Marie’s Musings

No. 3: THE BIG REVEAL (… but first, an Aside or Two!)

by Marie Delgado Travis

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

That every word doth almost tell my name…. — William Shakespeare Sonnet 76

Before ”The Big Reveal” on the Shakespeare Authorship Question, let me “double” back to the Droeshout portrait of Shakespeare in the First Folio, Mr. William Shakespeares [note the lack of apostrophe] Comedies, Histories & Tragedies (1623).

Available at

In recent posts, I discussed one of John M. Rollett’s theories in William Stanley as Shakespeare: Evidence of Authorship by the Sixth Earl of Derby (2015): that part of Shakespeare’s doublet in the First Folio portrait by Martin Droeshout is facing the wrong way!

Source: Wikipedia.
All images for Educational Purposes Only.

The lefthand side of the doublet (Shakespeare’s chest) faces forward in a traditional pose. But to our right, the view is of his back shoulder, with his arm moving away from us.

This reminded me of the motto of my alma mater, CCNY: Respice, Adspice, Prospice, which encourages us to learn from the Past, as we look at the Present, and towards the Future—plain enough, except that at least one of the figures, surprisingly the Present, seems to be blind. Upon further reflection, she has closed her eyes to “see,” as it were, with her inner eye. It is an allegory, a cryptogram, to be deciphered, in order to reveal its hidden meaning.

Seal of The City College of New York. Source: Wikipedia

There was also a seemingly “throwaway” reference in Ben Jonson’s tribute in the First Folio, ”To the Memory [emphasis mine] of My Beloved, the Author, Mr. William Shakespeare,” comparing Shakespeare, among others, to two ancient Roman poets / playwrights,“Paccuuius, Accius….”

Sadly, only fragments of Pacuvius and Accius’ works survive, underscoring the urgency to preserve Shakespeare’s work, particularly while the actors, and fellow writers like Jonson, familiar with his work were still alive to vouch for the First Folio’s faithfulness to the “originall” [sic].

But I also recalled reading that among Pacuvius and Accius’ distinctions, was their age difference. One was elderly, the other young, and they met on only one occasion—a literary “changing of the guard” between them.

Rereading classical accounts of that meeting, I realized it was precisely the kind of story that a man in his humor like Ben Jonson, would have relished—and not without mustard. I’ll paraphrase:

Upon being introduced, the older poet-playwright, Pacuvius, complimented young Accius on his work. But he couldn’t resist adding, “… although it’s still a bit green.”

The younger poet admitted he had a lot to learn, but said that at least his work wasn’t “overripe,” i.e., old-fashioned, decaying. Humorously, as a result of this acerbic “review,” Accius is considered one of the first literary critics.

Roman Theater. Source: Wikipedia

These and other “musings” led to the realization that Droeshout’s “bizarre” (as it is often described) engraving is actually a composite of two poet-playwrights— one younger and “emerging”; the other, a “time-honored” master of his craft, but departing, or indeed, departed— yet both writing under the same commercially successful pseudonym, William Shake-Speare.

This thought settled (— at least for me) a host of mysteries, some trivial, others of major consequence, e.g., the lack of apostrophe on the title page of the First Folio, “Shakespeares,” implying more than one; why Jonson states that Droeshout had a “strife with nature,” and struggled “to out-doo the life”; the patchwork quality of the portrait; why the figure in the portrait seems to be wearing a mask and to have two right eyes. I used to think that it might be a pun on tbe word righteous (“right-eye-ous”) and that may be true, as well. We are being taught by Droeshout and Jonson that things need not be “mutually exclusive.”

Above all, it explains some of the stylistic differences in Shakespeare’s work, a subject I’ve “mused” a lot about and hope to elaborate on in a future post. The key, however, is that we’re dealing in two’s, as the anagram in Jonson’s poem “To the Reader” seems to confirm:

I am grateful to for the underlying graphic. Markings mine.

Does that give the lie to Rollett’s contention that the actors’ anagram spell “William Shakespeare es [is][William] Stanley,” as discussed so insistently in my previous posts? — Not at all, because the actors are simply asserting that “William Shakespeare IS [William] Stanley,” at the time of the publication of the First Folio (1623). They’re not claiming that he always WAS Shakespeare.

So who could this second (and possibly primary) author of the Shakespeare canon be? Note that I am not ready to call them “co-authors.” I believe that a younger poet—a fair youth, if you will— was literally “heir” to an older writer’s “invention.

