Thursday, April 22, 2010

Memo to Joseph Sobran and Tom Bethell

I've wish-listed this new book on Shakespeare:
Despite the failure of early cipher-hunters such as Owen, Elizabeth Wells Gallup and Ignatius Donnelly to find anything meaningful, the idea that Shakespearean texts contain coded messages of authorship remains central. The Sonnets, with their apparently confiding, first-person voice, have proved fertile ground. Oxfordians find anagrams of “Vere” everywhere, especially in the line from Sonnet 76, “Every word doth almost tell my name”. In the famously puzzling dedication to the first edition of 1609 – ostensibly written by the publisher, Thomas Thorpe – the author is styled “our ever-living poet”. Oxfordians point out that the first three words are (almost) an anagram of one of Oxford’s mottoes, Vero nil verius (“Nothing truer than truth”). Yet the same dedicatory text, when examined by Brenda James in Henry Neville and the Shakespeare Code (2008), reveals an entirely different secret, achieved by putting the 144 letters of the dedication into a 12x12 matrix, and juggling them around according to certain cryptographic rules, whereupon there emerges first the encouraging message, “The wise Thorp hid thy poet”, and then the all-important name of the poet, “Nevill”. They cannot both be there, and this is an instance of a general problem with the anti-Stratfordian case nowadays; for Sir Henry Neville is only the latest entry in a crowded field of contenders for the authorship, which includes Christopher Marlowe, Fulke Greville, Roger Manners, 6th Earl of Rutland, and the conveniently initialled William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby. Things were easier in the old duopoly of Bacon and Oxford: you might not be able to hear the signals, but at least you knew who was supposed to be sending them. 

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