Saturday, March 14, 2015

Looking for William Hall by Donna N. Murphy

In The Shakespeare Conspiracy, Graham Phillips and Martin Keatman set down four intriguing occurrences in archival records (dated between 1592 and 1603) of the name William or Will Hall, plus one of Hall, that appeared to connect him to the world of British intelligence.1 The authors conjectured that William Shakespeare from Stratford-upon-Avon was a secret agent who employed the name as an alias when engaged in intelligence activities. The name would help explain the enigmatic dedication to Shake-speares Sonnets. Assuming that the one space in the dedication was a code that meant no space, while dots meant spaces, one could find a hidden message that Mr. W. Hall was the begetter or author of the Sonnets.2 The dedication begins:


Peter Farey listed these occurrences and wondered whether William Hall might have been a cover name for Christopher Marlowe. He added that he had not confirmed the information in the Phillips and Keatman book.

I attempted to make the confirmation. I was already suspicious because Phillips and Keatman claimed that the inverted dot/space cipher was described in a 1608 published pamphlet by Thomas Hariot. In fact, Hariot published only one work, in 1585. Phillips and Keatman listed their sources for William Hall as:  Historical Manuscripts Commission (HMC) Cecil 4; State Papers (SP) Hamburg III; Public Records Office (PRO) SP 106/2; and HMC Cecil 20. Oddly, they did not list as sources the Canterbury Archives and Chamber Treasurer accounts which they seemed to cite.

At the Folger Shakespeare Library, I checked the Cecil Papers both via the Calendar of the Manuscripts of the Most Hon. The Marquis of Salisbury Preserved at Hatfield House and via the Cecil Papers electronic database now available online from ProQuest. I looked for any occurrences of William or W. Hall with various spellings and abbreviations from 1580-1620 which could in any way be interpreted as related to intelligence activities. I also checked the Public Records Office Calendar of State Papers, Domestic, 1580-1610, and List and Analysis of State Papers Foreign, only available for 1589-1596. I did not have access to SP Hamburg III.

I found none of the instances that Phillips and Keatman cited. The best I could come up with in terms of an interesting reference to “Hall” was a note by Sir Robert Sidney to the Earl of Essex dated Sept. 24, 1596, Flushing, stating this his letter was so short because he “found this bearer, Mr. Hall, ready to start” (HMC Cecil Part VI, p. 398). But this gives us no first name, nor can we tell whether Mr. Hall was employed by Sidney or Essex, or merely someone willing to carry a letter.

Graham Phillips, sometimes writing with Keatman, penned thirteen books investigating historical mysteries, including The Virgin Mary Conspiracy, Alexander the Great: Murder in Babylon, and The Templars and the Ark of the Covenant. With such a prodigious output on a wide variety of subjects, it would not be surprising to find that some information provided in The Shakespeare Conspiracy was incorrect. I attempted to contact Phillips through his website, but the email address posted is no longer valid. We should, of course, continue to search for aliases employed by Christopher Marlowe, but at this point I am skeptical that “William Hall” was one of them.

 © Donna N. Murphy, March 2015

1Phillips, Graham and Martin Keatman. The Shakespeare Conspiracy. London: Random House, 1994. 158-173; 180-181; 215.
2 Sidney Lee proposed that printer William Hall, who was apprenticed to John Allde in 1577-1584, was "W.H." for the same reason. See Robert Fleissner's Shakespeare and the Matter of the Crux: Textual, Topical, Onomastic, Authorial, and Other Puzzlements (Lewistown, PA: Mellen Press, 1991), 67-100; 243-247. 


daver852 said...

Very interesting, and it proves that one should NOT believe everything one reads!

Parentheticus said...

Well done, Donna!

Laraine said...

"Assuming that the one space in the dedication was a code that meant no space, while dots meant spaces"

It reminds me of something similar used in some computer programming languages, which you might have seen:

For example, in Python, you use a backslash (before a character rather than after) to negate a special meaning to certain characters, e.g.

>>> print ("So I said, \"You don't know me! You'll never understand me!\"")
So I said, "You don't know me! You'll never understand me!"

The Backslash \ indicates that the inner quotes should be printed rather than treated as special characters in the manner of the outer quotes. (BTW, omitting the \ yields an error.)

for that and other examples.

So,IIUC, if the code you're talking about indicated that a space meant that the previous dot didn't have a special meaning (didn't mean space),

Mr. W.H. ALL would decode to Mr. W.HALL (or possibly Mr. W.H.ALL).

Laraine said...

Sorry, I should have been a little more precise on the decoding:


decodes to


with that scheme, as has been mentioned.