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The Dark Lady of the Sonnets

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The Dark Lady of the Sonnets

by George Bernard Shaw

Genre: Comedy
Format of Original Source: Play
Recommended Adaptation Length: 90 Minutes

Candidate for Adaptation? Not Likely


Shaw’s imaginary adventure between William Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth. Will goes to the palace to meet the Dark Lady to whom he addressed his sonnets of love, only to find instead the Queen herself taking a walk before retiring. He is so fascinated by her - keeps writing down her bon mots - that he does not notice the approach of the Dark Lady, who is furiously jealous and gives them both a drubbing in the dark. Both poet and prince meet in agreement that man does not live by bread alone.

an excerpt:

ELIZABETH. [with dignity] Master Shakespear: it is well for you that I am a merciful prince. I make allowance for your rustic ignorance. But remember that there are things which be true, and are yet not seemly to be said (I will not say to a queen; for you will have it that I am none) but to a virgin.

SHAKESPEAR. [bluntly] It is no fault of mine that you are a virgin, madam, albeit tis my misfortune.

THE DARK LADY. [terrified again] In mercy, madam, hold no further discourse with him. He hath ever some lewd jest on his tongue. You hear how he useth me! calling me baggage and the like to your Majesty’s face.

ELIZABETH. As for you, mistress, I have yet to demand what your business is at this hour in this place, and how you come to be so concerned with a player that you strike blindly at your sovereign in your jealousy of him.

THE DARK LADY. Madam: as I live and hope for salvation–

SHAKESPEAR. [sardonically] Ha!

THE DARK LADY. [angrily]–ay, I’m as like to be saved as thou that believest naught save some black magic of words and verses–I say, madam, as I am a living woman I came here to break with him for ever. Oh, madam, if you would know what misery is, listen to this man that is more than man and less at the same time. He will tie you down to anatomize your very soul: he will wring tears of blood from your humiliation; and then he will heal the wound with flatteries that no woman can resist.

SHAKESPEAR. Flatteries! [Kneeling] Oh, madam, I put my case at your royal feet. I confess to much. I have a rude tongue: I am unmannerly: I blaspheme against the holiness of anointed royalty; but oh, my royal mistress, AM I a flatterer?

ELIZABETH. I absolve you as to that. You are far too plain a dealer to please me. [He rises gratefully].

THE DARK LADY. Madam: he is flattering you even as he speaks.

ELIZABETH. [a terrible flash in her eye] Ha! Is it so?

SHAKESPEAR. Madam: she is jealous; and, heaven help me! not without reason. Oh, you say you are a merciful prince; but that was cruel of you, that hiding of your royal dignity when you found me here. For how can I ever be content with this black-haired, black-eyed, black-avised devil again now that I have looked upon real beauty and real majesty?


One act play; small cast; written by Shaw — promising elements.  But its plot mechanics are rather creaky, and once we know who the characters are, they’re not engaged in a terrible interesting struggle.  (Plus, you might research whether there already musicals out there based on it?)


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