Venus and Adonis: William Shakespeare’s Debut 

Venus and Adonis: William Shakespeare’s Debut 

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Venvs and Adonis

William Shakespeare’s debut 

Edward de Vere 17th Earl of Oxford

If you have been following the story so far you will be in no doubt as to the identity of this man. Edward de Vere 17th Earl fo Oxford. We know that he was an very religious man, indeed his annotated bible still survives.

He was deeply involved in mysticism under the influence of Dr John Dee. He believed that the universe could be defined in numbers and that each person had their own special numbers which brought them close to God. In his case the numbers 17 and 40. In Alexander Waugh’s recently brilliant YouTube video The Divinity of man, he describes how these two numbers relate to the very fabric of the universe. De Vere really believed that God spoke through his works. He also had an interest in astrology, the influence of the heavenly bodies on our lives.

He had an interest in Greek and Roman mythology using its stories widely in his poetry and plays, often employing allegory to give them a new meaning. This was based on his obsession with the work of the Roman Poet Ovid, not surprisingly as it was he who translated his works from Latin to English while still in his teens.

You are looking at the only known copy of the first edition of Venus and Adonis a narrative poem of some 1,194 lines. On the left hand page is an engraving of Henry Wriothesley 3rd Earl of Southampton to whom it was dedicated. This was pasted in at a later date.

And here is the title page. A picture, a title, some Latin, a strange design and where to buy it. Oddly it does not say who wrote it.

This talk is not about a detailed study of the work itself it is principally about the first two pages, looking for evidence of the true author being Edward de Vere, and elements of his philosophy.

I will present you with a series of observations, and indeed pose some questions. My aim is to stimulate thought and discussion.

The story will take us into the realms of emblems, mysticism, printers devices and some very interesting people.

Publius Ovidius Naso

We have met this man before. It’s Publius Ovidius Naso, the Roman poet better known as Ovid. He published a series of poems entitled Metamorphoses in 15 volumes. All with theme of change. It is highly likely that Edward de Vere made the English translation published in 1567.

This is one of a number of paintings by Titian of the encounter between the Goddess and Adonis. It is important for it shows Adonis wearing a hat -something referred to in the poem and it was known to have been in Titian’s studio in Venice in 1575 when Edward de Vere lived there.

In a nutshell Venus comes to earth looking for love and falls for Adonis. She does her best to seduce him as you can see, but he is more interested in the hunt. Having rejected her advances he goes off with his dogs in search of prey.

Magdalena van De Passe (1600-1640)

Venus goes looking looking for him only to find that he had been slain by a wild boar. His blood has stained the nearby flowers purple. Miraculously the body disappears to be replaced by a purple flower checked with white. She picks it and compares its purple to blood, its scent to his breath, and its sap to his tears. She says she will have it dwell in her bosom where its father [Adonis] once lay, and she will rock it and kiss it day and night. Racked with sorrow Venus returns to the heavens in mourning.

A Publishing success?

Was the launch of Venus and Adonis a publishing success? Well to understand this we need to think about Tudor England, London principally. The population of London was around 150,000 in 1590.

Literacy as judged by the ability to sign their name was at around 45% for men and 3% for women. To say the least this was setting the bar pretty low. The size of the nobility including the court was around 1500. There were 4000 foreigners in the city.There was a sizeable number of middle class traders and business men, but the vast majority of people were poor, living in squalid conditions and didn’t spend the evening reading poetry.

So the market for an 1100 line poem by an unknown author based on an obscure Roman poet would not have been great. Hardly enough to get it into the Sunday Times best sellers list. However it has been referred to as very successful, going through 15 reprints between 1593 and 1640. Indeed it was printed more times than Shakespeare’s most popular play Henry IVth part 1.

This brings onto Elizabethan printing.This was heavily controlled firstly by restricting the number of printing presses. There were under 20 even as late as 1610. And secondly by censorship by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Stationers Company, with whom any new publication had to be registered. Any thing contentious was blocked or even recalled and burnt if views changed.

Old St Paul’s

There was no distinction between printers, publishers and booksellers, most did everything. The business was concentrated around St Paul’s church yard. Indeed in 1556 of the 32 booksellers and printers working in London 15 lived and worked in the churchyard with another 5 close by and 8 in Fleet Street, so this was a small world.

The number of reprints does not give the full story as to how popular something was. That depends on the size of the print runs, which on average were around 1000.

