Reading Shakespeare's Henry IV Part 1 recently I found
what appears to me to be Shakespeare's signature. That signature
and the surrounding passages formed the seed of a theory. What
that theory involves is a message hidden in the text of two of
his plays pointing to something he had buried with him in his
grave. Something that he intended for his readers to eventually
To begin; I came across a very powerful verse at the point in which Worcester is attempting to draw Hotspur into rebellion against the King.
And now I will unclasp a secret book,
And to your quick-conceiving discontents
I'll read you matter deep and dangerous,
As full of peril and adventurous spirit
As to o'erwalk a current roaring loud
On the unsteadfast footing of a spear.
ACT 1, SC. 3, 193-198
These words of Worcester captured my attention and the last line "the unsteadfast footing of a spear"; a shaky spear? Could this be his signature? For this idea I had been prepared by recently reading Jennifer Lee Carrell's very enjoyable novel Interred With Their Bones. On page 352 one of her characters mentions something close to the idea that idea that as King James I, commissioned a new translation of the Bible he may have recruited some of England's great poets to help in changing the translated ancient poetry into English poetry. The possible evidence being that Shakespeare may have left his signature in the 46th Psalm. If you are looking at that Psalm and count 46 words down from the beginning you find "shake", now from the end count up 46 words ignoring the word "Selah" 'which is a Hebrew word with an unclear, possibly musical purpose', you find "spear". As a matter of fact In the year 1610 the King James Bible was in final editing and Shakespeare turned 46 years old. So now I wondered if there could be any other hidden signatures in his works. To aid in my search I found a great resource at opensourceshakespeare.org and used it's concordance to search for various combinations of words or ideas that could be a signature. The only other one I could find was in The Tempest; in this also very exciting verse, Ariel describes to Prospero how God-like the exercise of Prospero's power was in creating the tempest.
I boarded the King's ship : now on to the beak,
Now in the waist, the deck, in every cabin,
I flamed amazement : sometime I'ld divide
And burn in many places : on the top mast,
The yards, the bore sprit would I flame distinctly,
Than meet and join. Jove's lightnings, the precursors
O'th' dreadful thunderclaps, more momentary
And sight-outrunning were not. The fire and cracks
Of sumptuous roaring the most mighty Neptune
Seem to besiege and make his bold waves tremble
Yea, his dreadful trident shake.
ACT 1, SC. 2, 196-206
A shaking trident? Now a trident is the God of the deeps three pronged spear, so we have two signatures; they must be marking something significant. These two verses, the only verses in Shakespeare's plays that contain his signature have several other similarities: both are narratives, both involve deep and dangerous water, and both have part of his last name as the last word in the verse. Another idea that catches my attention in Worcester's verse is "secret book". I also studied the verses around it more carefully. In the third verse down, Hotspur says something that sounds very familiar to me after having read The Tempest. Let us compare it with two similar verses from that play.
Henry IV Part 1
...dive into the bottom of the deep,
Where fathom line could never touch the ground,
And, pluck up drowned honor by the locks,...
ACT I, SC. 3, 208-210
Therefore my son I'th' ooze is bedded; and
I'll seek him deeper than e'er plummet sounded
And with him there lie mudded.
ACT III, SC. 3 100-103
...But this rough magic
I here abjure;...
...I'll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I'll drown my book.
ACT V, SC. 1, 50-51, 54-57
A fathom is a nautical measurement for depth. You would use a fathom line, a rope with distinct markings at every fathom of length or every six feet and with a heavy weight on the end of it to preform soundings to determine the depth of water. These two very similar verses in The Tempest are there to teach us something: from Alonso we can understand that deep water represents the grave; Prospero tells us, that is where he will put his book. As I kept reading Henry IV Part 1, I came across an important clue spoken by Glendower to Hotspur.
