Stratford Monument Inscription [i]
A few years ago I became interested in the Stratford monument and determined that the Latin inscription at the top could be anagrammed to reveal that Edward de Vere was the author Shakespeare. I began this blog with those findings (hence the name Hiddenepitaph), but after some reflection, I felt that my interpretation was overly complicated, and that a solution (if there truly was one on the monument) had to be simpler. I removed the article, but periodically revisited the issue, grappling with the idea that Edward de Vere was somewhere being referred to on the Stratford man’s plaque.
While I was considering possible solutions, Alexander Waugh published his article about the monument,[ii] asserting that the Latin inscription reveals that the real Shakespeare is interred not at Holy Trinity Church, but with Chaucer, Beaumont and Spenser in Westminster Abbey. This is an elegant solution (that I don’t necessarily disagree with), but I struggled with this explanation, because I felt that the phrases “in this monument” and “Ys (this) tombe” were indicating that there is something on the plaque itself that would tell us definitively who Shakespeare was, not where he was, or with whom he was literally interred.
This week I glanced at my notes and focused on the line “whose name doth deck Ys tombe” wondering about the various meanings of the word “deck” (besides covering or adorning as in “Deck the Halls”)
The Oxford English Dictionary includes a definition that refers to the arrangement of items: “a pile of things laid on top of one another.[iii]” Being most familiar, of course, with a stack of cards being referred to as a “deck” I wondered if “deck this tombe” indicated that we are simply to arrange the Latin inscription in a slightly different configuration. If we simply stack the six phrases on top of each other, we find that de Vere’s name does, in fact, deck this tombe as an acrostic.
Acrostics[iv] are poems or other compositions where the first letters of each line are arranged to form words when read vertically.[v] These were common at the time the Stratford Monument was installed:
Ben Jonson’s acrostic poem included in 1612 The Alchemist
Unlike Ben Jonson’s acrostic above, the solution to the puzzle included in the Latin inscription of the Stratford monument depends on the second letter of each word. I am unsure how common this was at the time, but it was presumably done this way because the first three phrases beginning with V-E-R across the top of the monument would have been immediately obvious. Since the name of the true author still needed to be hidden, there had to be a slightly more puzzling arrangement that wouldn’t be noticeable at first glance, but simple enough if the “passenger” decided to “stay” and try to read the hidden name.
Notes and References:
[ii] Waugh, Alexander, “Thy Stratford Moniment” – Revisited, deVere Society Newsletter, October 2014, http://www.deveresociety.co.uk/articles/AW-2014Oct-Monument.pdf
[iii] deck, v.1
†1. trans. To cover; esp. to cover with garments, clothe. Obs.
a.To clothe in rich or ornamental garments; to cover with what beautifies; to array, attire, adorn.
†1. A covering. Obs.
a.Naut.A platform extending from side to side of a ship or part of a ship, covering in the space below, and also itself serving as a floor; formed of planks, or (in iron ships) of iron plating usually covered with planks. The primary notion was ‘covering’ or ‘roof’ rather than ‘floor’
a.A pile of things laid flat upon each other.
1625 F. Markham Bk. Honour ii. vi. 63 Any whose Pedigree lyes so deepe in the decke, that few or none will labour to find it.
1631 J. Mabbe tr. F. de Rojas Spanish Bawd xix. 185 Subtill words, whereof such as shee are never to seeke, but have them still ready in the deck.
[iV] acrostic, n.
a. A (usually short) poem (or other composition) in which the initial letters of the lines, taken in order, spell a word, phrase, or sentence. Cf. telestich n
.Sometimes the last or middle letters of the lines, or all of them, are similarly arranged to spell words, etc., whence a distinction of single acrostic, double acrostic, or triple acrostic.
[v] The uses of thorns Ys and Yt (for “this” and “that”) arranged perfectly vertically (see the plaque) may also be hinting at the stacking formation.