Could it be William Shaxpere from Stratford-upon-Avon? He certainly fits the bill in some respects: his name and association with the Globe, the theater built in part to present Shakespeare’s plays. Or is that simply not enough? What, after all, is in a name?

Will Shaxpere, and a number of authorship candidates, will be the subject of future posts, as the Muse dictates. But let’s hear what Ben Jonson has to say for himself.

As was the case with the list of actors, Jonson’s prefatory poem, ”To the Reader” is a cryptogram, with apparent references to William Stanley’s title, ”Derby” / “Earl of Derby.”

Are cryptograms valid? Well, if they weren’t, I doubt Lord Burghley and Sir Francis Walsingham would have bothered to employ codebreakers like Thomas Phelippes and Sir Francis Bacon [who wrote about “ciphersin The Advancement of Learning (1605) and De Augmentis Scientiarum (1623), and is considered, among others, Father of the Scientific Method, as well as of the Binary Code].

With Bacon’s validation of cryptography in general, let’s quickly review our previous findings in Jonson’s poem:

Derby Anagrams

As we can see, the very first and last lines form a kind of ”frame” around Jonson’s poem: derbi = Derby. We’ll point out other Derby “sightings” as we move along. But does Jonson refer to a second author, and if so, whom?

Believe me, it gives me no joy to reveal whom else is ”hit” (“hid” /“hidden”) in the poem. The person is not, as we say in Spanish, santo de mi devoción, “Saint of my devotion,” and I’ll divulge why eventually.

Yet one of the biggest compliments given to Prince Harry in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part One comes from a character, Vernon, who considers Harry an enemy. Vernon’s praise, therefore, carries far more weight and credibility than if one of Harry’s friends had uttered it.

De Vere Anagrams

His name in almost every word, indeed! Here is a line by line analysis:

This Figure, that thou here feeft put,

Figure – ure = Vere, if the ”e” is repeated. If not, there are other letters “e” in the same or nearby line. This is true whenever I reuse a letter.

Note, too, that the letters u, v and w (literally ”double u” or “vv”) are interchangeable, e.g, IVLIVS = Julius.

thou here – uere = Vere

It was for gentle Shakesfpeare cut;

was for gentle – vvree = Vere

Note that the figure is literally “cut”— in two— as he is half one person, half another.

Wherein the Grauer had a ftrife

Wherein – vvere = Vere

Grauer – ruer = Vere

Note, too, Jonson’s pun: the “engraver” as “graver,” the latter suggesting that someone has died (— otherwise Jonson wouldn’t need to ”call” a grave-digger).

with Nature, to out-doo the life :

with Nature – vvure = Vere

O,could he but hauedrawne his wit

havedrawne (written together in the poem, thereby “drawing” our attention) – avedrawe = Edward de Vere

This “mention” appears physically near the center or heart of the poem. It’s also the first of two instances in the poem (by my calculation), that both names appear together:

but havedrawne his – bedrei = derbie = Derby

As well in braffe, ashe hath hit

well in brasse – vvere = Vere

The word “hit” evokes how the engraver ”sculpsit,” i.e., strikes with his tools to achieve (“hit”) the model’s resemblance (— or “dissemblance,” as in “pretense” / “counterfeit”— a composite drawing, in this case).

The word “hit” is similar to “hid” (a hard “d” sounds much like the letter ”t”), and the word is curiously followed by “hisface” in the next linethe words “merged” together like the two playwrights.

That is, “He” [the engraver, but also the graver, who deals in Death] hath “hid” / “buried” his [the true Shakespeare’s / Shakespeares’] face.”

(In the case of more than one Shakespeare, the singular word, “face” would be a synecdoche, a literary figure in which a part represents the whole).

The words ”as he” are also written together, resulting in “ashe”: ”ash hath hid his face,” i.e., Death / Mourning (“Remember, man that thou art dust …”), but also Repentance / Penance (e.g., “sackcloth and ashes,” Ash Wednesday).

In addition, ashes are also used to Disguise (in 1 Kings 38, 41, for example, a prophet hides his identity by applying ashes to his eyes / face (e.g., in the Great Bible, Bishops, Geneva and King James Bibles of Shakespeare’s general timeframe. The Catholic Duoay Rheims used “dust,” and most modern translations refer to “bandages.”

