No. 11: Hidden Messages
by Marie Delgado Travis
As mentioned in a previous post, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote five pieces circa 1264 for the Mass of a new Feast, Corpus Christi (literally,“The Body of Christ”), instituted by Pope Urban IV.
One of these poems / Gregorian chants, Adoro Te Devote (literally, “Devoutly I Adore Thee”), holds a number of gems— not the least of which is a reference to the Eucharist, as we shall see below.
And, of course, I have to point out one of the anagrams that occurs when we reshuffle the letters of “Adoro Te Devote.” All coincidental, since Aquinas composed the hymn some 400 years before Elizabeth I’s reign— but couldn’t resist:
dredev = de vere
Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, whom many believe to be the man who wrote Shakespeare canon, was obsessively proud of his name. And with good reason, he was heir to an ancient lineage, dating back to the Norman Conquest of England (1066 and all that).
If he was indeed forced to write under a pseudonym, due to the dignity of his role as the Lord High Chamberlain, perhaps he was overcompensating (… teasing!)
There is, in fact, a poem entitled “Echo,”attributed to his mistress, Anne Vavasour, which some say was written by de Vere himself. I hope not, because the poem is…. well, judge from this small excerpt for yourself:
[Who] was the first that bred in me this fever?
Who was the first that gave the wound
whose scar I wear for ever?
Anne Vavasour, Gentlewoman of the Bedchamber to Queen Elizabeth I, Hall of the Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers, City of London (c. 1605).
Pretty juvenile, but as they say, “Love makes every fool a poet.”
Adoro Te Devote
|Aquinas’ Latin text:|
* * *
Adoro te devote, latens Deitas, quae sub his figuris vere latitas: tibi se cor meum totum subiicit, quia te contemplans totum deficit.
Visus, tactus, gustus in te fallitur, sed auditu solo tuto creditur; credo quidquid dixit Dei Filius: nil hoc verbo Veritatis verius.
|Literal Translation: |
* * *
I worship thee devotedly, hidden Deity, who truly hides beneath these figures: my whole heart submits itself to thee, because contemplating thee all fails [e.g., as in some of the senses below].
Sight, touch, and taste deceive you, but hearing alone is safely believed; I believe whatever the Son of God said: nothing is truer than this word of truth.
The de Vere family motto …
Vero Nihil Veritas
“Nothing is truer than Truth”
… has perplexed some scholars, perhaps because it appears so … well, circular in its reasoning. But it may just be “echoing” Aquinas’s declaration of faith above. One solution to the “riddle” is simple yet profound, IF one considers what Jesus Christ SAID, as Aquinas does in the “Adoro Te.”
For example, in John 14: 6, Christ says:
I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life….
And John 1: 1 and 1: 14, respectively, refer to Christ as “the Word”:
In the beginning was the Word: and the Word was with God: and the Word was God….
And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us….
So the “hidden meaning” of the de Vere family motto is more than a verbal form of “heraldic canting” (punning on a family name). It is a profession of faith, meant to echo through the centuries.
An interpretation would then be: ‘Nothing is Truer than Christ’s Word,” as opposed to, say, Hamlet’s criticism of the book he is reading, “Words, words, words” (Act II, Scene 2).
Oxfordian scholars suggest that the book Hamlet reads is Cardanus Comforte (1573) by Girolamo Cardano (d. 1573). A 23-year-old Edward de Vere commissioned a translation of said work by Sir Thomas Bedingfield.
De Vere also contributed a poem to the book’s introduction: “From the Earle of Oxenforde to the Reader,” which is quite thoughtful, considering his young age.
The opening lines:
THe labouring man, that tilles the fertile soyle,
And reapes the haruest fruite, hath not in deede
The gaine but payne, and if for all hys toyle
He gets the strawe, the Lord wyll haue the seede.
Droeshout Portrait (in-vere-ted) and a young de Vere.
Do you see what I see?
Perhaps a jaded Hamlet (or more mature de Vere) now saw Cardano’s work as “vanity,” to use a popular ‘medieval’ term— that is, no “comforte” at all, since it is not “THE Word.” This is a realization that Hamlet arrives at late in the eponymous play, e.g., Parable of the Sparrows and the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Fiat, i.e.,“Let Be” speeches in Act V, Scene 2.
How do I know? Well, in his introduction to Cardanus Comforte, “To my louinge frende Thomas Bedingfeld Esquyer, &c.” the young de Vere writes:
And because next to the sacred letters of Diuinitye, nothinge doth perswade the same more than Philosophye, of whiche youre booke is plentifully stored. Source: U. Of Michigan, Early English Books Online (link under title above).
And almost three decades later in Hamlet, Act I, Scene 5, his protagonist states:
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy (MIT, Open Source Shakespeare).
