Exceptional in life but always controversial. Penelope Rich was the dark lady of Shakespeares sonnets and hated by The Rival Poet Richard Barnfield. She was the muse of the poets Sir Phillip Sidney and Henry Constable.In the latter part of her life she lost favor with King James and was pubically disgraced.She was burried in an unmarked tomb. Penelope's problem was that she was trapped in a loveless marriage and also that her lover Charles Blount was not making a formal commitment to her. In 1594 Penelope and Charle's relationship was at crisis point and Penelope had actually called the relationship off . In December 1593 Blount was transferred to Portsmouth and was off the scene until December 1594. Blount did not want to marry Penelope because he knew that such a course of action could easily ruin him. Penelopes gap year was 1594 - this was the year she had a relationship with both William Shakespeare and Henry Wriothesley , it is unlikely that she was serious with either of them and more likely than not by flirting with Shakespeare and Wriothesley she was looking to gain leverage and force Blount to marry her.
The author of Willobie His Avisa is appalled that HW is in a relationship with Avisa and Richard Barnfield in his Affectionate Shepherd warns Ganymede that Guendolen ( Penelope Rich) is not serious with him and is actually in love with another man. Shakespeare also thinks the Dark Lady ( Penelope Rich) is simply playing a game with the Fair Youth.
It is most interesting that the suitor DH ( The suitor I identify as being Charles Blount) seems to have a significant problem in committing himself to Avisa. Avisa certainly appears to like this particular suitor but on parting with him she she does not refuse his ring or his suit but challenges him to live up to his words.
Shakespeare tells us that The Dark Lady was acting solely to satisfy her libido , I disagree and posit that the Dark Lady's actions were actually about Charles Blount. - Penelope loved Blount and did see him as the man who could rescue her but he needed some motivation. Penelopes relationships with WS and HW need to be seen as her method of exerting her own power in her relationship with Charles Blount.