Hisface; the Print would then furpaffe

would then furpaffe – vvudeurae = Edward de Vere

All, that was euer writ in braffe.

euer – ever = Vere

Incidentally, every (excuse the pun) Vere ”sighting” is usually positioned near a word with a “th” in it, which may represent the ”d” in ”de Vere” (similar sound), but I won’t insist on that too much, at this time.

But, fince he cannot, Reader, looke

But, since he cannot, Reader – ueereder = de Vere

bieereder = Derbie, Derbee = Derby

Not on his Picture, but his Booke.

Picture – ure = Vere

Reader … but his Booke – redrbibe = Derby

Derby is William Stanley’s title. Is de Vere’s title, Earl of Oxford / Oxenford, in Jonson’s poem as well? While there is no letter X in the poem, it can be transliterated based on sound, and in fact, spelling rules in tbe printing trade weren’t standardized until the mid-seventeenth century, well after the publication of the First Folio, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

”O Rare Ben Jonson”
Speaking of word play, Jonson’s epitaph at Westminster Abbey can also be read
”Orare” (Pray)
Photo: Wikipedia

The well-educated, well-read Jonson certainly knew how Oxford was spelled— he was even granted honorary degree by both Cambridge and Oxford Universities— but he would not have wanted his anagram to be “too” obvious. We find, therefore, the following anagrams of de Vere and Stanley’s titles:

Title Anagrams

It was for gentle Shakefpeare cut;

tasforelskc = earl of ocksfort = Earl of Oxford

O,could he but hauedrawne his wit

oldebaudri – earl ov derbie = Earl of Derby

But, fince he cannot, Reader, looke

(s)fceatrdlokearl of ocksford / earl of ocksenford = Earl of Oxford, Earl of Oxenford

bfieaordl – earl of derbie = Earl of Derby

In summary, ”LOOK” is the operative word. You’ll find Edward de Vere’s name within Jonson’s poem, “To the Reader,” but also in the title of his above-mentioned poem, ”To the Memory of My Beloved, the Author, Mr. William Shakespeare.”

ervdaw = Edward de Vere

oerfldask – earl of oksford = Earl of Oxford

“Edward de Vere” is present, too, in the epigraph at the beginning of this post:

That every word doth almost tell my name….

aevrwd = Edward de Vere

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 76 (Published 1609)

But, oh dear, Derby may be lurking there, too!

Muses can be fickle that way….

In Jonson’s poem, “To the Reader,” however, the de Vere anagrams outnumber the Derby references 2:1, indicating that the former is the principal author. Born in 1550, de Vere was eleven years Derby’s senior (see Pacuvius and Accius above).

Blue = de Vere
Red = Derby

I purposely skipped a couple of interesting references, but will try to catch them next time. Hopefully, the point has been made: two anagrams would have been a coincidence, but so many is a calculated pattern.

Except where the two names overlap, the de Vere anagrams (in blue) tend to skew left, while Derby’s (in Lancaster red) generally skew to our right. This positioning is clever, if we visualize what happens once the book is shut, and Jonson’s poem and Droeshout portrait of Shakespeare “press” together.

The Derby anagrams (on the righthand side of the poem) would close directly over the forward facing (i.e., “alive” at the time of publication) portion of Shakespeare’s torso (the figure’s chest, lefthand side of portrait).


By contrast, the de Vere anagrams would cover most of the engraving, but in particular, that section of the body that moves away (departed / deceased).

And vero (in truth / truly), Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, whom some consider the true author of the Shakespeare canon, had passed away almost twenty years earlier, in 1604.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.
Source: Wikipedia

De Vere was survived, among others, by his daughter Elizabeth Stanley (née Vere), Countess of Derby, and his son-in-law, William Stanley, Sixth Earl of Derby.

Elizabeth Stanley (née de Vere), Countess of Derby. Source: Wilipedia

The de Vere’s family motto, Vero Nihil Verius, is generally translated as “Nothing is Truer than Truth,” though that deserves its own philosophical discussion at another time.

The English Secretarie by Angel Day (1586), featuring the de Vere coat of arms.

Then this is all as true as it is strange: 
Nay, it is ten times true; for Truth is Truth  To the End of Reckoning.

— William Shakespeare Isabella, Measure for Measure, 5.1


Available on

Mo’ Musings soon!

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

%d bloggers like this: