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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The secret codeword Shakespeare devilishly hid in plain sight in Romeo & Juliet that Shakespeare Uncovered DIDN’T uncover—but John Milton (and then I) did!

“Romeo and Juliet with Joseph Fiennes”, Episode 5 of the PBS series, Shakespeare Uncovered, recently aired, and those who missed it can still watch it and the other 5 episodes online:    It’s excellent, as you’d expect. It provides both (i) a thorough basic factual and critical grounding in Romeo & Juliet for anyone unfamiliar with it, AND (ii) supplementary intellectual treats for the cognoscenti, with rare perspectives on Shakespeare’s early and beloved tragedy. And what Shakespeare lover wouldn’t enjoy taking scholarly “potions” from “apothecaries” like actors Joseph Fiennes and Orlando Bloom, scholars Marjorie Garber and Jonathan Bate, and other knowledgeable folks, as your guides, with  generous on location visuals from the Globe and a Verona balcony or two, to boot!

One of those exotic segments (starting 12+ minutes into Episode 5) was a clip from a recent staging of RomeUS and Juliet-that’s NOT a typo----that is the actual title of the poem by the otherwise unknown versifier Arthur Brooke written in 1562, two years before Shakespeare was born-it’s the poem which was Shakespeare’s primary source. Sorry to burst the bubble of those who (like me till 10 years ago) didn’t know that Stoppard’s version of Shakespeare’s composition of Romeo & Juliet in Shakespeare in Love was flamboyantly contrary to historical fact. I.e., there never was a plotline being invented from scratch by the Bard, with a working title of Romeo & Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter! But, of course I, like everyone else, still love the film, because it so wittily, brilliantly, and passionately captures and recreates the spirit of Shakespeare.

But back to Brooke. As the PBS show accurately reported, it’s been common scholarly knowledge for centuries that Brooke’s poem was Shakespeare’s primary source---not only because of the virtual repetition of the title, but even down (as Episode 5 cleverly enacted) to Shakespeare stealing specific lines of poetry from Brooke, and tweaking them into altered, but still recognizably similar, lines in his play.  And, with some exceptions, including the change of moral tone noted in Episode 5, the vast majority of plot and character details in Brooke’s poem are closely tracked in Shakespeare’s play. But, of course, the PBS show, and a thousand other scholars, have also pointed out, that we only know of Brooke and his poem today (he is believed to have died in a shipwreck—a sly joke in Stoppard’s ending!---not long after composing the poem), because Brooke mined, from Italian sources, the literary dross that Shakespeare’s literary alchemy turned into pure gold.

Well, as I will now demonstrate to you, Brooke’s been getting a raw deal for 400 years on one important point that’s never been noticed before. All of the above is merely prologue to the existence of a secret codeword borrowed by Shakespeare from Brooke’s poem which is beyond anything than has been dreamt of in the philosophy of scholarly interpretation of Romeo & Juliet (and also, for that matter, Romeus & Juliet and Paradise Lost). Sounds crazy—sounds VERY crazy---but it’s true, and I will prove it, in this very post!  It’s a borrowing I discovered 7 months ago while reading Romeo & Juliet for another reason entirely, and then I went back into Brooke’s poem and found the source there. And then I realized, from something I had learned during my earlier research on Paradise Lost, that John Milton may have beaten me to the sleuthing punch by 350 years, as he coded his discovery into his epic poem!  

I’m breaking the story today, a bit sooner than I had planned, because I could not resist the serendipity of the airing today of Episode 5, with its excerpt about Brooke’s poem, which I hope has resulted in a lot of Shakespeare lovers having Romeo & Juliet temporarily on their (your) minds. And so it’s my goal to blow that part of your mind! Please bear with me till I get to my punch line, which is a single code word that appears in all three passages. I promise it will be worth your attention!

Without further ado, then, here first is a brief description of the three passages, which will be immediately followed by the three passages themselves-only 121 lines in total:

ONE: Lines 2338-2377, of Brooke’s poem, describing Juliet’s taking the sleeping potion provided by Friar Laurence that simulates death.

TWO: Lines 2443-2486, in Act 4, Scene 1, of Shakespeare’s play, describing Juliet’s fears about taking the sleeping potion, and Friar Laurence’s pep talk, reassuring her that all will end well.

