The Poetry and the Drama
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  • William Shakespeare's Sonnet Philosophy details the logical
    structure of the philosophy in Shakespeare's 1609 Sonnets.

    Volume 1: Part 5; The cryptic numerology (16 book pages)

    The Institute for the Quaternary Evolution in Shakespearean Thought
    The Quaternary Institute
    Quaternary Institute & Quaternary Imprint



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


    Roger Peters Copyright © 2005

           William Shakespeare's Sonnet Philosophy (2005), is a four Volume slipcase set that presents the philosophy embedded by Shakespeare in his Sonnets of 1609.
           The four Volume set has been reissued in hardback and paperback editions (2018 to 2020) that are available individually through online publishing (see Quaternary Imprint).
           In addition, all 1760 pages of the four Volumes are now ready for viewing on the Quaternary Institute Website.

           VOLUME 1: The 560 pages of the first Volume explain Shakespeare's nature-based philosophy in detail, with Appendices and a Glossary that provide further analysis.
           VOLUME 2: The 372 pages of the second Volume provide commentaries on the 154 individual sonnets, and critiques the history of egregious emendations.
           VOLUME 3:The 488 pages of the third Volume selections provide commentaries on Shakespeare's four longer poems and five of the plays from the 1623 Folio.
           VOLUME 4: The 284 pages of the fourth Volume consider proto-quaternary thinkers and artists whose combined insights led to an understanding of Shakespeare's Sonnet philosophy, and then critiques ten thinkers who tried but failed to appreciate the nature-based Sonnet philosophy behind all thirty-six plays in the 1623 Folio.

    The cryptic numerology

    5.1     The encrypted numerology of the Dedication etc.

    Part 5 presents further evidence that Shakespeare, in the years before publication of Q in 1609, was deliberately arranging the Sonnets into a tightly structured set. In the Sonnet literature there have been frequent attempts to decipher the ‘mystery’ behind such features as the Dedication, sonnet 99, sonnet 126, sonnet 135/136, sonnet 145, etc. Some commentators have felt that only an encrypted system could account for aspects of the Sonnets that otherwise make obscure sense or no sense at all.

    5.2     The Dedication and sonnet 126

    The most famous of the unexplained features is the Dedication (Fig 8). The oddly phrased set of words has been described as the greatest mystery in the literature. It has remained a mystery because the Sonnet logic has not proved susceptible to traditional apologetic enquiry. The odd wording of Dedication frustrates those commentators who attempt to read it literally, not realising they are caught between its intentional obscurity and its underlying purpose.
            It became apparent (in the months after the first reading the Sonnets) that the arrangement of the Dedication encodes the major structural elements of the Sonnets. Nature (154), the Mistress (28) and the youth (126) are encrypted into its wording. The Dedication also incorporates the number associated with the Poet (145). The arrangement of the words in the Dedication corresponds to the numbering for the major elements of the Sonnets.
            One of the more obvious features of the original layout in Q are the dots after every word and letter. When the dots in the body of the Dedication are counted they add up to 28. The dots themselves, though, are not significant. The dots mark out 28 spaces in which words, hyphenated words, the initials ‘W’ and ‘H’, and the abbreviation ‘Mr’ are placed. The distinction is important, as the dots after the initials T. T. are conventional punctuation marks that do not have a numerological function. The larger font of the T. T. indicates its separate role in the encryption. This is borne out by the role played by the initials in T. T. in determining the second half of the numerological equation.

