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Was Shakespeare Ordained and Cloistered or Just a Liar?

As ordained clergy, I happened to notice this lovely line tucked away in the Sonnets, a line nearly certain to attract the attention of anyone who has been ordained, it runs, “a God in love, to whom I am confined.” 

While it is almost always ill-advised to take a line out of context, it smacks so of ordination and “cloistering” that one simply cannot ignore it.   This is particularly the case since the phrase “a God in love” invokes not only the central metaphor of Christianity but the rest of the nine yards as well, since it is nearly a direct quote of 1 John 4.16.

Most know Shakespeare has been perceived as a member of several professions, as a doctor, lawyer, sailor, soldier, herbalist, philosopher and statesman, but so far as I know few have discerned him as a member of the clergy.   On the other hand, the plays, particularly the final third are deeply spiritual and more than a few critics suppose that Shakespeare underwent something a major religious experience c. 1607.

After turning this over in my mind for a few days, I checked the tomes of Stephen Booth and Helen Vendler  see what the experts had to say about this line and sonnet. 

I was bemused to discover they had both missed what I have now come to think of as it’s full import.  While Hellen called it “blasphemy,” neither gave readers the slightest hint it might actually mean what it says.  In its place are labored academic entrees spoon-fed to the unwary reader.

It is not difficult to see why.  Shakspere, both knew, was never ordained.  Never cloistered. Never the illicit father of a Mr. W. H., a peer he could not acknowledge without taking “honor” from his name.  So why suppose it?  Why suppose that the alleged humanist might have been a closet Christian, one who grappled with and was caught by John’s notion that God is love.

Indeed both scholars CHANGED the reading to avoid these problems.  Their new line runs “a god in love, to whom I am confined,” making God into a namless lower case member of the pantheon and raising doubts as to whether this “god” was Aphrodite, Cupid, Dionysus or Shakespeare and thus thoroughly confusing the issue while fundamentally transforming the meaning.   Unless I’ve missed something no wise emendation should have this sort of result.

Since both authorities furnish readers with a facsimile of the original, there is no question whatsoever q1 read “A God in love” and not “A god in love.” 

Since the phrase is a Biblical allusion and the case change alters the meaning as well as stripping it of it's allusions, we would do well to leave it as it was first printed, at least until we’ve established the meaning of the sonnet itself.  Some authorities have had the good sense to leave it alone. 

Curiously, however, nearly all modern editors persist in leaving intact the troublesome reading found in line nine,  Now all is done, have what shall have no end…   It is a long reach indeed to make this line stand as printed. “Have what shall have no end,” is a sensible stand alone phrase, and, I might add, a very Biblical phrase, since it is the offer of eternity.  An offer one can almost hear being made to Faustus by his good angels as the end approaches. However when this phrase is conjoined with the clause “now all is done,” the meaning again becomes quite senseless.  We might rephrase it, “I’m finished here and now I’m ready for eternity.”  But to make this reading, we have to add “here”.  If we tackle it as it was written it becomes “I’m finished and ready for eternity.”  That’s sensible but only if we take “finished” to mean “finished here” or “finished with life.”  So any way we look at it the line is troublesome.  Is there an editorial solution that would correct this by a reasonable emendation?

As is usually the case, someone will have thought about it long before now, so it should not be surprising to discover that the great Shakespearian scholar, Sir Edmond Malone, seems nearly certain to have been correct when he concluded the first “have” was just a  misprint for “save.”  Elizabethan “s”s and “h”s frequently looked alike in the old secretary hand.   If Malone was right the line should have read, “Now all is done, save what shall have no end…   I don’t see how anyone can doubt the superiority of this reading over q1’s.  Not only does it scan, it is sensible on its face and it adds to what we shall show is the sustained Biblical imagery in this sonnet.  Let’s see it back in context in the complete sentence:

Now all is done, have (save?) what shall have no end,

Mine appetite I never more will grind

On newer proof, to try an older friend,

A God in love, to whom I am confined.

I suggest this reduces to “My mortal life is over my eternal life is about to begin, for I am confined to a God in love and never more will I grind my appetite for newer proofs to try  [the patience of] an older friend.”

I see nothing insensible about this reading.  I think it expands the meaning of the sonnet and does not conflict with anything in the rest of this poem.

While Booth rejects Malone’s reading here, he does, at least, notice more Biblical parallels in these lines, as well he should, since this sonnet is laced with them.

Since these allusions are pronounced, “have” almost certainly must be a misprint for “save”  and “a God in love” and not the revised “a god in love” should therefore be reverted to.

At this point the biographic problem now becomes acute.  For if the sonnet has a religious, nay a Christian, undertone, suggesting the Author had been ordained and cloistered then it can hardly apply to Shakspere, who was neither.  Perhaps this was why the Sonnets were orphaned and not included with the First Folio, indeed why they weren’t even reprinted until thirty some odd years later?

Only the Christian God is correctly equated with Love and this only in the Puritan sense, see the First letter of John and David Tracy, essay on it, “God is Love: the Central Metaphor of Christianity.”  Professor Tracy is The Andrew Thomas Greeley and Grace McNichols Greeley Distinguished Service Professor at The Divinity School, The University of Chicago.  So he should know what he is talking about.  Indeed this marvelous line, which the likes of Vendler and Booth would irrevocably erase without even a discussion, was intended to call our attention to the centrality of this issue for serious Christians.


