Is the Marley Cipher in Hamlet's Name Intentional?
The most famous name in
drama and likely in all of literature is Hamlet, a name comprised of but six
letters. Another six letter name is the name Marley. The poet, Christopher
Marlowe, was frequently known as "Marley," as we can see by his
This fact can easily be
dismissed as coincidence. Many names have just six letters.
However not nearly so
many six letter letters names share three the letters and share them in the same
An even smaller group of
six letter names, which share three letters, will also be comprised of three
letters that can be Caesar shifted, forward or backwards, by 5, to form the
A Caesar shift code is
one where letters are moved forward or backwards a certain number.
Indeed if Will Shorts,
puzzle master for the New York Times, makes this his puzzle challenge for the
week on NPR, I'll willing to bet lunch that few other names will be
Even so is it simply
coincidence that H, m and t, Caesar shift by five to form the name
Marley?* Or is it evidence of intention?
I'd also be willing to say it
was mere coincidence if it weren't for Scene iv in
Act IV. There the
Author gives us, what looks to me, as the necessary clue to ferret out it's
existence in line.
Let's look at IV, iv, 20.
There we'll find Hamlet reading:
|That hath in it no profit
but the name.
To pay five ducats, five, I would not
That's a clue.
It's something else that has been right under our collective noses for all these
Before we follow it up,
lets first take notice that 20, the line number, factors by 4, the scene and act
number, 5 times. Another way of saying this is to say that 20 is divisible
by 5 and thus, in a sense, has five
hidden in it.
This means that five is
being called to mind three times in this line, twice in words and once as a
factor of 20, the line number. Three is not only a
"magical" number it is the precise number of times that letters in
Hamlet's name must be Caesar shifted by five to make the name Marley.
So this is a suggestive
case by this point.
It doesn't appear to be coincidence. The Author appears to understand that
Marley and Hamlet are related names and that they can exchange places with one
another by a Caesar shift of five. And he seems to be signaling this
understanding to us. Signaling in anticipation of being understood, just
as he signals us about many of his hidden puns.
The ones that come to
mind here are embedded in 2 Henry IV, when Prince Hal thinks his father has died
and takes up the Crown. While leaning over the King, he is crying and he
says, this he says "this dew
from me is my due
to you." Even modern editions still mangle the word play, and print
both words as "due," despite the fact Kenneth Muir once told me it was
"obvious" after I pointed it out to him, during a discussion of the so
called Dering manuscript which does not mangle this important word play.
we leave this, I think we can remove all doubt. To do this I should
note Marlowe uses a similar expression in Faustus when he has Faustus
doing his conjuring,
The abbreviated names of holy Saints i,iii, 238
And later he ties this process explicitly to "farming,"
Hold, take this book,
peruse it thoroughly:
The iterating of these lines brings gold;
The farming of this
circle on the ground
Brings Thunder, Whirlwinds, Storm and Lighting
It's important because we just saw Hamlet using the same expression in a
That hath in it no
profit but the name.
To pay five ducats, five, I would not farm
who quotes Marlowe verbatim, would have known the hidden Faustian meaning of the
word "farm" and its application to the farming of a name.
does it mean by farming
a name five by five, if not using a Caesar shift on it? Farming means
tearing it apart, tilling it, seeing what can coaxed from it.
what or whose name is Hamlet speaking about?
decipher this out, we begin by noting that it is not Hamlet that uses the
expression, but the Captain.
is well and good since all conversations in Hamlet are radical fictions
designed to cause a specific flow of ideas. So Hamlet is, in a sense,
being fed lines that will cause him to think and in this case is being fed them
by the Captain.
is the Captain who was most likely, of the two, to be a scholar or user of
ciphers. Indeed we seem to be signaled this by the Captain's use of the
phrase, "with no addition."
Addition is a mathematical term. Indeed a similar Captain, is
called a "great arithmetician" in the opening lines of Othello,
for this same reason.
|Forsooth a great
the fuller context of this brief scene, this thought about farming a name leads
Hamlet to his famous "How
all occasions do inform
soliloquy. A soliloquy Swinburne calls the most profound in all of drama.
in thinking about farming a name Hamlet is not thinking about farming Demark or
Norway, but about digging into Hamlet.
thinking about framing his name, Hamlet. And he knows that hidden in it,
is the name Marley. A name that is informing
against him, "How
all occasions do inform
fact if we read closely we'll see Hamlet appear to confuse 2,000 ducats and
20,000 men. We'll also see him use the proportion 1/4th. 1/4 of
2,000 is 500 and 1/4 of 20,000 is 5,000, so again he's calling attention to five,
the number that drives the Caesar shift. And these numbers are given
in the clear three
Hamlet confused or is there method in his madness?
also uses the expression "and ever three
parts coward." Three is the magical number and the same number of
letters that shift.
so let's review. The two names Hamlet and Marley both have six
letters. They share three letters in precisely the same places. The
other three letters Caesar shift by five to make either word, depending on
whether they are shifted forwards or backwards, i.e., Hamlet sifts forward into
Marley and Marley shifts backwards into Hamlet. All this might just be coincidence,
where it not for the fact that Hamlet appears to call attention to this
"jiggery-pokery" in Scene Four, Act Five. This fact would, at
least for me, make it even more likely that the Author knew about this hidden
relationship and is calling our attention to it. Lastly, we discovered
that Faustus uses the word "farm" or "farming" in a similar
context. Since Hamlet is frequently quoting from Marlowe, we are safe in
concluding that Hamlet's use of the word "farm" has Marlowe's
usage in mind. This means the relationship between the words is not coincidental
but intentional and we are being invited to Caesar shift Hamlet into
Marley was interchangeable
with Hamlet. And he went to Scotland for the Cecils, where he met and
interacted with King James, whose life is based on Hamlet's. Through his
friendship with James VI, later James I, he became assured of future advancement
but never under the
hateful name of Christopher Marlowe. That name would stay buried with
"his" body as he promised in the Sonnets:
I am indebted to Rafe Szynowski for this marvelous insight into Hamlet's name.
