A. THE RIDDLE OF SONNET 136

I. Introduction

II. The identity of the Dark Lady and the poet's relation to her

III. TEXT; The poet's motives and main constructional ideas

IV. Word groups

V. Aspects of Gematria

VI. The Philosophy of L(OVE)

VII. Analysis of contents

B. Initial and Final Letters of Lines (I)

C. Gematric Values of Whole Sonnet

D. Latin Reference Models

s.a. Gematric parallels of Shakespeare's and Ovid's epitaphs

I. Introduction

Recently (Nov.2008) a friend of mine, an amateur of numerology, asked me for my opinion about the riddle in Sonnet 136 introduced in lines 7 and 8:

In things of great receipt with ease we prove

Among a number one is reckoned none.

So far I have been concerned only with gematrical researches of Latin classical literature which I wrote in German. I don't know anything about Elizabethan concepts of numerology and haven't found anything reasonable in internet sources. I first supposed the word none might refer to the cipher 0 so that if you take it away from 10 there is still one (1) left. And in fact, the figure 10 plays a significant role in the poem. When I inquired about Shakespeare's mysterious Dark Lady in his sonnets, however, I got some enlightening ideas which might solve the riddle.

II. The identity of the Dark Lady and the poet's relation to her

1.      Years ago I bought a book about the Sonnets by A.L. ROWSE (published 1973), who was confident to have eventually established the identity of that mysterious woman as EMILIA LANIER (also AEMILIA LANYER). She was born about 1569 the daughter of an Italian court musician, Baptista Bassano. At the age of about 17 she became the mistress of Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon, Shakespeare's company patron. After becoming pregnant she was married off to Alfonso (or Alphonse) LANIER, another court musician. Cf.more about EMILIA

Rowse's researches were not without faults. Thus the first name of his Lanier was William, not Alfonso. This obvious error led Rowse to assume the Dark Lady's husband to be a rival William with consequences for his interpretations of the sonnets.

Two other favoured claimants to the illustrious title of Dark Lady are Elizabeth Vernon, later married to Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton,and Mary Fitton. But those who patiently follow my line of argumentation required to explain Shakespeare's intricate art of composition and concealment will once for all exclude those two respectable ladies from poetic immortality.

2.      Shakespeare was under the Dark Lady's spell although he knew that she had various lovers, perhaps not so many as Shakespeare's sonnets suggest. He makes no bone about his sexual fascination. In fact, he indulges in shortening his forename WILLIAM to WILL, thus allowing him to make ample use of equivocal speech. Beside being a modal verb, will was understood as

a)    sexual desire

b)    sexual organ

In sonnet 135, which can be regarded as preparatory for sonnet 136, Shakespeare uses the term will as frequently as 13 times. Unequivocal sexual speech is contained in lines 5 and 6:

Wilt thou, whose will is large and spacious,

Not once vouchsafe (grant) to hide my will in thine.

In sonnet 136 will occurs 7 times, in greater variation than in 135:

name

l.3

Will admitted

 

l.5

Will will fulfil

 

l.14

my name is Will

modal verb

l.5

will fulfil

sexual desire

l.2

I was thy will

sexual organ

l.6

with wills, my will

3.      Shakespeare had his reasons for concealing the lady he was so fervently in love with, and the literary genre of the sonnet may account for some others. At any rate he ingeniously succeeded in his purpose.

Concealing speech is to be seen as a literary device. The poet relies on an implicit agreement with the reader, who accepts cryptic speech as long as it is wittily accomplished. But Shakespeare is too good a poet as to ignore one deeper sense of poetry, i.e. to elaborate some truth for himself, not only to address the reader. This implies that the poet avoids lingering in a mere realm of phantasy. There is an ultimate rational logic in the art of concealment, very intricate perhaps, but not beyond comprehending: concealment is wrapped in riddle.

