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

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Friar Laurence as Satanic Pharisee: Shakespeare's acrostic allusion to Brooke & Matthew 23:26-33

Earlier this year, in a series of posts here….    

…I revealed the following three-layer cake of SATAN acrostics, each one alluding to the one(s) preceding it in time:

First, Arthur Brooke’s Romeus & Juliet (1562) and his two “tail-touching” serpentine SATAN acrostics, at the point when Juliet worries about dying after taking Friar Laurence’s potion:

S        Sooner or later than it should, or else, not work at all?
A       And then my CRAFT descried as open as the day,
T        The people's tale and laughing-stock shall I remain for aye."
"AN   “ANd what know I," quoth she, "if SERPENTS ODIOUS,
AN    ANd other beasts and worms that are of nature VENOMOUS,
T       That wonted are to LURK in DARK caves underground,
A       And commonly, as I have heard, in DEAD MEN’S TOMBS are found,
S        Shall harm me, yea or nay, where I shall lie as dead?                 

Three decades later, Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet (1591-5) and his perfect descending SATAN acrostic at the point in the text when Friar Laurence reassures Juliet that she will awaken after taking his potion:

S     Shall, stiff and stark and cold, appear like DEATH:
A    And in this borrow'd likeness of shrunk death
A     And then awake as from a pleasant sleep.
N     Now, when the bridegroom in the morning comes

Please note that:
Shakespeare’s SATAN was first discovered nearly a century ago by a Baconian fanatic who didn’t even comment on it! I rediscovered it independently a couple of years ago; and
I discovered Brooke’s SATANS only after I knew about Shakespeare’s SATAN; and on a hunch searched for “serpent” in the 3,000 lines of Brooke’s interminable poem, which turned out to be a stupendously lucky guess on my part, as I in effect retraced Shakespeare’s original sleuthing, and was led right to Brooke’s touching serpentine SATANS!

About 75 years later still, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Book 8 (1667), in an epic poem about (who else?) Satan, and Milton’s perfect descending SATAN acrostic:

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

Then, with an assist from Frode Larsen re the word “continue”, I went on to show that the phrase “CONTINUE TWO AND FORTY hours” in the middle verse of the SATAN acrostic in Romeo & Juliet, pointed directly to the Book of Revelation 13:4-6:

“And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him? And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to CONTINUE FORTY AND TWO months. And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven.”

I argued at that time that, in addition to any other intended meanings, what united Brooke, Shakespeare and Milton was a shared, well-recognized, savage satire on Franciscan friars, equating them to (of course!) Satan.

Now, with all that background, I have another discovery to report, which adds a fourth layer to the cake! I.e., I revisited the above analysis for the first time in several months, and did some searching in the text of the verses comprising Brooke’s and Shakespeare’s SATAN acrostics, and that searching quickly led me directly to what is clearly the foundation for both. And the giant textual clue that opened that door for me was my Googling the phrase “DEAD MEN’S TOMBS”, which appears in the second, ascending SATAN in Brooke’s dual acrostic.

It led me to two places that blew my mind:

First, it led me to to near the end of Act V, Scene 3 of Shakepeare’s Romeo & Juliet, at the awful moment when the tragic suicides of the two lovers is first discovered----check out the last speech spoken by the First Watchman:

Enter CAPULET, LADY CAPULET, and others

There is that same “dead men’s tombs” from Brooke’s second SATAN acrostic! So that told me that Shakespeare had left this additional clue in the text of Romeo & Juliet, to point to Brooke’s SATAN acrostics a second time!

And second, in Matthew 23: 26-33, check out the ALL CAPS words spoken by Jesus as he lays into the Pharisees but good:

“Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited SEPULCHRES, which indeed appear BEAUTIFUL outward, but are within full of DEAD MEN’S BONES, and of all UNCLEANNESS. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Woe unto you, scribes and PHARISEES, hypocrites! because ye build the TOMBS of the prophets, and garnish the SEPULCHRES of the RIGHTEOUS, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye SERPENTS, ye generation of VIPERS, how can ye escape the DAMNATION of HELL?”