Venus and Adonis was printed in quarto. This means that from one sheet of paper printed on both sides you can achieve 8 pages of printed text. These leaves could then be inserted as a Gathering which are then sewn together and bound.

Now after the 1594 reprint the book was printed in Octavio. By dividing the page into 8, this produced 16 pages of printed text with just 3 cuts. But the clever thing was that with Venus and Adonis the text on each page was the same size as the quarto version. So quicker printing and half the amount of paper.

Now was this because it was so popular or just to save the printer money? Probably the latter as the printer had changed after 4 editions. It is odd though, if the book was so popular, why are there so few in existence. It it were something to be cherished one would have expected many copies on the shelves of the great families.

Its now time to meet those involved in this process.

This the bottom of the front page of the 1593 edition of Venus and Adonis. It tells us that it was printed by Richard Field and was to be found at the sign of the White Greyhound in St. Paul’s churchyard.

It is at this point that those who believe Edward de Vere wrote the works of Shakespeare can become a little nervous, for Richard Field was born in Stratford upon Avon and his father was a tanner who was known to John Shakspere the father of William. The implication was that Richard Field was engaged to print the work by a fellow townsman.

All however is not quite what it seems. Firstly Richard Field did not usually print this type of work and secondly he relied on his partner John Harrison to sell the poem. It was his shop that was at the sign of the white greyhound.

Although it was Richard Field who registered his right to the title on April 18, 1593 in the Stationers’ Register, he would later transfer the rights to Venus and Adonis to Harrison, on June 25, 1594. Harrison continued to hire Field to print the poem, until 1596, when he transferred his rights to William Leake.

It seems likely that the link with William Shakspere is incidental.

Thomas Vautrollier d 1587


If we go further up the page we come to this rather strange and complex emblem, which I have coloured to make it easier to interpret. The twisted almost metallic shapes are a common feature of illustrations in the 16th century and give a dramatic 3 dimensional effect.

This an example of a printers mark and it belongs to a gentleman by the name of Thomas Vautrollier. Where did it come from? To understand the answer to this we need to go back 1000 years.

The Albigensians or Cathars were a heretical Christian sect based in the South of France during the 12th and 13th centuries. Their exertise was in papermaking and every papermaker had a custom of branding almost every sheet of their paper with certain peculiar designs.

A crusade which was sent to persecute them resulted in their skills spreading all over France and eventually taken by emigrating Huguenots to foreign lands.

The Albigensian crusade 1209-1229

With the invention of printing came the development of printers marks. The close association between the two professions of papermaking and printing led to the same type of evolution of these marks. The basis of them all is allegory.

This term allegory derives from the Greek ἀλληγορία (allegoría), “veiled language, figurative”.

It is a story told in words or picture in which a character, place, or event is used to deliver a broader message about real-world issues and occurrences. Emblems and emblematic literature greatly engaged medieval Europe and printers marks became intellectual heirlooms crystallising ideas of the time.

Andreas Alciato 1492-1550

A perfect example of this is the work of this man Andreas Alciato usually known as Alciati. He was born near Milan and settled in France in the early 16th century. He was a lawyer and legal scholar but is best known for his Emblems, allegorical illustrations published in a book called Emblemata, a collection of short Latin verses accompanied by woodcuts.

This became incredibly popular and was published in many editions from 1531 onwards. It spawned a whole genre of literature the Emblem book.

Here is a page from the 1534 edition of Alciato’s book. The anchor is a symbol of restraint the dolphin a symbol of speed. It is entitled The prince caring for the safety of his subjects

 1625 Geneva

Whenever the brothers of Titan race churn up
the sea, then the anchor aids the wretched

The dolphin that cares for man wraps itself around the anchor so that it may grip more securely the bottom of the sea

How appropriate it is for kings to bear this symbol mindful that what the anchor is to sailors, they are to their people

1625 Geneva

The emblem evolved in several directions. This one embodies making haste slowly, or slow but sure.

Now Thomas Vautrollier was a Huguenot of learning who came from France at the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign. In 1570 he opened a printing press in Blackfriars. he had several versions of an emblem entitled the anchor of hope. Anchora Spei

This one first used in 1574 was very simple.

The source from which he copied it is unknown but probably from a book of emblems. It then progressed with a simple hand descending from the clouds to the final version first used in 1585.

