Play Commentary
             MOTTO: Know you not that I must be about my mother's business

  • These new A3 format commentaries use speech balloons around a facsimile text of the plays
    from the 1623 Folio to focus on their inherent meaning in the light of the Sonnet philosophy.


    • Love's Labour's Lost
    • A Midsummer Night's Dream
    • The Merchant of Venice
    • As You Like It
    • TheTaming of the Shrew
    • All's Well that Ends Well
    • Twelfth Night
    • The Winter's Tale

    The Institute for the Quaternary Evolution in Shakespearen Thought

    The Quaternary Institute
        Quaternary Institute & Quaternary Imprint
    Sample pages from the forthcoming 900-page Volume



    The first edition of the 4 volume set William Shakespeare's Sonnet Philosophy [2005] is still available.


        The balloon-style commentaries around facsimile pages of the 1623 Folio of William Shakespeare's thirty-six plays that feature on these webpages aim to show the relationship between the nature-based philosophy Shakespeare articulates in the 1609 edition of Shake-speares Sonnets (called Q) and the unadulterated text of the 1623 edition (called F).
        The balloon-style commentaries perform two primary functions. They respond directly to the actual wording, punctuation and arrangement of the 1623 text without preconceptions – other than Shakespeare's purpose-made Sonnet philosophy. Moreover, the format generated in Photoshop and saved as digital images doubles as a teaching aid for a quaternary level of learning.
        Admittedly, reading the Elizabethan/Jacobean typeface and diction of the Folio may prove difficult at times to those unused to its idiosyncrasies. However, the inconvenience is nothing compared to the ever-more ludicrous travesties editors and commentators foist on the text in their ignorance of the Sonnet philosophy.
        Worse are tertiary academics who display their willingness to convert the plays to conform to the sensitivities of English Church and State or merely to invent a new angle to maintain tenure. The most recent misdirection occurs in the Oxford Complete Works where a bevy of overly technocratic editors led by Gary Taylor attribute parts of the three Henry VI plays to Christopher Marlowe.
        One advantage of examining the original text is the opportunity to read the prefatory material the editors John Heminge (sic – there are variant spellings in F and elsewhere) and Henry Condell assemble to scene-set their monumental undertaking. They preface their Folio of Comedies, Histories and Tragedies with commendations from some of those who knew Shakespeare well – including their own incisive thoughts.
        A straightforward word-count throughout the eulogies and reminiscences records Shakespeare's groundedness in nature, the female, increase, and other basic terms from Q. Not one of the poems or comments suggests Shakespeare is beholden to the God of religion or other mythological entities. There is no mention of Christ and Mary or Mother Church.
        Similarly, other introductory poems written about Shakespeare in the early-to-mid Seventeenth Century makes no mention of the word God – not even God-fearing John Milton in his Epitaph to the 1632 edition of F.
        The basic analysis of significant words reveals the thinking behind the commendatory prefaces and poems is at one with the wording of Q. There are eleven uses of the word nature with a further eight referring to nature as her, she or herself – nineteen in all. Add the references to goddess, mother and Venus and contrast them with the only mention of God as an ejaculation in Leonard Digges 1640 poem: 'On God's name may the Bull or Cockpit have your lame blank verse, to keep you from the grave…'.
        Otherwise, the plural gods is mentioned twice in one line in relation to temples. The words saints and doomsday are used once each and the one invocation to pray is clothed in wit (Anonymous, in Troilus and Cressida, 1609). Yet the muses are mentioned five times and many of the words Shakespeare uses to ground his nature-based philosophy such as increase, got, beget, store, posterity, born and father get a mention, and issue appears twice.
        Shakespeare's two friends and acting colleagues Heminge and Condell give succinct witness to his nature-based approach. In their preface 'To the great Variety of Readers', the second paragraph begins by elaborating on their statements made twice elsewhere in the introductory pages that F is 'Published according to the True Original Copies'. They state that Shakespeare ('you') was 'abused with diverse stolen, and surreptitious copies, maimed, and deformed by the frauds and stealthes of injurious imposters'.