III. The poet's motives and main constructional ideas

1.      This chapter should be preceded by the text in today's and historic spelling:

1. If thy soul check thee that I come so near,

2. Swear to thy blind soul that I was thy Will,

3. And will, thy soul knows, is admitted there;

4. Thus far for love, my love-suit, sweet, fulfil.

5. Will, will fulfil the treasure of thy love,

6. Ay, fill it full with wills, and my will one.

7. In things of great receipt with ease we prove

8. Among a number one is reckoned none:

9. Then in the number let me pass untold,

10. Though in thy store's account I one must be;

11. For nothing hold me, so it please thee hold

12. That nothing me, a something sweet to thee:

13. Make but my name thy love, and love that still,

14. And then thou lovest me for my name is 'Will.'

 

1. If thy ſoule check thee that I come ſo neere,

2. Sweare to thy blind ſoule that I was thy Will,

3. And will thy ſoule knowes is admitted there,

4. Thus farre for loue, my loue-ſute ſweet fullfill.

5. Will, will fulfill the treaſure of thy loue,

6. I fill it full with wils,and my will one,

7. In things of great receit with eaſe we prooue,

8. Among a number one is reckon'd none.

9. Then in the number let me paſſe vntold,

10. Though in thy ſtores account I one muſt be,

11. For nothing hold me,ſo it pleaſe thee hold,

12. That nothing me,a ſome-thing ſweet to thee.

13. Make but my name thy loue,and loue that ſtill,

14. And then thou loueſt me for my name is Will.

 

2.      No doubt, Shakespeare suffered from his infatuation with the Dark Lady, but first of all, he was deeply in love and admired her. He certainly reflected on why he was so much attracted to a woman whom he had to share with other men. Fate itself must have brought them together. Searching for the inner bond of their souls and bodies, he found identical letters in her name and his: EMILIA and WILLIAM; the Latin plural form MILIA means THOUSANDS.

3.      The Latin letter E means out of. The correct Latin form would be E MILIBUS. But a poet might neglect this incorrectness.

EMILIA was also spelled AEMILIA. If you count the letter A as 1, because it's the first letter of the alphabet, the Dark Lady's name could be understood as ONE OUT OF THOUSANDS.

Shakespeare could interpret this paraphrase of his lady's name in two ways: First, among thousands of women AEMILIA is the one he fell in love with because she possessed such exceptional qualities. And second, he could see himself as one AMONG thousands of lovers. But of course, if you take the A = 1 away from the name, then the amount of 1 is still included in the term out of thousands, and besides, the loving poet is still part of her full name A-EMILIA.

4.      If this possibility of giving meaning to the names AEMILIA and EMILIA is correct, line 6 with the poet's strikingly generous offer has a preparatory function for the intended riddle:

Ay, fill it full with wills, and my will one.

The word group and my will one means plus my will.

IV. Word groups

1.      If we find numerology in one aspect of a poem, we may assume to come across it in others, too. This for example applies to the number of words in each line:

line

1

2

3-5

6

7-12

13

14

 

words

10

10

 

10

 

10

10

20

25

10

50

20

The symmetrical structure of word units reveals two characteristics: lines with 10 words and ratios of 2:1 or 1:2 respectively.

The first edition of 1609 has the two hyphenated word compounds loue-sute and some-thing, which to regard as two words in the first case and one word in the second should not arouse any bewilderment.

There are 5 lines with 10 words, and another 50 words in lines 7-12. The first two lines and the concluding couplet correlate to the single sixth line, and 3:6 lines with 25:50 words both comply with the ratio pattern 1:2.

2.      In this way the 14 lines are divided up into 5 word units which match the 5 letters of MILIA.

If one adds the line numbers symmetrically, the result is 15 for each pair: 1+14, 2+13 etc. 15 is the sum of the numbers 1-5. If line 6 is added for a sixth letter, MILIA becomes EMILIA.

3.      The Latin word MILIA was an obvious motive for Shakespeare to avail himself of the Latin letters denoting numbers, here M = 1000, I = 1, L= 50. He realised the correspondances in his and the lady's name W-ILLI-AM and EM-ILI-A. So we can conclude that the poet's structural 2:1 ratio was inspired by double L in his and single L in his lady's name.