Vautrollier and Field were absolutely consistent in always using a form of the same design

When he died in 1587 it passed on to his apprentice Richard Field who went on to marry his wife or daughter. Eventually it was passed on to the George Miller and Richard Badger in partnership.

Although this emblem appears on a number of Shakespearean works, it has no special significance to them.

So what does it mean? Well as you can see, there is an anchor being held by a hand emerging from the clouds. There are intertwined olive branches and the words Anchora Spei .

The two figures are of uncertain meaning, but may represent mortals trapped in the earthy world. This all refers to Hebrews 6:19.

The preceding verse tells us that God has given both a promise and his oath, that those who have fled to him can have confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us.

Then we come to Hebrews 6:19,:

“This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.”

From Vautrollier’s point of view he was the strong and trustworthy anchor for the works he was undertaking.

The Page Header

Now let’s go right to the top of the page. Here is the headpiece of the 1593 Venus and Adonis.

Once again I have added false colour to make it easier to see. We have a central head, two peacocks a couple of cornucopia and two legless creatures with musical instruments. Then there is an interweaving leafy design.

So is this just something to brighten up the page or is it meant to convey a specific message?

Well just like printer’s marks page ornamentation found its origins in early emblems. It is of course highly allegorical and as such can be used to express different meanings, depending on the knowledge of those who view it.

The central figure is the Roman Goddess Juno, who was often shown with peacocks. Among many roles she presided over every aspect of a woman’s life. She was the protector of legally married women and even had her own festival Matronalia.

The cornucopia or horn of plenty was a symbol of abundance and nourishment. It was the attribute of several Roman and Greek Deities, amplifying their attributes. You can see here they are emerging from the head of the Goddess .

These two creatures are Fauns in Roman mythology, Satyrs in Greek. They were forest people, with horns, pointed ears and the hind legs of a goat. They were a symbol of fertility and had a reputation for unrestrained revelry, in any form you wish to imagine.

The leafy design which ties the whole lot together uses the acanthus plant as its source and was commonly used in both Greek and Roman design. The leaves for example appear at the top of Corinthian columns.

Note on the right how the design merges into a metallic structure in the shape of an A, something I will come back to later.

What you might ask is an acanthus plant? Well you have all seen it. Here it is, Acanthus Mollis, better known in the UK as Bear’s breeches.

What does it mean?

Well there is a story that Acantha was a nymph who spurned the attention of Apollo, and when doing so scratched his face. In response he turned her into a thorny plant, while beautiful from afar was unpleasant close up. Acantha was referred to in an 1839 Classical dictionary by Lempriere, but there seems some doubt about her appearance in ancient Greek sources.

So we have a celebration of Juno and a possible reference to Apollo.

This headpiece was quite special, in this form it appeared in only 3 publications. The second was in the 1594 edition of Lucrece again printed by Field for John Harrison.

The third was in the title of a book by the cartographer John Speed published 17 years later in 1611, in which he used his map drawing skills to produce the family trees of pretty well everyone in the bible.

As a historian he didn’t have much time for Shakespeare calling him a “superlative” monster.

As for interpretation of the headpiece. My view is that it is a celebration of the bountiful Queen of the Goddesses. Its single later use was chosen by the publisher which I will explain later.

Interestingly a modified version was used on the title page of the 1609 version of the sonnets, with added emblems of winged Putti, sea monsters, fishes, and rabbits.

The Book Title

Next we come to the title of the book. Venus and Adonis. Many of the Greek deities were incorporated into Roman mythology, usually with a different name. This can be very confusing, so when necessary I will use both names, the Greek one first. Venus was the Roman Goddess of love, and sexual desire among other things. Adonis in this story as I have said is a Roman mortal, not a God.

Allegory of marriage and love 1540-1560

Now Venus and Juno didn’t get on at all, not surprising really. In this etching Juno the protector of committed love in her chariot drawn by peacocks is in conflict with Venus in her chariot drawn on this occasion by doves represents romantic passion. A distraught cupid flies from Juno with whom he has no place in married love. In fact the distinction between these two types of love represented by the two Goddesses appears in The Tempest Act 4 scene 1 in an exchange in a Masque between Juno and Ceres.

So why on earth do we have Juno in her glory at the top of the page and Venus right underneath?

Now let’s look at the text.

V and U were considered as the same letter in Tudor printing even though pronounced differently according to position. What is odd is that AND ADONIS is in a much larger typeface.

Does this mean that Adonis in this instance is more important than Venus? Does it indicate that Adonis is the real centre of the poem?

