The Stratford Monument:
A Riddle And Its Solution

by Peter Farey

 

 

PREFACE

So many ludicrous cryptograms have been offered as an alleged proof that someone other than William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon wrote the works attributed to him, that anyone attempting to suggest something even remotely along these lines is bound to receive a fairly cool reception. I would, therefore, have much preferred to be writing about some quite different discovery, but that which follows was what I actually found. Unfortunately, if one is looking for the truth, the evidence that crops up is not always of the type that one would have ideally picked.

In my defence, however, I can state quite firmly that I did not start out with the intention of discovering anything hidden in the inscription on the Stratford monument. It was, as I hope to make clear, a solution that flowed logically from the words and the punctuation as they appear on the monument. As far as I know, in fact, this is the only interpretation ever to take such things as they stand, and not to assume that there must be the monumental equivalent of misprints or misspellings to make sense of the six lines of doggerel inscribed there.

I will therefore take you, the reader, through these same steps, inviting you to stop and consider at each stage whether there is any other option I could have selected which would have made more sense. If there is, then all I can say at the moment is that I was, and am, genuinely unaware of it.


 

Part 1 - Finding the Riddle

BACKGROUND

I am a regular subscriber to the internet user group 'humanities.lit.authors.shakespeare' (HLAS), where Shakespeare enthusiasts of every hue 'meet' to discuss Shakespeare and his works - and, inevitably, who else might have written them. Such discussions are by no means always concerned with the authorship issue, however, and one of the threads a while back was about the meaning of the six lines of verse on the Shakespeare monument in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon. One problem I had with this was that they appeared to be using a transcript of the poem that was different in some ways from what I thought it should be. I therefore took some time out to visit Stratford - I live not too far away - and had another look at it myself. At the head of this piece is a photograph of the inscription as it is today.

It does diverge in several details from the way in which it is often transcribed. In particular, the word THEN is usually written THAN, and SIEH is often spelt either SITH or SIETH. I resolved that, if I could, I would try to ensure that whatever meaning I suggested would stick as far as possible to the words and punctuation as they are, and not as they have been modified, presumably to match some preconceived interpretation.

Today's version does not appear to reflect exactly what was always there, however. In 1974, the monument was vandalized, and the opportunity was taken to redecorate the whole of it. By looking at earlier photographs, we can see that before the redecoration there was a colon after the word DIDE, and that the word in the second line was CANST, rather than - as it now appears to be - GANST.(1) It is also possible that, as would appear to be required, there was a question mark at the end of the first line.

"STAY PASSENGER, WHY GOEST THOV BY SO FAST,"

This is usually left more or less as it is, although some do find themselves unable to resist changing the comma at the end into that question mark. The meaning seems to be fairly straightforward, however, and the idea is apparently not too unusual.

Nevertheless, the specific circumstances here do make it seem a bit strange. The positioning of the monument makes it quite hard for anyone just to 'go by' in the sense that seems to be portrayed here. Furthermore, the author William Shakespeare was quite a well known figure by the date of its erection, some time between 1616 and 1623, and his tomb might have been expected to be the object of some interest, which people would go out of their way to visit, and not pass by in ignorance.

"READ IF THOV CANST,"

It had seemed to some of us that this is a rather strange thing to say. Why would there be any doubt about the literacy or eyesight of someone who is already reading the inscription? (2) Thinking about this apparent anomaly, it occurred to me that it might have something to do with the way in which we normally use the word 'read'. Was there another usage at that time, that we have by now largely forgotten, but which might better accommodate the words as they stand?

Two definitions in particular took my eye in The Oxford English Dictionary:

Read, v. I. trans.

I.1.b. To guess, make out or tell by conjecture what, who, why, etc. I.2.    To make out or discover the meaning or significance of a dream, riddle, etc.

