Papers by Dennis Baron
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On the opposite page to Martin Droeshout`s engraving of Shakespeare in the First Folio of Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies, published in 1623, are ten lines of verse, written by Ben Jonson. In these lines Jonson is saying that although the engraving is a true likeness of Shakespeare, we will not see Shakespeare`s wit in his picture, but in his book. So what is this wit that can be found in Shakespeare`s comedies, histories, and tragedies?  

The Shakespeare plays are divided into acts and scenes, but each scene can also be divided into episodes. Some of these episodes are constructed around a framework of one or more dominant words in the dialogue, each of which is repeated one or more times. When these dominant English words are translated into Latin, a word or phrase that contains a `ver` syllable can be found. If, within the clustering of these dominant words, the dialogue also contains the word `nothing`, or `yet` if it is adversative, it is translated into Latin as nihil or nihilominus.

So, concealed in these episodes of English dialogue is the clustering of Latin words that contain a `ver` syllable, which are combined with the Latin nihil or nihilominus. The family motto of the leading candidate for the authorship of the Shakespeare plays is the Latin vero nihil verius (truly nothing truer), which is a Latin pun on the name Vere: Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. Therefore, certain episodes in the Shakespeare plays are constructed around concealed words that form a Latin pun on the motto of the Earl of Oxford.

The only time that the repeated dominant English word in the dialogue translates into a Latin word with a syllable other than `ver` is when it translates with a `vir` syllable, which still produces a `ver` sound; or when it translates as via, which in Old Latin was spelt vea, meaning: a road, a way; or devia: to wander out of the way, to go astray; so that devia is quite a dominant hidden word in A Midsummer Night`s Dream.

If there was only one of these concealed motto puns in the whole of the Shakespeare plays, it would be considered as being coincidental. If there were only two or three of these motto puns in each of the plays, then they too would probably be considered as being coincidental.  However, there is in fact an average of 24.54 of these concealed Latin puns on the motto of the Earl of Oxford in each of the Shakespeare plays; a total of 908 in all of the plays.

I have read twenty plays that were published between about 1560 and 1620 but which were definitely not written by the Earl of Oxford. The average number of concealed puns on the Earl of Oxford`s motto in these plays is 2.85. I have also read twenty modern plays; plays that were written within about the last one hundred years; e.g. Pygmalion, Who`s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, Waiting for Godot; and these plays contain an average of 1.5 puns on the motto of the Earl of Oxford. These modern authors would have been completely unaware that they were forming puns on the Earl of Oxford`s family motto, and therefore the average of 1.5 puns in modern plays is the figure that constitutes coincidence.

So, an average of 24.54 puns on the motto of the Earl of Oxford concealed in the Shakespeare plays, but only an average of 2.85 in the plays that were written in the 16th/17th century period; and 1.5, the figure that constitutes coincidence, in modern plays. This means that there are sixteen times more motto puns in the Shakespeare plays than would be expected to occur by chance. These statistics show overwhelmingly that the puns on the Earl of Oxford`s motto in the Shakespeare plays were written intentionally and are not coincidental.

Who but the Earl of Oxford would have written the Shakespeare plays knowing, as the author would have done, that they contain an average of 24.54 concealed Latin puns on the motto of the Earl of Oxford?

The difference between the motto puns that were written by de Vere in the Shakespeare plays and those in both the 16th/17th century period and the modern period is not just a matter of quantity but also a matter of quality or complexity.
The repetition of the concealed `ver` words in the Shakespeare plays cannot be found to the same extent in the 16th/17th century period, and to an even lesser extent in modern plays. Whilst Shakespeare`s motto puns repeat the `ver` word several times over many lines, the motto puns in the non de Vere plays rarely cover more than one line and are really quite simply constructed, using only one `ver` word, which is repeated only once, and combined with nihil or nihilominus.

The majority of the motto puns in the Shakespeare plays are formed by the repetition of two, three, four, or more different `ver` words which are combined with the repeating of the motto`s nihil element. This never happens in either a 16th/17th century play or in the modern plays.

Some of the Shakespeare motto puns intermingle with each other so that it is difficult to know if they should be considered as being separate motto puns, or whether they should be considered as being one single motto pun. A similar difficulty arises when a short motto pun is found in the midst of a distinctly different longer motto pun. Incidentally, the Shakespeare motto puns that are formed from the repetition of two, three, four, or more different `ver` words have been counted as one motto pun. This means that in the statistics that I have presented above, the complexity of the Shakespeare motto puns have been seriously under represented in relation to the 16th/17th century period and the modern period.

An example of a fairly simple pun on the motto of the Earl of Oxford can be found in Act 4, Scene 5, line 11 of Henry the Fifth, where Bourbon says: `Shame, and eternal shame, nothing but shame`. The word `shame` can be translated into Latin as VERecundia, or VEREcundia, meaning: a feeling of shame, or shame; and `nothing` is translated as nihil. This produces VERecundia, VERecundia, nihil, VERecundia; which is a pun on vero nihil verius. The introduction of the word `shame`, Latin VERecundia, by the Dauphin at line 4, and its reiteration by Bourbon at the end of line 11, and also at the end of the scene, expands the motto pun.  
The Porter`s scene in Act 2, Scene 3 of Macbeth is very important in the Shakespeare Authorship Debate because Stratfordians claim that it is the only instance in the Shakespeare plays that refers to a contemporary event, and that the event occurred after the Earl of Oxford had died in 1604, therefore the Earl of Oxford cannot be the author of the Shakespeare plays.

The first day of the trial of the Jesuit Henry Garnet in March 1606 for misprision of treason, having prior knowledge of the Gunpowder Plot, had focused on the subject of equivocation. Sir Edward Coke, who conducted the prosecution, said that a 61 page book A Treatise of Equivocation, which had been published by the King`s Printer just before the commencement of the trial, had been written by Father Garnet `not long before the Queene`s death`. In fact it seems that Henry Garnet wrote his treatise in 1598 when he was asked to give an account of equivocation for the instruction of Catholics. It is because of this word `equivocation` that the Porter`s scene in Macbeth is said to refer to the trial of Henry Garnet.

The most relevant lines (2.3.8 – 12) of the Porter are:
`Faith, here`s an equivocator, that could swear in both the scales against either scale, who committed treason enough for God`s sake, yet could not equivocate  to heaven: O, come in, equivocator`.
The `equivocation` episode actually begins towards the end of scene two with the repetition of `knocking`, the Latin pulsare et VERberare: a beating, striking, knocking; and culminates some forty odd lines into scene three when Macduff asks the Porter: `Is thy master stirring? Our knocking has awakened him`. In between there is the repetition of equivocator with equivocate; Latin tergiVERsator: one who delays, declines; with tergiVERsari: to find excuses, evade, equivocate. The English word tergiVERsate means: to equivocate, make conflicting or evasive statements.

It would therefore seem that the Porter`s scene does not refer to the trial of Henry Garnet in 1606 but is, in fact, constructed around the repetition of pulsare et verberare and tergiversari with tergiversator, which are combined with the repeated nihilominus to form a concealed double pun on vero nihil verius, the motto of the Earl of Oxford.
There are several characters in the Shakespeare plays that are banished or exiled; the most extensive `banished` episode can be found at 3.3.9. of Romeo and Juliet  where `banished` and `exile` are the dominant words for 130 lines. However, I think that the repetition of `banished` and `exile` in Act 1 Scene 3 of Richard II is much more revealing. 

King Richard:  Therefore we banish (solum vertere) you our territories: you, cousin Hereford, upon pain of life, till twice two summers have enriched our fields, shall not regret our fair dominions, but tread the stranger paths (viae) of banishment (solum vertere).
Bolingbroke:   That sun that warms you here, shall shine on me...and gild my banishment (solum vertere).
King Richard:  Norfolk, for thee remains a heavier doom...the dateless limit of thy dear exile (solum vertere).
Mowbray:   Then thus I turn (verto) me from my country`s light, to dwell in solemn shades of endless night.
King Richard:  Return (revertere) again, and take an oath with thee. Lay on our royal sword your banished (solum vertere) hands, swear by the duty that you owe to God, our part therein we banish (solum vertere) with yourselves, to keep the oath that we administer: you never shall, so help you truth and God, embrace each other`s love in banishment (solum vertere)...
Bolingbroke:  I swear.
Mowbray:   And I to keep all this.
King Richard:  Uncle, even in the glasses of thine eyes I see the grieved heart: thy sad aspect hath from the number of his banished (solum vertere) years plucked four away. [To Bolingbroke] Six frozen winters spent, return (revertere) with welcome home from banishment (solum vertere).
John of Gaunt:  I thank my liege that...he shortens four years of my son`s exile (solum vertere), but little vantage shall I reap thereby.
King Richard:  Thy son is banished (solum vertere) upon good advice...Cousin, farewell (avere) – and uncle, bid him so, six years we banish (solum vertere) him and he shall go.
John of Gaunt:  What is six winters? They are quickly it a travel (via) that thou tak`st for pleasure...the sullen passage (via) of thy weary (fessus de via) steps esteem as foil wherein thou art set the precious jewel of thy home return (revertere).
Bolingbroke:  Nay, rather, every tedious stride I make will but remember me what a deal of world I wander from the jewels that I love (errare via)...Must I not serve a long apprenticehood to foreign passages (viae), and in the end, having my freedom, boast of nothing (nihil) else, but that I was a journeyman (viator: passenger) to grief?
John of Gaunt:  Think not the king did banish (solum vertere) thee, but thou the king...Go, say I sent thee forth to purchase honour, and not the king exiled (solum vertere) thee...Look, what thy soul holds dear, imagine it to lie that way (via) thou goest, not whence thou com`st....Come, come, my son, I`ll bring thee on thy way (via).
Bolingbroke:  Then England`s ground farewell (avere), sweet soul adieu... where`er I wander (errare via) boast of this I can, though banished (solum vertere), yet (nihilominus) true born Englishman.
Two Latin words that mean to banish, to exile, are exterminare and eicere; but neither of them are `ver` words, therefore Shakespeare might have had in his mind amovere in insulam: to banish to an island; and in Henry VI Part II the Duchess of Gloucester is indeed banished to the Isle of Man. However, it appears that in this episode Shakespeare had in mind solum vertere: to turn or leave one`s country, to go into exile.

That Shakespeare had solum vertere in his mind can be seen when Mowbray is banished by Richard, and Shakespeare has Mowbray say: `Then thus I turn (verto from vertere) me from my country`s light, to dwell in solemn shades of endless night`, which is a poetical definition of solum vertere that includes the English solemn punning the Latin solum.  

In this long episode solum vertere, which is connected to revertere: to turn back, return; via, which is connected to errare de via: to wander out of the way; fessus de via: weary with the journey; viator: a traveller, wayfarer; and avere: to bid farewell, at a leave taking; are all found both before and after the nihil to form a triple motto pun.

            Another very interesting example of an extended motto pun can be found in Act Two (2.1.28–37) of The Tempest:

 Antonio:     Which, of he or Adrian, for a good wager, first begins to crow?
 Sebastian:  The old cock.
 Antonio:     The cockerel.
 Sebastian:  Done: the wager?
 Antonio:     A laughter.
 Adrian:       Though this island seem to be desert  –
 Antonio:     Ha, ha, ha!
 Sebastian:  So, you`re paid.
So why is the wager `a laughter`? Because the Latin risum movere, or commovere, means: to cause laughter. By speaking first Adrian is the cause of laughter, and when Antonio laughs the wager is paid. During the rest of this very long episode Gonzalo is the cause of laughter or ridicule; this culminates at line 2.1.171:

Gonzalo:     Do you mark me, sir?
Alonso:       Prithee, no more: thou dost talk nothing (nihil) to me.
Gonzalo:    I do believe your highness, and did it to minister occasion to these gentlemen, who are of such sensible and nimble lungs, that they always use to laugh (risum movere) at nothing (nihil)
Antonio:     `Twas you we laughed (risum movere) at.
Gonzalo:    Who, in this kind of merry fooling, am nothing (nihil) to you: so you may continue, and laugh (risum movere) at nothing (nihil).
Antonio:     Nay, good my lord, be not angry (stomachum movere).
Gonzalo:    Will you laugh (risum movere) me asleep, for I am very heavy?
A pun on the Earl of Oxford`s motto vero nihil verius is formed from the repetition of risum movere with stomachum movere, which are combined with nihil; the pun being: nihil, risum movere, nihil, risum movere, nihil, risum movere, nihil, stomachum movere, risum movere.

The exact meaning of risum movere (to cause laughter, to raise a laugh) is made clear in the dialogue: `Twas you we laughed at`; Gonzalo is the cause of laughter. Therefore it is perfectly clear that Shakespeare intended to write this episode around the Latin risum movere, and to form a pun on the motto of the Earl of Oxford. The episode, which started at line 30, comes to an end at line 190.

One of the most ingenious of motto puns in all of the Shakespeare plays can be found in Act Four (4.2.51–62) of Twelfth Night.
Clown:       What is the opinion of Pythagoras concerning wild fowl (aviarius: relating to birds)?
Malvolio:     That the soul of our grandam (avia: a grandmother) might haply inhabit a bird (aviarius).
Clown:            What think`st thou of his opinion?
Malvolio:       I think nobly of the soul, and no way (via) approve his opinion.
Clown:       Fare thee well (avere): remain thou still (nihilominus) in darkness. Thou shalt hold th` opinion of Pythagoras ere I will allow of thy wits, and fear (vereri) to kill a woodcock (aviarius), lest thou disposses the soul of thy grandam (avia). Fare thee well (avere).
On the surface these lines are just silly nonsense and are usually omitted from most productions because the significance of them are not understood; but underneath Shakespeare has formulated from Pythagoras` theory of the transmutation of the soul a most brilliant and witty motto pun. The Latin word avia (a grandmother) is the first part of aviarius (relating to birds); therefore, it follows that the soul of a grandmother shall be part of a bird. Shakespeare introduces into the conversation `and no way approve his opinion` so that the Latin via (way) can be seen as the basis of both avia and aviarius, and therefore via is the soul of avia which inhabits aviarius. 

More evidence that Shakespeare actually intended to write puns on the motto of the Earl of Oxford can be found in Act Two (2.2.112–116) of Measure for Measure.

Isabella:       Could great men thunder as Jove himself does, Jove would ne`er be quiet, for every pelting, petty officer would use his heaven for thunder; nothing but thunder.
The Latin tonare verba foro (to thunder forth), or more literally (to thunder words forth), as used by Virgil among others, when combined with the Latin nihil (nothing), creates the motto pun: tonare verba foro,  tonare verba foro, nihil, tonare verba foro. Furthermore, tonare or tonans is a divine epithet, especially of Jupiter (thundering Jupiter) and, knowing this, Shakespeare has Isabella say `Could great men thunder as Jove does, Jove would ne`er be quiet`.

Act Four (4.1.20) of As You Like It contains a short episode that could be referring to the decline in the fortunes and, therefore, the temperament of the Earl of Oxford.

Rosalind:    A traveller (viator)! By my faith, you have great reason to be sad: I fear you have sold your own lands to see other men`s; then, to have (It. avere) seen much, and to have (avere) nothing (nihil), is to have (avere) rich eyes and poor (It. povero) hands.
Jaques:       Yes, I have gained my experience.
Rosalind:    And your experience makes you sad: I had rather have a fool to make me merry than experience to make me sad – and to travel (viatari) for it too ... Farewell (avere) Monsieur Traveller (viator) ...

 The line `I fear you have sold your own land to see other men`s` applies directly to de Vere who, in September 1575, writes from Italy to his father-in-law Lord Burghley: `hoping by this time my money which is made of the sale of my land is all come in` and two months later `I shall desire your Lordship to make no stay of the sales of my land`. It is, of course, possible that there were other English Lords who, at that time, sold their land to see other men`s. However, this episode begins and ends with the Latin viator: a traveller; and the middle section is constructed around the Italian avere: to have; and the Latin avere: to bid farewell; which are all combined with nihil to form a  pun on the motto of the Earl of Oxford: viator, avere, avere, nihil, avere, viatari, avere, viator. Therefore, there can now be no doubt that this episode refers to de Vere selling his estates in England to pay for his travels on the continent; which was the beginning of the slow but steady decline in his financial fortunes.

Why, in The Comedy of Errors, is there a discussion about the loss of hair? Because Shakespeare`s intention was to create a motto pun from the Latin calvere: to be bare of hair, bald.

Why does Oliver wrestle with Charles in As You Like It? Because a motto pun is formed from the Latin pervertere, a definition of which is: to throw down in wrestling.

Why, in King John, does Constance say that Austria should doff his lion`s hide and hang a calf`s skin on his recreant limbs? Because of the Latin versipellis: a change of skin. Versipellis is transferred as meaning: a change of shape or form, which, when a character changes his or her appearance and a change of  `shape` or `form` is found in the dialogue, is evidence that Shakespeare interpreted versipellis as being a disguise.

Why does Macbeth talk to the ghost of the dead Banquo? First, because of the Latin simulacra virtutis: an appearance, apparition, a phantom, shade, ghost; and secondly, because of the Latin verba facit emortuo: he talks to the dead.  Macbeth talks to the ghost twice, on each of its two appearances, and in between these appearances Macbeth says: `I have a strange infirmity, which is nothing (nihil) to those that know me`. The episode is contrived, by Shakespeare to create the motto pun: verba facit emortuo, nihil, verba facit emortuo.

Why, in Much Ado About Nothing, does Dogberry instruct the sexton to write down that Borachio and Conrade both serve God? Because the whole of the episode is centred around the Italian mettere a verbale: to set down in writing; or iscrivere a verbale: to write down in the minutes; which appears as `write down` in the dialogue; the repetition of which, when combined with a nihilominus, creates a pun on the motto of the Earl of Oxford.

Why, in Henry V, did Shakespeare write a scene in French? In the scene  Katharine is learning English, word for word. There are several Latin words and phrases that mean: to learn word for word; one of them, ediscere ad verbum, means: to learn thoroughly, off by heart, word for word; and with the inclusion of the French neanmoins, Latin nihilominus, the whole scene becomes a pun on the motto of the Earl of Oxford.

In The Merchant of Venice, why does Shylock describe the judge, Portia, as “wise and upright”, and why does she then say that Shylock, in cutting the flesh from Antonio`s breast, must not shed one drop of blood? Because, in this `flesh` episode the Latin verissimus et sapientissimus iudex (a wise and upright judge), the French sans verser une goutte de sang (without shedding a drop of blood), and viande (meat or flesh) as in montrer sa viande (to bare one`s flesh), are all found before and after nihil and therefore form a multiple word motto pun.

Finally, an example of a concealed pun on the Earl of Oxford`s motto that incorporates the same Latin words that can also be found in Ben Jonson`s commemorative poem to William Shakespeare in the First Folio. It is from Act Four (4.4.64–108) of The Winter`s Tale.

Shepherd:  Pray you, bid these unknown friends to`s welcome (salvere iubere)...Come on, and bid us welcome (salvere iubere) to your sheep-shearing (oviarius: relating to sheep), as your good flock shall prosper.
Perdita:       Sir, welcome (salvere iubere): It is my father`s will, I should take on me the hostess-ship o`th` day...You`re welcome (salvere iubere), sir... Grace and rememberance be to you both, and welcome (salvere iubere) to our shearing (oviarius).
Polixenes:   Well you fit our ages with flowers of winter (Fr. hiver).
Perdita:      Sir, the year growing ancient – not yet on summer`s (Sp. verano) death nor on the birth of trembling winter (hiver) – the fairest flowers o`th` season are our carnations and streaked gillyvors, which some call nature`s (veritas) bastards (nothus).
Polixenes:   Wherefore, gentle maiden (virgo), do you neglect them?
Perdita:      For I have heard it said there is an art (imitari veritatem) which in their piedness (versicolor) shares with great creating nature (veritas).
Polixenes:   Say, there be; yet (nihilominus) nature (veritas) is made better by no mean, but nature (veritas) makes that mean: so, over that art (imitari veritatem) which you say adds to nature (veritas), is an art (imitari veritatem) that nature (veritas) makes...You see, sweet maid (virgo), we marry a gentle scion to the wildest stock, and make conceive a bark of baser kind by bud of nobler race. This is an art (imitari veritatem) which does mend nature (veritas)... change it rather, but the art (imitari veritatis) itself is nature (veritas).
Perdita:      So it is.
Polixenes:  Then make your garden rich in gillyvors, and do not call them bastards (nothus).
Perdita:      These are flowers of middle summer (verano) and I think they are given to men of middle age...Y`are very welcome (salvere iubere).
This episode has an outer and an inner element. The outer element is formed around the Latin salvere iubere (to welcome), but the substance of the episode is the philosophical exposition of the relationship between nature and art. The exposition is constructed around the concealed Latin veritas: truth, reality, the nature of things, nature; and, in works of art, imitari veritatem: to be true to nature; or literally: to imitate truth or nature; and with the introduction of the adversative `yet`, nevertheless, Latin nihilominus, a pun on the Earl of Oxford`s motto is created.  The Latin virgo (a maid or maiden) and the Spanish verano (summer) complete a multiple word pun on the Earl of Oxford`s motto in this episode.

