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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: September ::
An Early Instance of Code
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1595  Saturday, 24 September 2005

From: 		Robin Hamilton <
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Date: 		Thursday, 22 Sep 2005 21:04:21 +0100
Subject: 	An Early Instance of Code

Dr. Carol Barton kindly drew my attention to Section II of Jonathan 
Swift's +A Tale of a Tub+, which seems pertinent to the debate over 
codes in Shakespeare's writing.

There, Swift writes:

Now the coats their father had left them were, it is true, of very good 
cloth, and besides, so neatly sewn you would swear they were all of a 
piece, but, at the same time, very plain, with little or no ornament; 
and it happened that before they were a month in town great 
shoulder-knots came up.
...

In this unhappy case they went immediately to consult their father's 
will, read it over and over, but not a word of the shoulder-knot.  What 
should they do?  What temper should they find?  Obedience was absolutely 
necessary, and yet shoulder-knots appeared extremely requisite.  After 
much thought, one of the brothers, who happened to be more book-learned 
than the other two, said he had found an expedient.  "It is true," said 
he, "there is nothing here in this will, +totidem verbis+, making 
mention of shoulder-knots, but I dare conjecture we may find them 
inclusive, or +totidem syllabis+."  This distinction was immediately 
approved by all; and so they fell again to examine the will.

But their evil star had so directed the matter that the first syllable 
was not to be found in the whole writing; upon which disappointment, he 
who found the former evasion took heart, and said, "Brothers, there is 
yet hopes; for though we cannot find them +totidem verbis+ nor +totidem 
syllabis+, I dare engage we shall make them out +tertio modo+ or 
+totidem literis+."  This discovery was also highly commended, upon 
which they fell once more to the scrutiny, and soon picked out S, H, O, 
U, L, D, E, R, when the same planet, enemy to their repose, had 
wonderfully contrived that a K was not to be found.  Here was a weighty 
difficulty!  But the distinguishing brother (for whom we shall hereafter 
find a name), now his hand was in, proved by a very good argument that K 
was a modern illegitimate letter, unknown to the learned ages, nor 
anywhere to be found in ancient manuscripts.  "It is true," said he, 
"the word Calendae, had in Q. V. C.  been sometimes writ with a K, but 
erroneously, for in the best copies it is ever spelt with a C; and by 
consequence it was a gross mistake in our language to spell 'knot' with 
a K," but that from henceforward he would take care it should be writ 
with a C.  Upon this all further difficulty vanished; shoulder-knots 
were made clearly out to be jure paterno, and our three gentlemen 
swaggered with as large and as flaunting ones as the best.

*****
Lest it should be thought that the connection between Swift and 
Shakespeare is tenuous or over-drawn, it should be remembered that Swift 
was a friend of Alexander Pope, who in turn had "versified" the Second 
and Fourth Satires of John Donne.  As everyone I am sure recalls, Donne 
in his Third Satire (as also in Holy Sonnet XVIII: "Show me deare 
Christ, thy Spouse, so bright and clear ... ") had employed the image of 
dress, which Swift picks up, to denominate the various sects of the 
Christian church.

Donne, a great frequenter of plays, had no doubt been introduced to 
William Shakespeare by their common friend Ben Jonson, and over a 
tankard of ale in the Mermaid, Shakespeare expounded the secret of his 
encoding to Donne, who incorporated this in Satire III and Holy Sonnet 
XVIII.  In the course of time, echoes of The Great Code emerge obliquely 
in Swift.

Quod erat demonstrandum.

Robin Hamilton

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