THREE:  Lines 494-531, in Book 9 of Milton’s Paradise Lost, revised 1674 version (the identical passage appears in Book 8 of Milton's original 1667 version), describing Satan, having assumed serpentine form, circling in on the sleeping Eve in the Garden of Eden, getting ready to whisper tempting words to her to induce her to take a forbidden bite.

As you can gather, these are three passages, in three works by three different authors, the first of which is known to have been a primary source for the second one, which ALL describe exactly the same situation: a young girl about to take a pretty dangerous “fall” via ingestion of a substance into her mouth, on the prompting and advice of an authoritative and seductive male voice she cannot resist. I.e., these are passages which are otherwise already strongly resonant with each other thematically, without regard to any additional coded connection.

I will reveal the actual code word to you immediately after my quotation of these three passages, but, for those who enjoy solving a puzzle yourself, rather than being told the answer, I’m giving you the passages first, with certain words in ALL CAPS as clues, and I’ve also put the specific lines which contain the actual code word in boldfaced italics, all so as to enable those so inclined to try to discover the code word yourself. But those who hate puzzles, feel free to immediately skip right to the end for the answer, and then go from there.

BROOKE’S POEM: (see 2363-70 for the code word, which appears twice in a row)

The NURSE departed once, the CHAMBER door shut close,
Assuréd that no living wight her doing might disclose,
She pouréd forth into the VIAL of the FRIAR                2340
Water, out of a silver ewer that on the board stood by her.
The SLEEPY mixture made, fair Juliet doth it hide
Under her bolster soft, and so unto her bed she hied:
Where divers novel thoughts arise within her head,
And she is so environed about with deadly dread,
That what before she had resolved undoubtedly
That same she calleth into doubt; and Iying doubtfully,
Whilst honest love did strive with dread of deadly pain,
With hands wrung and weeping eyes thus gan she to complain:
"What, is there any one, beneath the heavens high,       2350
So much unfortunate as I? so much past hope as I?
What, am I not myself, of all that yet were born,
The deepest drenchéd in despair, and most in Fortune's scorn?
For lo, the world for me hath nothing else to find,
Beside mishap and wretchedness and anguish of the mind;
Since that the cruel cause of my unhappiness
Hath put me to this sudden plunge and brought to such distress,
As, to the end I may my name and conscience save,
I must devour the mixéd drink that by me here I have,
Whose working and whose force as yet I do not know."2360
And of this piteous plaint began another doubt to grow:
"What do I know," quoth she, "if that this powder shall
Sooner or later than it should, or else, not work at all?  
And then my CRAFT descried as open as the day,
The people's tale and laughingstock shall I remain for aye.

 "ANd what know I," quoth she, "if SERPENTS odious,
ANd other beasts &worms that are of nature VENOMOUS,
That wonted are to LURK in DARK caves underground,
And commonly as I've heard in deadmen's tombs are found
Shall harm me, yea or nay, where I shall lie as dead? --   
Or how shall I that alway have in so fresh air been bred,
Endure the lothsome stink of such an heapéd store
Of carcases not yet consumed, and bones that long before
Intombéd were, where I my sleeping-place shall have,
Where all my ancestors do rest, my kindred's common grave?
Shall not the friar and my Romeus, when they come,
Find me, if I awake before, stifled in the tomb?"

TWO: SHAKESPEARE’S PLAY  (see lines 2469-2473 for the code word)

O, bid me leap, rather than marry Paris,
From off the battlements of yonder tower;
Or walk in thievish ways; or bid me lurk
Where SERPENTS are; chain me with roaring bears;
Or shut me nightly in a charnel-house,
O'er-cover'd quite with dead men's rattling bones,
With reeky shanks and yellow chapless skulls;
Or bid me go into a new-made grave
And hide me with a dead man in his shroud;
Things that, to hear them told, have made me tremble;
And I will do it without fear or doubt,
To live an unstain'd wife to my sweet love.