Certainly "guess, if you can, what it means" would make more sense, or rather, "guess...who it is", as the words are "Read if thou canst, whom ...". The O.E.D. gives a quotation from Shakespeare's Warwickshire friend Michael Drayton: "Let vs pass this wearie winters day in reading Riddles". Could it be some sort of riddle with a name as the answer? At first sight it seems impossible, of course, but word games in this context were far from unusual at that time. This is what Frederick Burgess, in his English Churchyard Memorials, has to say:

"After the Reformation doctrinal changes which encouraged the cult of personality, coupled with a zest for literary gymnastics, combined in the epitaph the features of biography, moral and religious reflection as a self-contained unit. The majority of such epitaphs, belonging to the larger tombs of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, are outside our present scope; but apart from the few well known verses by famous poets actually engraved on tombs, a great deal of ingenious, and indeed, much fine second-rate verse was produced by unknown poetasters for the tombs of this period. Their customary puns, anagrams and acrostics are part and parcel of the emblematic imagery used by the carvers..." (3)

The Encyclopaedia Britannica also refers to:

"deliberately witty epitaphs, a type abounding in Britain and the United States in the form of acrostics, palindromes, riddles and puns..." (4)

So could it really be a riddle of some sort, the answer to which would be someone's name?

Perhaps the most famous riddle of all time, that of the Sphinx, was: "What being, with only one voice, has sometimes two feet, sometimes three, sometimes four, and is weakest when it has the most?" The only man to answer this was Oedipus, who replied: "Man, because he crawls on all fours as an infant, stands firmly on his two feet in his youth, and leans upon a staff in his old age." (5)

What this does is to combine an apparent meaning - a creature whose number of feet does actually change - with the real one, 'feet' being taken, not as parts of the body, but as supports for it. So, if this poem is also a riddle, or contains one, then we would expect to find it having one meaning that is obvious, but false, and another which is wittily concealed, but in fact the correct answer.

Squeezing two different meanings into one short, and apparently simple, poem would inevitably give rise to a certain awkwardness in the wording and the punctuation of both. So maybe this could explain some of the differences between the real poem on the monument and the various versions of it.

I therefore decided to follow up the strange idea that this poem might in fact be a riddle, and part of it a puzzle of some sort, the answer to which would be the name of a person.

"WHOM ENVIOVS DEATH HATH PLAST WITH IN THIS MONVMENT SHAKSPEARE :"

The overt meaning of this is clear enough. Who is it that envious - i.e. malicious (6) - Death has placed 'within' the monument? Shakespeare. It has been pointed out that there is not room enough for a body within the monument, but there is really no problem about that since, as a result of his death, his bust has been placed there, and the bust represents Shakespeare, who is of course there 'in spirit'. If it were a puzzle, however, it is clear that Shakespeare's would be the one name that is not the answer.

That there might be a hidden message is in fact supported by the lack of any punctuation before the word SHAKSPEARE. Punctuation was far more haphazard at that time, as we know, but there really should be some sort of pause indicated here - a comma at least. The word 'Shakspeare' comes in too fast, like the punch line of a joke told by someone with dreadful timing.

In Marlowe's Edward II (5.4.6-16), Mortimer says this about a letter, with which he intends to bring about the king's murder and get away with it:

This letter, written by a friend of ours,
Contains his death, yet bids them save his life.
Edwardum occidere nolite timere, bonum est;
Fear not to kill the king, 'tis good he die.
But read it thus, and that's another sense:
Edwardum occidere nolite, timere bonum est;
Kill not the king, 'tis good to fear the worst.
Unpointed as it is, thus shall it go,
That, being dead, if it chance to be found,
Matrevis and the rest may bear the blame,
And we be quit that caused it to be done.
The words "whom envious Death hath placed with in this monument Shakspeare" are similarly 'unpointed', and may therefore also be read in two different ways, thus:

- whom envious Death hath placed within this monument, Shakespeare

- whom envious Death hath placed with, in this monument, Shakespeare

The first is the obvious one, but the second is the one that corresponds with the idea that we are to look for a name which, since that is the one we have been given, clearly cannot be "Shakespeare". It is, of course, extremely unusual to put the prepositional phrase after the word WITH in this way, but it is nevertheless comprehensible, and presumably forced upon the poet by the need to cover two entirely different meanings.

In other words, we are to find who else Shakespeare's death has caused to be placed in the monument with him; again metaphorically and, with only the one bust, probably in the form of this hidden name.

