about love.
Does not do as they are told.
During the reign of Elizabeth I between 1533 and 1603.


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