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University of Pittsburgh Stages 2021-2022 Season: Mainstage: Dramaturgy - Historical Setting

Library resources relating to the productions of the University of Pittsburgh Stages 2021-2022 season

Historical Setting & Context - Who Was Emilia Bassano?

  • Born January 1569 (Capricorn) in Bishopsgate, died 1645 (76 years old)
    • Elizabethan Era (1558-1603) + Stuart Period (1603-1714)
    • Father: Baptista Bassano, Mother: Margaret Johnson
    • Italian and Sephardic Jewish ancestry
  • First female to publish a book of her own poetry in England (Salve Dues Rex Judaeorum, 1611)
  • Rumored to be the “Dark Lady” from Shakespeare’s sonnets (127-154) & the author of some of his plays.
  • Because her father was a royal musical, she was a member of the minor gentry.
  • When Emilia was 7, her father died, and she was court-trained, educated, and raised at court by Susan Bertie, Countess of Kent. Baptista had left £100 pounds (roughly $40,000 today) to be given to Emilia when she turned 21 (or married), but the money never reached her.
    • Education: Latin, astronomy, geometry, politics, literature. She was inspired by great poets like Samuel Daniel and Edmund Spenser
  • Margaret Johnson (her mother) died when Emilia was 18, and Emilia began her affair with Henry Carey (45 years her senior)
    • Carey ‘took her in’ as his mistress and made sure she lived comfortably. It is important to note that Emilia had genuine affection for Carey and turned down many marriage proposals because of her devotion to him (Alfonso Lanier was one of these proposals).
    • At age 23, Emilia became pregnant by Carey with her first child. Not wanting to take responsibility, Carey paid her off, and Emilia married Alphonso Lanier (a court musician & Emilia’s cousin) to avoid punishment at court/church.
  • Emilia gives birth to Henry in 1593, at age 24
  • Emilia’s marriage was an unhappy one. Alphonso wasted her money and put the family deeply in debt.
  • Emilia suffered several miscarriages during her marriage but was finally able to become pregnant with her daughter. Emilia gave birth to Odillya in 1598 (age 29), but unfortunately, Odillya passed away at 10 months old.
  • At age 42, Emilia publishes Salve Dues Rex Judaeorum (1611). The poems were not popular during her life, but they are now considered “ground-breaking in the history of theological poetry and English literature as a whole” (
  • Alphonso died in 1613, and Emilia opened a school to support herself.
  • 1617-1619, Emilia was jailed a few times over property disputes, and the school closed after the news of her arrests spread.
  • In 1635, Emilia sued Alphonso’s brother Clement for money she was owed after her husband’s death. Eventually, she won the case and was awarded the money.

Guide Creator

Content for this page was contributed by Megan Knorr, Emilia, undergraduate dramaturg.

Historical Setting & Context - Manners

“Manners Maketh Man” – a quote that was around long before Hamlet

Manners were less straightforward in the Elizabethan Era than they were in the Victorian Age, but bad behavior could still bring you financial ruin and social ostracization. Instead of a rigid set of behavioral rules, manners could be considered “the sum total of a person’s social actions, taste in fashion, and sense of refinement. Even the skill with which someone danced could be lumped in with the perception of their manners” ( While most expectations of manners were nuanced, there were a few rules that were clearly written out:

Social Expectations:
  • Gentlemen should remove their hats in the presence of a social superior and when greeting a lady. Ladies should never remove their hats if wearing one
    • The hat should be removed and held at one’s side with the right hand, and one’s own left hand should be kissed (as it’s the hand connected to the heart)
    • The hands could switch if a gentlemen were presenting his hand to dance with a lady or presenting a gift
    • Make sure the inside of the hat is hidden because no one wants to see a ring of head sweat!
  • The Reverence: gestures to show respect and deference to members of higher social status. These gestures include:
    • A proper bow for men and a proper courtesy for ladies (the depth of which was important to acknowledge someone else’s status)
    • Kissing one’s own hand in greeting
      • Both ladies and gentlemen engaged in this Reverence, but in the context of a gentlemen greeting a lady, he should be the one to kiss his hand as to honor the lady.
    • The right-hand side is a place of honor, and the left-hand side signified a lower status position.  When seated, your right-hand seat should be given to someone you wish to honor, but a guest should always insist on the left-hand seat to honor the host
    • The Reverences should be more pronounced and intense the higher in status the person you’re greeting is but overdoing it in the presence of peers would be considered pretentious and weird.  Shorthand, instead, should be used with equals; for example, a gentlemen should touch his hat instead of removing it when greeting a peer.
  • It was assumed that public business would only be conducted by men, and women should only engage in social behavior with each other
  • Contexts in when gentlemen and ladies interacted is limited, which is why so much attention was given to dancing
  • When inviting a gentleman to dance, a lady should make direct eye contact to avoid confusion. As the gentleman rises, he should remove his right glove. As this is happening, the lady should make a Reverence to him (most likely a courtesy), and then adjust her skirt to make it sway, strut slightly, and turn slightly sideways to the gentlemen. It was improper for a lady to directly face the gentleman for too long because it would look like they were engaged in improper romantic conversation
  • Ladies were also expected to be quiet and to defer to men
  • A good sense of fashion showed one’s social status and upbringing
  • When meeting a king, men’s capes or mantles should be even across the bottom; similarly, at a fancy dinner party, men must wear tails and the tails must also be an even length
  • Only royals could wear fur
  • Nobility wore brightly colored silk and velvet