The Road to Polisy, Part IV

Touring Polisy in Parts 4 and 5, we’ll continue exploring how the “mute poetry” of Hans Holbein the Younger and other Renaissance painters inspired Shakespeare’s “speaking pictures” and the way that “perspective art” pervaded the author’s work. This series was delayed by links lost in a computer crash and an ipad browser that erases urls that pull up as 404s (instead of leaving addresses intact so that you can retrieve the data by other means). To preserve their scholarship I will note missing links in case a reader recognizes and can share sources in the comments.

Shakespeare’s perspective art didn’t begin with “perspective that is best painter’s art” in Sonnet 24 and end when he dropped a skewed “eye’d awry” Holbein style anamorphism in the middle of  a reference to a multiplying mirror analogy in Richard II.  His anamorphic vision included ekphrasis or verbal descriptions of artworks which performed the heavy lifting in pivotal scenes, including Venice and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, drawn in part from the uniquely bonneted Adonis then hanging in Titian’s Venice studio, the Hall of the Horses in the Mantuan Palazzo Te and the theater-in-the-round mural of the Trojan War in the ducal palace of Mantua – three of the many instances when Shakespeare drew on the art of Italy (and northeast Italy in particular) for pivotal transitions and transformations in the plays.

For Shakespeare, inventor of a unique brand of literary anamorphism, references to art generally served functional purposes. For instance  the sculpture that came to life in A Winter’s Tale is compared to painted wax statues created by the Gonzaga sponsored Giulio Romano in Mantua. This reference to Gonzaga linked art acted as a transformational hinge that shifted character and audience perceptions. Hamlet tried to work another revelation by mirroring the king’s murderous deeds back at him in the”The Murder of Gonzago”, inspired by an incident in that same family.  In each case the author was using Gonzaga art as an anamorphic transform.  In the induction of The Taming of the Shrew, the author adorned Sly’s chamber with paintings to trick him into thinking he was a duke. The author communicated unique details which enabled scholar Noemi Magri to identify these pieces with specific Mantua linked paintings. Here the Gonzaga linked art helps to affect Sly’s transformation into a noble. Dig down in the associated complex of plays and poems and you find consistent employment of Gonzaga sponsored art, anecdotes and literature which should shift our perception of the Shakespearean playwright. Since Gonzagas of Mantua, Urbino and Bozzollo were patrons of Castiglione, Ariosto and Bandello and these writers, along with Italian acting troupes, were so pervasive in the plays it would be difficult to even draw up a firm number at this point.

By the evidence then Shakespeare spent time in northern Italy, but Gonzaga art takes on a working role in the Bard’s anamorphic system because the artists they sponsored used Mantuan palazzos to experiment with “curious perspective”, including mind bending, room sized anamorphic murals.


Indeed how could Shakespeare miss mentioning the Medici dwarf that Romano painted in the guise of a giant in this Palazzo Te mural? This giant Medici dwarf is mentioned in LLL 3.1.

Similar to the working role that Gonzaga linked art assumes in the plays, keyword combinations alluding to art are also used to create shifts in perspective and these often serve as prompts and flags marking ulterior content. The most formulaic juxtapose keywords drawn from art with a mirrored image. Consider the following anamorphic prompts, the last adding a paradox onto the end for good measure (this is the first of the missing links, ML1):


Just as anamorphic art often contained a second perspective existing on a different dimensional plane from the rest of the picture which could only be recovered by an oblique standpoint or through use of a mirror, the author included extra dimensional content in his plays via literary anamorphism, most often using art related terms to flag such material. The art/mirror image formula generates the most basic anamorphic prompts but we’ll see variations on “craft” and “vision”  sometimes plugged into the art side of equation, like Hermia’s “Methinks I see these things with parted eye,/ When everything seems double(MND). (ML1)

Expressions of anamorphic dualities or doubleness were littered through the canon. Shakespeare made reference to anamorphic devices like slatted portraits and multiplying mirrors but also employed bed tricks, head tricks, twins, dopplegangers, disguises, cross-dressing, punning, mirroring, paradoxical contrasts such as that between “seeming” and “being”, what “is or is not” and hendiadys (“two into one” speech), all of which could be used to indicate an alternative perspective. When the author laid stress on art and/or double images to create an anamorphic statement he was generally flagging nearby extradimensional content such as the shadowing of real life people, places or situations or the kind of covert communication through multivalent language that Hank Whittemore calls “double image writing”.[1]

The author’s use of double images and framed reflections included the mirroring of two sides in the layout of scenes and casts of characters.[2] As James Ryan explored in Shakespeare’s Symmetries, while the central scene in a play (as scholars measure it) was not always the thematic center, each play featured a thematic “keystone” scene as a centerpiece and flanking scenes radiating from there to the start and finish so that each play folded in half was more or less symmetrical. This was often accomplished by carrying over or mirroring actions the scene that was its equal opposite. [3] This kind of chiastic pattern (ABCBA) was incorporated into the Torah and Beowulf, the latter not officially considered a source for Hamlet since it was inaccessible to Shakspere of Stratford, the only known copy acquired by the scholar Lawrence Nowell when he was Oxford’s tutor at Cecil House.

Sometimes incidents of anamorphism and puzzle-like allusions could be found in the thematic center, which Ryan dubs the “keystone scene” or in the mirrored “flanking scenes” that act as pillars on either side. As Ryan recognizes, the central flanking scenes are “more prominently mirrored” and occupy “a privileged position in the plays”. Using Ryan’s data, one can readily see that important anamorphic transforms and puzzles often appear in keystone and central flanking scenes.

Also consider the centerpiece Sonnet, #76, which insists that “every word” (E ver-‘e’) almost tells the author’s name, a statement of identity. As has been noted in a 14 count grid (the key being the number of lines in the Sonnet), the Y from MY NAME in line 7 begins a vertically aligned and reversed “de Vere”, which was Edward, the Earl of Oxford’s surname.[4] Since independent commentary has elsewhere suggested that it is “probably correct” to view Sonnets 75, 76 and 77 “as forming a distinct group” it is possible that the concept of keystone and flanking scenes that Ryan uncovered also extended to the Sonnets, although (as in the plays) other grouping and organizational schemes remain evident.[5] 

While anagrams and skip codes are controversial, the era’s playful trickery and love of codes and puzzles is well attested. On that note Heidi Jannsch explored the curious suggestions of “doubling” in Jonson’s First Folio poem and accompanying Droeshout portrait (p. 10), while Julie Sandys Bianchi has researched the card playing terms littered through that poem (puns doubling as “art” and “craft” related terms ostensibly playing off the portrait on the facing page.) These allusions to card trickery and artful doubling are consonant with what I believe was Jonson’s intent: to prompt the reader to look for the anamorphic content in the canon, the equivalent of trompe l’oeil or “fool the eye” word pictures in the plays.

While keystone and central flanking scenes are emphasized, at other times flagged anamorphic markers in Act V of a play link to caches in acts that are equally “light” or “heavy” of scenes which may then link by mirrored keywords to a similar Act V flag and associated caches in a different play altogether (Missing Link 2). This is a trickier exploitation of symmetric principles, but if you can imagine matching priest holes on the lower floors of attached Tudor houses which extend to other hides in the attics of those houses and then link together, connecting one house to another, that’s a good analogy for the daisy chain that the scholar ML2 discovered in the plays. As the author deposited caches of information in each “hide” and recusants often hid religious contraband and family papers in priest holes I believe that was the analogy that he would have used.

Like the play Hamlet tells us “By indirections find directions out” (2.1) and “I will find where truth is hid, though it were hid indeed within the center” (2.2). Hamlet 2.2 is not even close to being the keystone scene although this mention of truth hidden in the center is accompanied by a wealth of allusions to what was true, like the clues about The Ambassadors painting that one was directed to by the Act V flag that was part of the previously mentioned daisy chain or complex of priest holes, explored in Part 3 of this series. Also included in the displaced “center” of 2.2 were questions about juvenile thespian “little eyases”, “Who maintains ‘em?” among the pointed inquiries (Oxford sponsored and his associates managed a troupe of child actors who rivaled the adult acting troupes in their day). In this case the truth-telling allusions and reference to author identity were clustered around the reference to truth being hidden in the center, though the central keystone scene also held anamorphic treasures.

