The SHAKESPEARE TAROT

III. SOURCES

1. THE CARDS

 

 While some claim for the Tarot a history dating back to ancient Egypt, its pedigree is mongrel and clandestine. In what might be called a reversal of fortune, playing cards are derivations of paper money from Asia. These early cards migrated through India into Arabia and across North Africa and Moorish Spain. The Tarot diaspora, along with the Torah and Neo-Platonism of Hermes Trismegistus, spread with the Jewish deracination into Europe proper during the medieval Renaissance, putting down roots in the fertile cultural soil of Renaissance Italy. Along the way, the cards were coloured by Northern Italian cities trading with the East which found themselves in the company of Buddhists, Confucianists, Taoists, Moslems, Jews, and "occult" Christians such as Gnostics and Cathars. From Northern Europe trickled down Norse legend and Celtic imagery, from the four Grail Hallows of the Arthur myths to the Four Treasures of Ireland

 The lineage of the cards is one of adaptation. Unlike the literal Word of God or absolutist Law maintained by an Academy, the tarot, alongside a language prolonged by usage and the human concatenation of DNA, is a river finding its way. 

2. WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE*

 

 While some claim William Shaksper [spelled up to 83 different ways, none with a hard ā] of Stratford wrote the poetry and plays originally published anonymously and then under the pseudonym Shake-speare, none did while he was alive nor at the occurrence of his death. Neither do we know what this merchant may have claimed, since nothing remains in the manner of letters or notes written by him, allowing that he could read and write. 

 The man who wrote the poetry and plays read and spoke numerous languages, matriculated from Oxford and Cambridge in his teens, studied law at the Inns of Court, traveled to Italy and the continent, was known in his day as a poet and playwright, managed a number of acting troupes, and witnessed the inner machinations of Elizabeth's court first hand. As inheritor of one of the oldest and foremost Earldoms in England, the dramatic writings of Edward de Vere could not be published under his name. Determined as most born writers are to write regardless, de Vere wrote devices for court and collaborated with a retinue of writers he surrounded himself with during his 5 year banishment from Elizabeth's court. His rapprochement coincided with the formation of The Queen's Men and de Vere receiving 1000 pounds a year for the rest of his life from Elizabeth and James. This money, released through the office of England's secret service, was recompense for services rendered the state in matters of nation building, public morale, and the glory of England. As Elizabethean propaganda drew a direct line of lineage from Troy to London through Brutus' establishment of Pallas Athena's Palladium on Britain's shores, so Edward de Vere devised the name Shake-speare to represent his muse and mission, exalting the Virgin Queen through the name of the "spear-shaker", Athene. 

  "As I know very many notable Gentlemen in the Court that have written commendably, and suppressed it again, or else suffered it to be published without their own names to it: as if it were a discredit for a Gentleman to seem learned and to show himself amorous of any good Art...In her Majesty’s time that now is are sprung up another crew of Courtly makers, Noble men and Gentlemen of her Majesty’s own servants, who have written excellently well as it would appear if their doings could be found out and made public with the rest, of which number is first that noble Gentleman Edward Earl of Oxford"

- The Arte of English Posie, 1589

 An inveterate player with words, not only does the epithet Shake-speare allude to Athene but also de Vere's prowess at tilting, his peer-age, the Persian term sheik indicating a prince, and the Latin term for hope, breath, and spirit: sperare. The 17th Earl of Oxford was associated with either the spear shaker Pallas Athena, the metonym for poet "Will", or both from as early as Gabriel Harvey's 1578 Apostrophe ad eundem dedication to de Vere in which he wrote in Latin: vultus tela vibrat, thy will/countenance shakes spears/projectiles.

 

 Also seen often in Shakespeare's oeuvre and extant literature are puns on de Vere's name, in his day pronounced vair. These include ever [E.Vere] and never [Ned Vere], the French word for green vert, and the Latin word for spring Ver. This allusion to spring as a water source spills over into one of Oxford's other titles, Bolbec, where bec means brook [ie. Master Brook, Master Ford]. Ver is also used as allusion through the Latin word for truth, as seen in the de Vere motto: Vero nil Verius, "Nothing is truer than Truth". Puns on the "ox" of Oxford and "bull" of Bolbec abound, including "a fair lord calf" of LLL and "so capital a calf" in Hamlet, "Taurus! That's sides and heart" of Twelfth Night, Lavache [Fr. la vache, the cow], Touchstone's "As an ox has his bow" [oks is Turkish for arrows], and Nashe's Apis Lapis [stoned bull] and W. Monox. Also referenced is de Vere's heraldic emblem, the Boar, which, in the words of Ted Hughes, is "Shakespeare's shamanic animal". 

*

 Most people steer clear of the authorship debate's murky waters and take what they were taught in school at face value. What happened half a millennium ago must in many ways remain obscure, and to pursue the issue the task of English scholars and historians. While the myth of the man from Stratford began decades after his death, its hegemony has been felt for centuries. Even today, in an era of revisionism, the pervasiveness of this a priori prejudice can be glimpsed through a simple thought experiment:

 

 Imagine that, for some 500 years, it has been commonly known the most admired author in the world, William Shakespeare, was the court poet and playwright Edward de Vere, compelled to write under a pen name due to matters of state and traditions of the peerage. Now imagine a group of independent thinkers and lovers of literature proposing the works of the bard were in fact written by a minimally educated wool and grain trader from the country, William Shaksper, who occasionally acted small parts and whose financial investments touched the theatrical world. He owned no books, his children were illiterate, and no letters or records of this man being the author - or even an author - exist. What records we have of him concern financial and legal dealings only. While he lived, numerous allusions to mercenary wheeler-dealers who made money buying, selling, and otherwise stealing plays - Poet-Apes - were satirized in the theater; when he died, no one took notice. And so imagine then, given this simple reversal of perspective, the credibility of such a story. 

 Imagine, too, the insight and understanding all the mounds of thought, research, and writing might have managed if attention had been paid to the rightful author, rather than a money-grubbing merchant whose involvement in the truly monumental story is tangential.

  

 *Further allusions, documents, historical events, and links pertinent to Shakespeare's writing can be found in The Shakespeare Tarot's Bibliography and Chronology.