"WITH WHOME, QVICK NATVRE DIDE:"

In the orthodox interpretation, 'Quick Nature' would presumably refer to the struggle between Art and Nature, and reflects the view that Shakespeare's genius owed more to the latter than the former. 'Quick' - i.e. lively - Nature is therefore contrasted with the 'living' - i.e. surviving - Art, referred to later on in the rhyme.

For a different interpretation, the emphasis could perhaps shift from 'Nature' to 'Quick', with the word having more to do with its being the opposite of 'dead'. This should perhaps become clearer if and when a hidden name is actually discovered.

"WHOSE NAME, DOTH DECK YS TOMBE, FAR MORE, THEN COST:"

Let us pause and take stock for a moment. Following up the possibility that this is a riddle of some sort, we have been told to look for a person who is, in some way, sharing the monument with Shakespeare. We are now, apparently, about to be told his name, which, it says, 'doth deck this tomb'.

It is just about possible to interpret YS (this) TOMBE as meaning the monument, as is born out by the fact that it has always been taken to refer to this. But such an interpretation does go right against the usual meaning of the word 'tomb', which has nearly always referred to a place that either holds or is capable of holding a dead body.

If we are looking for a name decking 'this tomb', therefore, it really should mean the grave. This is situated immediately in front of the monument, which is on the north wall of the Chancel, and it was - until his wife Ann's remains were buried next to him later - the grave nearest to it, right at the feet of anyone reading the poem there. Upon his grave, with nothing else, is the famous 'curse':

GOOD FREND FOR IESVS SAKE FORBEARE,
   TO DIGG THE DVST ENCLOASED HEARE:
BLESTE BE YE MAN YT SPARES THES STONES,
   AND CVRST BE HE YT MOVES MY BONES.
Even if this is not the exact original, it is clear that there is only one name here - IESVS. It is 'whose name' and not 'which name' that decks the tomb, however. So whose name is 'Jesus'? There can be only one possible answer - it is the name of 'the anointed one', Jesus CHRIST.

The word 'CHRIST', whose name decks in the sense of 'embellishing' the tomb, just might itself be the answer we are looking for (and indeed, one of the HLAS 'regulars', Terry Ross, came up with an ingenious answer taking this to be case) but there seems to be little reason for such an answer to be hidden, so we must also pursue the possibility that CHRIST is only part of the answer, the rest of which is contained in the next words - FAR MORE, etc.

The orthodox interpretation of this clause is something like "whose name embellishes this monument far more than costly decoration". To reach this meaning, of course, one has to ignore those commas on either side of 'far more'. Why are they there? Well, for a hidden meaning, the commas could prove very helpful. Because of them, it is in fact possible to see the punctuation as indicating something like:

What would that give us? First of all, it seems clear that 'Christ' would be the first part of a name, which could therefore be something like Christian, Christine, Christina, Christobel, Christopher or whatever, and if a surname, Christensen, Christie or Christus. So we need to look at the next section - FAR MORE - to see if it can help us decide which of these, if any, it is.

The name 'Christopher' at that time was at least as often, if not more often, spelt 'Christofer', and the words FAR MORE do contain the letters O, F, E and R. In which case, this could be a partial anagram. I can think of no other solution; no other name that I can find would fit; and anagrams, as we have seen, were frequently used in memorial inscriptions at that time. I invite the reader to stop right now, and give this some thought. Is it possible to come up with any equally valid alternative that I may have missed?

If I am right, and the first name is 'Christofer', however, there are still three letters of the words FAR MORE remaining unused. They are A, M and R. Perhaps they contribute to the start of the surname, in which case we are looking for a Christofer whose surname must begin with either AMR, ARM, MAR, MRA, RAM or RMA. A search not only of every name listed in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, but of the whole text of its 72,000 articles, turns up only one person to whom this would apply: it is Christopher Marlowe. Again, the reader is urged to stop and consider whether any other possible answer might be better. For such a puzzle to be fair, of course, the name should really be one probably known to the average 'passer-by', and which would also, ideally, be connected in some way with Shakespeare. The obvious person whose name starts with 'Christofer' plus an anagram of A, M and R is of course Christopher Marlowe, to whom both of these criteria apply. It is also interesting to note that, to get this answer, the consonants F, R, M and R remain where they are, while each of the vowels moves the equivalent of one place to the right, which was apparently an early form of cipher.