I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
ACT III, SC. 1, 55
Glendower like Prospero is a conjurer and in at least these two plays the deep is a metaphor for the grave. Hotspur rushed to his grave in his thirst for more glory; seriously out numbered, hoping to win the battle against the odds, "drowned honor", he refused to wait for the delayed armies of his father and Glendower. This song by Ariel to Ferdinand in The Tempest also uses the metaphor.
Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
into something rich and strange.
Sea nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! Now I here them Ding-dong bell.
ACT I, SC. 2, 397-405
This verse carries it even further in that we ring knells with bells in churches for and near the dead. With this same metaphor Prospero using his "so potent art" conjured the King and his train; they had jumped into the deep or the grave metaphorically and he conjured them to him. As Prospero has Ariel release the King and the main part of his train from a purgatory he had them endure to deposit them in a circle he has prepared, he boasts of his power.
...graves at my command
Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let 'em forth
By my so potent art.
ACT V, SC. 1, 48-50
Through my study I have noticed that Shakespeare uses the word conjure a number of times through many of his plays. He seems to use 'conjure' to represent a desire for or use of power. Different characters want to conjure people to them or in trying to get others to love them; to listen to them or even to go away, as well as the traditional meaning of calling spirits to them.
I think The Tempest should be looked upon as Shakespeare's analogous autobiography; himself as Prospero. Planning his retirement, it was probably the last play he wrote by himself. I feel that he may have looked upon himself as a type of conjurer in his ability as a playwright to bring to life characters: historical, fictional, mythical, fantastical. Shakespeare also through his "so potent art" was able to conjure audiences to his circular theater the Globe, and continues to do so 400 years later. Circles were supposedly used by conjurers to perform their magic as in Christopher Marlowe's play Dr. Faustus SC 3. It is an interesting coincidence that the year of Shakespeare's retirement 1613, after completing his final play Henry VIII and during the first performance of that play the Globe Theater burned down. Highly flammable: built of wood and thatch with only two narrow exits for the audience to escape; miraculously no one was injured and all the scripts and valuable costumes were saved. Fortunately, Shakespeare's acting company The King's Men had a spare theater they used for their evening and winter venue: Blackfriars. Prospero gave us a hauntingly beautiful, existential verse in The Tempest.
...These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea all that it inherit, shall dissolve,
And like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
ACT IV, SC. 1, 148-158
As we saw in the next act, ACT V, SC. 1, 50-51 Prospero tells us " this rough magic I here abjure" and he goes onto say he will destroy the instrument of his magic and bury his book. Is it possible that the destruction of the Globe Theater was choreographed in such a way as to harm little more than a rich playwrights wallet, just to leave another clue? With the aid of outside investment it was rebuilt within a year with a much more safe tile roof and octagonal rather than round in shape. Oddly in Ariel's song, she sings of the dead man in the grave "Nothing of him that doth fade", but in Prospero's verse everything becomes faded; it seems the grave has some preservative quality, so Prospero "drowns" or buries his book. This book of Prospero's wasn't just a book; it was a work book, a book of power when used.
...I'll to my book ; for yet ere
Supper time must I perform
Much business appertaining.
ACT II, SC. 1, 94-96
Caliban knew that Prospero derived his power to conjure from his books.
...there thou mayst brain him,
Having first seized his books,
First to possess his books ; for without them
He's but a sot, as I am, nor hath not
One spirit to command. They all do hate him
As rootedly as I. Burn but his books.
ACT III, SC. 2, 85-86, 88-92
If, as I contend this "book" actually represents a manuscript
prepared by Shakespeare, why would it lay hidden, not to be
released until well after his death? As early as 1594 pirated
versions of his plays had been printed without even assigning
authorship. From Paul Collins wonderful work The Book of
William I found that by 1598 they had begun to apply his
name to pirated materials: the first being Loves Labors
Lost, and were even so bold, because of his popularity, to
apply it to the work of lesser poets. It is believed that
Henry IV Part 1 was written in 1597 and published in
quarto in 1598. These most early Henry IV part 1
quartos are considered superior to the folio versions by the
Folger Library in their great The New Folger Library
edition of his plays. I think that by the writing of Henry IV
Part 1 Shakespeare had come up with a plan to preserve his
creations uncorrupted. In order to get his message out he
probably took the original manuscript for that play to the
printer himself. He could sacrifice one play but the rest his
acting company would want to keep as trade secrets. He may even
have asked his old partners John Hemings and Henry Condell to
publish what they had when they were ready to retire and give
pride of place to The Tempest. Published in that order
in the folio the word "shake" in the signature in The
Tempest would come before the word "spear" in the signature
in Henry IV Part 1, creating a third signature.