Without this perspective, artifacts of the author’s method may seem like the obsessional quirks of a savant, especially if your view is restricted to the man from Stratford. Samuel Johnson observed:

A quibble is to Shakespeare, what luminous vapours are to the traveler; he follows it at all adventures; it is sure to lead him out of his way, and sure to engulf him in the mire. It has some malignant power over his mind, and its fascinations are irresistible… let but a quibble spring up before him, and he leaves his work unfinished. A quibble is the golden apple for which he will always turn aside from his career, or stoop from his elevation. A quibble, poor and barren as it is, gave him such delight, that he was content to purchase it, by the sacrifice of reason, propriety and truth. A quibble was to him the fatal Cleopatra for which he lost the world, and was content to lose it.[6]

Word Origin and History for quibble

  1. 1610s, “a pun, a play on words,” probably a diminutive of obsolete quib “evasion of point at issue,” based on an overuse of Latin quibus? In legal jargon, which supposedly gave it the association with trivial argument. Meaning “equivocation, evasion of the point” is attested from 1660s.

  2. “equivocate, evade the point, turn from the point in question or the plain truth,” 1650s, from quibble (n.). Earlier “to pun” (1620s).

    (Thanks to the blog Bringing Deformed Forth for collecting the information on Samuel Johnson and quibbles) . [6]

Since Johnson mentions “quibbles” as Shakespeare’s “fatal Cleopatra for which he lost the world”, look at the double image writing surrounding A&C’s “vantage like a pair of twins”.  In stressing the importance of delving into Shakespeare’s wordcraft, scholar Stephen Booth recommended analyzing the connections of a word, “its sound, sounds that resemble it, its sense, its potential senses, their homonyms, their cognates, their synonyms, and their antonyms.” [7] Consider, as he did, a soldier’s description of the retreat of Queen Cleopatra. Booth points out that the rich layering of associations in this passage — breese being both wind and gadflies, flies meaning to retreat and a form of insect – achieves more than a simple pun.

Scarus: On our side like the tokened pestilence
Where death is sure. Yon ribaudred nag of Egypt—
Whom leprosy o’ertake—i’ th’ midst o’ th’ fight,
When vantage like a pair of twins appeared,
Both as the same, or rather ours the elder,
The breese upon her, like a cow in June,
Hoists sails and flies.

If Cleopatra’s ship hoisting sails to escape a swarm of attackers and the fleeing cow swishing his tail at pursuing pests form an anamorphic word picture, a two in one visual image, consider that the lines typically taken as an expression that both sides appeared equal was itself an anamorphic prompt that also effected a shift in perspective. With the “ribaudred nag of Egypt” – Queen Cleopatra herself — as the subject of the sentence, an audience hearing “When vantage like a pair of twins appears/ Both as the same, or rather ours the elder” might at first see a comparison of Cleopatra and Elizabeth instead of fleet strength. (Missing link 3)

In the previous act, in 3.10, the keystone scene, finding out that Antony was married, Cleopatra criticizes him in terms of an anamorphic slatted portrait: “Though he be painted one way like a Gorgon/ The other way’s a mars.” So Shakespeare had already given us an anamorphic prompt at the thematic center. In the next breath, Cleopatra pleads with Mardian to have Alexas “Bring me word how tall she is.” She had already asked that Alexas find out rival Octavia’s age, hair color and inclination. Elizabeth’s competitiveness with her cousin Mary Queen of Scots was well known to courtiers, her demands to know which one was taller, who was prettier, how the other queen exercised and whether she played the virginals well.

For a perceptive courtier the connection had therefore already been made between Cleopatra and Elizabeth in the keystone scene, which again gives us a revelation of identity – this time of the English Queen shadow played in the figure of the Egyptian ruler. Alluding to Elizabeth as a fleeing cow was quite frankly dangerous. Southampton’s former tutor, the saint Swithun Wells, was arrested after his wife was caught hosting a Catholic mass in 1591. To the punning accusation that English Papists were fathered by “bulls” or papal decrees, Wells insisted, “If we have bulls to our fathers thou hast a cow to thy mother”. This display of “some rancor towards the queen” may have contributed to the harshness of his sentence. [8] For the crime of his household hosting a Catholic mass (at which he was not present), Wells – scholar, schoolmaster, Southampton’s beloved former tutor – was hung in a public execution. In a world where art – along with political opinion and spiritual expression – had been “tongue tied by authority” masked speech was the only safe means of expression. Given the controversies of the material it is not at all surprising that no court or public performance of A&C was known before 1607, and that the play escaped print until the 1623 First Folio. Certainly the author could not have openly raised the specter of an English queen targeted for assassination by Rome and the horrors that would happen if she lost that war.

In its earliest sense quibble, as documented above, signified a pun which then shaded into the double speech of equivocation. The latter term also held a different meaning in early modern literature, being a Jesuit doctrine of doublespeak that allowed a lie to be told if it would protect a Roman Catholic priest or communicant so long as the falsehood was true in a way (“There is no priest in this house” when the priest was hiding on the roof). This method of evasion, which often used puns and euphemisms, was condemned in a tract by Oxford’s father-in-law Lord Burghley who, like Polonius, the character he inspired in Hamlet, could himself be quite duplicitous. Polonius was named Corambis or “double hearted” in the first quarto which suggested the shadowplay of Lord Burghley in that character (playing off his motto cor unum, via una or “one heart, one way” ) but also suggesting the anamorphic function of that character’s speech.

Without delving into their individual theories, I appreciated Dave Gontar’s collection of scholars’ observations of doubleness in Hamlet in the article “Shakespeare’s Doubleplay”. For instance Frank Kermode in Shakespeare’s Language saw Hamlet as “dominated to an extent without parallel in the canon by one particular rhetorical device: it is obsessed with doubles of all kinds, and notably by its use of the figure known as hendiadys” or “one-through-two” figures of speech. Rarely used by other playwrights, it was not just the sheer number of hendiadys in Hamlet that drew attention, but their “identifiable tension or strain, as if the parts were related in some not perfectly evident way.” [9]

Stressing the way hendiadys support the “doubled vision” and dualities of Hamlet, Ted Hughes observed “that the two qualifiers are being weighed against each other – across the fulcrum of that ‘and’ – and with conscious deliberation. In general each word supplies a different view.” These statements support a view of Hamlet’s hendiadys as precisely crafted and calibrated anamorphisms. Hughes also drew attention to T.S. Eliot’s observation of the way the play “seems to struggle with a mass of highly pressurized, obscure material that cannot be dragged into the light, as if plot and characters were somehow inadequate to express what Hamlet, and beyond Hamlet, Shakespeare seem to be aware of and involved with.” [10]

Recognizing the inherent anamorphism in these statements, Gontar shared a picture of The Ambassadors. He assumed that Oxford “would have long been familiar” with Holbein’s painting on the way to arguing his own thesis. Without delving into their specific theories one must accept the more generalized case which these scholars implicitly advance: death may pervade Elsinore but so does anamorphic doubleness. Shakespeare worked hard to craft a great number of tiny word pictures whose two images did not quite line up in Hamlet – not one great anamorphism dropped into the center but many smaller ones sprinkled throughout — and these are just one kind of perspective shifting, attention directing prompt among the many jostling through Hamlet and in the canon.

Despite Professor Michael Delahoyde’s paper on “Shakespeare’s perspective Art”, David Gontar’s essay “Shakespeare’s Double Play”, Hank Whittemore’s analysis of the Sonnets’ double image writing on his blog and in The Monument plus the many astute contributions of Stratfordians few grasp the holistic system of anamorphism in the Bard’s work or draw its parts into a comprehensive picture. To frame it simply, the bard’s literary anamorphism was the most distinctive hallmark of his work, not only built into the structural framework of compositions but also encompassed that which lay beyond the surface plane of the text, including double image speech as well as allusions, memorials, hat tips and shadow plays of real life people, places and situations, and these almost always accompanied by prompts that suggest and/or effect altered perspectives.

