Word CODE Games
Topical References from Will's texts

Word and 

Number Games 



Family motto:


All for one,

one for all.

Henry W. 1594, 21 years old. Miniature by Hillyard




Question: Is Lucrece also the dark lady in trouble as a married woman in 1594? Was Lord Hunsdon still forcing himself on Aemelia Lanyer? 




Question: we know that "The Rape of Lucrece" was dedicated to Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton, in a loving, public dedication letter in 1594.                     

Does a word game like the one in Sonnet 40 prove that the youth of the Sonnets was Henry Wriothesley? 

Trans- position Code


Scrambled letters Embedded in lines

Name puns

1. Sonnet 145 

Anne Hathaway

2. Sonnet 112

Robert Greene

called Will an 

"Upstart crow" in 1592





3. Sonnet 21

Sir Philip






Rich was forced to marry Sir Robert Rich. She is the sister of The Earl of Essex. Some commenta- tors want her as the "dark lady." O come on! Are you blond? "Black wires grow on             her head."                              (Sonnet 130.4) 

4. Sonnet 111

Dyer and owner

of the Rose






Father-in-law to actor Edward Alleyn of The Lord Admiral's Men.

Henslowe was also owner of  the Bull & Bear Ring and a House of prostitution in Southwark

As You

Like It




5. Sonnet 74
















Will identifies Marlowe's murderer named in the

Coroner's Inquest 




Skeres, &


"... the said Ingram killed & slew Christopher Morley aforesaid on the thirtieth day of May in the thirtyfifth year named above at Detford Strand aforesaid within the verge in the room aforesaid"

Shakespeare plays with many kinds of word and               number games: puns, anagrams, rebuses, acrostics,            substitutions, transpositions, and spy code methods. Here are some fun, prime examples:    

Everytime Will plays on the words "all" and "one" in the Sonnets (and perhaps in the plays as well), he is playing with Henry Wriothesley's family motto from the French middle ages:  

          Tout pour un, 

                  un pour tout.


Sonnet 40, lines 1—4:

"Take all my loves, my love, yea, take them all;                        What hast thou then more than thou had'st before?         No love, my love, that thou mayst true love call;                    All mine was thine before thou hadst this more."

The subtext or code might read: 

"All" for "more" and "more" [or less] for "all." 

This is a bittersweet joke, a reminder of "family" loyalty versus the youth's betrayal of Will with the "Moorish" dark lady that may have taken place in 1592.

                                Aemelia Bessano as dark lady in 1592,                                               23 years old. Art by Mike Backus 

Here is another echo—the full motto—in a long poem published in 1594: 

"The Rape of Lucrece,"                                                          line 144:

"That one for all or all for one we gage:"

Can we draw dotted lines from "The Rape..." to the Sonnets and other works by Shakespeare?  

Did he use these encoding methods in all his works?          I think so.


I want to display another kind of code I found, a transposition code, that works like an embedded anagram. Remember that an anagram is a word scramble, but what if Shakespeare also embedded scrambled letters over a series of lines? Is this also valid naming code? Below are five examples, starting from the old and mostly accepted to new ideas.


Almost everyone agrees that the tetrameter Sonnet 145.13—14 names Will's wife.

        'I hate' from hate away she threw,          Hathaway

         And saved my life, saying 'not you.'         Anne

                             A possible sketch portrait of Anne Hathaway 

Not everyone also points out that Will had punned on her name in line 8 as well: 

         And taught it thus anew to greet: 

In this line, I see "Anne taught" and "Anne knew." This sonnet (whenever it was first written) is a reminder of all the sweet wives, who forgive their unfaithful or jealous and estranged husbands, in Will's later romances.


In Sonnet  112.3—4, many also agree that Will  is telling the youth that his gift of support (that may have enabled Shakespeare to  become a full partner in his company)  protected him from the insults of people like Robert Greene.

         For what care I who calls me well or ill,

         So you o'eR Green my bad, my good allow?

But if we play with these lines a bit and allow our wit to borrow some poetry layout tricks from e. e. cummings, those same lines may reveal more:

       For what CaRe I who CAlls me Well or ill,

        So you o'eR Green my bad my good allOW?

What fun! These lines seems to prove that Will later thought being called a crow was funny, and these lines find him able to crow over the dead Greene.


In Sonnet 21, many commentators agree that Will is contrasting his poetry with that of his forerunner, Sir Philip Sidney. But I want to go a step farther and point out a name embedded in lines 5—6. Will says that Sidney's comparisons of his lady love Stella go too far:

        Making a couplement of proud compare

        With sun and moon, with earth and sea's rich gems,

and I want to tease a name code pun from these lines:

        Making a couP        LEm 


                    Of Proud comparE

        With sun and moon, with earth and sea's  

                    RICH gems.

 In his sonnets, Sidney punned on his lady Stella's married name of "Rich," and here Shakespeare names her as well.

In Sonnet 111, Will excuses himself to the rich youth by reminding him that Will must work for his living, and his hands get dirty with black ink when he writes. In lines 5—7, Shakespeare names an important theater owner twice, who also has "dirty hands," at the very least from working as a dyer, if not from his other Southwark properties.

        THENce comes it that my name receive- 

        S a brand,

        And aLmOst 

        tHENce my nature is  


        To What it WOrks in, LikE thE 

        DYER'S HAND.

Will writes that Fortune forces both Henslowe and Shakespeare to work in their trades and get dirty hands. The doubled "thence" starts the naming code.


Scholar Charles Nicholl has pointed out that Shakespeare investigated the May 1593 murder of spy and dramatist Christopher Marlowe. In As You Like It, the shepherdess Phoebe calls Marlowe "Dead shepherd" (Act III.6.80—81) and quotes his "saw of might:"

        "Whoever loved that loved not at first sight?" 

The Fool Touchstone reveals further details in the punning phrase (Act III.4.10), 

        "... a great reckoning in a little room."

In Sonnet 74, line 10, many hear an early reference to Marlowe's murder:

        The coward conquest of a wretch's knife,

and this sonnet appears 4 sonnets before the nine-sonnet rival poet sequence. This sequence starts by saying there are many Muses (perhaps nine) competing with Shakespeare for the youth's patronage and love. But these nine narrow down to one main rival, Marlowe, who is named in embedded code in Sonnet 84.9—12 and who is referred to in the past tense in Sonnet 86. But this premonition of murder in Sonnet 74.10 proves that Shakespeare did his homework, read the Queen's coroner's inquest report based on the self-serving testimony of three spies who murdered Marlowe in a rooming (safe) house for spies on Deptford.

 Christopher Marlowe, age 21. Art by Mike Backus

If we play with that line 10 again, we get the name of the murderer and the documented inquest that both named and (suspiciously) cleared him, the stabber Frizer. He was a coward because two other spies, Poley and Skeres, held Kit down as Frizer stabbed him above his right eye, a signature professional hit in those days.

        The COwaRd cONQUEST 

        of a wR-R-Retch'S-Z kNI-IFE,

So, again, inspired by e. e. cummings, I play with the layout to display the code words like this:




Shakespeare uses embedded name code to point his finger at Frizer in the name of loyalty and admiration for his friend and rival, Kit Marlowe.

I hope many people will see that playing these typography code games is not trivial. I think Shakespeare put these clues in his Sonnets and plays for us—posterity—to find and understand. In my book and in subsequent, post-publication chapters, I reveal many more topical, embedded names that root Shakespeare in the peopled, rich culture of his times.