        They continue unequivocally that the plays 'are now offered to your view cured, and perfect of their limbs; and all the rest, absolute in their numbers, as he (Shakespeare) conceived them'. Then follows a single sentence that summarises brilliantly Shakespeare's respect for nature and his ability to capture unprejudiced in his writings every aspect of nature – including human nature. Heminge and Condell record that Shakespeare 'Who, as he was a happy imitator of Nature, was a most gentle expresser of it'.
        This one sentence, and the preceding condemnation of imposters, also stands as a canny indictment of the next 400 years of bad faith editing of Shakespeare's plays in fear or ignorance of his clearly enunciated nature-based philosophy he articulates so patently in Q as the basis for all the plays and longer poems.
        The dedicatory poems and commendations by Shakespeare's contemporaries record their perception of him and their regard for his works. It seems those who knew him well appreciated his acceptance of the priority of nature and the female, of the significance of increase and of the role of the Muses. In contrast, they witness his lack of personal belief in the God of Christianity or other pantheons of goddesses and gods, biblical or otherwise.
        Not only do Heminge and Condell rectify the shoddy publishing history of the plays from the 1590s and early 1600s, they seem to predict the unconscionable treatment the plays will receive in the hands of prejudiced commentators and editors in the future. Even better, at the end of their preface to F, they offer advice to those who 'do not like' the plays as they have assembled them as 'Truly set forth, according to their first ORIGINAL (their capitals)'.
        Very bluntly, they say that those who have any form of difficulty with Shakespeare's work should read writers more sympathetic to their beliefs. In Shakespeare's day such writers might be Donne, Dante, Ovid, Chaucer, Jonson, Marlowe, Sidney, and many others who Heminge and Condell call his 'Friends', and for our purposes just about every writer since.
        The history of interference in the plays ranks as the greatest offence ever perpetrated against a major literary figure. The forced conversion fosters a climate in which Shakespeare is made to perform the role of England's state and religious poet/playwright.
        As the philosophic contents of the Sonnets are available from Q without wilful alteration and the same holds for F, then it is reasonable to presume Shakespeare prepares the Sonnets for publication and his colleagues manage to compile as accurate a presentation of his plays as possible. Certainly, Heminge and Condell claim as much a number of times in their prefatory material.
        The male-based prejudices that drive those who would wish Bacon, De Vere, or Marlowe had written the plays – or Fletcher, Middleton and Marlowe again parts of plays – also motivates the majority of the textual reworking. The textual analysis used to justify changing the meanings of words, for altering parts spoken by characters and for adding or removing chunks of text gets its veneer of respectability from the support it provides for a Shakespeare converted to England's poet of State and Throne.
        As levels at which to approach Shakespeare's works, the biographical doubters are the simplest, but they are not far below simple-minded technocrats who use textual analysis to determine what Shakespeare wrote or whether his editors/compositors are competent. Such literal obsessively technocratic approaches to Shakespeare, which do not take account of the mythic depth of his content grounded in the life and loves of the European environs, are bound to lead to ever deepening doubt.
        There have been expressions of concern about the ravages perpetrated on Shakespeare and his works. When Caroline Spurgeon in Shakespeare's Imagery approaches Shakespeare in terms of his imagery, she challenges the prejudicial misreading of the works. For instance, her analysis of imagery demonstrates Shakespeare's authorship of Henry VIII, of which the commentators give half to Fletcher.
        As Samuel Johnson admits so succinctly of his own uninspired guesswork, he expects others will overturn his emendations. In his own words: 'I was forced to censure those whom I admired, and could not but reflect, while I was dispossessing their emendations, how soon the same fate might happen to my own'.
        The inevitable equivocations accompanying the commentators' predations reveal the groundlessness of their alterations and expose the prejudices behind their interference. Gary Taylor's recent attempt to reconstruct a supposed lost play of Shakespeare by writing as if he was Shakespeare reveals the depths of self-deceit current commentary harbours.