At this point an example of gematria should be suitably anticipated. L is the initial letter of LOVE whose gematric value is 50. Shakespeare employs LOVE 6 times in an elaborate pattern:

line

4

5

13

14

36

LOVE

2

1

2

1

 

There is a parallel ratio of 2:1. Moreover, the sum of the line numbers is 36 which corresponds to the 4 letters I (I = 9) in W-ILLI-AM and EM-ILI-A. By the way, the remaining letters also show the 1:2/2:1 pattern: W-AM, EM-A.

4.      Lovers may try to strengthen their union by intermingling their names. Thus Shakespeare may have formed the singular form MILLE, giving it a male connotation, and the plural MILIA as its female counterpart.

5.      To sum up, the relevant parallel elements of the two names consist of 7 letters, 4 I and 3 L, which are at the same time Roman characters for numbers. Three L total 150, four I 4, that's together 154, which is the total number of Shakespeare's sonnets. 154 can be divided by 11, leaving 14 as the second factor. Thus the Roman number letter L for 50 returns as the 11th letter of the alphabet, while 14 is the number of sonnet lines and the letter O in the order of alphabet. The two factors add up to 25, which is a main constituent in the arrangement of the 125 words of the sonnet. This brings us back to the word LO-VE with the same gematric value of 25 for the first and the second part of the word (11+14 20+5).

There is still more in the name LO-VE if the two aspects of numeric value and number character of the two halves are combined: 25+50 = 75; 25+5 = 30. The two sums add up to 105 which connects LOVE to the sonnet form of 14 lines, which in successive addition from 1-14 total 105. The two numbers can be divided by 15, so their ratio is 5:2. The separation of LOVE into two halves and the additional count of the number letters accounts for Shakespeare's ingenious arrangement of words in the 14 lines.

V. Aspects of Gematria

1.      There is no end for lovers to play with names and letters in order to find unique meanings for their relationships. As to Sonnet 136 gematric practice may not be strictly proved, but given some probability by plausible findings. The Elizabethan alphabet consisted of 24 letters:

Lett.

A

B

C

D

E

F

G

H

I/J

K

L

M

N

O

P

Q

R

S

T

V/U

W

X

Y

Z

NV

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

2.      Let's look at MILLE (48) and MILIA (42) another time. The first and last letters have together the number value 30. This coincides with the numbers of the first and last two lines (1+14+2+13). The remaining number value is 60, which provides another 1:2 ratio.

3.      The poet's special attention might have been attracted by the identical groups of letters in WILLIAM and EMILIA. Their number values are 40+29 = 69 which is the sum of the line numbers 3-5 and 7-12 (45+24). The remaining value 36 is equivalent to 4 letters I.

The gematric value of NUMBER is also 69, which is a further motive for the sonnet's theme of mathematic experiment.

Now riddle line 8 deserves a second look: Between among a number there are two A with the value 1. The gematric value of AMONG is 47, the same as EMILIA's. There is no further A in line 8. So perhaps the first A of AEMILIA could be taken away from AMONG, which is not only the initial of the word but of the whole line, and the second A added to MONG(A) = EMILIA. Alternatively the second A, which stands alone and is between among and number, might be picked out. No doubt Shakespeare played here fancifully and wittily.

Line 8 is the only one to consist of 28 letters, which is 4*7 to signify EMILIA's gematric value.

If Shakespeare counted the numbers of verses, he was naturally aware of their complete sum of 105. Splitted up into 10+5, it shows the well-known ratio 2:1 again.

Furthermore, 1 and 5 are key numbers for the letters A and E which we have encountered in the words MILLE and MILIA. Above all, however, the two numbers represent the first two letters of AEMILIA.

4.      Shakespeare plays with four names: WILL (52) EMILIA (47) and WILLIAM (74) AEMILIA (48). The first combination consists of 4+6 = 10 letters. The perfect relationship between a loving couple is seen in the notion of a mirror image. This can be represented by the Roman numeric letters IV and VI. The two letters denote 1 and 5 and thus again A and E.

