By Mark Anderson for Gather.com
Everyone knows who's buried in Grant's tomb, and the color of Washington's white horse has long been agreed upon. But tautology collectors beware: Not all seeming redundancies are made equal.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Take, for instance, the simple statement "Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare." Or, to rephrase this commonplace belief more explicitly, "The Stratford-born actor Will Shakspere [as he preferred to spell his name] wrote the plays and poems often published under the hyphenated byline 'Shake-speare.'"
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â To this commonplace belief, many great intellectual and cultural icons â€” among them, Walt Whitman, Sigmund Freud, Mark Twain, Andre Gide, Orson Welles, Daphne du Maurier, and Derek Jacobi â€” have said, "No." Shakspere did not write "Shake-speare."
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Why? The story, in its elemental form, begins with a piece of punctuation. Shake hyphen speare.
The 1590s and early 1600s, when the Bard's works first appeared in print, were the height of what literary historians Archer Taylor and Frederic J. Mosher called "the Golden Age of pseudonyms." Some writers who assumed literary disguises used hyphenated phrases for their pen-names, such as "Martin Mar-prelate," "Tom
Tell-truth" and "Cuthbert Curry-knave."
Here's how the author's name appeared on the title page of the first editions of Hamlet (1603), King Lear (1608), and The Sonnets (1609), respectively:
Â Â Â Â Â Â Moreover, a prominent London author named John Davies wrote a book of epigrams in 1611, one of which was titled
(1570). Here's what
Terence, this Elizabethan textbook claimed, did not write all of "Terence." The French Renaissance essayist Michel de Montaigne also advocated that one or more Roman aristocratic authors wrote "Terence" plays that had been wrongfully attributed to a performer who only enacted a public role of author.
"Shake-speare," Davies said, is "our English Terence."
Davies wasn't the only writer at the time hinting that "Shake-speare" was not the actor but rather a mask that concealed another author altogether. One poet (Richard Brathwait) wrote in 1614 that the finest plays of the Elizabethan age were "prettily shadowed in a borrowed name." Satirists named Joseph Hall and John Marston suggested that the author of a Shake-speare poem (Venus and Adonis) "shifts" his writings "to another's name." A rhetorician named Thomas Vicars in 1628 paid homage to a "famous poet who takes his name from 'shaking' and 'spear.'"
There was, as it happens, also a famous classical goddess whose name was affiliated with 'shaking' and 'spear.' Athena, divine protectress of both Athens and the arts, was said to have been born from her father Zeus's forehead, fully dressed and armed for battle. Angry, perhaps, at being brought into this world in such a strange and ungainly fashion, the goddess shook the spear that she was born carrying. Learned authors from antiquity and the Renaissance toyed with the words "shake" and "spear" as a way of tipping their hat to the legend of Athena's strange nativity.
As a reference to the classical goddess associated with the birthplace of the theater, "Shake-speare" was in fact a perfect pen-name for a playwright.
In 1612, the scholar Henry Peacham published a book of visual and verbal puzzles entitled England's Athena (Minerva Britanna). The puzzle that graced the book's title page effectively answered the question posed by the title: "So, then, who or what is 'England's Athena'?" The drawing at the center of the book's title page shows a hand emerging from behind a theatrical curtain. The hand holds a pen, and the pen is writing something on a scroll.
England's spear-shaker, the puzzle seems to suggest, was a playwright whose identity had somehow been hidden from public view.
Fortunately for posterity, Peacham provided the solution to the "Shake-speare" identity problem in the very same puzzle. The pen emerging from behind the theatrical curtain on the title page of Peacham's book spells out the following string of letters: "MENTE.VIDEBORI". The phrase is tantalizingly close to the Latin mente videbor. ("By the mind I shall be seen.") But the extra "I" ruins it. There is no Latin word or verb form videbori.
On the other hand, Minerva Britanna is a puzzle book. The words on the scroll are part of a puzzle for which "England's Minerva/Athena" appears to be a clue. If MENTE.VIDEBORI is an unintelligible jumble of characters, this could be the puzzle-maker's way of saying, "Go ahead and rearrange things. See if you can find something else!"
In The Da Vinci Code, anagrams like "O, Draconian devil! Oh, lame saint!" (Leonardo da Vinci! The Mona Lisa!) drive the plot of this best-selling potboiler through the darkened hallways of the Louvre and into the crux of a secret that author Dan Brown (and some other litigious authors before him) claims is at the core of Judeo-Christian culture.
Well, Dan Brown, eat your heart out. This historical anagram actually exists. It was printed in 1612, and these days one needn't even go to a research library to look at it.Â Middlebury College in Vermont has posted an electronic facsimile of Minerva Britanna on the Internet:
Minerva Britanna's title page puzzle shoves a shaken spear at us and dares us to proceed onward. Unscramble those letters on the scroll, including the period between the two words, and the identity of "England's spear-shaker" emerges.
MENTE.VIDEBORI is, in fact, a perfect anagram for
TIBI NOM. DE VERE
Or in English: "THY NAME IS DE VERE."
Just who this "de Vere" fellow was - and why he makes such a compelling spear-shaker - will be the subject of my next essay.
Thank you for joining the journey thus far.
- Mark Anderson
References, scholarly citations and further information about the points discussed above can be found in Mark Anderson's book "Shakespeare" By Another Name: The Life of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, The Man Who Was Shakespeare (Gotham Books, 2005), online at http://shakespearebyanothername.com.
Please join me on Wednesday, August 23rd from 1-3pm ET live on Gather.