Will she become a lady, Aemilia asks her astrologer Forman – because being a lady is the ultimate freedom for a women around 1600.
Aemilia is desperate after Lord Carey's death, who was the father of her son Henry and lover for 10 years. She begs Carey's heir George to hold up the promised support. But Instead, she gets evicted, moves to the edge of town and plans to start a school for girls. Years earlier, at Carey's – then the Lord Chamberlain's house, she met Shakespeare who admires her for her Mediterranean beauty, her musicality (as her family have been Italian court musicians) and her conversation, now recommends Forman to her.
Instead of reading her horoscope, Forman tries to get under her skirts and fumes when she rebuffs him…
Finally – like a savior, Alphonso Lanyer, her husband of convenience returns from a long military mission under the Earl of Essex. They fall in love and before her school opens, Aemilia knows she is pregnant. But Alphonso, lured by the promise of knighthood, leaves again for one last mission. She receives a note with a dark prediction from Forman. Then labor starts. Aemilia gives birth to her daughter Odyllia, who dies only 11 months later, in midst of another catastrophe: Alphonso's last mission got him involved in the Earl of Essex's rebellion against Elizabeth I. Aemilia exploits an old contact and gets an audience with Her majesty. The queen seems unrelenting about Aemilia's plea for Alphonso's life. But then, he and all, except Essex, get pardoned.
At a big celebration, Aemilia sees Shakespeare again, who in front of a crowd introduces her to a publisher. Forman, also present, starts plotting his intrigue: From one day to the next, Aemilia's school is empty, towns people's doors close on her, and next morning she is arrested, alongside prostitutes and child murderesses, dragged to court and thrown into a dungeon – fearing also being executed like the woman in her childhood memory who was dunked into the Thames to drown…
Alphonso bails her out. But Forman's smears also got to him, and he leaves her. Alone, and to save her soul, she writes day and night and completes her book. Alphonso returns and supports her writing. Two questions bother Alphonso… Forman? She can't speak the unspeakable, only sees… (that he raped her)
And Shakespeare? She loved two men, the first gave her Henry, Lord Carey. The second gave her Odyllia. Even though she died, Alphonso asks. “She'll bind us forever.”
Two months later, reading her book on a boat on the river, Forman dies of a heart attack.
THE DARK LADY POET
Aemilia Lanyer - A Woman's Journey to Freedom