The idea of a mirror is also evident in the inverse numbers 47 and 74 which add up to 121 = 11*11. The letter L as 11th letter of the alphabet is thus related to the ratio 1:2/2:1. Adding up the number values of the second name combination (74+48) and appending to it the sum of the first (52+47), one again gets two inverse numbers: 122 and 221 recalling the 5 lines with 10 words in each.

Of course, WILLIAM and AEMILIA both consist of 7 letters and so not only fit ideally together as persons but are also perfectly suited to be dealt with in 14-line sonnets.

5.      There is a last, perhaps more playful but also significant aspect of inversion: The first and last letter of the poet's first name is W and M which, as capital letters, have inverse forms. They could be associated with the initials of Woman and Man. The two sexes are complementary creations. Moreover, the numeric equivalents 21 and 12 are inversions as well.

A look at the sonnet shows that W dominates the first half and M the second:

 

W

M

total

lines 1-7

13

4

17

lines 8-14

2

14

16

total

15

18

33

The occurrences of W and M of the entire sonnet amount to 33, the sum of 12+21, each half divided up into the nearest halves of 33, 17+16. The counterpart letters are in one case adjacent (13+14), in the second proportional (4:2 = 2:1).

What can the distribution of the two letters mean? The poet is going to devise a new conception of his relationship to Emilia. This objective may be symbolized as a way from the first letter to the last. The W may stand for irrational dependence on female attraction. What the poet strives for is a new Male self-assertion. EMILIA on the other hand is, by female nature, oriented towards the Male principle. In this way the poet has reached the right order of nature at the end of the sonnet.

Sonnet 136 shows that the basis of true art is form, even mathematical structuring.

6.      If Shakespeare attributed special importance to the 4+3 parallel and inverse letter groups ILLI and ILI, he might have counted and arranged the letters L and I in a meaningful way. In fact, a sensible result is achieved on condition that Shakespeare's manuscript text was copied without mistakes. But even then the result is to be considered with caution, as it may be merely coincidental. For the sake of illustration I add the original text once again:

1. If thy ſoule check thee that I come ſo neere,

2. Sweare to thy blind ſoule that I was thy Will,

3. And will thy ſoule knowes is admitted there,

4. Thus farre for loue, my loue-ſute ſweet fullfill.

5. Will, will fulfill the treaſure of thy loue,

6. I fill it full with wils,and my will one,

7. In things of great receit with eaſe we prooue,

8. Among a number one is reckon'd none.

9. Then in the number let me paſſe vntold,

10. Though in thy ſtores account I one muſt be,

11. For nothing hold me,ſo it pleaſe thee hold,

12. That nothing me,a ſome-thing ſweet to thee.

13. Make but my name thy loue,and loue that ſtill,

14. And then thou loueſt me for my name is Will.

 

 

I

L

total

*11

value

9

11

 

 

lines 1-7

22

29

51

47

lines 8-14

11

12

23

21

total

33

41

74

 

*11

27

41

 

68

The total number of letters is 74, which is the numeric value of WILLIAM and also FULFILL (l.5).

The frequency of the letter I corresponds to the numeric value of LL and L. In this way the total result is divisible by 11, the numeric value of L.

The result of lines 1-7 divided by 11 is 47, corresponding to the numeric value of EMILIA. The anologous result 21 for lines 8-14 leads to the inverse numbers 12/21 by the addition 12+9 = 21.

51 can be seen as the sum of the two number letters I+L = 1+50.

Other numbers may be relevant, too, but I can't attribute them to any meaning.

VI. The Philosophy of L(OVE)

1.      It has become obvious that Shakespeare associates the letter L with the initial of Love, the basis being the common letters of W-ILLI-AM and EM-ILI-A. He provides five significant concepts to make us understand his philosophy of LOVE: L:LL = 1:2, WILL, WILS, FUL(L)FILL and the letter I.