Well here’s the first thought. I don’t know the answer to these questions, except that I know that “and adonis” can be rearranged into a partial anagram Diana Son with a D left over.

The Goddess Diana we have met many times before, particularly as the alter ego of Elizabeth 1st. Could this be a hidden allegory alluding to the flower springing from Adonis’ blood as being her son?

Now let’s play with the word Venus.

If we extend the uprights of two V’s then they cross to form a W. So what you might say. But his is not an ordinary W

The intersection produces three V’s. This can be read to represent the Holy Trinity There is also a hidden 4th v upside down. This an example of there being 4 things in three. The quaternary within the tertiary, as extolled by John Dee the celebrated Tudor mystic. The 4th emblem is man and defines his closeness to God. Could this be a link to mysticism?

It won’t have escaped your notice that the W is followed by an S the initials of William Shakespeare. So there are his initials emblazoned across the page.

Now look again at the two words AND ADONIS.

The letter A derives from an Egyptian symbol of Apis the sacred bull.


It then became the Phoenician Aleph before rotating round to
become the familiar A.

So it is reasonable to replace the A’s with a bull/Ox symbol


Now in a previous presentation I discussed the use of particular type of coding called Gematria. One way of using this is to assign letters a numerical value based on their position in the Latin alphabet of Biblical times where there is no J.

If we insert numbers from the two words we arrive at 13, 4 , 4, 14, 13, and 9. excluding the final S

If we then add the values for each word we arrive at those magic numbers of 17 and 40 so dear to Edward de Vere.

Does this tell us that Adonis is De Vere?

Just chance? Maybe.

There is another aspect to this. As you may know there are five emblems in basic Alchemy.

Earth and Air are similar to the letter A and Fire and Water Similar to a letter V. Spirit the etherial emblem is ofter represented as a circle.

Within the title we have 2 A’s 2 V’s and an O

The four basic emblem s can be arranged into the shape of a 5 pointed star

This together with a circle becomes this.

You are now looking at one version of the double seal of Solomon

The legend of the Seal of Solomon was developed primarily by medieval Arabic writers, who related that the ring was engraved by God and was given to the king directly from heaven. The ring was made from brass and iron, and the two parts were used to seal


written commands to good and evil spirits, respectively. The seal was said to give Solomon the power to command demons and to speak with animals. Due to Solomon’s proverbial wisdom his signet ring became a symbol of Renaissance magic and alchemy.

The meaning of the lettering is beyond my knowledge. I would however draw to your attention that in the centre is Tau the 19th letter of the Greek alphabet and the astrological sign for Taurus the Bull. It is also at the centre of the derivation of 40 (4T) in Edward de Vere’s philosophy and of the emblem of Royal Arch Masonry. There is also Alpha and Omega a symbol of the all encompassing power of God and two capital letter A’s which I will come to shortly. Is this all another line to alchemy?

There is another aspect to the symmetry of the title worth looking at. We have already extended the arms of the V’s upwards to reveal Ws now lets see what happens if we go downwards.

One downstroke passes through the letters i and o and the other to the A of Apollo. Io in Latin is an expression of joyous exclamation such as “Look” or “Behold” or in Italian as I.

Put together then we have WS behold Apollo or even I Apollo!

The Latin Inscription

Now let’s take a close look at the inscription. The first thing to notice it is in italics. The history of which is interesting and revolves around this man.

Aldus Manutius (1452-1515)

He was Aldus Manutius who lived from 1452-1515.He was a very influential printer working in Italy. And yes you can see a familiar printer’s mark. Along with his punch cutter Francesco Griffo. Manutius designed an italic typeface. This was to recreate a style resembling the written word and also to save space as the letters could be set closer together.

So we can conclude that this represents a written message to the reader from the author. What does it mean? Well it is a quotation from our friend Ovid. It appears appears in his work Amores.

The Amores is a first person account of the poetic persona’s love affair with an unattainable higher class girl, Corinna. It is unclear whether or not she actually existed or whether he was simply exploring the genre of the love elegy.

Interestingly at least two of de Vere’s early poems are on the same theme.

A translation of the quotation from the latin reads.

Let the mob admire base things; may Golden Apollo serve me full goblets from the Castalian Fount.

Are you any the wiser? We need to put this into context by looking at what comes before it. It comes from Elegy 15 of the first book of Amores. The poet tells the envious that the fame of Poets is immortal, and that theirs is not a life devoted to idleness.