1 John 4, 16, reads “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God and God [dwelleth] in him.”  The phrase “a God in love” thus has 1 John as clearly in mind as Bottom has Paul’s letter in mind in Midsummer Night’s Dream, when relating his “dream.”   (Harold Bloom, SIOTH) MND is a comedy, so a bit of spoofing, even of Paul, seems to be in good order, but the sonnets are serious business and Tracy is quite right that Shakespeare has placed his barb in what was and is the “central metaphor of Christianity.” 

Just to be clear about this, a God in love doesn’t imply that God is in love rather that God is surrounded by or immersed in love. 

Apart from this particular sonnet there are a number of sound reasons to suppose the Author, as opposed to the actor, did have a solid theological footing.  Indeed no book is closer to his table of metaphors than the Bible; he is constantly quoting from it or alluding to it.  Even “Measure for Measure” is a direct quote, except, that is, for case.    Many have made him out the author of the 46th Psalm and thus likely ordained, if not cloistered.

Whoever translated it for the King James’ version tucked the words “shake” and “spear” into this psalm, 46 words in from the beginning and 46 words in from the end.  Words that aren’t in that place in the earlier English translations, indeed many earlier versions read “shoke” for “shake.”

The King James Bible appeared in 1611.  Scholars know it was completed in 1610, a year after the sonnets appeared and the same year Marlowe and Shakspere turned 46.  Since both were born in 64, 46 is the reciprocal or scramble for their birth year.  While the identity of authors of the King James’ version have remained veiled, apart from Tyndale’s earlier and quite extensive contributions, much is known about them. David Daniel speaking about Tyndale’s contribution to the King James version, at the British Museum in 1997, estimated that as much as 83% of it was Tyndale’s, word for word. I have frequently guessed about 75% for my students in this subject.


They were scholars and clergy, mainly university types working under Dr. Andrews, afterwards the bishop of Winchester, who was familiar with fifteen languages including Hebrew, Chaldee, Syriac, Greek and Latin and thus a man with whom the Author, with a similar broad command of languages and one of the largest working vocabularies on record, would have had much in common.

Andrews had been first set upon his task by King James I at Hampton Court Palace in January 1603/04.  Andrews assembled a cadre of linguists including Overall, Bedwell and Savile, who are reported to have led a team of 54 “learned men” including Dr. Miles Smith to tackle this chore.   Assembling this taskforce took several years and the work was in the main completed, Smith tells us in his introduction, in about three years, spanning 1606-1609, with revisions taking place mainly in 1610.  The book appearing in 1611 was printed in London by Robert Barker.  These dates match very well with the period many scholars have suggested as marking Shakespeare’s “conversion” or spiritual reawaking.

Dr. Miles Smith, later Bishop of Gloucester, was a man with much in common with Marlowe.  He was a professor at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, Marlowe having been a Master from Corpus Christi, Cambridge.

Writing about this same topic, Tony Bushby has noted,

“There is another feature about the first editions of the Authorized Version which arrests attention. In 1611 the first folio edition was published. The design with arches, dogs and rabbits which is to be found over the address "To the Christian Reader" which introduces the genealogies is also to be found in the folio edition of Shakespeare over the dedication to the most noble and Incomparable pair of Brethren, over the Catalogue and elsewhere. Except that the mark of query which is on the head of the right hand pillar in the design in the Bible is missing in the Shakespeare folio, and the arrow which the archer on the right hand side is shooting contains a message in the design used in the Bible and is without one in the Shakespeare folio.

In the 1612 quarto edition of the Authorized Version on the title-page of the Genealogies are two designs; that at the head of the page is printed from the identical block which was used on the title-page of the first edition of "Venus and Adonis," 1593, and the first edition of "Lucrece," 1594. At the bottom is the design with the light A and dark A, which is over the dedication to Sir William Cecil in the "Arte of English Poesie," 1589. An octavo edition, which is now very rare, was also published in 1612. On the title-page of the Genealogies will be found the design with the light A and dark A which is used on several of the Shakespeare quartos and elsewhere.

The selection of these designs was not made by chance. They were deliberately chosen to create similitude between certain books, and mark their connection with each other.”

(See: The Bible Fraud by Tony Bushby or http://www.sirbacon.org/links/bible.html  )

While Baconians suggest that a literary mind must have been behind the King James Version, we have seen the mind was actually Tyndale’s and he paid for his endeavors with his life.  The Baconians do, however, unequivocally prove that the wording of the 46th psalm was changed so the words “shake” and “spear” appear precisely 46 words in from both the beginning and the end of this psalm.

Nothing connects Bacon directly to the translation, indeed he turned 46 in 1606, not 1610, but as we have seen “Shakespeare” is directly associated with it via the use of these shared designs used in printing of his texts and the Bible.  