When is literature anamorphic? When elements combine to create new dimensions of meaning that lay alongside or even apart from the surface plane of the text. For Shakespeare, anamorphic transforms worked effectually and for a purpose, spurring a passive reader or audience into a critical thought process.  Catherine Belsey described this kind of encounter as “an uncanny phrase or figure (that) disrupts our seamless mastery of the text, takes it in an unpredicted direction, or leaves us undecided between possible interpretations. It invites us suddenly to read from another position, and thus draws attention to the subject as precisely positioned…” [11] [12] These manipulations not only left the reader poised to pick up on the double image speech, but as Dr. Peter Platt observed of the line, “One face, one voice, one habit and two persons, / A natural perspective that is and is not!”: “Orsino’s words would have announced to his earliest listeners and readers that they were in the presence of the discourse of paradox: a discourse in which opposites can coexist and perspectives can be altered. They would be forced, if only briefly, to reconsider accepted opinions, beliefs, truths.”[13]

In the third part of this series we examined the way that the duplicitous (and double hearted) Polonius/Corambis unwittingly suggested Holbein’s The Ambassadors as the reason for Hamlet’s madness. In 2.2 he urges that the king “hunt not the trail of Policy”, a homonym for Polisy, the painting’s location, in the same obsequious run-on sentence in which he claimed to know the reason for Hamlet’s disturbance. “Policy” is also the English translation for Politique, the French party that promoted religious toleration. Yet the fact that the author also intended an oral/aural clue is confirmed by the king’s immediate response: “O, speak of that, that I do long to hear. Policy/Polisy was the only homonym and the only phrase of substance in the preceding blather. Yet in putting communicating his reasons to the king, Polonius says “Give first admittance to the Ambassadors” as if they should be considered the primary reason for why Hamlet is acting so crazy. After he departs the monarch observes that the advisor has “found the head and source” of the prince’s “distemper”. He is likening it to “the head and source” of a river, but an anamorphic skull does take center stage in The Ambassadors. (ML1)

As we saw in Part 3 those “Polisy” and “Ambassadors” allusions in Hamlet occurred in an act arrived at by following directional markers from Act 5 where Hamlet placed laden emphasis on the anamorphic qualities of Yorick’s skull right up to the moment before he stumbled over the funeral of his rejected fiancee.  This Act V prompt of an anamorphic memento mori paired with an allusion to Helen de la Tour or de Tournon who died for love was at least partly echoed in Act 5 of two other plays, as our missing source ML2 pointed out. By looking for an Act that was equally light of scenes one ends up in act 2. In 2.1 Polonius both coaches and warns agents on duplicity, including the line “By indirections find directions out.” Thus warned by the master we can follow his direction by being alert to the indirections of his speech in 2.2 and find the truths hidden in this displaced “center”.

In the Act V flag in All’s Well that End’s Well the rejected Helena, then thought to be dead, is herself turned into an anamorphic memento mori in the mind of Bertram, the Count of Roussillon. By finding the act with an equally light number of scenes one is linked from 5.3 to 1.3 and another cache of information. This interior scene through comical allusions confirms that the author knew that the real life Count of Rousillon’s sister was the real flesh and blood Helen de Tournon, just as Act V slyly suggests that the fictional Count should marry Madeleine Lafeu who as Ron Hess pointed out was inspired by the woman the real life count did actually marry, Madeleine la Rochefoucauld.  The interior scene is marked by the confirmatory phrase “find…your salt tear’s head”. Again the author lets us know that we have “found” the “head” and source, mirroring the phrase that confirmed the location of the cache in Hamlet. Note that the Act V flag and the interior cache were intrinsically related: both discussed potential mates for the Count, first in the character based on his real life sister and later in one modeled after the woman that the real life count did later marry. So in parallel we can posit that it was not just chance that the paired allusional structure in Hamlet gave us anamorphic Yorick in the Act V flag that was linked to an interior cache alluding to The Ambassadors painting. Nor was it coincidence that the second part of Hamlet’s Act V flag was a funereal scene modeled on that held for the real life Count of Roussillon’s sister – a highborn man stricken to stumble over his rejected lover’s funeral procession as actually happened at the interment of the historical Helen de Tournon.

So I can give proper credit, I am still searching for the link to the Stratfordian article that first documented these allusional structures which, as that writer (ML2) pointed out, also extended in a less clear cut way to Love’s Labours’ Lost. As I documented in Part III the French nobles of Polisy and Rousillon that figured into allusions in Hamlet and All’s Well were linked by intermarriage in at least four different ways and had significant ties to the chain of noble and royal relations who won the peace in the French Wars of religion and hence were figured together in LLL, the third play in that allusional triplex. Act V in LLL also alluded to a lady killed by Cupid and a messenger of death, a living memento mori who strode onto the stage, though as she noted, the interior linkage is unclear. This happens I think because LLL is “thrice worthy”– a play written with hat tips to the nobles who ended the French Wars of Religion was then given a distinctly English gloss. This is why 3 is obsessively woven into the story, to let you know it is not a double play but a triple play.

Here we will consider a second triplex of plays, consisting again of All’s Well from the first trio but this time grouped with Much Ado about Nothing and Measure for Measure. As an aside, we must also consider passages where anamorphic potentials exist, even when they don’t appear to be fully exploited. For instance the hollow bones in Timon and Measure for Measure refer to the disease of syphilis, although Sophie Chiari points out that, like the Holbein skull, “when seen from the margins, Measure for Measure shows a city peopled with syphilitic gentlemen whose ‘bones are hollow’”, which she finds “puzzling as in German, the name Holbein, or hohle bein, means hollow bone.” Just as the anamorphic skull in The Ambassadors is often taken as a play on the painter’s name, she thinks that “Shakespeare’s double entendre may thus be read as an implicit reference to Holbein’s painting.”[14]

So like Gontar in the Antistratfordian camp, Chiari assumes that Shakespeare had knowledge of the Holbein painting hidden away in the French countryside. If that memento mori hovered ghostlike over the anamorphic city of Vienna/Vienne/Milan in Measure for Measure, the Holbein skull was physically made manifest in Hamlet where we find the anamorphic treatment of Yorick, the homonym of Polisy, “the Ambassadors” repeated grandiosely and the phrase “found the head” all tied together in a precisely structured way. Yet Chiari’s scholarly interpretation still stands and it may be significant that Measure for Measure is the later written “capstone” of that second trio of plays that links to and partly overlaps the first triplex. This second triplex, as we’ll see, also employs these Act V flags. In the second triplex of All’s Well, Much Ado about Nothing and the later written Measure for Measure, the author imbedded instructions on his use of perspective art. The plays Hamlet and LLL, which linked with All’s Well in the first triplex, also carried small instructional asides. Yet the second triplex, which also included All’s Well, contained the most elaborate explications of method.

Just as M4M was haunted by a figurative Holbein skull, Sophie Chiari notes that in this latter written play the bard “keeps referring to his former ‘Italian’ works.” Since he’s interconnecting plays all over the place how can we call this a distinct triad and single it out for special attention? For Shakespeare lovers these three plays in the second triplex notably hinge on bed tricks where another person is substituted for the expected lover and “up to a certain point”, Chiari notes, M4M “may be considered a transposition” of the other two Italian bed trick plays.[15] Those two – AW and MAAN – are the two that contain the most elaborate guides regarding the bard’s use of anamorphism and they happen to be distinguished in the canon by the deliberate circulation of fake news that the spurned lady has died, these false claims then creating an opportunity for the rejecting suitor to repent while she is still alive. It is a subtle distinction but it specifically links the two as a pair even as they remain part of that triplex whose hallmark is the bed trick and also connect back to the first trio of plays. AW is a prominent part of both triplexes. MAAN, as we will see, shadow plays figures that are also related to the nobles and royals alluded to in the first trio of plays and also contains the tracings of an Act V flag.

M4M was carefully pieced into the canon at a later time and designed to fit with these two but also distinguished from the pair. There, besides the requisite bed trick, by method of a head trick false news is deliberately spread about a brother’s death. Yet as Patrick H. Martin points out when we look back at the women of the story we find that different kinds of deaths were stressed. If the coerced Isobella gives in to Angelo’s demands for sex in exchange for her condemned brother’s life she will suffer spiritual death for all eternity as she bemoans. Mariana, the spurned fiancée of Angelo, faces another kind of death: social annihilation as well as the extinction of her genes, never lover, mother or wife. Isobella’s brother Claudio was slated for death even if his sister did give in to sexual coercion. This story in the Keystone scene (2.4) is based off an anecdote from when Ferrante Gonzaga as governor of Milan condemned to death a judge who demanded sex in exchange for sparing a woman’s condemned kinsman but treacherously had the prisoner executed after she had complied. Ferrante, uncle of the Gonzaga Dukes that Oxford would have met, forced the judge to honorably marry the woman and then had the judge executed and this story was printed in the international literature of the day. In M4M the kinsman Claudio is saved from death by means of the head trick and only female appeals to the Duke’s mercy save the wrongdoing Angelo from execution.

