William Shakespeare Conjurer, by Mark R Birch

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Booksie Classic
What if Shakespeare signed his work (Easter eggs)? An interpretation of The Tempest and more.

Submitted: April 21, 2013

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Submitted: April 21, 2013



  Reading Shakespeare's Henry IV Part 1 in February 2013, 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 recover.
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 often printed in italics) 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

The Tempest
  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 representing six feet. You would use a fathom line, a rope with markings at every foot and a distinctive mark for every consecutive fathom; 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 by this date, 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.

The Tempest
  ...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.
  I long 
  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 explanation.

  Now my charms are all o'erthrown,
  And what strength I have's my own'
  Which is most faint. Now 'tis true
  I must here be confined by you,
  Or sent to Naples, Let me not,
  Since I have my dukedom got
  And pardoned the deceiver, dwell
  In this bare island by your spell;...

This isn't really the plays epilogue, this is the epilogue to Shakespeare's life. He is speaking to us as a ghost. His strength is "most faint", his strength being these words that have been misunderstood for 400 years. The line "or sent to Naples, let me not," is probably in referance to the fact that in the16th century the city of Naples had run out of room to bury it's dead. The city begane disinterring bodies from older graves, and placing the bones in catacombs; which were equivalent to charnel houses. I copied that line as it appears in the First Folio, with a comma after Naples , and a capital L to give emphasis to "Let me not". This combined with the curse on his grave would suggest that he had a fear that his bones would be removed and placed in a charnel house. The line "dwell In this bare island by your spell;" should remind us that in ACT 1, SC. 2, 313-315 Prospero commands "Caliban! Thou earth, thou! Speak!" and Caliban answers from[within]. And than in ACT 1, SC. 2, 343-344 Caliban says "and here you sty me in this hard rock". When Caliban was not performing some service, Prospero would use his Magic to keep Caliban in what sounds like a grave, and away from his daughter.
He has turned us; his audience, into the conjurer in two ways. 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.



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 his book.
  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.

Julius Caesar
  ...The evil that men do lives after them;
  The good is oft interred with their bones.
ACT III, SC. 2, 84-85

Post Script

  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.

  ...that thou
  Didst know how many fathom deep I am in love! But
  It cannot be sounded. My affection hath an unknown
  Bottom, like the Bay of Portugal.
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, insuch 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. In the year 1599, when this play was written, the pride he had in his connection to the Arden's was evident. From Stephen Greenblatt's enlightening book Will In The World, we learn something very interesting. This same year after applying to the College of Heralds, he was granted the right to add or 'impale' the Arden coat of arms on to the recently established Shakespeare arms.
  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. A good example of this would be Paulina in The Winters Tale; a few verses earlier King Leontes had called her a witch.

  I'll ha' thee burnt.
  I care not:
  It is the heretic that makes the fire,
  Not she that burns in it.
ACT II, SC. 3, 143-146

He showed great courage to put these lines in a play. King James I, had been torturing and executing people accused of witchcraft at least while in Scotland.
  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'.
  And finally 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.


  On March 26, 2016 British TV Channel 4 broadcast the documentary "Secret History: Shakespeare's tomb," In which they shared the results of a, ground penetrating radar, GPR, scan that was performed above the graves of William Shakespeare, his wife Anne and other family members. The scan could not show their remains, (nor would it be able to show paper or leather) only the voids left after decomposition. It showed that he and his wife at least were not buried in coffins, but probably only simple shrouds; and only about a yard deep. Under the oddly-shaped ledger stone (paving stone covering a grave in the floor of a church) at the head end of his grave they have determined there is a stone or brick box shaped structure. This structure extends down roughly one foot, and the ledger stone above it covers the edges of it much like a lid. The structure also extends north from his grave past a sort of dirt wall (that would have remained undisturbed during the burials of he and his wife, and even has it's own ledger stone on top) to the grave of his wife. Their daughter Susanna Hall and her husband would have been responsible for the funeral and burial preparations of both parents. They would have known the dimensions of this box and of the dirt wall caused by the length of this box which separates his grave and his wife's future grave. In other words the dirt wall between the graves shows us that the box like structure existed before his wife was buried. The fact that the epitaph on his grave is centered evenly between north and south on it's ledger stone, and that the epitaph on her much narrower ledger stone is likewise centered; shows that this was the original intention. Also all four of these ledger stones above and between their graves have received roughly the same amount of wear. From Stephen Greenblatt's previously mentioned book we learn that the end of the epitaph on her grave is translated as "Rather would I pray the good angel to roll away the stone from the mouth of the tomb, that thy spirit, even as the body of Christ, should go forth." Theologically this is sort of odd, yet it does echo Prospero's plea for release in his epilogue. Because of the way the oddly-shaped ledger stone extends beyond covering the box-shaped structure to cover a portion of the head end of her grave it is just another hint.
A story was published in 1879 claiming that in 1794 Horace Walpole offered a reward for Shakespeare's. skull. His supposed reason was so that he could study it using the new 'science' of Phrenology. The problems with this story are several. First: The fact that no one as intelligent as the historian Horace Walpole would offer money for a skull. He would know that any one seeking the reward could could have brought him a skull from any charnel house or grave. Second: Phrenology was invented by a German doctor in 1796, two years after the story takes place. Third: This 'science' didn't become popular until about 1810. Finally, Lord Walpole died on March 2, 1797, and was probably unaware this 'science' existed.
  Because of this story, an explanation has been given for the box at the head of William's grave. They suggest that if his skull was removed, than the disturbance would cause the ledger stone to settle. Therefore in order to support the ledger stone this box structure was created leaving a void inside the structure. There is a problem with this explanation. If you have a paving stone (ledger stone) that settles lower than the surrounding stones, what you do is pry it up, put more dirt under it, and put it back. Let me share what would have to happen in order to create this structure. First: You would have to remove all of the ledger and paving stones immediately around it. Second: Dig down roughly a foot deep into three graves. Third: Compact the disturbed dirt, at least underneath the structure. Fourth: Set or build the structure. Fifth: Back fill and compact the disturbed dirt around the structure so it could again support the other ledger and paving stones surrounding it. After all that effort why didn't they back fill and compact the dirt inside the structure as they did under the surrounding ledger and paving stones?
  In 1605, William Shakespeare paid the enormous sum of 440 pounds that allowed him, along with the collection of tithes for the maintenance of the church; the  privilege of being buried in the chancel of the church. I think this box-like structure was installed above the head end of his grave as William intended for the storage of his manuscripts which he intended for us to eventually recover. they can be recovered by carefully removing, "saving" the one ledger stone without disturbing his bones.

  In 2018 when I saw the movie Ready Player One, I realized there is another term for what I have refered to as signatures. The term Easter eggs, covers all of the hidden meaning I have found in these plays. Several other brilliant writers have hidden Easter eggs in thier works. Lewis Carroll is one example.












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