This still cannot be the correct answer, however, unless what seems to be the third part of the clue - THEN COST - manages to give us the final syllable of Marlowe's name. This need not necessarily be 'lowe', of course, since his name was spelt in several different ways. Marlow, Marlin, Marlen, Morley and Marley were used rather than Marlowe at various times. So, are we able to find any of these endings associated with the words THEN COST?

As far as the word THEN is concerned, we have seen how it meant 'than' in the orthodox interpretation I suggested. This is because 'than' was nearly always spelt with an 'e' at that time. It did nevertheless also have the meaning 'then', so it could here be being used as an adverb, indicating that this is the intended sequence, and - with the following colon - that the word COST is the last part of the clue.

We would then probably be looking for one of those endings - 'low', 'lowe', 'lin', 'len' or 'ley' - to be either a synonym of 'cost' or a type of cost. The probability of finding either one of these, of course, is unbelievably low, but - incredible indeed - the O.E.D. does actually offer both.

Ley, obs. Form of LAY...

Lay, sb. Obs. rare A bill, score, reckoning. (with an example "He...had his hostes feed him that day And sett heore costes in his lay") [In other words the lay (or ley) was the reckoning of the overall cost.]

Lay, ...an impost, assessment, rate, tax. ("A ley (sic) or taxacion of xii pounds" 1647)

In fact the first of these may have well been too rare for any 'puzzle-setter' to have had in mind, but the second is definitely good enough. Which reader would not from personal experience consider an impost or tax to be a cost?

So the astonishing truth is that there is indeed an answer to the possible riddle, and it is CHRIST+OFER MAR+LEY (i.e. 'Christofer Marley') , which is in fact precisely the way that Marlowe signed his own name. The baptismal record also shows him as 'Christofer' (7) and, which is more, his father wrote his surname as 'Marley' too. (8) It is worth noting that the Privy Council also referred to him as "Christofer Marley of London, gentleman" when he appeared before them, only 10 days before his 'sudden and fearful end', on 30 May 1593.

"SIEH ALL, YT HE HATH WRITT,"

We could, of course, stop right here, were it not for three things. First, the hidden words leading to the name 'Christofer Marley' make nonsense of "sith all that he hath writ" as the words to follow. Second, we need to see if there might be some confirmation of what we have found. Third, we need to establish whether or not this is simply acknowledging, as all accept, the debt owed by Shakespeare to Christopher Marlowe.

So let us continue.

There was, as far as we know, no such word as SIEH in English at that time. The standard answer is, therefore, that it must be either an example of the strange spelling in those days, or an error, and that it was intended to say SITH, meaning 'since'. It is assumed to carry on from the previous words as "...is of far more worth than the cost of putting it up, since all that he has written...". There are, however, several reasons for doubting that this was what was really meant.

So, recognizing all of these problems, what else might the word SIEH be, especially if there were another meaning hidden there as a riddle? For someone who has just discovered the name 'Christofer Marley' hidden in the inscription, the spelling must certainly be thought deliberate, and would hopefully provide an explanation of why the name of someone who died over twenty years earlier has been 'placed' there.

A type of word-puzzle known at the time was the rebus, which usually looked similarly nonsensical at first sight. In his Dictionary of Riddles, Mark Bryant says:

"Tabourot des Accords's study of rebuses and other kinds of puzzles, entitled Les Bigarrures du Seigneur des Accords, also appeared at about this time (1582) and was well received. As well as examples of the pictorial form, the book included chapters on literary and even musical rebuses. " (9)
To solve a rebus, one said what one could see, and the way this sounded gave the hidden meaning. A very simple example is 'IOU' which, when spoken, gives the words 'I owe you'. The positioning or arrangement of pictures, words, letters and/or other symbols could also be used. Here is another example - apparently a favourite of Gertrude Stein's:

     stand           take      2 taking
I you      throw             my      

The solution is 'I understand you undertake to overthrow my undertaking'.