…by me, everlasting fame is sought; that to all time I may be celebrated throughout the whole world…

…Envy feeds upon the living; after death it is at rest, when his own reward protects each according to his merit. Still then, when the closing fire shall have consumed me, shall I live on; and a great portion of myself will ever be surviving.

Let the mob admire base things; may Golden Apollo serve me full goblets from the Castalian Fount.

Now any well read person in Tudor times would have known this. So by using allegory de Vere clearly tells us the purpose of his work. Beautifully done I think you will agree.

By way of background Apollo is the Greek God of music, poetry and dance, healing truth and prophecy. Most importantly he is the god of the sun and light.

He resided at Parnassus and was the prophetic God of the Delphic oracle.


He could be reached by appointment with The Pythia or high priestess, who would provide you with a suitably ambiguous answer to your question, in response to a sacrifice, and a sizeable donation.

The Castalian spring was just up the road from Delphi and was a place that pilgrims or those seeking help from the Oracle would wash themselves. The water was also used to sprinkle in the temple.

The water poured from the rock and was collected in a pool before being fed through 7 spouts in the shape of lions’ heads. Niches were hewn within the rock for offerings. One version of the myth was that Castalia a Nyaiad nymph either threw herself into or became the spring to evade the pursuit of Apollo. In Roman times the water itself was imbued with inspirational qualities.

It is not known if De Vere visited Delphi, which lies a few miles inland from the gulf of Corinth.

Venetian ships regularly passed by en route to Istanbul and given his fixation with Apollo it is possible that he went there during his time in Italy during 1576.

Juno by Jaques Louis Dubois (1768-1843)

Interestingly in Elegy X111 of Amores, Ovid describes a visit to his wife’s birthplace in Falisci to attend the festival of Juno. An event heralded by pipe playing through an area of great fruitfulness. This may be the origin of the headpiece design of page 1 of Venus and Adonis.Now Juno had many epithets usually associated with fusion of an array of minor deities under her umbrella. One such is Juno Quiritis. Quiritis was a pre Roman Sabine Goddess worshipped by the Falicians. The word for which her name derives from the Sabine word for lance or spear. indeed Juno is ofter portrayed carrying one. Could this be a reference to Shake Spear? Of which more later.

Summary of the title page

So here it is again William Shakespeare’s triumphant entrance onto the literary scene.

Have we learned anything or are my observations just shadows of my imagination?

The fact that Hera/Juno is at the top of the page might suggest that the author is a supporter of the constancy of marriage.

The quotation from De Vere’s favourite poet Ovid, about the importance of poets alludes to De Vere’s aim to emulate him and become England’s Ovid.

The disparity in the print sizes relegates the name of venus as being some one the author disapproves of. The size of the word allows the construction of a large W within the confines of the page, to reveal his initials.

AND ADONIS in huge letters is loaded with hidden meanings. The hidden reference to the Ox and the numbers 17 and 40, so important to de Vere may imply that de Vere himself is Adonis the real subject the allegorical poem to follow.

The derivation of Diana Son from the same letters perhaps alludes to Queen Elizabeth who as we have seen in previous presentations used the goddess Diana as her alter ego.

The direct reference to Apollo in the geometry of the page reinforces de Vere’s belief in his work being the voice of the gods.

The reference to the basic 5 emblem s of alchemy reinforces his link to mysticism.

The use of the anchor of hope printer’s mark is probably circumstantial, but at the very least alludes to the dependability of the work and its relationship to God.

This is the metamorphosis of Edward de Vere into William Shakespeare, with a great deal of help from Ovid who wrote 15 books on that very topic.

The Dedication Page

So now let’s turn over to the dedication page. A fancy design, the name of the dedicatee

Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton. The dedication itself in italics mimicking the written word.

Then right at the bottom in small plain type the name William Shakespeare. Not very much to go on you might say. Well let’s take a close look at it.

The Headpiece

This the headpiece of the dedication page. The most obvious feature is the two letter A’s which are bound together. You will note that the one on the left is light and the one on the right is dark.

This not due to shadowing, it is consistent across all versions of this headpiece.

The letters are woven into the familiar pattern of acanthus leavesAt the top are two snail like creatures, the one on the left being odd in that it appears to have legs. The nose of each snail touches an A. Snails signify “slow but sure”. Robert Greene in his poem Doralicia’s Ditty sums it up.