But I digress…. Let’s fly quickly back to Shake-Speare’s The Phoenix and the Turtle (1601). As mentioned in my last post, based on the work of Lady Claire Asquith, John Finnis, Paul Martin and others, of the five poems Aquinas wrote for the newly established Feast of Corpus Christi (1264), Lauda Sion Salvatorem seems to be the one which inspired Shakespeare’s poem:
It probably didn’t hurt that the poem, which highlights Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, mentions the word Vere (“True”), not once, but twice:
Vere Panis (“True Bread”)
There are, however, both similarities and major differences between Shake-Speare’s The Phoenix and the Turtle, and Aquinas / South-well’s Lauda Sion.
As Lady Asquith noted, Shakespeare seems to be imitating Aquinas / Southwell with the structure of his poem: heptasyllabic to octosyllabic trochaic (stressed – unstressed) tetrameter, which critics have noted is unusual in English poetry, although there is some affinity with Italian, Spanish and Portuguese works.
Both poems begin with an invitation to worship. Lauda Sion, however, focuses primarily on the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, and in particular, the mystery of Transubstantiation.
Transubstantiation, of course, is the Roman Catholic belief that when an ordained Priest consecrates the Bread (Host) and Wine during Mass, following Christ’s command at the Last Supper (“Do this in memory of Me”), the Bread and Wine literally (not figuratively) BECOME the Body and Blood of Jesus (“This IS My Body, This IS My Blood”). To Catholics, then, the Eucharistic offering is not a mere symbol. It is the sacred presence of Jesus Christ Himself.
Aquinas and Southwell go to great lengths in Lauda Sion to explain related mysteries of faith, notably, the “Oneness” of Christ, even when the Bread is divided, and the Wine is shared.
They, who of Him here partake,
Sever not, nor rend, nor break:
But entire, their Lord receive.
Protestants, however, and in particular Queen Elizabeth I, viewed the doctrine of Transubstantiation as heretical, i.e., non-Scriptural. To give a moving example from The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 3 (1908):
The last of the Catholic bishops was Owen Oglethorpe, the kindly-tempered prelate who was prevailed on to crown Elizabeth when no other prelate could be found to do that office for her — an act he so much regretted that, Antony à Wood says, the rest of his days “were both short and wearisome”. He disobeyed the queen openly when she forbade him to elevate the Sacred Host in her presence; he refused to appear at a disputation on religion, or to take the Oath of Supremacy, was deprived of his bishopric with the other Catholic bishops, and died a prisoner 31 December, 1559.
What does Shakespeare say about a much earlier Bishop of Carlisle, which might be applicable to the one in his own time? In Act V, Scene 6 of his play The Tragedy of Richard II, Bolingbroke (now Henry IV) pronounces:
Carlisle, this is your doom:
Choose out some secret place, some reverend room,
More than thou hast, and with it joy thy life;
So as thou livest in peace, die free from strife:
For though mine enemy thou hast ever been,
High sparks of honour in thee have I seen.
The quality of mercy indeed (not that Shakespeare’s Bolingbroke was especially admirable in other respects). Do you see the implied criticism? While the man who wrote Shakespeare seems to “sidestep” controversial issues, he merely dresses them up as something else.
Such is the case with The Phoenix and the Turtle, which would seem nothing more than an “innocuous,” even bird-brained little poem about birds, rather than human beings. In so writing, the man who wrote Shakespeare was taking a calculated risk– and a risk it was indeed! How does torture, beheading or hanging, drawing and quartering sound to you?
Shakespeare seemed to be counting that English Catholics would read between his lines, and see the connection with St. Thomas Aquinas’ hymn or his contemporary’s English translation–the poet and martyr (now Saint). Robert Southwell, as Lady Claire, Countess of Oxford and Asquith, did in our time (see my last post),
Shakespeare’s “secret” message to Catholics in the underground might then be: Don’t give up. God’s Presence is real. Christ’s Love will prevail. Hold onto your faith. Hope may lie in cinders now, but, like the Phoenix, a Christ figure, it will resurrect.
But Shakespeare also warns in his poem that betrayal looms in the guise of “[shrieking] harbinger[s] … of the fiend,” and “foule [sic] of tyrant wing.” And ironically, although Aquinas lived four centuries earlier in a more “homogeneous” time, his Lauda Sion Salvatorem also warns that there are those who receive the Eucharist sacrilegiously.
Both the wicked and the good
Eat of this celestial Food:
But with ends how opposite!
Here ‘t is life: and there ‘t is death ….
So that the real danger is not to those who are “true and fair,” as Shakespeare refers to the righteous in his poem. They need only fear for their mortal lives. It is the infiltrator who faces eternal punishment.
In the next post, I hope to feature two men— a priest and a monk— executed on the same day as St. Anne Line. She was the brave widow, who may have been Shakespeare’s “Phoenix” (see my last post below). I have a little theory that the two martyrs, along with one or two other amazing characters, identified by others– appear in Shake-speare’s poem in vere clever ways.
Till next time!