Clearly, it would be possible to say that what is seen is 'Stand over I take over you throw under to taking over my', but the version of it that is selected must, of course, be the one that makes sense.

Similarly, it is possible to say what SIEH ALL looks like in a way that gives a single hidden meaning that makes sense in this context. It sees the letters of the words HE IS in reverse order ('returned' as they would probably have said at the time), (10) together 'with' the word ALL. When spoken, "HE IS returned, with ALL" becomes "He is returned withal".

No other words for returned - such as 'backward', 'backwards' or 'reversed' - make any sense at all when related to Christopher Marlowe. 'Returned', however, implies that, despite what we thought, he has nevertheless ('withal') in some way returned from the dead. (11) In other words, that he is still alive, which would indeed give a rather good reason for DEATH to have been ENVIOVS.

We would therefore have: "He is returned nevertheless, that he has written...", but this does not fit too well with the continuation "leaves living art, but page, to serve his wit".

What we can do, however, is to take the word "that" in the sense of "the fact that", as, for example, it is used in the opening words of several of Shakespeare's Sonnets, e.g. Sonnet 42: "That thou hast her it is not all my grief". In this case, the meaning would be "He is returned, nevertheless: (and) the fact that he did the writing...", which leads far better into the word 'leaves' as a verb.

MARLOWE AND SHAKESPEARE

So what on earth is all of this about? First, perhaps, I need to state my present thoughts on the vexed "Shakespeare authorship" question. My papers (http://www2.prestel.co.uk/rey/index.htm) Marlowe's Sudden and Fearful End and A Deception in Deptford show that Marlowe may well have avoided death in 1593, and survived, perhaps overseas, returning briefly to England in 1595/6 under the pseudonym Monsieur Le Doux.(12) There were also strong indications that he had had a hand in the works attributed to Shakespeare, but until the find described here I was not equally confident about that. I now believe that this too is very likely.

My current hypothesis, therefore, is that Marlowe and Shakespeare probably worked as a team, using the name of the latter as a sort of 'trading name' for the partnership. Marlowe was responsible for by far the greater part of any writing that was done, but Shakespeare was the public face, the provider (and polisher up) of the scripts, the interface with the players, provider of the 'sides' they worked from, and the apparent authority on what the plays were all about, how they should be presented, etc. The author therefore consisted of two characters - the 'quick' (William) and the 'dead' (Christopher). The real death of William meant that the author - consisting of the two of them - was dead, and this therefore implied the death of the other character too.

Now it becomes clear why 'quick nature' died 'with' Shakespeare. It is the 'living' (rather than the supposedly 'dead') aspect of the author that has now, with the death of Shakespeare himself, come to an end.(13)

"LEAVES LIVING ART, BVT PAGE, TO SERVE HIS WITT."

This is a particularly difficult bit within which to identify the hidden meaning, as there are already quite clearly at least two possible interpretations of what is written. It could be saying either of the following:

There is another possible meaning, however, brought to light by what has gone before. The word 'but' is used in the sense of 'without, apart from, unprovided with' (O.E.D. A.2), and the word 'serve' in the sense of 'dish up' or 'deliver' (O.E.D. IV.42).

 
THE HIDDEN MEANING?

I accept that whoever designed the monument meant it to be understood roughly as we interpret it today. (Mind you, I have been unable to find a single interpretation which is fully accepted by the mass of Shakespearean scholars). I now believe that this was only a 'blind', however, and that a 'real' meaning was hidden deep within the poem, which could, of course, be denied should anyone discover it too soon.

Here, then, is my paraphrase of the verse, based upon the premise that it is in fact a riddle.

STAY PASSENGER, WHY GOEST THOV BY SO FAST?
          Stay, traveller, why go by so fast?
READ IF THOV CANST, WHOM ENVIOVS
DEATH HATH PLAST
          Work out, if you can, whom envious Death has placed
WITH IN THIS MONVMENT
SHAKSPEARE: WITH WHOME,
          with, in this monument, Shakespeare - with whom
QVICK NATVRE DIDE: WHOSE NAME, DOTH DECK YS
TOMBE,
          living capacity died. 'Christ-
FAR MORE, THEN COST: SIEH ALL, YT HE HATH WRITT,
          ofer Marley'. He is returned, nevertheless. That he did the writing
LEAVES LIVING ART, BVT PAGE, TO SERVE HIS WITT.
          leaves Art alive, without a 'page' to dish up his wit.