        Shakespeare's plays and poems are at one with the natural world. However, more than any other thinker/artist, Shakespeare not only extracts his meaning from nature, he explains precisely how he does so. It is because of – rather than in spite of – his unique level of reflexivity that he incorporates the most abstract machinations of humankind into his dramatic wordplay.
        Unless this is the Shakespeare loved and understood by his commentators, then his works will appear disordered, problematic, harsh and addled with errors. Unfortunately, over the last 400 years, the majority of his admirers have been his worst advocates. They do not match their attraction to his work with an ability to leave aside their traditional prejudices that would enable them to recognise and accept his nature-based logic.
        Because commentators insist Shakespeare is devoted to the Monarchy and Church, they attribute to others passages seen as offensive to the person of the Queen or King. Pope, Dryden, Tate, Johnson, Eliot, Wells, and many others, act in the interests of Church or Monarchy or both. Some even allege Shakespeare is distracted by the undue influence of a mistress or male lover.
        In keeping with the evidence, though, Shakespeare's overview of the European scene means every word is part of his greater purpose of bringing all to audit before nature. There is no need to denigrate, excise, emend or otherwise excuse the plays as assembled in F by Shakespeare's colleagues Heminge and Condell.
        Shakespeare writes and arranges the 154 sonnets in Q to be answerable only to the givens of nature and the sexual dynamic of female and male and their logical implications for the workings of the mind. Effectively, he frees his works from male-based mind-based stylistic constraints to express their nature-based understanding and love.
        Q, then, is the generic text where Shakespeare articulates his nature-based philosophy. For instance, there is not one place name in the 154 sonnets or the companion poem A Lover's Complaint.
        The 1609 edition's philosophic purpose also transcends personal names. Shakespeare, with some irony, anticipates 400 years of commentators whose penchant for identifying historic characters within the set ignores the logically exact names: sovereign mistress, Mistress, Master Mistress and Poet.
        The reading of Q as a generic resource has its counterpart in the Folio of 1623, whose plays embrace a continent of named locations across greater Europe. Using the nature-based philosophy of the Sonnets, the balloon commentaries investigate the content and the arrangement of the thirty-six plays in F.
        F is divided into three genres. The fourteen comedies at the beginning span from England to Greece. In contrast, the ten histories in the middle are based in England. Then the twelve tragedies grouped at the end extend from the Scotland to Egypt.
        The grouping of the English histories at the centre of F suggests Shakespeare focuses on the Kings of England as case studies of the issues he broaches in the comedies and tragedies.
        Shakespeare adds another level of generality where none of the comedies in F bears a name from the cast of characters. The non-specific titling of the fourteen comedies suggests their purpose is more philosophic than psychological. Furthermore, canny and cunning females control the action in eleven of the comedies while in the other three comedies gender-balanced males stage-manage the outcomes.
        Throughout the comedies, Shakespeare uses his nature and female validating philosophy to defuse the excesses of a God-orientated Europe. Their resolution of male-based inconsistencies and masculine imbalances in both females and males offers a variety of models for the practical realignment of sexual and gender expectations.
        The opposite is the case with the ten histories. Their titles name seven English Kings – four Henrys, two Richards and a John. Shakespeare analyses the malconsequences of allowing delusional males access to power on the presumption of male priority fostered by a male-based religion.
        Likewise, in the tragedies, title characters from the chronicles and literature bring mayhem and murder into their rancid excessively male-based cultures. Even where females have some hand in the debauched outcomes, Shakespeare demonstrates that malconsequences occur when women develop over-masculinised dispositions.
        By attending to the wording, punctuation and content Shakespeare gives the various characters in F, the balloon commentaries provide revealing insights into many passages traditional commentators either disparage, alter or even suggest Shakespeare fouled his text. The frequency at which the application of the Sonnet Philosophy (with its readily derived Nature Template) validates the patent meanings in F is testament to its unrivalled power as an interpretative tool.

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    Roger Peters Copyright © 2015