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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: February ::
Re: The Number 20
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0233  Thursday, 1 February 2001

[1]     From:   William Proctor Williams <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 31 Jan 2001 10:29:02 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0218 Re: The Number 20

[2]     From:   Victor Bennison <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 31 Jan 2001 11:31:26 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0218 Re: The Number 20

[3]     From:   Monica Chesnoiu <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 31 Jan 2001 09:20:52 -0600
        Subj:   RE: SHK 12.0205 The Number 20


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           William Proctor Williams <
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Date:           Wednesday, 31 Jan 2001 10:29:02 -0500
Subject: 12.0218 Re: The Number 20
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0218 Re: The Number 20

There are, or were, 20 shillings in a pound sterling.

William Proctor Williams

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Victor Bennison <
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Date:           Wednesday, 31 Jan 2001 11:31:26 EST
Subject: 12.0218 Re: The Number 20
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0218 Re: The Number 20

Aha!  A mathematical question.  Finally something in my area.
Unfortunately my training in numerology was slighted so I'm reduced to
counting.  Looking at my concordance (I'm going on memory from last
night) 20 and 10 and I believe 4 all appear about the same number of
times.  I didn't look at all numbers, as I got bored after 20 turned out
not so singular.  The number 20, however, has some advantages over other
numbers. It corresponds to a "score".  It's a multiple of 10.  It is
used with other numbers in ways other multiples of 10 are not typically
used, such as "4 and 20 blackbirds".  And it is the smallest
two-syllable number that seems to scan nicely.  I know little about
scansion but fifteen feels awkward compared to twenty.  It must have to
do with the "n" at the end of fifteen, since fifty scans like twenty.
Twenty also has the nice alliterative 't's.  Twenty is the placeholder
of all numbers between 20 and 29, e.g., "my daughters are both in their
twenties".  That's about it for me.

- Victor Bennison

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Monica Chesnoiu <
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Date:           Wednesday, 31 Jan 2001 09:20:52 -0600
Subject: 12.0205 The Number 20
Comment:        RE: SHK 12.0205 The Number 20

Susan,

For your student there is an excellent book by Isabel Rivers, _Classical
and Christian Ideas in English Renaissance Poetry_ (London: Routledge,
1994).  There is a chapter on NUMEROLOGY.

Basically, there were several system of number symbolism available in
the Renaissance, and two are more familiar: Pythagorean and Biblical.

In the Pythagorean, Platonic and Neoplatonic tradition the first ten
numbers are especially significant. The Decad (10) is one of the most
important groups of numbers because 10=1+2+3+4. The system is not so
simple and it involves an entire superstructure of calculation and
philosophy. Insofar as 20 is a double of 10 some speculation might arise
from that.

To what extent were such numerological methods of composition used by
English Renaissance poets, this is a different matter. Rivers concludes
that not many poets adopted it. She mentions Spenser, Chapman, Milton
and Henry More. Did Shakespeare care to use it? I think it highly
improbable. Even more unlikely for his Southbank audiences to be able to
decode such a sophisticated poetic and philosophical system. Though he
might have been familiar with such symbology via the Neoplatonists, he
had too much respect for his audiences to burden them with these arcane
matters.

Monica Matei-Chesnoiu
 

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