Act V of Measure for Measure also subtly alludes to the various forms of anamorphic memento mori featured in the first triplex but in more abstract fashion. Isabella complains that the Duke is making her seek redemption from a “devil”, her own abuser Angelo who, though believed honorable, “in all his dressings, characts, forms/ Be an arch-villain” (which should have made James scrutinize his own aides). Isabella requests that the Duke use his reason “to make the truth appear where it seems hid,/ And hide the false seems true” and asks the ministers to “unfold the evil which is here wrapt up in countenance” – a suggestion that Angelo’s respectable appearance, his very visage can be untwisted and unwrapped, revealing a monstrosity that lays concealed underneath. In this case it is his normalcy that is an anamorphic projection and which will resolve into horridness upon examination.  While Angelo’s scorned and rejected fiancée, Mariana, yet remains a veiled figure the Duke says in reference to Isabella being led away in feigned arrest, “Do you not smile at this, Lord Angelo?-/ O heaven, the vanity of wretched fools.” The Duke is throwing Angelo’s words back at him but we now sees Angelo as a grimly grinning figure of death This ruler has already warned Isabella that he will speak contrary to her cause and feign disapproval so he uses aide Angelo’s earlier overheard phrase, reflecting it back like the mirror used to resolve an anamorphic distortion. The severed head trick, Angelo as an evil “wrapt up in countenance” that must be unfolded, the commentary on the paradox he presents, even the appeal to “heaven” and “the vanity of wretched fools” suggests an anamorphic memento mori in the figure of Angelo while a diffuse vanitas or message of death pervades the scene, the same Holbein skull that Chiari sensed hovering figuratively over the entire city. Here the scorned and rejected fiancée will be restored to a position of honor and Angelo’s hideous self revealed. So we have a final act haunted by the chilling visage of an anamorphic figure of death and the restoration of the scorned rejected lady or one might even say the multiple figures who have been saved from dying for love. The author has abstractly woven the Act V flag into the fabric of the play this time.

Since this is the sole scene in Act V and there is a clear two part flag we should be looking for an act of equal or almost equal lightness in the interior. This leads us to Act 3, which only has 2 scenes. Interestingly 3.1 is the right flanking scene, the one where the bed trick is proposed as a solution. In the keystone scene which falls one scene prior, at the end of the longer Act 2, we have Angelo’s true malevolence laid bare even as he speaks in decidedly anamorphic terms and in fact makes the vanity reference that the Duke echoes in the 5th Act. Since Angelo is so clearly meant to shadow the merciless doings and even death-dealing acts of James’ own royal advisors, men like Cecil and the Howards, the pattern of the Act V flag and linked interior cache of real life information is represented in Measure for Measure though the interior linkage is not as precise. It would have been better if the keystone and right flanking scene had together made up a single act that was almost as light as Act V, instead the cache is offset in the last scene of the previous act.

In the Act V flag of All’s Well that Ends Well, convinced by disinformation of Helena’s death, Bertram was asked whether he remembered Lord Lafeu’s daughter and he immediately segued to the matter haunting his conscience: his wrong-minded treatment of the spurned and now thought to be deceased Helena. Bertram has not only turned Helena’s image into an Act V anamorphic memento mori, as mentioned previously, but the passage is also put to use as an explication of the author’s method:

Bertram: Admiringly, my liege, at first

I stuck my choice upon her, ere my heart

Durst make too bold a herald of my tongue

Where the impression of mine eye infixing,

Contempt his scornful perspective did lend me,

Which warp’d the line of every other favour;

Scorn’d a fair colour, or express’d it stolen;

Extended or contracted all proportions

To a most hideous object: thence it came

That she whom all men praised and whom myself,

Since I have lost, have loved, was in mine eye

The dust that did offend it. (V, 3)

Again I believe this was commented on in that seminal lost link ML2 but  I will repeat the information to preserve her brilliant analysis (and please add the link in the comments if you know the source). Bertram had not only turned Helena’s image into a horrid anamorphism (fusing the two aspects of the Act V flag together), he was also laying out some of the language used to alert audiences to extra-dimensional content. To draw again from our missing source ML2 to further our understanding of the Bard’s anamorphism, (and I have recreated this as closely as possible from memory but also added to it) while bed tricks, head tricks, twinning, disguising, mistaken identities, hendiadys, puns and paradoxes are inherently anamorphic, he also uses keywords like art, craft, painting, painterly art, perspective(s), curious perspective, picture(s), vantage, framing, or describes various anamorphic devices and techniques. Other arts and their related terms can also be used to indicate or effect shifts in perspective like a play-within-a-play, a painted cloth or a statue for instance. Shakespeare could also signal such content by laden emphasis on eye(s), eyesight, vision, glass, mirror, reflection, lenses or impressions as in “impressions of mine eye” in the above passage. Elsewhere we can find emphasis on ever handy heralds or messengers as in “herald of my tongue” in Bertram’s list above, as well as speech, tongue, ears and hearing (useful when aural clues like homonyms or puns are involved – “O speak of that. That I do long to hear). If Bertram might “warp the line” and “extend or contract all proportions” which are classical references to perspective art, the occasional stress on characters being tall vs. short and heavy vs. light may also fall under this category. Bertram also “scorn’d a fair colour” such as when Rosaline was called both dark and light or was born “to make black fair” in Love’s Labours’ Lost. As others have theorized, Shakespearean women who so clearly are not just intended to represent regular women may at least in part represent pseudonymous works, a “body” of literature, a field of study or a religious faith. Heavy/light, tall/short distinctions can also serve as instructional prompts, ie. directing attention to another act in the play that is equally “heavy” or “light” of scenes. as happened with the Act V flags. At other times the author might stress that the object of manipulation was deformed or misshapen. Indeed an anamorphic distortion can “extend or contract all proportions” to turn a beautiful woman into a “most hideous object” as Bertram described. The “stuck his choice upon her” could recall the way the author stuck a character over a living person, Polonius laid over Burghley for instance. In similar fashion he “express’d it stolen” as in a character stolen from life for use in a play like in M4M and this is combined with the theme of anamorphic deformation in the deform’d thief that the fashion of anamorphism is in MAAN  where there is also a fancy for strange disguises and further explication of his anamorphic method that we’ll get to. Terms like Fashion, fancy, fantasy, counterfeit, minting, coining, cutting and stamping are also among the kinds of art and craft related terms that we’ll see the author using for anamorphic prompts that announced and/or effected shifts in perspective.

All of these elements were combined with flexible ingenuity and often imbedded seamlessly into the text. In Measure for Measure, which contains shadow plays of real life figures, an intact Act V flag/interior cache and mistaken identities involving a bed trick and a head trick, Angelo sneeringly suggests in the keystone scene that: “…It were as good/ To pardon him that hath from nature stolen/ A man already made, as to remit/ Their saucy sweetness that do coin heaven’s image/ in stamps that are forbid….” Since ‘as to’ suggests an equivalency (often indicated by a colon) and stealing, coining and stamped impressions are among the keywords that refer to the Bard’s anamorphic crafting, this more complex expression was a variation on the art/mirror image formula, perhaps best expressed as art/mirror image : art/mirror image (ie. coin…in stamps/heavens image : stolen/ from nature… a man already made).