In this one short Biblical passage consisting of 8 verses, we find ten different words and phrases which appear at key points in Romeo & Juliet, and while “DEAD MEN’S TOMBS” does not exactly appear in the King James Version, we do see, in successive verses, “dead men’s bones” and “tombs”, which is pretty darned close!

But wait---the King James version did not even exist yet in 1562! And if we look instead at the Geneva Bible first published in 1560 (or at the precise moment when Brooke must have been deeply into the writing of Romeus & Juliet, we read verse 23:37 as follows:

“ Woe be to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites: for ye are like unto whited TOMBS, which appear beautiful outward, but are within full of DEAD MEN’S BONES, and all filthiness.”

That puts “dead men’s” and “tombs” in the same verse!!!


So what does this all mean? I am sure it means a great deal more than I can begin to sleuth out at present, having just detected this veiled allusion yesterday, which has, as far as I can tell from a preliminary search of the several English-language literary databases (JSTOR, Project Muse, Academic Search Premier) and Google Books & Google Scholar, never before been noticed.

That in itself is remarkable—after all, have there ever been literary texts in the English language more closely studied over the past four centuries than the Bible and the Shakespeare canon? This is surely because of the universally held (but in my opinion, completely unfounded) belief that Shakespeare would never have inserted thematic acrostics in his plays. As I’ve previously opined….

I understand how this unfounded belief arose---it was a natural and rational reaction to the mishegass of generations of crazed Baconian acrostic-finders, who in effect poisoned the well that would otherwise have yielded up Shakespeare’s actual acrostics long ago.

In any event, in light of my post today, I certainly hope that Shakespearean and Biblical scholars alike (and the one or two active Brooke scholars I imagine must be out there in the world today) will all be very interested in this discovery, and will be able to shed further light on its full significance.

What I gather preliminarily is that Arthur Brooke, in 1562, alluded to Matthew 23: 26-33 TWICE in his Satan acrostic passage, and then, in 1591-5, Shakespeare not only detected Brooke’s double SATAN acrostic, and the phrase “dead men’s tombs”, he also understood the Matthew 23: 26-33 allusion in Brooke, hence SS’s writing “dead men’s tombs” as Brooke did at the very point of the second Satan acrostic, in addition to his own!

And on a thematic level, it confirms what I had already inferred earlier this year---that the savage satire on Franciscan friars in Brooke took as its basis Jesus’s attack more than a millennium and a half earlier on the Pharisees in Matthew. And then we have Shakespeare (following Brooke) comparing Franciscan friars like Friar Laurence to Pharisees, and invoking Matthew 23! And this all also relates to St. Paul’s warning about false prophets in 2 Corinthians, referencing the seductive angels of light whom Shakespeare invoked in several plays.

As I noted earlier this year, the character of Friar Laurence in Romeo & Juliet is near the top of the list of major Shakespearean characters who’ve generated the most controversy among scholars who’ve opined about whether Shakespeare meant for readers and audience members to consider the Friar a good man or a bad man. I think that now finding that Shakespeare hid (literally in plain sight) in the text of Romeo & Juliet clues that the reader should think of him in connection with both Satan and the viperish Pharisees from the Bible, must eventually tilt the scholarly verdict heavily in favor of a negative reading of the Friar.

And I conclude this post with the rest of my relevant textual evidence---consisting of the half dozen other passages in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, in addition to the SATAN acrostic, in which the ALL CAPS words collectively parallel the dense cluster of keywords I put in ALL CAPS in Matthew 23: 26-33, above:



Act 3, Scene 5:


Act 4, Scene 1:

Act 5, Scene 3 (final act of the play):

Enters the TOMB
JULIET wakes
Enter MONTAGUE and others

So, what do you all think?

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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