We may or we may not accept all of this, but what we must not allow ourselves to do is to ignore the quite extraordinary fact at the heart of it all. Based upon nothing more than noticing how the word 'read' might be better interpreted as 'make out' or 'solve', we have been led, inexorably and with complete logic, to Christopher Marlowe's name, and the conclusion that, according to the monument, he was involved in the writing of Shakespeare's works. The probability that such a process would, of all possibilities, lead merely by chance to the complete and precise name of one of the most likely candidates in the 'authorship question', together with an apparent confirmation of his authorship, is as near to zero as makes no difference at all.

Those who like their probabilities more precise than this, however, should read on.

 

Part 2 - The Missing Clue

THE LETTERING ON THE MONUMENT

It was only after having stumbled upon this riddle, and argued with others about its validity, that it began to dawn on me that there is actually a clue which would help people to solve it. It concerns the use and non-use of larger capital letters.

If you look again at the lettering on the monument, you will see that it is all in capital letters, but that some of these letters are larger than the others, and that these roughly correspond to what would have been the initial capitals, had upper and lower case letters been used.

There are, however, some places where initial capitals that one might have expected are missing, and others where initial capitals are used unexpectedly. There are three of each sort. Those without initial capitals are the words READ, WITH and QVICK at the beginning of the lines of verse, and those with are the words TOMBE, SIEH and HE. A full explanation of why I pick these words before any others is given as Appendix I.

To my astonishment I realized that these words, if given special attention or emphasis would, more than any others, lead to the solution.

READ IF THOV CANST

This was, of course, the word that started me on this trail. By emphasizing it, we see that we are not to skim over the words, as we might usually do, but to examine them carefully, to put some effort into determining what they might really mean.

WITH IN THIS MONVMENT

If the word WITH is emphasized, it is simply no longer possible for it to be a part of the word 'within', which always has the emphasis on the second syllable. Therefore one is forced to look for a meaning based upon the word 'with'. The only one that can make any sort of sense is the one I came up with: "whom envious Death hath placed with, in this monument, Shakespeare".

QVICK NATVRE

When somebody dies, the 'quick' (i.e. living) part of them dies too. This is a truism, so an extra emphasis placed upon this word forces us to consider how, with Shakespeare's death, something living also died in some special way. As the name Christopher Marlowe will turn out be the answer to the puzzle, and as he was supposed to be dead, this can only mean that Shakespeare must have provided the 'living' half of their partnership.

TOMBE

For as long as the monument has been there, people have assumed that the TOMBE referred to must mean the monument itself, despite this being an almost unique usage for the word. This has happened, presumably, because the word SHAKSPEARE appears on the monument and does not appear on his actual tomb. The emphasis on this word, however, would tell us that - for the puzzle - it really is the tomb that is meant, which will, as we now know, lead us to the name 'Jesus'.

SIEH ALL

By asking the reader to give particular attention or emphasis to this word, the writer is pointing out that when he wrote SIEH he intended to write SIEH, and that it really was not the mistake that everyone assumes it to have been.

YT HE HATH WRITT

Emphasis on the word HE tells us that HE (i.e. Christopher Marlowe) rather than anyone else did it, and the only 'anyone else' that makes any sense at all in this context is SHAKSPEARE.

-----------

The odds against this 'match' happening by chance are very high, so this seems almost certain to have been deliberate. There is, of course, no general rule that unusual initial capitalization indicates any such meaning, so what is the point of a clue that you can only recognize as being a clue after you have the solution?

The answer, once you have thought of it, is fairly obvious. This is a hint that could have been given to people to help them solve it - not unlike the key to a cipher in fact. "Give special attention or emphasis to those words where a larger capital is unexpectedly present or missing".