    Dedication from Q

    FIG 8: Dedication from Q

            The significance of the two Ts is determined by referring to the structure of sonnet 126, the most irregular sonnet in the whole sequence. An analysis of sonnet 126, which ends the Master Mistress sequence, suggests it was deliberately given its six rhyming couplets to accord with the coding of the Dedication. It has been an inescapable difficulty for Sonnet commentary that sonnet 126 has only 12 lines and is in rhyming couplets. It is apparent that the structure of sonnet 126 is reflected in its number. There is 1 sonnet, with 12 lines, in 6 couplets, and each couplet has 2 lines, all numbers corresponding to numbers in 126.
            This otherwise innocent circumstance can then be compared to the components of the name behind by the initials ‘T. T.’ The name, Thomas Thorpe, can be seen to have the same numerological pattern as sonnet 126. There is 1 name, with 12 letters, in 2 parts each with 6 letters. This suggests the relationship between the irregular form of the last sonnet in the youth sequence and the expanded form of the two initials was deliberate.
            Furthermore, if all the letters of the Dedication, including the T. T., are counted (with the ‘Mr’, with its raised r in the lower case, being read as one item) there are exactly 145 letters. So the total number of letters in the Dedication corresponds to the number 145 of the Poet.
            Already, then, it can be seen that two of the basic numberings of the Sonnet sequence, the 28 of the Mistress and the 126 for the Master Mistress, plus the 145 of the Poet, appear as numerological dimensions of the Dedication. If the 28 derived from the body of the Dedication is added to the 126 derived from the T. T. the number 154 for the whole set is arrived at (28 + 126 = 154).
            The configuration of the Dedication, which associates both 145 and 154 with the full set of words, suggests a logical interrelationship between the Poet (145) as the begetter of the sonnets, and the major components of the set, nature (154), the Mistress (28) and the Master Mistress (126).
            Consistent with the logical multiplicity of the Sonnets, the Poet can be considered a person in nature interacting with female and male entities, or those entities can be considered as personae internal to the realisations of the Poet. Either possibility is consistent with the arrangement of the Dedication.
            Significantly, for a set of Sonnets that embodies the philosophic conditions of the mythic possibility, the exact correspondence between the Poet (145) and the numberings for nature (154) and its component parts, the Mistress (28) and the Master Mistress (126) in the arrangement of the Dedication, encapsulates the ‘concord’ (sonnet 8) that must exist between those two elements for mythic expression. The Poet must understand and be able to express the basic relationships to be a mythic Poet at the self-critical level of myth at which Shakespeare operates.
            Again, if nature (154), the Mistress (28), and the Master Mistress (126), are personae of the Poet (145) then the organisation of the Dedication is exact. Or if the Poet is the mythic operator who characterises nature, the Mistress, and the Master Mistress, as part of his natural universe, then the organisation of the Dedication is again exact. The unity of the Poet and nature is respected, as are the unity of the Mistress and the incompleteness of the Master Mistress as the number 9.
            It is well known that Thomas Thorpe wrote dedications in a similar style and form for other publications issued under his name. An example is the dedication to Ben Jonson’s Volpone, two years earlier than the Sonnets.


            It is evident that Shakespeare intervened in the printing process of Q and organised Thorpe’s form and style of Dedication to his precise numerological purpose. Only Shakespeare could have organised the Dedication to indicate the contiguity of the Poet and nature. Not only is the set of Sonnets mythically profound, Shakespeare demonstrated his cognizance of the conditions for the mythic by encrypting in the Dedication the principal components of his philosophy.

    5.3     The K A, and the Mr. W. H.

    The other great mystery of the Dedication is the identity of ‘Mr. W. H’. The consistency in the Dedication between the encrypted elements and the numerological structure of the whole set is striking. Once it is realised the Dedication and sonnet 126 are related cryptically it follows that Shakespeare may have deliberately encrypted other aspects of the whole set of Sonnets before 1609.
            The Mr. W. H. has generated a library of idle speculation over the last 400 years. To appreciate the significance of ‘Mr. W. H.’ in the context of the numerological structure of the Dedication it is necessary to remember that Shakespeare has manipulated an existing form of dedication to his numerological purposes. After all Shakespeare typically altered existing plots and poetic forms and devices to his own ends in the plays and longer poems.
            So to understand the role of the ‘Mr. W. H.’ it is instructive to look elsewhere for a similar grouping of letters in the set. If the printer’s collation letters, ‘K A’, from the end of the Sonnets under sonnet 154, are considered (Fig 9), there is evidence that the otherwise innocuous letters have been given a numerological function by Shakespeare. When the name ‘WILLIAM SHAKE-SPEARE’, as it appears over the page under the title of A Lover’s Complaint, is doubled in size and placed over the K A, the letters K and A from Shakespeare’s name fit exactly onto the typographic layout of the K A (Fig 10).
            Significantly, the K and A are the 10th and 1st letters of the alphabet in use in Shakespeare’s day. (The J/j was added to supplement the I/i a little later in the 17th century.) As the collation lettering at the bottom of every other page throughout the sequence runs from A to K it might have appealed to Shakespeare to accentuate this coincidence with the K and the A from the final page by giving it a numerological accent.

    Sonnets from 8 to 12 in Q

    FIG 9: Last page of the Sonnets from Q

    Sonnets from 8 to 12 in Q

    FIG 10: Last page of Sonnets from Q: K A completed

            This numerological possibility is consistent with the characterisation of the whole set as nature, where nature incorporates the ideal as 10, and the extra 1 represents the antithesis of the ideal as 10+1 = 11 (or 2). It is as if Shakespeare was affirming on the last page of the Sonnets that the whole set has as its overarching logic the correct relationship between the ideal and its antithesis in nature.
            If the K and A were deliberately construed as 10 and 1 then it is also possible that the W and H at the beginning of the sequence may be numerologically significant. It can be seen that the letters W and H are the 1st and 9th letters of WILLIAM SHAKE-SPEARE.
            This suggests the numbers 1 and 9 are critical to the relationship of the Poet to the whole set. It suggests the Poet, William Shakespeare, considered himself to be constituted of a feminine persona (the Mistress’ 1) and a masculine persona (the Master Mistress’ 9) to give him the required unity to be able to express the conditions for the mythic possibility. The previous Parts of Volume 1 have demonstrated the significance of the 1 and 9. It appears Shakespeare used the W and H from his name to identify himself as the Poet at the beginning of the set (1 and 9), and to reiterate his logical relation to nature at the end of the set (10 and 1).
            A further reference to WH as the name of the Poet is apparent in sonnet 76. Sonnet 76 deliberately draws attention to the persistence of the consistent logic of the set. The sonnet begins (in the original) with a capital W and H, and states that ‘every word doth almost tell my name’.

    WHy is my verse so barren of new pride?
    So far from variation or quick change?
    Why with the time do I not glance aside
    To new found methods, and to compounds strange?
    Why write I still all one, ever the same,
    And keep invention in a noted weed,
    That every word doth almost tell my name.
    Showing their birth, and where they did proceed?
                                        (Sonnet 76.1-8)

            Consistent with the claim that Shakespeare deliberately encrypted the Sonnets, the ‘WH’ beginning every second line relates to the W. H. of the Dedication.
            It is evident from sonnets 135 and 136, and a few others that make a play on the name ‘Will’, that Shakespeare used aspects of his name within the Sonnet sequence. The ‘hate-away’ from sonnet 145, and ‘o’er-greene’ from sonnet 112 also make punning references to people in his life. If it is accepted that the Dedication is encrypted and bears a consistent relationship to internal features of the Sonnets then there is every reason to expect personal references in the Dedication and the collation letters at the end of the set.
            As an aside, it may have appealed to Shakespeare’s imagination that the date 1609 also has the numbers 1 and 9 surrounding the number 60. Sixty is the number of years (three score years) sonnet 11 gives as the time after which the logical consequence of refusing increase would ‘make the world away’.

    5.4     Sonnets 135 and 136

    The way sonnet 38 cryptically incorporates the numbers 1 and 9 has been discussed. A more complex play on numbers occurs in the two sonnets, 135 and 136. Their distinctive tone suggests they were late additions to the set.

    Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy Will,
    And Will to boot and Will in over-plus,
    More than enough am I that vex thee still,
    To thy sweet will making addition thus.
    Wilt thou whose will is large and spacious,
    Not once vouchsafe to hide my will in thine,
    Shall will in others seem right gracious,
    And in my will no fair acceptance shine:
    The sea all water, yet receives rain still,
    And in abundance addeth to his store,
    So thou being rich in Will add to thy Will,
    One will of mine to make thy large Will more.
        Let no unkind, no fair beseechers kill,
        Think all but one, and me in that one Will.
                                        (Sonnet 135)

    If thy soul check thee that I come so near,
    Swear to thy blind soul that I was thy Will,
    And will thy soul knows is admitted there,
    Thus far for love, my love-suit sweet fulfil.
    Will, will fulfil the treasure of thy love,
    I fill it full with wills, and my will one,
    In things of great receipt with ease we prove,
    Among a number one is reckoned none.
    Then in the number let me pass untold,
    Though in thy store’s account I one must be,

    For nothing hold me, so it please thee hold,
    That nothing me, a something sweet to thee.
        Make but my name thy love, and love that still,
        And then thou lov’st me for my name is Will.
                                        (Sonnet 136)

            Not only do the sonnets sustain an erotic intensity (that most commentators recognise), they also make persistent references to ‘number’ and ‘addition’ in terms of ‘one’, ‘nothing’ or ‘none’. Besides using the proverbial erotic relation of ‘one’ and ‘nothing’, the lines that express the relation between one and naught also play with the numerological factors out of 10=1+0=1. Ten or unity equals one plus nothing equals one.
            The sum of the individual sonnet numbers (135 and 136) adds to 9 (135 = 1+3+5 = 9) and 1 (136 = 1+3+6 = 10 = 1+0 = 1) respectively. The two deliberately positioned sonnets with their highly intensified focus on the Poet as ‘Will’ have numbers that correspond to the constitutive numbering for the Poet, 1 and 9. If these sonnets were added late in the organisation of the set then it is possible that the suggestiveness and playfulness and complex numbering reflect the Poet’s delight at having found such a versatile yet logically consistent system.
            In sonnet 135 the numerologically smaller 1 of the Poet’s 145 (145 = 1+4+5 = 10 =1+0 = 1) is added to large and spacious 1 of the Mistress’ 28.

    So thou being rich in Will add to thy Will,
    One will of mine to make thy large Will more.
        Let no unkind, no fair beseechers kill,
        Think all but one, and me in that one Will.
                                        (Sonnet 135.11-14)

            The Mistress (28), in accord with nature (154), is logically a unity (‘think all but one’) to which the Poet’s unity belongs. The Mistress’ 1 is the ‘sea’ which can accommodate any number of unities for the purposes of ‘store’ or the activity of increase. The Poet being 1 can add his 1 to the Mistress’ 1 to make her Will more or 2 (nature and the Mistress are numbered 1 and 2). But because all are ultimately of the same kind, ‘let no unkind’, their unities (145 = 1 and 28 = 1) are all united in the one Will.
            In sonnet 136 the Poet, as part of the Mistress’ numerological status as 10 = 1+0 = 1, gallantly accepts being ‘reckoned none’. He can ‘with ease prove’ on the ‘store’s account’, where the feminine and the masculine are logically required for increase, he still must be part of the resulting 1. His seeming nothingness in the equation is still a ‘something sweet to thee’.
            The name Will, italicized and capitalized in the original, occurs 10 times, and the unitalicised word ‘will’, in the lower order, occur 9 times. Again the number of instances is too exact to be unintended.
            Sonnet 20, which is a crucial part of the final structuring of the whole set with its mention of the Master Mistress, contains a similar numerological reference to that which appears in 135 and 136.

    And by addition me of thee defeated,
    By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
                                        (Sonnet 20.11-12)

    5.5     Sonnet 145

    The significance of sonnet 145 as the key to the music structure of the Sonnets based on the octave has already been considered in 1.18. There is a consistent identification of the Poet with the numbering of 145, in the layout of the Sonnets in Q (from sonnet 10 onwards), in the punning reference to Anne Hathaway in sonnet 145, and in the number of letters in the Dedication. The Dedication neatly draws the appropriate relation between the Poet and nature. The number 145 can be also seen as a simpler but no less unitary form of the number 154 for Nature, the sovereign mistress. The extra-structural role of the 145 in relation to the 126, the 28, and the 154, gives definition to the intermediary function the Poet has as the subject and object of sonnet arguments and poetics.
            It is also possible that Shakespeare originally intended to have a sequence of 145 sonnets. The addition of nine other sonnets would have elevated the 145 sonnets from a symbolic group to a set of mythic proportions.
            In the Mistress sonnets seven vary in tone or style or form from the regular sonnet. They include sonnet 129 with its more abstract cast, sonnet 144 with its reintroduction of the youth, sonnet 145 in octosyllables, sonnets 135 and 136 with their incantatory reiteration of the name of ‘Will’ and its highly erotic overtones, and the final two sonnets cast in the form of classical epigrams. If sonnet 99 (15 lines) and sonnet 126 (12 lines in couplets) are added to this list then Shakespeare may originally have considered a sequence of 145 sonnets. The nine odd sonnets may have been added as he adjusted the arrangement to allow a comprehensive philosophic expression under the number 154.