That equivalency is important to note. As Patrick H. Martin points out this “is best seen as Angelo drawing a moral equivalence between murder and the Elizabethan crime of distributing an Agnus Dei: a wax disk, blessed by the Pope, stamped with a cross and the figure of a lamb”. James I had freed all prisoners except for murderers and Catholics as one of his first official acts upon ascension to the English throne and also retained harsh Elizabethan laws that made it treasonous to support or to be a priest in England, though he continued to extend favor and courtesy to selected loyal noble Catholics. The saucy (insolent) sweetness of those coining heaven’s likeness in forbidden stamps refers to priests in the plural (sweet is used in the Catholic coded speech as analyzed by Claire Asquith and there was a Father Sugar while Oxford’s cousin the Jesuit Robert Southwell also used the pseudonym Sugar) but if priests were referred to in the plural the so-called murderer could be singular by the phrasing. Having mastered the craft of “stealing” real life figures for the composition of fictional characters, and killing many a one off on stage, Angelo’s sarcastic remark could be construed to mean that “it were as good to pardon” the author who “from nature” had “stolen a man already made” as it was to remit a priest from penalty. Coming from the mouth of Angelo, an incarnation of evil whose every act is contrary to goodness, the statement exonerates both classes: the writer “stealing” figures from life for his works and the priests with their wax Agnus Dei medallions.

The idea of author as murderer also arises In Hamlet 3.4 (one candidate for right flanking center scene according to Ryan) when the prince tells his mother that he will set up “a glass” so that she can see the “inmost part” of herself. Acting like he was about to slit her open with a piece of a glass, the Queen hysterically begins screaming murder or maybe she just cannot bear to look at her true reflection. The reader understands what the author is doing having been instructed along with the actors in 3.2 (the left flanking scene) that their purpose “both at first and now, was and is to hold, as ‘twere, the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.” This is another complex anamorphic statement that departs from the simple formula and gets really hard to color code or diagram. There is the mirroring of images but also two hendiadys smashed together in a way that suggests the deformational pressures of the time and the pressured contortions of anamorphic distortion which often required a mirror to resolve what had been skewed. Though the loan word was not in use yet, by its Greek roots anamorphism was a direct translation of the words deformation, distortion, restoration and Reformation, and this haunts The Ambassadors’ and Hamlet’s worlds, as signified by the emblems of Holbein’s anamorphic skull and Yorick. Yet the Queen understands none of this and her shouts of murder result in Hamlet slaying the eavesdropping Polonius.

In the England that James inherited from Elizabeth murder was indeed a crime as great as or equivalent to that of being a priest. Both were capital felonies that could and at times did lead to execution during Elizabeth I’s reign. Yet stealing from nature “a man already made” for use as a character in a play may suggest further similarities with priests “coining heaven’s likeness in forbidden stamps” — besides the Agnes Dei, the Jesuits pioneered the doctrine of double speak that was equivocation, used plays for purposes of teaching, and then there were the poems by Oxford’s cousin the Jesuit Southwell, like the Burning Babe in which the infant Christ was conflated with Eros, one infant “love god” stamped over the other. A 15 year old Southwell arrived at the English college at Douai in 1576, so in the midst of or mere months after his older cousin Oxford’s tour of Europe.

As Martin sees it, the English recusants’ petitions for mercy and liberty of conscience in the new reign were echoed in Isabella’s pleas for justice and mercy in M4M. He posits that this flagrantly Catholic play, with its convent, confessor, Agnes Dei and hat tips to the Catholic Isabella and her Duke, rulers of the Spanish Netherlands who had just signed a treaty with James, was designed to catch the conscience of the King, being in itself an appeal to justice and mercy not unlike those petitions presented to James by English Catholics.[16] One cannot from this make the case that the author was himself a Roman Catholic although that remains a possibility.  In fact Shakespeare favored the wording in the protestant Geneva bible though he was also familiar with the Catholic Douai version so perhaps we should just view him as torn apart in the in-between, the broken middle of his society.

Analyisis of the anamorphic content of the play does support my own thesis that the Bard at that time supported liberty of conscience or religious toleration for loyal Catholics, at the very least promoting an easement of the harsh strictures that James had inherited from Elizabeth. Essex, Southampton, the Bacon brothers and others in the religiously mixed crowd at Essex House worked openly for liberty of conscience for Catholics who were true and loyal subjects of the Queen in the 1590s. [17] Penelope Rich was so impressed by her secret neighbor the Jesuit John Gerard that she almost converted in that period and John Harington, Queen Elizabeth’s “saucy godson”, wrote openly in favor of religious toleration while bravely defending in print his cousin’s Catholic father and father-in-law, the latter recusant being Sir Ralph Sheldon, the father of Oxford’s sister-in-law.

Why is there no Helena and no death of a spurned, falsely sullied lady in Measure for Measure? In this case it Claudio whose literal death was threatened while the women only feared figurative (social, genetic, and spiritual) deaths. Yet these extinguishments are placed on a par with physical death. What exactly had been scorned and sullied is a little blurry in a country that once suffered the whiplash of four different religious settlements in 11 years and by then had settled on an in between kind of church that appeased neither extreme Puritans nor staunch Catholics. Yet in M4M the author is far more decided. Here the spurned and unfairly tarnished lady is unmistakably Catholic and the threat of social, genetic and “eternal” deaths suffered by these wronged ladies and the heightened risk suffered by the male communicant may well be intended to raise the specter of England’s recusants. Many English Roman Catholics believed that attending the Church of England would place their souls in eternal jeopardy. In fact they were required to avoid the English church entirely by order of the Papacy. Advancement through marriage, social and business connections was severely circumscribed. Recusants could be taken advantage of, blackmailed, even robbed outright, yet had little and soon no recourse to the courts. In the meantime James’ suspension of those crippling 20 pound per month recusancy fees proved temporary and upon restoration all of the waived fees were compounded and came due at once destroying many financially. It was a calculated cruelty for one who had been bourne into office on the hopes of Catholics in England and overseas. From filling the coffers of king, the purses of pursuivants raiding estates in search of contraband and the clerks and court officials in between, fees for recusancy were one of the biggest areas of opportunity in a strained economy. Again a plea for leniency may have had nothing to do with the Bard’s own personal religious settlement. Yet in this case rather than a spurned woman who died for love or was thought dead the author has given us three figures and three deadly potentials – physical, spiritual and social death — all of which dealt with the very real concerns of English recusants who had spent decades being ground down between Elizabethan punitive measures and the Vatican’s spiritual war.

The author had a reason for substituting a scorned Helen who was thought to have died for love with an F-F-M trio of victims in Act V of M4M. To understand why we can look at how Midsummer Night’s Dream fits into the author’s scheme. MND presented a kind of head trick, bed trick, disguisement trifecta (the Queen tricked into falling for the rude mechanical Bottom whose head was transformed into that of an ass). Since the play already had a prominent Helena, though she only wished that she was dead because of her lover’s rejection, it was perhaps the need for an Act 5 messenger of death/memento mori that saw Puck suddenly roaring horrifically about shrouds and the dead leaving their graves right near the end. (ML2)

So to the five plays that make up the two overlapping triplexes we can add MND as a sixth. Carrying its own traces of a visit to the Gonzaga town of Sabbioneta, which was called little Athens and contained the Duke’s Oak so prominent in the play as Richard Paul Roe recognized (in fact the rehearsal in the keystone scene is apparently taking place by the Duke’s Oak as the rude mechanical actors had previously agreed). The shadow setting of Sabbioneta also links this play to the other five plays, being another that was at least partly inspired by the author’s journey through northern Italy and France.

Hamlet: ELSINORE/Polisy

LLL: NAVARRE/ambiguous but shadowplays figures of France and other nations


MAAN: MESSINA IN SICILY/ambiguous but shadowplays figures of France and other nations

MND: ATHENS/Sabbioneta

Measure for Measure: VIENNA/Milan

Again drawing from the missing source ML2, a clue to the greater daisy chain in the European plays occurs in MND when the rude mechanical actors in the play-in-a-play Pyramus and Thisby attempt to compare themselves to the story of Hero and Leander. After Bottom’s counterpart who plays the female lead claims to be Limander (confusing not only “her” gender but the name of Leander in the old story with that of Lisander from MND), the male lead Bottom confusedly tries to pronounce himself as Leander’s love, the female Hero, but instead mistakenly calls himself Helen (another character in MND). In fact there are at least half a dozen Shakespearean plays that derive from or contain allusions to Hero and Leander who drowned for love and these sometimes overlap with “Helene” allusions as I believe that our missing source explained.