As far as we know, there is no other evidence that such a clue might have existed at the time, but this need not deter us. There is no more reason to require such evidence in this case than there would be for the key to a cipher, about which William & Elizebeth Friedman, in their The Shakespearean Ciphers Examined(14) say:

"...it is not of course necessary that we should be able to find any recorded evidence of the systems used. If cryptograms do exist in Shakespeare's works, the keys for deciphering them might possibly have been written down and carefully preserved, but so far none has been discovered"... "We shall not therefore demand any external guide to the presence of the secret texts. We shall only ask whether the solutions are valid."
One may indeed speculate as to whether the loss of such a clue (if, indeed, it ever was put in writing) might be the main reason why it has taken so long before anyone just happened to stumble, as I did, upon this hidden meaning.

THE MONUMENT AND THE FRIEDMANS

Critics of this theory have complained that, as (they say) it is a cipher, I must demonstrate the validity of what I think I have found according to the standards applied to ciphers by William and Elizebeth Friedman. I have always rejected the description of it as a cipher and therefore also dismissed any possible relevance of these standards to this 'hidden meaning'. This was before I had had a chance to look at the Friedmans' book, however, which I have since then managed to do.

What they have to say certainly confirms that they would never have described this concealed message as a cipher.

"In contrast [to codes, which the book does not cover] the units in cipher systems are of uniform length and bear a uniform relationship to the units of plain text. Usually one letter in the cipher corresponds to one letter in the message, though in some systems groups of two or even three letters are used in a cipher to stand for one letter in the message."
I think, nevertheless, that to have rejected the possible relevance of anything else they had to say was rather hasty. Having now looked at how they assess whether a cipher is valid, I can indeed see some relevance to how one might assess the validity of other possible concealed messages.

Before considering this, however, I would like to draw attention to something else they say. Having assured us, as we have seen, that it is not necessary for there to be any recorded evidence of the systems used for any particular cipher, they continue:

"Nor is it reasonable to expect that, if cryptic messages actually were inserted in the text, they would be clearly signalled in some way. One does not put something in a secret hiding-place and then put up a sign saying 'Notice: Secret hiding-place'. The Baconians are well aware of this argument in their favour, and in fact they can cite an appropriate reference to it in Bacon's Advancement of Learning: 'The vertues of cyphars whereby they are to be preferred are three; that they be not laborious to write and reade; that they be impossible to decypher; and in some cases, that they be without suspicion.' An apparently innocent text containing within it a secret text should 'be without suspicion'; the presence of the cipher should not be suspected by those who have no business to know about it. There must be no external clues."
This admirably expresses what I believe to be the case with the Stratford Monument.

Now to what they have to say about assessing the validity of the message.

"The experienced cryptologist looks for two things, and they are equally important. First, the plain-text solution must make sense, in whatever language it is supposed to have been written; it must be grammatical ('Hearts green slow mud' would not do) and it must mean something ('Pain is a brown Sunday' would not do either). It does not matter whether what the solution says is true or not; it may be a pack of lies, but that is not the cryptologist's business. The important thing is that it must say something, and say it intelligibly."
As we have seen, the hidden meaning of the poem on the monument goes something like this:
Stay, traveller, why go by so fast?
Work out, if you can, whom envious Death has placed
with, in this monument, Shakespeare - with whom
living capacity died.
'Christofer Marley'.
He is returned, nevertheless. That he did the writing
leaves Art alive, without a 'page' to dish up his wit.
These might not be the words that another 'solver' might use, but we should remember that, whereas with a cipher one is looking for specific words, with this we are looking for a hidden meaning. If different solvers come up with more or less the same meaning, it matters little if the words they use are not the same. Because this is a puzzle rather than a cipher, however, it is just possible that a different meaning might be found. If it were shown (statistically) to be virtually certain that a hidden message was intended, however, it would then be up to the solver to decide which of these alternatives the puzzle-setter is more likely to have had in mind.

Even if the message makes sense, however, there's a second hurdle the Friedmans want cleared.