As all should now know, Christopher Marlowe was on a direct track to ordination when he left Cambridge to work for the Queen and, later, to tutor Lady Arbella Stuart.   While absent from Cambridge he was accused of having journeyed to Rheims, where he would have taken ordination as a Catholic priest, perhaps with his fingers crossed.  When leaving Arbella, he complained that his position with her as “attendant and reader” had caused him to leave the University and to be “much damnified” by it.   A parallel passage in Edward II, seems in light of these new discoveries, startlingly autobiographic, "cast the scholar off."

Later in 1599 he surfaces at Valladolid, another Catholic/English seminary, where he seems to again have been ordained, as William Vaughan writes the Privy Council about in 1602, mentioning Marlowe by name.  Once said another Morley, that Morley proves dead in 1596. 

So it is quite possible that Marlowe was both ordained and cloistered, from time to time, as the author of this sonnet seems to have been, a sonnet that appeared precisely ten years from the date of his entry into Valladolid.

Indeed Lope de Vega, his Spanish counterpart, spent the last twenty years of his life as a priest, despite spending the first fifty as a wild man.  Even more importantly for those on this trail, Marlowe overlapped at Valladolid with Cervantes and is thus directly coupled to the mysterious English translation bearing the initials “T.S.” once said to have been “Thomas Shelton,” said to have thus been the brother in law of Sir Thomas Walsingham, Marlowe’s patron and friend, who had married Audrey Shelton, a  cousin on his mother’s side. (See the Bacon page for more information about the mysterious T.S.)

I while hate to ruin this lovely sonnet by “explaining” it, I feel compelled, having first cited Booth and  Vendler, who failed to understand it entirely.

Let’s start by pointing out the phrase “mine appetite I never more will grind,” is also best explained by taking its obvious prurient meaning.  On this level, the poet intends by this his “sexual appetite.”  Indeed “grind” is a term we still use to express the motion of sex, i.e., the grinding of one’s loins into one’s lover’s. 

Here the confession is that this earthly sexual appetite, the illicitly satisfied appetite that produced the boy, to whom the sonnets are addressed and this one in particular is written to,  is over and the boy will no longer see any evidence of those passions in his de facto father, for the poet has now been confined to “a God in love,” and shall never more grind.


Alas, 'tis true, I have gone here and there,

And made myself a motley to the view,

Gored mine own thoughts, sold cheap what is most dear,

Made old offenses of affections new;

Most true it is that I have looked on truth

Askance and strangely: but by all above,

These blenches gave my heart another youth,

And worse essays proved thee my best of love.

Now all is done, have (save?) what shall have no end,

Mine appetite I never more will grind

On newer proof, to try an older friend,

A God in love, to whom I am confined.

  Then give me welcome, next my heaven the best,

  Even to thy pure and most most loving breast.

So taken on the obvious level, the poet confesses to having roamed the earth, been a sinner, to have reveled in his sins and to have sold cheep, in doing so, what he once held most dear.  He even confesses to have continued his bad behavior with new friends, i.e., other lovers, and looked askance at Truth.  Yet these lapses (or blinks) brought new youth, one might as well say brought forth new youths.  Yet none of these other “essays” or “youths” matches W. H., so he is repenting past sins, having been confined now to a God in love and is looking forward to his reward in the next life as a result of this confinement, conversion and pledge never more to “grind.”  The future heaven that the poet contemplates will be even better or superior to his son’s “most most loving breast.”

This equation of offspring and essays is at least as old as Plato’s Symposium.   Both Booth and Vendler make no bones about Shakespeare’s debt to Plato in these same sonnets, so we need not justify this any further.  But we must remark that Shakspere is hardly likely to have known Plato, whereas Marlowe cut his teeth on him under the guidance of his headmaster at the King’s School, John Gresshop. (Urry, CMC)

Needless to say there are no biographic parallels between the life of the rustic actor and this world traveler who has, at least from time to time, made a motley of himself.

When we recall that the following sonnet, 111, speaks of his name having received a “brand” and that this brand changed his public demeanor, subduing his nature, its biographic fit becomes even more exclusively Marlovian:


O, for my sake do you (with) fortune chide,

The guilty goddess of my harmful deeds,

That did not better for my life provide

Than public means which public manners breeds.

Thence comes it that my name receives a brand,

And almost thence my nature is subdued

To what it works in, like the Dyer's hand.

Pity me then, and wish I were renewed,

Whilst like a willing patient I will drink

Potions of Eisel 'gainst my strong infection,

No bitterness that I will bitter think,

Nor double penance, to correct correction.

  Pity me then, dear friend, and I assure ye,

  Even that your pity is enough to cure me.

No biographer of Shakspere has ever been able to match this sonnet (or any of them) with the placid rusticated life of the actor and producer, who lived much of his time in a rented room in Shoreditch, sans any intellectual friends whatsoever.   The Author traveled widely, sinned greatly, fathered a “Mr. W.H.,” said to have been a peer, received a public brand to his name, a brand that subdued his nature and made it more fit for writing….so much so that he took to his new role as color does to a dyer’s hand.  Or said differently, he learned to accept whatever pigment or name the circumstances required.  His only earthly solace was the pity (and patronage) of William Herbert.   The son who was but one hour his.






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