The Helen and Hero confusion in MND is deliberate and an attempt to point the way to what the author is doing. Again laying out info from the missing source (ML2), the lady that Cupid killed in LLL is probably a Helen de la Tour figure but she could also be a Hero given the lack of detail. The Countess in All’s Well “finds” the “salt tear’s head” of Helene’s grief because it’s the counterpart of having “found the head and source” of the anamorphic cache in Hamlet but Helene is also associated with salt tears because in MND Helena talks about salt tears and Bottom has confused Helen with Hero. In Hamlet Ophelia for this reason can be associated with Helen (who died for love) and Hero (who drowned for love).  Besides the character named Hero in MAAN, falsely thought to have died by slanderous tongues, there is Hermione in Winter’s Tale whose name contains the word Hero and she is falsely thought to have died of grief. In Romeo and Juliet 2.4 Mercutio classed Cleopatra in a group with Dido, Helen, Hero and Thisbe, all women who died for love if you take Helen as a Helene de la Tour figure. Since Cleopatra was included with that grouping, Anthony & Cleopatra belongs in the Hero and Leander category, being another star crossed couple who died for love. Othello carries a reference to Hero and Leander. As You Like It references the late Christopher Marlowe and his play Hero and Leander in the “dead shepherd” line and again when Rosalind expresses doubt that men have ever died for love. Plays may also allude to this motif by mention of Leander, who died while attempting to swim to Hero’s tower, causing the grieving lady to seek a watery grave. In Two Gentleman of Verona 1.1 Proteus compares Valentine to Leander. That’s 11 solid Helen or Hero and Leander allusions with some significant overlaps. Hero and Helen types are to a degree interchangeable. Both women died for love. Perhaps this is why two women and one man were threatened with various kinds of death “for love” in M4M. They may also be serving as veiled abstracts of those characters: the virtuous Helen (Isobel), a scorned Hero (Mariana) and a hapless Leander (Claudio). M4M would bring the count to 12. M4M, as we can see, does therefore offer its own explication of the author’s method, or at least heavy clues as to what the author was doing in the previous plays.

Cymbeline has a Helen as a minor character who serves the Lady Imogen, a mistress who flees the murderous rage of a beloved spouse after she is accused of infidelity. The captive Helen of Troillus and Cressida falls in love with her rapist Paris and she is the wrong Helen perhaps, the beauty whose face launched a thousand ships and not the scorned lady who died for love. So these are possibly 13 and 14 but if I remember right ML2 saw these as red herring. They don’t actually fit the pattern of the other plays.

We can also say that the plays that alluded to an “H” lady who died for love or Leander allusion usually contained a sobering reminder of mortality though one can argue that this is common in Shakespeare. Yet excepting the two questionable Helens, as I believe that essayist may have noted these are also plays that notably carry some indebtedness to the Gonzaga family, and indeed featured their family members, city states, family stories or patronized art and literature. One more point is that the greater daisy chain of plays keeps a foot in Italy and France through overt settings or covert allusions and finally these are heavily riddled with anamorphic prompts, flags and portrayals. So the Helen who died for love/anamorphic memento mori subset are part of a greater class of plays that consciously allude to HHL (Helen, Hero and/or Leander) and to the Gonzagas, whose city was associated with anamorphic art and whose sponsored art and stories were often employed for anamorphic purposes in the Bard’s art. Just as Hero and Leander are stand ins for Helen, the famous lady who died for love, the Gonzaga linked allusions in and of themselves perhaps provide the requisite “anamorphic” element to the equation.

In short and to fit it into the formula, as ML2 pointed out plays with an Act V flag alluding to

Scorned lady who died or was thought to have died for love/anamorphic memento mori or messengers of death

appear to be a subset of the greater class of plays that more generally employ

Helen, Hero and Leander allusions/Gonzaga links

I would also note that the subset of the six with Act V flags– Hamlet, LLL, All’s Well, MAAN, M4M and MND — share 1. HHL allusions to those who died for love, 2. anamorphic memento mori or messengers of death *and* 3. significant Gonzaga links or allusions. So this may just be three grouping schemes in the plays: the instructional subset with Act V flags, a greater set that includes HHL allusions, a slightly larger set with Gonzaga allusions.

Yet the road that began in Mantua ultimately seems to have led the Bard to Polisy. During the 1589 inventory at the Polisy estate there were actually two paintings documented that I feel should be of interest to authorship studies and they are in any case useful in explaining Shakespeare’s perspective art, especially the instructional parts that we have yet to look at in MAAN. Believed to have been painted in 1533 while its subject and owner Jean de Dinteville was Ambassador to England, The Ambassadors also included Jean’s friend the Bishop of LaVaur though they were upstaged by the blurred manifestation of an anamorphic skull, front and center. This painting, soon after transported from England to the Chateau of Polisy and prominently displayed in the upper Great Hall “above the court of the old building”, will be examined in Part V.

Displayed in a private apartment that had belonged to Jean’s brother Francois II de Dinteville was a painting called Moses and Aaron before Pharoah. Francois, the Bishop of Auxerre, was dressed as Aaron with the asp in his hand about to bite the foot of the pharoah. Jean, no longer an Ambassador but Lord of Polisy and Bailli of Troyes, was Moses. The unknown artist (it is no longer attributed to Holbein) also rendered Pharaoh and his minions in a very curious fashion of dress and included other Dinteville brothers to the right of the throne.


Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh was a very upfront example of contemporary people depicted in the guise of historical characters, a practice the author commonly and surreptitiously employed but there may be other connections. Before the central right flanking scene turned murderous in Hamlet, the prince drew the Queen’s attention to images of his father, the late king, and of his uncle (who claimed the crown and queen).

Look here, upon this picture, and on this,

The counterfeit presentment of two brothers.

Here again you see the formula art/mirrored image (picture, counterfeit presentment/two brothers). Another blogger whose post unfortunately appears to be one of those exploded 404 links (missing link 4) connected this passage to the Polisy paintings, noting that Hamlet did not say “counterfeit presentments” in the plural as would be the case if one brother appeared in each picture but is speaking of a single contrived presentation of two brothers in the case of the latter, while the first is left blurry but presumably also concerns the two men.


As Elizabeth A.R. Brown noted in her analysis of Moses and Aaron, Louise Rocheouart de Dinteville’s daughter Claude, the Lady Cessac, believed that The Ambassadors represented her uncles Jean and Francois, despite the fact that her uncle Francois, the Bishop of Auxerre, depicted in Moses and Aaron, looked nothing like the Bishop of Lavaur who appeared in The Ambassadors and the two paintings were in different parts of the same house which should allow for easy comparison.[18] If Oxford viewed the picture in 1576 and talked to Claude (the legal inheritor, although the house and its paintings would not be inventoried until her mother died in 1589), he would see The Ambassadors as a depiction of two brothers who also appear as the central starring figures in Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh.

Hamlet described the image of his father by mixing in reference to a number of gods including the herald Mercury:

See, what a grace was seated on his brow;

Hyperion’s curls; the front of Jove himself

An eye like Mars, to threaten and command;

A station like the herald Mercury

New-lighted on a heaven-kissing hill;

A combination and a form indeed,

Where every god did seem to set his seal,

To give the world assurance of a man:

This was your husband – Look you now, what follows…

Here is your husband; like a mildew’d ear,

Blasting his wholesome brother.

That blogger’s analysis of the “counterfeit presentment of two brothers” is inconclusive but intrigues because of possible references to The Ambassadors, Polisy and an anamorphic skull in Hamlet and other associations that we covered previously and in Part III. Yet the quadruple association of god parts in Hamlet’s description of the two brothers is also interesting and not just because Oxford was himself once described by Gabriel Harvey in the admirable terms of god parts.

