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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: October ::
Wriothesley Anagrams in the Sonnets?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0517  Friday, 16 October 2009

[Editor's Note: I am sorry that an apparently innocent question opened 
up a line of inquiry that I thought I had made clear was NOT welcome on 
this list as long as I am its editor. My apologies. Although I welcome 
any sane, rational, literate post from David Kathman or Terry Ross, I 
thought that I had made it clear that I was NOT interested in 
distributing any submissions regarding coding, anagrams, or other 
esoteric approaches or methods that are not accepted by academics as 
legitimate scholarly forms of argumentation. I hope this Editor's Note 
makes my position clear; and from now on I simply will ignore any such 
submissions without comment. -- Hardy]

[1] From:   David Kathman <
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     Date:   Thursday, 15 Oct 2009 11:42:49 -0500
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0506 Wriothesley Anagrams in the Sonnets?

[2] From:   David Basch <
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     Date:   Thursday, 15 Oct 2009 16:53:32 -0400
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0506 Wriothesley Anagrams in the Sonnets?


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       David Kathman <
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Date:       Thursday, 15 Oct 2009 11:42:49 -0500
Subject: 20.0506 Wriothesley Anagrams in the Sonnets?
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0506 Wriothesley Anagrams in the Sonnets?

Steve Roth wrote:

 >I would be very interested to hear the opinions of other list members on
 >R. H. Winnick's new piece in _Literary Imagination_, on anagrams for
 >"Wriothesley" in the sonnets. Oxford has published this article ungated:
 >
 >http://litimag.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/imp049v1
 >
 >Winnick makes what strikes me as a very strong case for, and gives many
 >examples of, the widespread and quite explicit use and discussion of such
 >anagrams by poets in Shakespeare's day (including by S., obviously 
including
 >instances like Twelfth Night's "M.O.A.I."). I don't have the breadth of
 >knowledge to evaluate his survey, would love to hear thoughts from 
those who do.

I wasn't impressed at all with Winnick's article, which looks like 
standard-issue Shakespearean cipher-mongering, of the type that's been 
going on for over a century (often, but not always, by 
antistratfordians). It's especially easy to find spurious examples of 
supposed anagrams, especially when you allow yourself to bend the rules 
as much as Winnick does. All the examples of contemporary anagrams that 
Winnick gives involve authors who explicitly said they were constructing 
an anagram, but I am not aware of any genuine examples of plausible 
anagrams from the time in the absence of such a statement. I forwarded 
the post about Winnick's paper to Terry Ross, with whom I co-founded the 
Shakespeare Authorship web site (http://shakespeareauthorship.com), and 
who has spent some time debunking such alleged ciphers. Below are the 
relevant portions of his replies (posted here with his permission).

Dave Kathman

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********************

This Winnick piece, judging by what you quote, sounds remarkably silly. 
400 sonnets seems a rather small control sample (but I love it when 
cypher-seekers get all scientific in their lingo), but since he makes a 
point about the letters for "Wriothesley" appearing twice in some 
Shakespeare lines, that may be an admission that the set of letters 
occurs at least once in lines elsewhere.

It would be easy for me to write a Perl script to check this odd 
happening against various chunks of verse available on the internet. 
Whatever his rules are for cheating, they may only make it easier to 
find further accidental Wriothesleys elsewhere. That "Where you list" = 
"Wriothesley" plus a left-over "u" must have been frustrating until 
Winnick realized that Shakespeare was an early texter and meant "You" 
when he wrote "U"; I wonder if there are any likes that have a name plus 
the letters to form "BFF" or (more likely) "LOL"?

********************

I wrote a "double-letters-in-'Wriothesley'" checking script and found an 
example in a line from *Emaricdulfe* (which Winnick didn't check); my 
script only found two in *Delia* where Winnick had three -- perhaps 
we're using slightly different texts. Looking at other Shakespeare texts 
I found over 200, including 3 in *Venus and Adonis* and 2 in *Lucrece*; 
since these texts are dedicated to Wriothesley one might have expected 
more.

Outside of Shakespeare I found 29 in *The Faerie Queene* (ho hum) but a 
very impressive 194 in Golding's *Metamorphoses*. There are about 10 
times as many lines in Golding's *Metamorphoses* as in *Shakespeare's 
Sonnets*: if the three instances in the *Sonnets* were a random result, 
one might expect that there would be about 30 in Golding, but there are 
far more than one would expect. The question becomes "why are there SO 
FEW double-Wriothesley-letter lines in *Shakespeare's Sonnets*"?

The answer is, I think, that there are simply more letters in a line of 
Golding than in a line of Shakespeare. Golding's use of fourteeners 
increases the odds that all 22 double-Wriothesley letters will occur. It 
might also help that there seem to be more "Y"s used as vowels in 
Golding where Shakespeare would use an "I". On the other hand, I found 
no double-Wriothesley-letter lines in *Paradise Lost* (I'll recheck when 
I get a chance). I'm guessing that as spelling became normalized, lines 
tended to have fewer letters, making such accidents as 
double-Wriothesley-letter lines rarer. Without looking, one might 
predict that Turberville and Googe team with such lines, and that 
Chapman's *Illiad* (fourteeners) would have such lines at a higher rate 
than his *Odyssy* (heroic couplets) -- but I would expect Chapman's more 
modern spelling to result in fewer matches in his fourteeners than I 
found in Golding's.