"Without reassuring himself that the system he has been using is a valid one, the cryptanalyst cannot be sure he has found the right answer. Without checking that the key or sequence of keys he has reconstructed can be used reasonably, precisely and without ambiguity, there is still room for doubt."
I have suggested that the equivalent of a 'key' to what I have found is something like the following clue: "Give special attention or emphasis to those words where a larger capital is unexpectedly present or missing". I have also shown how a strict application of this to the poem on the monument leads reasonably and precisely to the meaning I have given above. Ambiguity, of course, is what makes a riddle a riddle, so that is unavoidable.

Finally they say:

"But if there is rhyme and reason about the way he has reached the solution, if the system really is a rational and consistent system, the keys really keys, and if when they are rigorously applied they produce a plain text which is really a text, he can begin to take himself seriously. The point must be reached where he begins to feel that the whole thing did not and could not happen by accident. But it is not simply a matter of his feeling this; the assessment can be far more rigorous. The mathematical theory of probability can be applied, and the chances calculated exactly. If the cryptanalyst finds a certain key and (on the basis of the way it is built up) he calculates that the chances of its appearing by accident are one in one thousand million, his confidence in the solution will be more than justified. On the other hand, if he thinks he has found a key, and then works out that it can turn up by accident fifty times in a hundred, his confidence ought to be shaken. For then he can no longer be sure that the key was put there by anybody at all; it is just as likely to have happened by chance."
Given a poem of 52 words, the chances of the same six words coming up twice by accident are one in over twenty million (in fact 1:20,358,520). These are slightly longer odds than the chance of winning our national lottery at a single attempt (1:13,983,816). It is still somewhat short of their "one in a thousand million", but would nevertheless undoubtedly fall within the limits of where they would say that one's "confidence in the solution will be more than justified".

As I am now pretty sure that my own confidence is.

  Peter Farey, 1999-2004

 

NOTES AND REFERENCES

1 F. E. Halliday, Shakespeare (1956) Thames and Hudson, p.117, shows this quite well.

2 Even so, although as far as I know without precedent, this wording is not unique. For, example, HLAS participant Clark Holloway brought to my attention a 1628 epitaph by Ben Jonson for a certain Henry, Lord La-Ware:

"If, Passenger, thou canst but reade:
Stay, drop a teare for him that's dead..."
3 Frederick Burgess, English Churchyard Memorials (1963), Lutterworth Press, p.219.

4 Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th edition (1997), Vol.IV, p.529.

5 Robert Graves, The Greek Myths complete edition (1992), Penguin Books, p.372.

6 Oxford English Dictionary: envious, 2. Full of ill-will; malicious, spiteful.

7 The record of Marlowe's baptism is held in the archives at Canterbury Cathedral.

8 The Kent County archives at Maidstone have a will (Katherine Benchkin) which is signed by both Marlowe ('Christofer Marley') and his father ('Jhan Marley') as two of the four witnesses.

9 Mark Bryant, Dictionary of Riddles (1994), Cassel, p.40.

10 For this meaning, the O.E.D. (II.8.b) gives us "To turn round (a horse, ship, etc.); to cause to face the other way". The phrase "he is returned", meaning he has come back, actually appears three times in Shakespeare (e.g. King Lear 2.2.484).

11 I use "withal" in the sense employed by York in Richard II (2.1.189)

O, my liege,
Pardon me if you please; if not, I, pleased
Not to be pardoned, am content withal.
Withal A.1.b. Contextually: 'At the same time'; notwithstanding, nevertheless 1596. (O.E.D.)

12 The possible identity of Le Doux as Marlowe was originally suggested by A.D. Wraight in her The Story that the Sonnets Tell (1994) and followed up in Shakespeare: New Evidence (1997), based upon a paper which she and I had co-authored.

13 In my paraphrase, I express this as 'living capacity'. Two O.E.D. definitions that seem to convey how I arrived at this are:

quick A.1. Characterized by the presence of life.
and:
nature I.2.d. Character, capacity, function.

Nearer to what the author himself may have intended, however, is the definition of 'nature' (II.10.a) "The inherent power or force by which the physical and mental activities of man are sustained (sometimes personified)". So this could also refer to the real author's power to carry on 'living', which the death of William Shakespeare brought to an end.

14 William F. and Elizebeth S. Friedman, The Shakespearean Ciphers Examined (1957), Cambridge University Press.


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