2.      L is the 11th letter of the alphabet. The two ciphers 11 signify the IDEA of personal love between two equal partners, especially between man and woman.

One L assigned to one person means that each individual is gifted with the capacity of love. It further indicates that love is a matter both of mind and body, spiritual and sensual.

3.      While 1:1 refers to the principle of equality, a different ratio is required to symbolise the specific relationship between man and woman. Shakespeare chooses a L:LL = 1:2 ratio. It basically suggests a state of unequality between the two sexes which tends achieve unity by unification.

The question why one L is assigned to the female sex, double LL to males, is rather speculative and should not be taken too literally. Perhaps one could say that women are the origin of human life and that their male offspring continue procreation.

4.      The term WILL refers to the sexual organ of both sexes. This means that sexual union is potential love of equally soul and body. The verb for this unity is FULFILL written in one word.

Sonnet 136 avoids the word WILL for the female sex, but uses the paraphrases "treasure of thy love" and "things of great receit".

5.      WILS with one L obviously lacks the constituent of spiritual love. The poet refuses to compare his love with his rivals'. Lack of spiritual love turns the copulative act into mere gratification of sexual lust. The splitting up of FULLFILL in FILL FULL shows that there is no real communication between two partners.

6.      The Ls in W-ILLI-AM and EM-ILI-A are framed by the letter I, which shows a close relationship to L: It has the value 1 as a number letter and so two ciphers 1+1 mean the same as number 11, which is the position of L in the alphabet. Furthermore, its position on number 9 of the alphabet makes it a mirror image of 11 if you write 9 in Roman numbers: IXXI.

7.      The ratio 1:2 can be inverted into 2:1 and back again. If both ratios are written as two-digit numbers, the difference between 12 and 21 is 9 , a space in which the relationship between the two sexes develops with changing perspectives and impulses . It can be shown as a movement on the arc of a circle:

VII. Analysis and Interpretation of Contents

1.      Emilia Lanier implies four conflicts for Shakespeare:

     He has an extramarital love affair with her.

    She is unhappily married.

    He is utterly involved in love.

    He has to cope with rivals.

Perhaps without knowing, Shakespeare was trying the impossible: to give and receive love in perfect unity of soul and body. He might have been encouraged to do so as he imagined Emilia had never met with true love before. His self-pride was immensely hurt that Emilia gave her favours also to other men. When he resigned himself to the inevitable, he at least wanted to assert his true feelings to his lady.

2.      In the first line the poet imagines that his lady keeps up an emotional reserve towards him. Assuming a real situation, we may imagine various reasons for her restraint. Shakespeare himself suggests or pretends that she is disquieted by his sexual impulsiveness. In fact, Emilia may have feared to get more involved in her relationship to the poet than she really liked and tried to protect her personal freedom. Shakespeare tries to assure her that she keeps up false pretenses (blind soul), but if she is sincere to herself, she must confess that she truly longs for him (thy will).

As a conclusion, in line 4, the poet entreats her to grant him a new common experience of love fulfilment.

3.      In using the word LOVE three times in lines 4 and 5, he assures her that the love he is going to give her is ruled by sincere feelings, not just by sexual desire. He further expresses his ardent emotion of love by addressing her as "sweet" (noun).

The poet promises to "FULFILL the treasure of thy love". FULFILL in its original spelling matches single L in EMILIA and double-LL in WILLIAM, and written as one word signifies their love as a union of soul and body. Moreover, the numeric value of FULFILL and WILLIAM are both 74, the number of letters is the same, too.

But this prospect of perfect love reminds the poet that Emilia gives her favours to other men, too. He cannot imagine that they are able to love his lady as much as he does. Their motives are incomparable to his. He feels that Emilia betrays their love if she accepts the advances of other men, too. He denies them true love. He illustrates this be inverting FULFILL to two separate words FILL and FULL with altogether 4 L.