It could be dangerous to be a playwright during that time period. Christopher Marlowe was murdered, evidently in a brawl, while awaiting questioning by the Queens Privy Council concerning a manuscript. Ben Jonson was arrested at one point because of a play he co-wrote with Thomas Nash. In Alison Weir's fine work The Life of Elizabeth I she points out that "since a performance of Shakespeare's Richard II in 1597, some of her subjects saw" her as a Richard II and the Earl of Essex as a potential usurping Bolingbrooke or Henry IV. Three quarto editions of that play were published while the Queen was alive with the Richard II deposition scene censored out by the government. Shakespeare had to be extremely careful in everything he wrote to avoid offending government or church or any potential government and church. He may have written some scripts that couldn't be performed as originally intended. Macbeth may be a possible example. The shortest of the tragedies, it may have had verses removed and it's probable that at least the part with Hecate was added. James I, believed in and had very strong opinions on witches and may have ordered those parts changed to suit his tastes.
Now lets use this theory to explain Prospero's words at the end of The Tempest.
...And thence retire me...
Every third thought shall be my grave.
To here the story of thy life, which must
take the ear strangely.
I'll deliver all;...
ACT V, SC. 1, 308-314
Far from being morbid he is reiterating his theme and showing the
planning necessary to achieve his goal. Perhaps his book that he
had placed in his grave will also contain an autobiography and
...I must here be confined by you,
...Let me not,
Since I have my dukedom got
And pardoned the deceiver, dwell
In this bare island by your spell;
He has turned us; his audience, into the conjurer in two senses. First; because we enjoy his plays, there is demand for them and they continue to be produced. The second is that his book is confined in his grave until we conjure it forth. The deceiver he pardoned refers to the printers who had pirated his plays and specifically William Jaggard who; Paul Collins informs us in his book, used Shakespeare's name to sell lesser poets work. Shakespeare probably asked Hemings and Condell to take the plays to Jaggard when they were ready to publish. His dukedom is explained earlier in The Tempest.
...Me (poor man) my library
Was dukedom large enough.
ACT I, SC. 2, 109-110
His dukedom is his library, his collected works and it is with him.
...But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands.
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant;
And my ending is despair
Unless I be relived by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardoned be,
Let your indulgence set me free.
In the epilogue he is speaking to us from his future tense: from
the grave. He wishes he could conjure us: use his art to give us
direction as Prospero to Ariel to free his book; it will require
manual labor. He uses religious terms to reinforce that it is in
a church and the power of prayer is a metaphor for conjuring. The
idea of piercing and assaulting mercy sounds violent and odd
without this theory. The merciful thing to do would be to let him
rest in peace but we must "pierce" his grave to free his book.
When his book is free it will free his known works from faults.
In the last line he is speaking to us in a way that would be
clear to those familiar with the Catholic Church during the early
modern period, in which friends and family of the deceased could
purchase indulgences from the church to provide an early release
for loved ones in purgatory. There are two very odd facts about
his grave that show planning on his part, probably involving
directions to be carried out by his family upon his death.
According to tradition he had himself buried under 17 feet of
dirt. His executor probably paid the sexton to spread that rumor
to go along with the verse in The Tempest ACT V, SC. 1,
54-55 "I'll break my staff, and bury it certain fathoms in the
earth". A fathom is six feet deep, so that is certain fathoms.