I came up with the quote when I checked to see if "five" was used in Hamlet.
And all this additional rationalization followed. (:}) We'll see how time
Whether or not the Author standardized the spelling of the name or not is hardly
a major point. I suspect he did intentionally
spell the name this way because of its relationship to Marley.
might be that he simply noticed it, as Garrison Keillor noticed the "turd"
in Saturday at an age early enough to foster a subsequent love for hidden
let's go back in time for a moment.
to c. 1580 when Marlowe was going off to Cambridge and was writing the early
anonymous plays that "Shakespeare" would later turn into canonical
plays include the Kentish manuscripts of Woodstock (Part One of Richard
II), Timon, Ironsides, and Henry IV, along with the
anonymous plays Famous Victories of Henry V, Taming of A Shrew, King Leer,
Richard III, King John, Henry VI (True Contention), Arden of Faversham, and Locrine.
of these works have either explicit or underlying Kentish locales, roles for
cobblers and or share characters.
all of Famous Victories scenes are to be found in the mature Henriad.
Taming of A Shrew's underlying locale is obviously Dover just as is Timon's,
which mentions the Cinque Ports and the schools of Canterbury. The
relationship between the two King Johns is well established, while the
ties between Leer and Lear, the two Richard IIIs and True
Contention and Henry VI are more distant.
matter how distant, they are most likely all the work of a single playwright who
was a boy genus in Kent c. 1575 and began to think dramatically about these
subjects. Judging from their content he was a member of a cobbler's family
and matriculated to a university c. 1580 from Canterbury. These facts make
young Marlowe their most likely author.
is important to our narrative because of the change in names between King
Leer, the early anonymous play, and King Lear, the canonical
play. Why the change in spelling? Leer has smirking
implications and is not as suitable as Lear, which does not. Moreover
"Lear" converts easily to "Tear," and for this tear jerker,
is a far more fitting moniker.
are many examples of Authorial tampering with names in the canon. Othello
is a name created by the Author. It also anagrams to the theme of the
play, when farmed or read "Forward, and
to yeild: O TO
the record historical is clear. Hamlet's name was not
spelled as Hamlet before it appears in either this or a similar play.
Saxo Grammaticus had 'Amleth' and Belleforest 'Hamblet. So it seems
clear that whoever wrote the early play that Nashe alludes to in 1589, where he
uses the modern spelling, i.e., "Hamlet," changed the name to the
Is this clear? Some
anonymous playwright c. 1588 had written a play about Hamlet, based according to
Nashe, on a knowledge of the Roman playwright Seneca, meaning it was a
"revenge tragedy." That anonymous playwright appears to have
formalized the spelling as "Hamlet."
So in our time machine we
go back to that night when the world had yet to have this name in this
form. We venture back to that young scholarly playwright's desk, were he
toiled over the name "Hamblet" and transformed it into
There are two questions
here. Who was that young scholarly playwright who could read Seneca by
candle light? And was the name formalized intentionally? In truth we
do not know. Since we do not have a time machine.
But we do know that Nashe
and Marlowe were chums and we also know that Marlowe did write the earlier
anonymous plays that eventually wind up as mature canonical plays.
So in all likelihood the
young playwright was Marlowe, who, at
most frequently called "Marley." And who, in order
to secure his degree had to call upon the intervention of the the Privy Council
and the Queen.
So this means that in all
likelihood it was Marlowe or rather "Marley" who first farmed the name
"Hamblet" into Hamlet. And thus it was Marley who gave us
the name Hamlet.
With this context in
mind, the possibility of intention becomes even more conclusive. Marley
created the name "Hamlet" with forethought because it was an analog to
his own name.
Both have six
letters. Both share three letters in the same place and both Caesar shift
by five to interchange with each other.
This was, c. 1585, big
word magic. And paradoxically still is:
Who'd have thought
it? Hamlet hides within it the Author's name. Indeed scholars have a
single surviving signature of Marlowe's, dated, coincidently, to this same
period, i.e., 1585, and it reads, "Christofer Marley."
That's almost as
good as a time machine. That signature's ink dried over 400 years
ago. Marlowe was just 21 years old that year. It is on the will of a
neighbor, Katherine Benchkin.
The will mentions the
wife of Marlowe's major professor at Cambridge, Thomas Harris, who shows up on
the college lands in Virginia with a man suspected by Urry of being Marlowe's
Harris lived in the tinny
Kentish village of Pluckley, where the manuscript of Henry IV
surfaced. What is so intriguing about the will is its date.
The Italian scholar and futurist
Bruno was leaving England at that same time. Marlowe may have shadowed him
for Walsingham, using the alias "Henry Faggot" and
writing to Walsingham in
a King's School cipher that shifted vowels into consonants.
Faggot has never been
identified, but wrote in a lovely Italic hand similar to the hand on the so
called Arrian Heresies said Marlowe's by Kyd. (We shall treat these
subjects later.) Marlowe's signature, pictured above is in the old style
hand, the Elizabethan Secretary hand. However it was not uncommon for
university trained scholars of this period to command both hands. The
earlier one they learned at home, the newer, the Italian hand, at University and
on their travels.
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