    5.6     Sonnet 99

    An account has been given of some or most of the peculiarities of the sonnet set as published in Q. There is a logical reading for the Master Mistress in sonnet 20. A credible reason has been given for the rhyming couplets of sonnet 126. A number of substantive reasons have been given for the form in octosyllables of sonnet 145. The classical epigrammatic form of sonnets 153 and 154 has been shown to be integral to the set and the peculiarity of sonnets 135 and 136 are consistent with the Sonnet logic. The only other sonnet whose form demands attention is sonnet 99. Sonnet 99 has 15 lines in place of the regular 14.
            The Sonnet literature recognises that sonnet 112 makes an apparent reference to Robert Greene, who called Shakespeare an ‘upstart crow’ in 1592. The tone of the sonnet with its references to ‘vulgar scandals’, ‘shames and praises’, ‘right or wrong’, ‘critic and .. flatterer’, and the final line, ‘all the world besides me thinks y’are dead’ is similar to that of sonnet 99.

    The forward violet thus did I chide,
    Sweet thief whence didst thou steal thy sweet that smells
    If not from my love’s breath, the purple pride,
    Which on thy soft cheek for complexion dwells?
    In my love’s veins thou hast too grossly died,
    The Lily I condemned for thy hand,
    And buds of marjoram had stolen thy hair,
    The Roses fearfully on thorns did stand,
    Our blushing shame, an other white despair:
    A third nor red, nor white, had stolen of both,
    And to his robb’ry had annexed thy breath,
    But for his theft in pride of all his growth
    A vengeful canker eat him up to death.
        More flowers I noted, yet I none could see,
        But sweet, or culler it had stol’n from thee.
                                        (Sonnet 99)

            Thomas Heywood’s Apology for Actors of 1612 records that Shakespeare was ‘much offended’ by William Jaggard publishing sonnets of his and those of others under his name in Passionate Pilgrim in 1599. So it seems evident that the combination of the number of lines in the sonnet (15) with the sonnet number (99) gives the date of the 1599 publication.

    5.7     Diagram of the shape of the whole set

    A possible consequence of the expansion of sonnet 99 to 15 lines and the contraction of sonnet 126 to twelve lines involves the placement of those sonnets in the pattern of the set. Sonnet 99 follows immediately upon sonnet 98. The pattern of 14s out of sonnet 14 locates sonnet 98 at the seventh division of the set and sonnet 126 at the ninth division. When the two sets of brackets after sonnet 126 are included the pattern is (Diag 45),

    Pattern of 14s

    DIAG 458: Pattern of 14s

            It is possible to derive an erotic shape from the variation in sonnet sizes. The circular shape suggested by the lunar cycle of the 28 Mistress sonnets and the ‘brand’ or penile shape mentioned in sonnets 153 and 154 can be used to form the shape of the whole set. If the circular shape of the Mistress sonnets represents a womb or orifice, if the brackets after sonnet 126 are read as labia, and if the ‘brand’ of the youth sequence is seen as a shaft and a glans of a penis formed by the unusual sizes of sonnets 99 and 126, then Diag 46 is possible.

    Erotic diagram of the set

    DIAG 46: Erotic diagram of the set

            While such a suggestion is speculative, it has the virtue of corresponding to structural features and themes of the Sonnets in a way that the only other attempt at a diagrammatic representation, the triangle of Alastair Fowler, does not. Fowler’s triangle requires a break with the linear integrity of the set by piling lines of sonnets one upon another and has to leave one sonnet out. Ironically the desire to find a triangle in the Sonnets is symptomatic of the Trinitarian Christian paradigm.