His grave is in Stratford-Upon-Avon's Holy Trinity Church on the
banks of the Avon river. If he had been buried 17 feet beep his
grave would have been in deep water so to speak. It is also very
strange that his grave marker has no name on it. I am sure that
left to their own devices his family would have had his name and
dates engraved rather than an unfamiliar poem.
GOOD FREND FOR IESVS SAKE FOREBARE,
TO DIGG THE DVST ENCLOASED HEARE.
BLESE BE Y MAN Y SPARES THES STONES,
AND CVRST BE HE Y MOVES MY BONES.
The inscription on Shakespeare's grave
In the final two lines of the epilogue he pardons us the 'crime'
of digging in his grave, releasing us from the curse for freeing
I contend that from the grave William Shakespeare is using his book, even in the corrupted state that we now posses to conjure us to release his uncorrupted book from that same grave. He signed his permission and endorsed this as his will with another.
...The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones.
ACT III, SC. 2, 84-85
As I was researching the line from The Tempest, ACT V, SC. 1, 56-57 "deeper than did ever plummet sound"; which helped me to connect The Tempest with Henry IV Part 1, I found one other play that shared that idea. This third play, As You Like It worried me because it did not seem to fit the pattern I had found.
didst know how many fathom deep I am in love! But
it cannot be sounded. My affection hath an unknown
ACT IV, SC. 1, 197-200
I knew he loved and was concerned for his collected works; in a
way they are his intellectual children, but it was several months
after finishing this essay before I made the connection.
As I was enjoying, for the second time in two weeks, June 2013; a wonderful production of As You Like It, at the Vortex Theater in Albuquerque N.M., I noticed something remarkable: in ACT V, SC. 1, William Shakespeare wrote himself into the play. He is William, one of the more dull characters in the cannon of Shakespeare's plays, being interviewed by Touchstone, one of his most fun characters. He is written in, in such a way that probably only family and of course we with our biographical knowledge would be able to recognize him.
What first caught my attention was the point in Touchstone's interview in which William is asked 'Wast born i' the forest here?'. The forest is Shakespeare's fictional Forest of Arden, habitation of lions and olive trees; it shares it's name with a real forest near Stratford-upon-Avon at that time as well as his mother's maiden name. This is the only play that uses the name Arden, and William is the only character that we know was born there, although Rosalind as Ganymede says she was.
After the play I reread ACT V, SC. 1, because I couldn't see any other obvious connection between the brilliant playwright
and the character who sounds so ironic when asked if he is wise; answers 'Ay, sir, I have a pretty wit.'. This line is no longer ironic, but still funny when we realize this is the playwright describing himself.
Why does Shakespeare have himself appear as a rustic; or as a rude city slicker or courtier like Touchstone would term 'a clown'? Often in his plays the court clown or fool is the one character that can safely point out flaws in judgment, to those in authority. Feste in Twelfth Night is an example, as is fool in King Lear. Many of his plays are studies in power and it's use and abuse. I think Shakespeare may have seen himself in this role, as a playwright; holding a mirror up to authority.
William evidently takes off his hat as he greets Audrey and Touchstone, and is asked by Touchstone several times to cover his head. I can imagine Shakespeare playing this part; making fun of himself or rather his balding head, especially if his family was in the audience.
He gives for his age 25, and when asked if he is rich he answers 'so so'. He turned 25 years old in 1589; the years 1589-1590 he was probably writing his first plays. By the writing of As You Like It, he had already purchased New Place, the second largest house in Stratford-upon-Avon, and was at the very least 'so so'.
To the question 'Art thou learned?' he answers 'No, sir'. In having the real clown make fun of his lack of formal higher education he is in turn making fun of those snobs who even back than derided him for that reason. His contemporary fellow playwright Robert Green is a good example; referring to him as 'an upstart crow'. It is truly ironic that the clown is mocking William Shakespeare with a vocabulary lesson.
As intended this Touchstone is the perfect abrasive test to show that this William is Shakespeare.