The poet's change of mood is not easy to explain. Is it a kind of self-punishment to share his love with thousands of other men? Does he accept the facts about Emilia's character? Is he overcome with disdain towards his lady?

It is at this point that he comes across the idea of trying a new start for his love by punning on the lady's name A-E-MILIA.

4.      In line 7 the poet speaks of "things of great RECEIT" in a double sense: he thinks of the numeric dimension of MILIA and connects it to EMILIA's "treasure of love", room perhaps for many lovers. RECEIT should also be understood literally, not only metaphorically, as receiving is the main constituent of female nature. It's by receiving that a woman can give from the treasure of her love potential. The word "things" is later resumed by "nothing" (l.11,12) and "something" (l.12).

It's the poet's intention to make the notion of sexual desire on his part disappear so that the lady's initial apprehensions as to sexual advances she might perceive as indecent are dispersed. He is ready for a new unconditioned round of their love relation.

5.      Lines 11 and 12 present another example of inversion:

For nothIng hoLD Me

hoLD that nothIng Me

The four Latin number letters, which can be arranged to the word MILD, have as a result the inverse number 1551. The letter equivalents of the inverse numbers can again relate to the two name forms of his lady: AEMILIA and EMILIA. In a jocular way the poet might say: If you reject me as AEMILIA, accept me again as EMILIA. Hidden in 1551 is the prime factor 11 which can be equated with the letter L for LOVE.

The Latin word NIHIL for NOTHING has the number value 50 that is rendered by L. The number letters IIL mean 52, which is the numeric value of WILL. The three number letters are contained both in EMILIA and WILLIAM so that a certain awareness of nothingness would suit both lovers. Besides the word components MILIA (42) and MILI (41) have the same numeric value as NOTHING (83). This establishes a common basis between both persons.

From an internet source I take the information that NOTHING and SOMETHING "were slang terms for sexual organs". It makes Shakespeare's intention clear: Sexuality should not be separated from personality, it is an expression of mutual acceptance, estimation and affection which stem from the centre of a person's nature. The poet wants to say: My sexual organ is identical with my personal self: Regard my organ as being my own self and what I am like as a person, I am alike when having intercourse with you.

The phrase "a something sweet to you" serves two purposes: It explains the meaning of preceding nothing, and it indicates the beginning of sexual activity as a result of vivid imagination. The word sweet is repeated from line 4. If the poet's organ is sweet to her, it's the same as if she called himself sweet as, in fact, he has called her before.

6.      The last two lines sum up what has become clear before already: Love takes its origin from the spiritual nature of a person. A person's name represents everything he or she is like. So the poet calls upon his lady to see his person first and take sexual relationship as an authentic expression of his person. And he furnishes irrefutable proof of it: His name is Will and so is the name of his male organ.

The phrase "and love that still" means "go on loving that". The word "that" resumes the meaning of "that nothing" from the preceding line, just as "my name" takes up "me".

7.      A concluding word should be. We mustn't forget that Shakespeare addresses his beloved lady in the sonnet, so he composed it for her. EMILIA was not just a loose harlot, but an educated woman, who wrote poetry herself. The poet and she certainly took pleasure in having lively and witty conversations and also playing fancifully with their names. There is no reason why Shakespeare should not have sent the poem to Emilia. And she was intelligent enough to solve the riddle.

The formal devices employed in the poem might give encouragement for further studies about the Dark Lady, with a chance to confirm her as Emilia Lanier at last.

After intensively studying the sonnet, I'm inclined to believe that Shakespeare's original was carefully copied. If so, we may state the rare case that a poet uses different spellings for the same word in order to express certain meanings that could be associated with those differences. In Sonnet 136 there are two occurrences of different spelling: fullfill fulfill; will wils.

There seems great probability, that Shakespeare was familiar with gematria. Whether he had ideas about the meanings of numbers in general, I dare not say, though. Too little historic information is known or available about numerology and gematria at the Elizabethan Age. People seem to be more interested in mysterious kabalistic knowledge than in clear mathematical logic.

 

Written:November 2008

 

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