“Herald of my tongue” being in the AW instruction manual might make us look more closely on the above referenced Mercury in his role as herald. As Moses, Jean points one hand heavenward but also in the direction, it is said, of the family motto “VIRTVTI FORTVNA COMES” or Virtue accompanies Fortune (which to Oxford’s mind you know would also read “Vere accompanies Fortuna aka Queen Elizabeth) while with the other hand he points at the priestly Aaron (Francois). Everyone wears robes except Moses who is naked, covered by the equivalent of a striped blanket slung over his shoulder, the Egyptian Pharaoh who is dressed like a Roman centurion and one advisor notably wearing a vest and rolled up shirt sleeves with a toga style skirt. This cross-cultural anachronistic effect is deliberate. In a biblical themed painting set in Egypt in the time of Moses, Reformation era Frenchmen make an appearance before a pharaoh in Roman military dress that is more appropriate to the time of the Caesars and his aides, at least one mismatching fashions of different millennia. The picture itself manages to span 1000s of years. Moses isn’t just saying “Let my people go” to the Pharoah, as the art historian Elizabeth A. R. Brown pointed out, he is also Jean de Dinteville advocating for his brothers with a disguised French King. Aaron/Francois with his mitered hat and haughty expression represents the persecuted Bishop of Auxerre as well as the Hebrew high priest. Yet the message is not that simple. As Brown notes:

“The righteousness of the Israelites’ cause is underscored by the inscription on Aaron’s miter; “CREDDIT ABRAM DOMINO ET REPVTATVM EST ILLI AD IVSTITIAM” (Abram believed in the Lord and it was counted to him for justice). These words designate the prophet Aaron and the person who here represents him, his spiritual heir, as latter-day Abrams… The plagues the Egyptians suffered when Abram and his wife, Sarai, passed through that land foreshadowed those that God inflicted on Pharaoh and his people when Moses and Aaron worked their wonders, just as the release of Abram and Sarai foreshadowed the deliverance of the people of Israel.”[19]

Francois is therefore depicted as Aaron but also linked to Abram – he is thrice-worthy. Similarly “Egyptian Pharaoh” wears a western style crown and the dress of a Roman Centurion. Indeed the French king Francis I was painted as an ancient Roman emperor around this time which Brown believes explains the odd manner of the Pharaoh’s dress.[20]  So the ruler is also an amalgamation and there may actually be four different time periods represented in that picture.

To understand why, look to Moses. Brown discussed the multivalent depiction of Aaron and Pharoah but did not analyze Moses, who represents a murkier chain of associations that would not interfere with or in any way change her thesis. The first thing to note is that only the horns on his head and perhaps the stripes of the blanket clue us in that this atypical figure is supposed to be Moses.


Notice the feathery edging of the horns. The Latin root for horns and light is similar so the “feathers” could be an attempt to render the horns as glowing rays of light which works well in the tradition of Moses. Yet it may also be that the horns look like feathered wings because they are meant to subtly evoke the messenger god Mercury, the Roman equivalent of the Greek Hermes (as a blogger once pointed out regarding this picture, call them ML5). As Nathaniel Deutsch noted when discussing Hermes’ “multivalent” character, “the process of identification, commonly known as interpretatio (following Tacitus, On the Origin and Situation of the Germans, ch. 48), was extremely popular in late antiquity. As Gerard Mussies has emphasized, however, the basis for equating two figures in late antique sources was never absolute similarity”, but by “partial analogies.” This, Deutsch points out, was “precisely the situation in regard to Hermes and his counterparts.”

Shakespeare also used partial analogies when shadowing real life figures in plays and this is exactly what this painter was trying to do. Often depicted nude but for a cape, winged sandals and hat, Hermes/Mercury, besides being the god of travelers, was the god of communication, often serving as a herald, messenger and intercessor. I did find mention of an “ancient identification of Hermes Trismegistus at first with Moses and then Enoch” though this thrice worthy Hermes was an amalgamation of Hermes, Mercury and Thoth that by Renaissance times was considered to have been a real life contemporary of Moses.[21] Yet interpretatio was very flexible and Moses also served Mercury’s function of herald or messenger in bringing the Ten Commandments down from Mt. Sinai.  Given the feathery winglike appendages sprouting from his head, Jean as Moses as Mercury might have been an inspiration for an author who later went on to reference a picture depicting two brothers while stressing Mercury’s role as herald among a mix of god parts.

Yet another herald of history may be layered in: John the Baptist. Since Jean is half dressed and pointing, a style of depicting the Baptist that was first popularized by Davinci (who spent the final years of his life in France and whose last painting before his 1519 death was of a bare chested John pointing upward, making Leonardo as much a French national treasure as an Italian one), it may also be significant that “Conrad Celtes equated Hermes with John the Baptist in a wood-cut made for Petrus Tritonius’ Melopoiae (an early sixteenth century songbook).”[22] In the gospels John the Baptist was a herald and messenger that preceded Christ, “a voice of one calling in the wilderness ‘Make straight the way for the Lord’” (John 1:23). So he too was a herald and messenger. He was originally depicted as a barefoot, fur wearing, uncivilized man in the wilderness or as a baby, but Davinci seems to have started the style of depicting John as a young man decorously draped and pointing skyward.


Others have depicted John pointing skyward or at Jesus. Jean is decorously draped, pointing to the heavens and to Francois.


L to R: Jean, Gaucher, Francois, Louis, Guillaume

Not that the painter is trying to call the Dintevilles Jesus and John the Baptist, but these partial analogies reinforce the covert tale being told while allowing plausible deniability. So consider that Jean may have been presented as Moses, Mercury and John the Baptist all rolled into one. By extension if Jean signified the Baptist, Pharaoh/King becomes the Roman installed Herod (explaining his Roman style military dress and the Roman standard in the picture) and Francois/Aaron/Abrams by implication takes on a Christ-like aspect, an innocent and unjustly persecuted holy man or righteous prophet being scapegoated by the ruling tyrant. Ultimately the overlapping layers of identification strengthen the suggestion of a tyrant and his minions on one side with an intercessor/messenger working to straighten the way of a just and righteous priest who has been persecuted, as Brown believes.

As Brown convincingly theorized the painting commemorated the return of Jean de Dinteville’s brothers from a period of exile. When the King and their cousin the Constable Anne de Montmorency did not dispel the accusation that the youngest brother Gaucher II had tried to seduce a male cousin and his attempt at gang intimidation failed to convince the accuser to retract his story, the king ordered a duel to determine the matter. Gaucher instead fled to the environs of Mantua to ask Gianfranceso “El Cagnino” Gonzaga, Lord of Bozzolo, (uncle of the Sabbioneta Duke and a cousin of the Mantuan Duke) to intercede in the matter. Furious, Francis I had Gaucher’s personal arms dredged through the mud and ordered him to be driven out of Mantua. Expelled by the Gonzagas, Gaucher became a stateless refugee. First Guillaume and then Francoise followed their 18 year old brother into exile but the Dintevilles were rejected by country after country and even by Rome on orders of Francis I, (which must have particularly devastating to Francois, Bishop of Auxerre). Venice finally relented and offered to serve as a place of refuge for all three brothers. As Brown notes, what they did or said to deserve such collective condemnation is never spelled out. It may well be that Francois and Guillaume were only in trouble for sticking up for Gaucher or that the family was, as the painting suggests, being scapegoated. Jean retreated to Polisy and is believed to have lobbied on behalf of his exiled brothers. The king’s visit to Polisy later paved the way for their return so Jean may have acted in the very mercurial role of messenger and intercessor that is suggested. Having been close servants in the households of the princes ultimately all the brothers were restored to royal favor in Francis I’s reign and rewarded with further honors and titles under his sons.

It is not just Hamlet that is potentially interesting in light of the Moses and Aaron painting. Consider Much Ado About Nothing in which various figures are believed to represent key players in the Wars of Religion in France. For instance Don Pedro is often taken for the French king Henri III, Don John for his brother the Duke of Alencon, Conrade for the Prince of Conde. So this is a continuation of the French royals and nobles figured in LLL. In III.2, the central left flanking scene, there are allusions worth examining beginning from the point when Don Pedro jokes about Benedick who has uncharacteristically fallen in love.

“There is no appearance of fancy in him, unless it be a fancy that he hath to strange disguises; as, to be a Dutchman to-day, a Frenchman to-morrow, or in the shape of two countries at once, as, a German from the waist downward, all slops, and a Spaniard from the hip upward, no doublet. Unless he have a fancy to this foolery, as it appears he hath, he is no fool for fancy, as you would have it appear he is.

Just as Benedick had “strange” or foreign “disguises”, Oxford was at one point sneered at by Harvey as an Anglo-Franco-Italian. Fancy is a shortened form of the word fantasy, “the faculty of imagination”.  “Fantasie” was what Isabella D’Este, Comptesse of Mantua, called the “painted charades” that she had artists paint for her studiola in the Palazzo Ducale, allegorical paintings that were also called “istorie” or “poesia”. Besides fancy as an idea, whim or notion, the OED indeed lists an archaic meaning for “fancy” which was derived from the disciplines of “drawing, painting or sculpture” and meant “created from the imagination rather than from life.” A fancy therefore signified an imaginatively designed work of fantasy like the kind found in Isabella d’Este’s salon or in their Hall of Giants for instance. However it might also apply to the kind of multi-period multinational tableaux that was set up in Moses and Aaron before Pharoah. Taken with the keystone scene that follows, this seems to be the kind of “fancy” that Shakespeare is alluding to in fact. Needless to say the Moses and Aaron painting did contain figures dressed as different countries at once.

