Jonathan Bond is author of The De Vere Code (published by Real Press), a book that explores the mysterious dedication that prefaces Shakespeare’s sonnets. In the book, Bond reveals a number of hidden ciphers in the text and suggests a different author.
Did Shakespeare write the sonnets? Who was the mysterious Mr. WH to whom the sonnets were dedicated? Jonathan Bond reveals all.
About.com: Your book, The De Vere Code, focuses on hidden ciphers in the dedication to Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Once decrypted, what can it tell us about the origins of the text?
Jonathan Bond: In The De Vere Code I suggest that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, wrote the sonnets – and the dedication at the beginning of the sonnets was a puzzle created for the recipient of the collection of poems. The ciphers fit the pattern of wordplay that was widely in evidence amongst writers during the Elizabethan era: they are simple in construction, and all of immediate significance to the recipient. Most cipher theories demand convoluted explanations, highly esoteric code systems and a hidden agenda for Shakespeare to conceal his identity but with no clear idea of to whom the ciphers are directed.
My contention is that Edward de Vere was simply entertaining the recipient, while avoiding explicitly naming himself in order to prevent possible embarrassment over the intensely personal nature of the poems.
About.com: Why would Edward De Vere have wanted to bury cryptic messages in the dedication to the sonnets?
Jonathan Bond: The science of cryptography was rapidly expanding during this period. It was politically important and its use is well documented amongst the writers of the time.
De Vere utilized this knowledge in a light-hearted way to create a puzzle for the recipient – a very close friend (or perhaps even a lover) – to whom the complete collection was presented as a gift.
The personal nature of the poems would no doubt discourage de Vere from trumpeting his authorship, especially as he knew they would probably end up in wider circulation at a later date. The dedication therefore operates as a thin veil, masking de Vere's authorship from the incurious, but revealing all to anyone with the curiosity to apply some very elementary cryptological techniques.
About.com: Who were the sonnets dedicated to? Who was the mysterious Mr. WH?
Jonathan Bond: It is probable that Mr. WH is William Herbert, later the 3rd Earl of Pembroke. However, although the final print version of the dedication was addressed to Herbert, I believe that the ciphers reveal that the original poems were presented to Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, as a gift.
About.com: So de Vere never actually intended for the sonnets to be published?
Jonathan Bond: Well, the sonnets weren’t published until 1609, five years after de Vere’s death. Although the sonnets were circulated in manuscript form many years earlier, I don’t think de Vere ever intended for them to be printed. In fact, there is circumstantial evidence that an attempt was made to prevent their publication in 1599.
It should be remembered that a nobleman of that period would have little to gain from putting his work in the hands of the common citizens.
I suspect that that The Sonnets were printed on the instructions of William Herbert (Mr. WH) who, as I discuss in my book, had a strong motivation to see them in print.
About.com: What are the wider implications of your findings?
Jonathan Bond: The ciphers in the dedication reveal that Edward de Vere wrote the sonnets – it is therefore also likely that he wrote the two long Shakespeare poems Venus and Adonis and Lucrece. And given the established connections between these poems and the Shakespeare plays, it follows that de Vere also had a hand in writing the plays.
If written by or in collaboration with de Vere, these plays take on extraordinary political and social significance for scholars: they connect the political and social agenda of the Elizabethan elite with that of the common populace via the public theater at one of the most eventful periods of English history.
The De Vere Code by Jonathan Bond is published by Real Press