In the First Folio poem to the memory of William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson writes at line 47:
`Nature herself was pround of his designs, And joyed to wear the dressing of his lines...

As they were not of nature`s family.
Yet must I not give nature all; thy art,
My gentle Shakespeare, must enjoy a part.
For though the poet`s matter nature be,
His art doth give the fashion...`

 These lines are formed around the Latin veritas, veritas, nihilominus, veritas, imitari veritatem, veritas, imitari veritatem; a pun on the motto of the Earl of Oxford that is constructed in exactly the same way as in The Winter`s Tale. Perhaps Ben Jonson who, it is generally accepted, knew Shakespeare, is covertly saying that Shakespeare is actually the Earl of Oxford. Furthermore, in the letter to the Great Variety of Readers in the First Folio, we can now see that the `imitator of nature` (imitari veritatem) could also have been intended to refer to the Earl of Oxford. 

And so it goes, on and on, motto pun after motto pun, throughout each and every one of the Shakespeare plays. This word play shows that the words that were actually written by Shakespeare have a direct connection with one specific person: Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford.

In Tolstoy On Shakespeare: A Critical Essay on Shakespeare, written in 1910, Leo Tolstoy wrote: `Shakespeare`s characters...repeat a question several times, or several times demand the repetition of a word which particularly struck sees intentional artifice...that he is playing with words`. Tolstoy was perfectly correct. Unfortunately, he did not know how, or why, Shakespeare `is playing with words`.  

From a very early age Edward de Vere would have been aware that there are many Latin, French, and Italian words that almost tell his name. By the time he came to write the Shakespeare plays it would have become second nature for him to write dialogue that was influenced by the definition of these concealed `ver` words.

It is now possible for us to understand how Shakespeare constructed his comedies, histories, and tragedies; because the `ver` words, and Shakespeare`s interpretation of their definitions, were the inspiration that fired his imagination and inventiveness, and it is Shakespeare`s imagination and inventiveness that raises him above all other dramatists. This understanding helps us to see that he is even more of a genius than even his most ardent admirers realize. 

Copyright © Dennis Baron 2016



The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. The Cambridge Text established by John Dover Wilson. Octopus Books Ltd. for Gallery Press an inprint of W.H. Smith and Sons Ltd, Leicester, 1987.

Collins-Sansoni Italian Dictionary. 3rd. ed. Sansoni, Firenzi, 1988.
Collins Robert French Dictionary 2nd. ed. Collins, Glasgow, 1987.
Lewis, Charlton T. Elementary Latin Dictionary. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Lewis, Charlton T. and Short, Charles, A Latin Dictionary. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1879 and 1933.
Simpson, D.P. Cassell`s Latin Dictionary. 5th. ed. Cassell, London, 1987.
 Tolstoy, Leo. Tolstoy on Shakespeare: A Critical Essay on Shakespeare. Kessinger         Publishing`s Legacy Reprints, Breinigsville, PA. U.S.A., facsimile of New Age Press, September 1906.  76 and 94.
Wells, Stanley, and Taylor, Gary. William Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1988.  xiv and xivi.