Hold, then; go home, be merry, give consent
To marry Paris: Wednesday is to-morrow:
To-morrow night look that thou lie alone;
Let not thy NURSE lie with thee in thy CHAMBER:
Take thou this VIAL, being then in bed,
And this distilled liquor drink thou off;
When presently through all thy veins shall run
A cold and DROWSY humour, for no pulse
Shall keep his native progress, but surcease:
No warmth, no breath, shall testify thou livest;
The ROSES in thy lips and cheeks shall fade
To paly ashes, thy EYES' windows fall,
Like death, when he shuts up the day of life;
Each part, deprived of supple government,
Shall, stiff and stark and cold, appear like death:      
And in this borrow'd likeness of shrunk death
Thou shalt continue two and forty hours,
And then awake as from a pleasant sleep.
Now, when the bridegroom in the morning comes    
To rouse thee from thy bed, there art thou dead:
Then, as the manner of our country is,
In thy best robes uncover'd on the bier
Thou shalt be borne to that same ancient vault
Where all the kindred of the Capulets lie.
In the mean time, against thou shalt awake,
Shall Romeo by my letters know our drift,
And hither shall he come: and he and I
Will watch thy waking, and that very night
Shall Romeo bear thee hence to Mantua.
And this shall free thee from this present shame;
If no inconstant TOY, nor womanish fear,
Abate thy valour in the acting it.

THREE: Paradise Lost (see lines 510-514 for the code word)

So spake the ENEMIE of Mankind, enclos'd
In SERPENT, Inmate bad, and toward Eve        
Address'd his way, not with indented wave,
Prone on the ground, as since, but on his reare,
Circular base of rising foulds, that tour’d
Fould above fould a surging Maze, his Head
Crested aloft, and CARBUNCLE HIS EYES;   500
With burnisht Neck of verdant Gold, erect
Amidst his circling Spires, that on the grass
Floted redundant: pleasing was his shape,
And lovely, never since of SERPENT kind
Lovelier, not those that in Illyriachang’d              
Hermioneand Cadmus, or the God
In Epidaurus; nor to which transformd
Ammonian Jove, or Capitolinewas seen,
Hee with Olympias, this with her who bore
Scipio the highth of Rome.With tract oblique     
At first, as one who sought access, but feard
To interrupt, side-long he works his way.
As when a Ship by Skilful Stearsman wrought
Nigh Rivers mouth or Foreland, where the Wind  
Veres oft, as oft so steers, and shifts her saile;         
So varied hee, and of his tortuous Traine
Curld many a wanton wreath in sight of Eve,
To lure her Eye; shee busied heard the sound
Of rusling Leaves, but minded not, as us'd
To such disport before her through the Field,   520
From every Beast, more duteous at her call,
Then at Circeancall the Herd disguis’d.
Hee boulder now, uncall'd before her stood;
But as in gaze admiring: Oft he bowd
His turret Crest, and sleek enamel'd Neck,
Fawning, and lick'd the ground whereon she trod.
His gentle dumb expression turnd at length
The EYE of Eveto mark his play; he glad
Of her attention gaind, with Serpent Tongue
Organic or impulse of vocal Air,                   530
His fraudulent temptation thus began.

And the secret code word that Brooke hid twice in plain sight in his 1562 poem, which Shakespeare then hid in plain sight in his 1592 play, and then Milton hid in plain sight in his 1667/1674 poem is…..






I.e. (out of chronological order, for most appropriate explanation):

SHAKESPEARE, PASSAGE TWO: There is an acrostic of the name "SATAN" right in the middle of that speech by Friar Laurence as he successfully cajoles Juliet to drink the Elizabethan Kool-Aid. In the stranger than fiction category, this  SATAN acrostic was actually discovered and noted a century ago! But it was in a tiny footnote, by William Stone Booth, a Baconian obsessive (and member of the famous Booth family, of theatrical fame and assassinatory infamy) , in a book filled with Byzantinely geometric supposed variations on the name (Francis) “Bacon”, whom Booth of course believed was Shakespeare in disguise. So, Booth passed right by Friar Laurence’s acrostic SATAN it in order to get to what Booth thought was ‘the good stuff’, and I only found his footnote because I had already independently rediscovered Shakespeare’s SATAN myself—and here it is:

S  hall, stiff and stark and cold, appear like death:
A  nd in this borrow'd likeness of shrunk death
T  hou shalt continue two and forty hours,
A  nd then awake as from a pleasant sleep.
N  ow, when the bridegroom in the morning comes

MILTON, PASSAGE THREE: The SATAN acrostic in the passage from Paradise Lost was discovered in 1977 by Prof. Paul Klemp, then a young graduate student, whom I have been in touch with since last year, and who has endured 38 years of skepticism from smug Miltonian scholarly colleagues, who have danced on the heads of pins angsting over whether it was intentional on Milton’s part or not, and also as to what it might have meant, in a poem in which Satan is the protagonist. I mean, really……:

