Monday, December 9, 2013

Bacon's Signature Ciphers in Shakespeare -70- Numerology



Returning to the concept of word, letter, and line counts, they may seem strange or even ridiculous to some people. But carefully arranged word and line counts were quite common and elaborate among Elizabethan poets who planned their work to fit known numerical symbols related to temporal or biblical numerology, for example. See Triumphal Forms, Structural Patterns in Elizabethan Poetry by Alastair Fowler, 1970, especially chapter 8. For instance, Fowler, speaking of Edmund Spenser’s Epithalamion, published in 1595, writes on page 161 that “Spenser may have been the first to introduce complex temporal numerology into English poetry.” And the use of numerical codes in various guises would be commonplace to cryptologists like Bacon.

To quote from the back of the Fowler’s book cover:

A study of numerology in Elizabethan poetry, with some background studies which base the subject in classical learning, the works of Dante and Petrarch, and the esoteric traditions of the humanists. The central assumption of numerological criticism is that there exist works written in this tradition which show a correspondence between structure and meaning on a numerical plane; that is, one in which the number of the constituent parts (lines, stanzas, sonnets in a sequence) expresses a major aspect of the meaning. For instance parts of the whole can be arranged to represent months of the year, days of the week, hours of the day, and so on. Such structures of time and the triumphal form, in which the most important 'sovereign' element is placed at the centre, are the two main numerological patterns discussed by Dr Fowler. Critics have tended to regard numerology as an isolated phenomenon, rare after the Middle Ages. Dr Fowler demonstrates its persistence in the works of Spenser, Sidney, Chapman, Shakespeare, Donne, Jonson, Dryden and others. He suggests that Elizabethan sonnet sequences (including Shakespeare’s) should be regarded as long stanzaic poems of complex numerological structure.

In his Epilogue Dr Fowler writes: “I refer to the narrow limits of our knowledge of the extent and variety of numerology. So far we have concentrated almost exclusively on symmetries and on Pythagorean or theological number symbolism. But the range of structural types that could be considered is immense: it includes such diverse possibilities as circular forms (coronas, zodiacs and the like); architectural models; musical models; games; knots, acrostics; chronograms; and figure poems. … Nevertheless, our knowledge of the scope of numerological applications should be extended far beyond the present bounds. The prospects in this field are rich and exciting: it can hardly fail, for example, to yield valuable insights into Elizabethan literary structure.”

Dr Fowler mentions only acrostics as a reference to hidden ciphers in this literature but he then implies there could be much more of this genre. And knowing that Bacon was an expert cryptographer it is not difficult to see the possibility of extending the concepts of literature numerology to include hidden signature codes.

He even mentions the concept of “numerological finesse” wherein significant numbers that a set of verses appears to be clearly leading up to are deliberately avoided. For instance he called this a “finesse of an expected central accent, a fashion exemplified in Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis.” He added that “Such finesse, whether in pursuit of sophisticated surprise, irony, or sheer complication, is a device typical of mannerism.”  [pg 102-103]. This provides a precedent for justifying inexact numerical counts when the overall context suggests an important symbolical figure.

This numerical skill among poets of that time and earlier was recognized and written about in the Minerva Britanna,(1612), supposedly written by Henry Peacham, though I am now suspecting that Bacon had a hand in it. On page 186 of this book is found these lines:

The rules of NUMBRING, for the greatest part,
   As they were first devis’d by Country Swaines,
   So still the Art with them entire remains.

Incidentally, the Rainbow Portrait, mentioned earlier on page 34 as likely involving Bacon, is referred to in Minerva Britanna, on page 22, with meaningful verse lines:
Be serv’d with eies, and listening cares of those,
Who from all partes can give intelligence
To gall his foe, or timely to prevent
At home his malice, and intendiment.

No comments:

Post a Comment