    5.8     A Lover’s Complaint

    A Lover’s Complaint was written as a simple allegorical expression of the highly sophisticated and organised system of the Sonnets. Significantly, the young maid who complains to the narrator about her treatment at the hands of a fresh young lad ends by suggesting that she would most likely do it again. The poem is considered in more detail in the Play and Poem Commentaries in Volume 3.
            The theme of over-treasured chastity and consequent sexual relations is consistent with the theme of the increase sonnets encouraging the youth to increase. It is also consistent with the basic theme of many of the plays where unnatural attitudes or forces create a dilemma at the beginning of the play with dramatic consequences that are resolved by the play’s end. The resolution in the Complaint is also signaled when the title ‘A Lovers’ from the top of every second page becomes ‘The Lovers’ on the top of the final page in the original, in keeping with the maid’s equivocation in lines 321-2.

    Aye me I fell, and yet do question make,
    What I should do again for such a sake.
                                        (A Lover’s Complaint 321-2)

            The purpose here, though, is to consider the numerological connections between the Complaint and the Sonnet sequence. Though the numbering is simple, in keeping with the weight of the poem, it is nonetheless exact. There are 47 stanzas in the poem. The 47 can be added to reveal the number for nature.

    4+7 = 11

            It can also be multiplied to give the number for the Mistress, remembering that the principal protagonist in the poem is a young woman.

    4 x 7 = 28

            It is also worthy of note that the number of lines in the poem is 329. By adding the components they sum to 14.

    329 = 3+2+9 = 14

            So the total number of lines aligns the poem with the increase pattern of the whole set out of sonnet 14. This is in keeping with the theme of this poem that reiterates the unavoidable logic of increase.
            The Complaint occupies a similar place in Shakespeare’s work as does Marcel Duchamp’s final work, the figurative tableau Etant donnes, to his iconographically and logically complex Large Glass. The Large Glass also bears a numerological relation to the basic Sonnet structure (see Volume 4).

    5.9     Conclusion

    Shakespeare wrote the Sonnets primarily to present his philosophy. It seems evident, though, that as he brought the set to finality in the years approaching 1609 he employed considerable ingenuity incorporating the ancillary features of publication into the logical structure of the numerology. The minor numerological features serve to demonstrate the comprehensiveness of Shakespeare’s approach to the complete set. In keeping with his witty self-referencing in the plays, his confidence in the consistency of the basic philosophy encouraged him to exercise considerable wit and ingenuity in organisation of the Sonnets.


    When I first read Shake-speares Sonnets in 1995, I sensed a brilliant expression of the natural logic of life similar to a rudimentary understanding I had arrived at few years previously. Over the last ten years that intuition has been put to the test and it has not failed. The precise structuring of themes in the Sonnets presented in Volume 1 demonstrates that Shakespeare derives a consistent philosophy from the priority of the sexual dynamic in nature over the logical operations of the mind.
            A friend, conscious of the tertiary caution toward definitive interpretations, argued I could only be presenting ‘a’ philosophy because of the element of interpretation. The evidence, though, supports a claim that this interpretation is consistent with the book known as Q and is the philosophy for the plays.
            As I have become more familiar with the Sonnets in the process of organising the material for the four volumes, the succinctness of Shakespeare’s appreciation of natural logic has been nothing short of breathtaking. Many times the appropriate insight has taken a while to materialise. A case in point is the realisation that the beauty and truth dynamic is detailed in the Mistress sequence. Fortunately, the nature of the project has meant that when I do not immediately grasp the relevance of a Sonnet feature I move on to other elements. It then comes as something of a surprise when I stumble on the intended connection. Now, though, after ten years of research, I am confident the major elements have been identified.
            Throughout Volume 1, reference has been made to the consistency of Shakespeare’s philosophy and its relation to the inconsistent philosophies and the inconsistent readings of his work. The four volumes present evidence that this reading not only conforms to the Sonnets as presented in Q, but that it is a philosophy in advance of anything yet written.

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    Contents and Introduction   +   Nature and the sexual dynamic   +   The increase argument
    Truth and beauty   +   The logic of myth   +   The cryptic numerology   +   Appendices   +   Glossary

    Roger Peters Copyright © 2005