Note that the right flanking scene contains a conversation about women’s fashion but one that is not laden with anamorphic emphasis. In the keystone scene itself Borachio suddenly starts talking about fashion. Borachio was talking to Conrade (traditionally linked to the Prince of Conde who as we recall from Part 3 was a cousin of Henry of Navarre and the Gonzaga Dukes of Mantua and Nevers. Conde and Nevers also married sisters who were their first and second cousins in the same line of Alencon relations.) Borachio professes to tell Conde about how he earned 1000 ducats from Don John and says, “Thou knowest that the fashion of a doublet, or a hat, or a cloak, is nothing to a man.”

Conrade: Yes, it is apparel.

Borachio: I mean the fashion.

Conrade: Yes, the fashion is the fashion.

Borachio: Tush! I may as well say the fool’s the fool. But seest thou not what a deform’d thief this fashion is?

(Following an interruption and keeping in mind the previous link of anamorphism to deformation, “stealing” a man from nature and fashioning one person as another)

Borachio: Seest thou not, I say, what a deform’d thief this fashion is? How giddily ‘a turns about all the hot bloods between fourteen and five-and-thirty? Sometimes fashioning them like Pharoah’s soldiers in the reechy painting, sometimes like god Bel’s priests in the old church-window, sometime like the shaven Hercules in the smirch worm-eaten tapestry, where his codpiece seems as massy as his club

Conrade: All this I see; and I see that the fashion wears out more apparel than the man. But art not thou thyself giddy with the fashion too, that thou hast shifted out of thy tale into telling me of the fashion?

Borachio: Not so, neither.”

Borachio is trying to say that he will earn his 1000 ducats by ruining Hero’s reputation, dressing her maid to look that lady for a very  public seduction. Deformed fashion means to fashion one figure in the guise of another as Shakespeare did all the time in his writing. Yet the examples Borachio gave were of contemporary people cross dressing as figures from another time, whether historical or mythical. This is a natural part of stagecraft of course but the discussions of style in the left flanking and keystone scenes heavily rely on words that suggest anamorphic re-fashioning: fashion as a verb, as in to fashion or style one person as another; fancy, an artistic work taken from imagination; deformed suggestive of anamorphosis; deformed thief suggesting the stealing of identities; strange disguises combining foreign, unaccustomed dress from different countries as Benedick does or dressing up early modern “hot bloods” as ancient figures as described. Margaret will use deformed fashion to pose as Hero similar to how hot bloods liked to fashion themselves as Pharaoh’s soldiers, Borachio is in essence telling Conrad who, according to scholars, may be a stand-in for the Prince of Conde. There is also a scorned Hero thought to be killed by slanderous tongues and explicit anamorphic prompts in V.1, the first as part of a Hendiadys and the second suggesting the restoration of what had been distorted, giving us an Act V “H” lady and anamorphic transform in MAAN:

Don Pedro: “He is composed and framed of treachery…”

Claudio: Sweet Hero! Now thy image doth appear in the rare semblance that I loved it first.”

.As in Act V in AW, in MAAN’s Act V the distorted image of a spurned “H” lady is restored. With a scene structure of 3,3,5,2,4  in MAAN, the author inserted the anamorphic prompts and content not in acts that were equally light of scenes as in Hamlet and AW but in the two “heavier” acts. The information also happened to fall in the left flanking and keystone scenes. So MAAN does carry an Act V linked allusional structure that loosely mirrors those found in Hamlet and All’s Well, whereas LLL, M4M and MND carry Act 5 flags but these are not as clearly linked in a structural way to the anamorphic caches that do exist in the interior.

“Pharoah’s soldiers in a reechy painting” probably does not refer to Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh. A painting of the Pharaoh’s army swallowed by the red sea came to mind for Brown. Yet if Bertram gave us a laundry list of phrases used to reference and flag anamorphism, the men of MAAN discussed a range of fashionable anamorphic fancies that included:

  1. Verbal references to art (paintings, a stained glass window, a tapestry), tons of artistic terms like composed, framed, fancy and expressions of anamorphism such as the deformed thief that fashion is and Hero’s image restored to the semblance that he had loved.
  2. Dressing a figure in the clothing of two different countries at once
  3. Fashioning contemporary persons as fictitious, historical, mythical or allegorical figures
  4. Disguising one person as another person (or one character as another character in the same work)

The first three forms of strange disguising in MAAN were just as campily incorporated into Moses and Aaron. As for 4, Brown feels quite strongly that the face of the Pharaoh also blends in the man who took over the Bishop of Auxerre’s seat and avoided giving it back for a protracted period of time after Francois de Dinteville was restored to favor. The author was not necessarily tutored by this particular painting, yet Moses and Aaron hits all the marks and has to be the most egregious example of the kind of campy, cross cultural, mixed chronological fashioning that Shakespeare was lampooning in MAAN. 

What a deform’d thief this fashion is,” Borachio said twice in the keystone scene. The First Watchman, in between, says in an aside, “I know that Deform’d; a’ has been a vile thief this seven year; a’ goes up and down like a gentleman: I remember his name.” Antistratfordians will typically point out that it was Will who went “up and down like a gentleman” having been awarded a coat of arms, Will often thought to be mocked by Greene as “an upstart crow” pilfering the plumes or quills of the University Wits. In fact Shakespeare plagiarized quite a bit, stealing material almost verbatim from North in A&C for instance.

Now look at this figure from a different angle. This is the keystone scene and once more the author may be alluding to identity. This figure is “deform’d”, anamorphically refashioned, not one man but a fusion. As Chris Carolan has emphasized it was not just Shakspere who “walked up and down like a gentleman”, so did the high born but bohemian Oxford, named Best for Comedy by Meres and therefore known to steal people from life for use in plays though none of his plays are identified or survive under his name. This is the man that Gabriel Harvey sneeringly called “some famous Anglo-Franco-Italians who skulks amongst our midst” and skewered in The Mirror of Tuscanism. “I know that Deform’d.” He was the “Italianate Earl”, the 17th Earl of Oxford.


[2] Ryan, James E., Shakespeare’s Symmetries, The Mirrored Structure of Action in the Plays, McFarland and Company, 2016, online version.

[3] ibid

[4] Reported by Albert Burgstahler at the Seventh Joint Conference of the Shakespeare Fellowship and the Shakespeare Oxford Society, D.C., Oct 2011, as reported in Shakespeare Matters, Winter 2012, p 25. Also see




[8] Mason, Emma. Elizabeth I’s War with England’s Catholics, History Extra,

[9] Gontar, David. Shakespeare’s Double Play, New English Review, October 2014., quoting Kermode, p. 100-101

[10] Gontar, David. Shakespeare’s Double Play, New English Review, October 2014. Quoting Hughes, p. 134

[11] English Studies in Postmodern Condition, Catherine Belsey, p. 134-135, cited in Platt, n6.

[12] Platt, Peter G, Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox, Ashgate Publishing, 2009, p. 3

[13] Platt, p. 1

[14] Chiari, Sophie. City Anamorphosis in Measure for Measure, E-rea,

[15] Chiari, City Anamorphoses

[16] Martin, Patrick H. Elizabethan Espionage, McFarland & Co., 2016, Ch. 24

[17] Rarely discussed but see Leanda de Lisle’s After Elizabeth

[18] Elizabeth A. R. Brown , “The Dinteville Family and the Allegory of Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh,” Metropolitan Museum Journal 34, 1999, p. 86

[19] Brown, p. 77-78

[20] Brown, p. 76

[21] Lelli, Fabrizio. Hermes Among the Jews: Hermetica as Hebraica from Antiquity to the Renaissance, Magic, Ritual and Witchcraft, Vol. 2, No. 2, Winter 2007.

[22] Deutsch, Nathaniel. Guardians of the Gate: Angelic Vice-regency in the Late Antiquity, Brill, Boston, 1999, p. 166


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