S    cipio the highth of Rome. With tract oblique     
A    t first, as one who sought access, but feard
T    o interrupt, side-long he works his way.
A    s when a Ship by Skilful Stearsman wrought
N    igh Rivers mouth or Foreland, where the Wind

BROOKE, PASSAGE ONE: But the best proof of all that both Shakespeare and Milton wrote their respective SATAN acrostics intentionally, is that there two SATAN acrostics which are like snakes "touching tails"--  the tails being the letters “AN”--- in that passage from Brooke’s poem, which could never in a million million million years occur by coincidence in a scene so strongly parallel thematically to Shakespeare’s and Milton’s:

S   ooner or later than it should, or else, not work at all?
A   nd then my CRAFT descried as open as the day,
T    he people's tale and laughing-stock shall I remain for aye."
"AN  d what know I," quoth she, "if SERPENTS odious,

AN   d other beasts and worms that are of nature VENOMOUS,
T    hat wonted are to LURK in DARK caves underground,
A    nd commonly, as I have heard, in dead men's tombs are found,
S     hall harm me, yea or nay, where I shall lie as dead?                   

I’ve already gone on long enough for this informal venue, so for now I’ll leave it to you to begin to think about what this all means. As you might guess, I’ve given that question a great deal of thought and study over the past 8 months, and I will be publishing, in due course, a full analysis of the numerous significant implications I see in this three layer cake of secret literary allusion. I hope it will in turn provoke a rich response from the scholarly community, to point out many implications I am sure I will miss. For now, I will merely mention that my analysis will include but not be limited to discussion of the following highlights;

Brooke, Shakespeare and Milton all seem to me to be participating in a long literary tradition among English (Protestant) authors (like Spenser and Marlowe, to name two others) who have famously and OVERTLY presented Franciscan friars like Friar Laurence as devils --and Brooke has long been recognized to have presented a paradoxical view of Friar Laurence, with a conflict in that regard between his preface and his poem. And even Shakespeare’s Friar Laurence has long been a controversial and enigmatic figure for Shakespeare scholars who’ve looked at him. His SATAN acrostic should liven up that debate, don’t you think?

All of these passages have to do with serpents, and I realized early on that Romeo & Juliet is a major (and heretofore never recognized) allusive source for Paradise Lost, with Milton using Romeo and Juliet as models for his own Adam and Eve, and Friar Laurence (who speaks the acrostic SATAN) as model for his Satan. I also see Shakespeare’s Antony & Cleopatra as sources for Milton’s paradisian couple.

Friar Laurence refers to the potion lasting for "two-and-forty hours"---it turns out that this a wormhole that leads straight back to the enormously significant usage of that word in the King James Bible’s version of the Book of Revelation, with its dragon, serpent, beast, etc etc. –and I don’t have to tell anyone in the age of the Internet that the number 42 has been the subject of enormous heated discussion among groups of passionate scholars not only of the Bible but also of Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories, the late Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy with its computer Deep Thought which cryptically explains the meaning of the universe as “42”, Dr. Who, and a half dozen other cult classics.

It’s been 8 years since I first became aware of numerous acrostics and anagram-acrostics in Shakespeare’s plays, far beyond the number that had previously been detected by scholars. However, none of them, not even the TITANIA acrostic in a speech by Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, has the enormous resonance and significance of Friar Laurence’s SATAN, embedded in that layer cake between Brooke’s and Milton’s.  And it will no longer be possible for conservative Shakespeare scholars to keep a straight face as they opine that Shakespeare would not have lowered his literary artistry so as to include word puzzles in his plays. Obviously, he did, the only question is, what did they mean?

And finally, this may also bear on the recent discovery of that extremely rare First Folio in Northern France that had originally been held for centuries in a now defunct Jesuit library--does this mean Shakespeare was a secret Jesuit mocking rival Franciscans, and not a Protestant mocking all Catholics?

So, I hope you’ll agree that I’ve delivered on my promise and I’ve given you enough to realize that this is the real deal, an amazing secret code that has waited nearly 400 years for discovery and recognition for what it really is—a true literary Pandora’s Box.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter


Dario Rivarossa ilTassista said...

Wow! cool!
I am honestly not a great fan of acrostics, but the parallel texts are enough imho. Nice catch, Arnie!

Arnie Perlstein said...

Thank you very much Dario!!!