The most surprising thing about Winnick's paper is that (unless I missed 
something) he found NOT ONE perfect anagram of "Wriothesley" -- an 
anagram that used all the letters of the name but no additional letters 
to form some meaningful word or phrase. There always seem to be extra 
letters or missing letters. I count 286 lines in the *Sonnets* include 
all the letters of *Wriothesley* at least once; yet in none of those 
lines did Shakespeare craft a perfect anagram. What Winnick's work would 
show (if we bought his argument) is that Shakespeare was a monstrously 
incompetent anagrammer (no Henry Peacham he).

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       David Basch <
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Date:       Thursday, 15 Oct 2009 16:53:32 -0400
Subject: 20.0506 Wriothesley Anagrams in the Sonnets?
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0506 Wriothesley Anagrams in the Sonnets?

I much enjoyed R.H. Winnick's romp of discovery, his finding 
anagrammatic instances of the names of Wriothesley in the lines of the 
Sonnets. It impelled me to do a few calculations of my own concerning this.

The name Wriothesley has ten individual letters, repeating the letter e, 
which repetition is no big deal since you can hardly have a line in any 
poem that does not have a few of letter e's since this is the most 
frequent letter of the alphabet. The choke points of this name are the 
letters W and Y which have the frequencies, respectively, of 3.5% and 
2.9% (at least in the one standard sonnet that I checked). Multiplying 
these frequencies together, we arrive at a rarity of about 1% in having 
both letters in a single line, a percentage varying somewhat higher and 
lower, but in this range. Since the sonnets have about 2,156 lines and 
assuming this occurrence has a frequency of 1%, there should be about 21 
or 22 lines that have the letters w and y and a pretty good chance of 
having all the other remaining letters of Wriothesley so as to be able 
to spell it anagrammatically.

We may conclude that having this name appear anagrammatically in 
individual lines of sonnets, each line having about 30 to 40 letters, is 
not a particularly rare phenomenon. But what appears to be the rarity 
that Winnick exposes is that in three lines in all the Sonnets the name 
appears anagrammatically fully lettered twice and that two of these 
three lines happening to locate in Sonnet 17. The other instance of such 
a two time appearance in a single line appears in Sonnet 126, the last 
of the "young man series" of sonnets. What is more, Sonnet 17 seems to 
allude to this "twice-two-times-phenomenon" in its last line, which reads:

            You should liue twise in it,and in my rime.

Winnick uses these observations as well as the concentration of 
occurrences and that in some instances these appear to interact with the 
substance of the sonnet in which they are found to conclude that these 
were intended and hardly the result of accident. Not only does this 
occur but it occurs with the name of a person that the poet had a 
relationship with. Wriothesley was his patron, not a random name. In 
sum, Winnick makes a strong case that the poet wished to place this name 
in his sonnets.

I would point out that the appearance of this particular name in the 
Sonnets should not come altogether as a surprise to those already 
acquainted with the equal letter skip (ELS) devices in the Sonnets 
dedication. (I am surprised that at this late date Winnick doesn't 
mention it.) This ELS device conveys Wriothesley's full name, including 
his first name Henry. The former name is found in three pieces, each 
with letters separated by skips of 18 letters (WR -IOTH ESLEY) and the 
latter name arrives at through skips of 15 letters. This is shown below 
in the 18 letter line matrix of the dedication with the embedments 
marked by | and /:

      Matrix 18 letters wide

                           T O T H E
O N L I|E B E G E T T E R O F T\H E
S E I N|S V I N G S O N N\E T S M r
W H A L|L|H A P P I\N E S S E A N D
T H A T|E|T E\R N I T I E P R O M I
S E D B|Y|O V R E V E R L I V I N G
P O E T W|I S H E T H T H E|W E L L
W I S H I N G A D V E N T V|R E R I
N S E T T I N G F O R T H T T


         E                       H
         S                 E
         L H         N
         E T   R
         Y O
           I                 W
                             R


Ironically, in this case, instead of accepting what is an obvious fact, 
there are commentators who consider themselves code experts and who, in 
a creative spate of denying reality, manage to deny the validity of 
these elements as presenting a name and to insist that those who would 
accept the presence of these ELS devices are somehow defective mentally 
and not up to their own sophisticated understanding.

On the other hand, a professional mathematician I consulted informed me 
that he hardly needed to indulge in a mathematical analysis of 
probability to show these ELS devices were contrived. The mere presence 
of a full name of such complexity with an association to the poet within 
a literary specimen of only 144 letters, on the face of it, indicates 
that it is something contrived.

However, what remains as a mystery in all of these devices of 
Wriothesley's name is how to interpret their finding. Is it there to 
tell us that Henry Wriothesley is the mysterious friend of the Sonnets, 
as some would conclude but without the smoking gun to back it up? Or are 
these present for other reasons?

Without concluding that his findings settle the issue of the identity of 
the "Fair Friend," Winnick points out that they do give important 
information on how the sonnets are constructed. We see also that, 
however murky, they do give clues as to the actual thinking of the poet. 
Winnick believes that this shows that studies on the identity of the 
poet's mysterious friend have great potential and are hardly beside the 
point in understanding the great poetry of the Sonnets.

David Basch

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