The Dark Lady Players

The Dark Lady Players

The Dark Lady Players are a New York based Shakespeare company which performs the religious allegories in the Shakespearean plays. Elizabethan literature routinely used allegories to communicate hidden meanings. Thus contemporary literary critics advised that instead of feasting on the honeyed sweetness of the verse, those of stronger stomachs should look beneath the surface to "digest the allegory”. This was why Governments had State Decipherers sitting in audiences attempting to detect any hidden meanings in the plays being staged.


Scholars began detecting the religious allegories in the plays during the 1930s. Quotations from the Bible are used in 3,000 places as shown by Professor Naseeb Shaheen, and use 14 different translations. In a few places the playwright has made their own translation from the Book of Genesis using the original Hebrew. In addition, there are many other church and religious references. For example, in 1999 in his study of "Julius Caesar", Professor Steve Sohmer argues that the playwright "set out to interrogate the truth of the Gospels" (pg 188), and asks the questions "How can a man become a god? Are his gospels reliable? can his priests (and writers) be trusted)?" (pg. 197). Similarly in 1988 Linda Hoff showed that "Hamlet" is entirely a religious allegory. Others have researched particular pieces of the allegory, for instance "King Lear", "Antony and Cleopatra", "Hamlet", "Richard III", "Henry VIII" and others all include detailed Apocalypse allegories, according to the study by Peter Milward.

Allegory in Performance

In 2007 the Dark Lady Players performed the world's first allegorical production of any Shakespearean play, "A Midsummer Night's Dream". The allegory was based on work by Professor Patricia Parker, the New Arden editor, in her article 'Murals and Morals; A Midsummer Night's Dream' (1998). She had detected that Pyramus and Thisbe were an allegory for Jesus and the Church, the Wall is the Partition that comes down on the day of Apocalypse, Peter Quince is Saint Peter, and Puck is the Devil. In addition, the production used work by John Hudson, at the Shakespeare Institute of the University of Birmingham to show the allegorical identity of all the other characters. The result was a consistent religious allegory-but one that was Jewish in nature rather than Christian-because it ends with a Jewish Apocalypse featuring a dew blessing, after the comic re-union in Quince's play-within-the-play ended in the deaths of both protagonists.

Authorship Question

This production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" by the Dark Lady Players led the UK based Shakespearean Authorship Trust--- the world's only organization established to evaluate the authorship question--to support the possibility that the plays were written or co-authored by England's only Jewish poet, the so-called 'Dark Lady' Emilia Lanier.Fact|date=September 2008 In summer 2008 Michael Posner, in a 15 page review of the theory in the Canadian arts journal The Queen's Quarterly, concluded that the case for Amelia Bassano Lanier was " as plausible as Shakespeare’s and more plausible than many others".Fact|date=September 2008

What's Next

The Dark Lady Players are led by Jenny Greeman (Assistant Director/ Dramaturge), and by Dramaturge/Scholar-in-residence John Hudson. Different directors are invited according to the demands of particular plays. In 2008 the Dark Lady Players performed an allegorical "As You Like It", which draws on the allegory first detected by Richard Knowles. A play which features two characters called Jaques or Jakes (after the toilet), as well as a contemporary allegory to Sir John Harington (the inventor of the flush toilet), turns out to contain another comic Jewish allegory. The workshop production was directed by Greeman at part of the Shakespeare Symposium at ManhattanTheaterSource. The subsequent production in summer 2008 at the Midtown International Theater Festival was directed by the English Shakespeare director Stephen Wisker, former Shakespeare Director to the Atlantic/Tisch School at New York University, who is an expert in Shakespearean clowning. A Manhattan Spotlight Special made for Manhattan cable television on this production is available at


Mark L. Caldwell, 'Allegory: The Renaissance Mode', ELH, vol. 44, No. 4. (Winter, 1977), pp. 580-600.

Rhodes Dunlap, 'The Allegorical Interpretation of Renaissance Literature', PMLA vol. 82, no.1 (1967) 39-43.

Linda Kay Hoff, Hamlet's Choice; Hamlet A Reformation Allegory, Lewiston; E.Mellon Press (1988).

John Hudson, A Midsummer Night's Dream; An Experiment in Allegorical Staging, University of Birmingham,The Shakespeare Institute (2008).

Richard Knowles, 'Myth and Type in As You Like It', ELH vol 33,no 1 (1966) 1-22.

Ted Merwin,'The Dark Lady as a Bright Literary Light', The Jewish Week, 23 March, (2007) 56-7.

Peter Milward, Shakespeare's Apocalypse, London; St Austin Press, (1999).

Patricia Parker, 'Murals and Morals; A Midsummer Night's Dream', Aporemata;Kritische Studien zur Philologiegeschichte (1998) 190-218.

Michael Posner 'Rethinking Shakespeare' The Queen's Quarterly, vol. 115, no. 2 (2008) 1-15

Naseeb Shaheen, Biblical References in Shakespeare's Plays, University of Delaware Press (1999). Steve Sohmer, Shakespeare's Mystery Play;The Opening of the Globe Theatre 1599, Manchester University Press (1999).

Bernard Spivack, Shakespeare and the Allegory of Evil, Columbia University Press (1958).

Julia Wallace,'That's Miss Shakespeare To You', Village Voice March 28-April 3, (2007) 42.

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