The slowest snail in time we see
Doth creep and climb aloft

There is the head of a goat in the two bottom corners. These are said to indicate tragedy and reflect the goatskins worn by actors in Tudor times,

So what does the A A emblem mean?

Well here’s the problem, in an allegory it can mean anything you want it to be, provided that your readership know about it.

Let’s go back to the beginning of the beginning of the 20th century to shed some light on the subject.

Rather surprisingly it involves this man.

This is Francis Bacon, philosopher, Rosicrucian, Cryptologist, guiding spirit of The Royal Society and of course contender for the authorship of the Shakespearean Canon.

Francis Bacon 1561-1626

The Francis Bacon society called Baconiana was founded in 1886 with the aim of studying the life and works of the great man.

In the pages of this journal was published a search for a literary emblem which to the initiated, indicated that Bacon was the concealed author of the Shakespeare works.

In 1912 William Smedley published this book on Bacon entitled the mystery of Francis Bacon, in which he devotes a chapter to his search for the AA emblem in 15th and 16th century literature, in the hope of linking Bacon to Shakespeare. He was unsuccessful, but as a result a great deal has been written about its origins and meaning.

Unfortunately much of it to my mind is totally incomprehensible, being a complex mixture of mysticism and mythology ranging from the Egyptians to the Renaissance with no firm basis of fact.

Here is what I have been able to uncover.

This is François 1st who introduced the Renaissance to France. He was responsible for building Fontainebleau, built you may remember at the same time as Nonsuch Palace with some of the same artists and craftsmen.

François 1st France (1494-1547)

You are standing in the private Great Gallery at Fontainebleau. This is one of 12 composite artworks blending paintings in a modern classical style called Mannerism, and complex 3 dimensional stucco work. The subjects are history, allegory and myth, including Venus, the Goddess Diana and the death of Artaeon.

In this one the king is displayed as an elephant a sign of wisdom and constancy. At his feet are 3 Greek gods Neptune, Jupiter and Pluto with a 3 headed dog. Above a salamander engulfed in flames, the king’s emblem. Below, the king as the new Alexander the Great, cutting the Gordian knot bracketed by an AA emblem displayed it is said for the first time.

Much of the symbolism of the works in the gallery remains mysterious, indeed no explanation for the double AA motif is offered.The suggestion of course is that they were only intended for the initiated, Francois 1st was well known for his interest in mysticism.

The only thing that doesn’t quite fit for me is the fact that the A’s have not one but 6 cross pieces.

These are the two artists who worked on The Great Gallery around 1530 were Francesco Primaticcio and Rosso Fiorentino. Both were also involved with Nonsuch Palace. In 1575 Edward de Vere spent a month in Paris. It would be surprising indeed if he had not stood in front of this very painting.

Some of the imagery in the gallery were based on the book Emblemata written by our friend Andreas Alciato. This was very popular running into 22 editions in several languages. Alciato an Italian was an associate of Fiorentino.

(As an aside Glasgow university has a magnificent website containing facsimiles and translations of all editions.)

It is in the 1577 edition of this book that we find the first printed version of the AA sign.

Here is the emblem in question, entitled “In better days”. There is a woodcut and then an explanation or motto. It was implicit that the meaning was on several levels. In this case the text roughly translates as men are like pigs, they keep going forwards in search of better things.

Now look closely at the woodcut. The scene is clearly near the ruins of the temple of Solomon with the two columns Boaz and Joachim, on which is is written “plus oltre” or more beyond. Above the pig is the word “Ulterius” meaning farther, more advanced. And the swineherd is pointing to the pig and to the temple urging it to proceed to greater things.

On the ground in front of the temple is a pyramid displaying two A’s.Peter Dawkins in his article entitled the Secret Signature, available on the internet. Gives a comprehensive explanation of how this scene alludes to Royal Arch Freemasonry and that the swineherd is Apollo who was known to take the form of a herdsman and the pig Francis Bacon.

My knowledge in this area is limited for obvious reasons, except to say that the pig/boar is also the symbol of the De Veres Once again my thought is that although two A’s are present they lack the free flowing style of the headpiece. So I am unsure that there is a connection between the two.

All the hard work on this topic was carried out by a Y Ledsem and published in the Baconiana of 1910. I cannot find any reference to the full name of this person, but let’s say that it was a lady.

She went through hundreds of books in order to record those with the AA headpieces and the results are very interesting. What she discovered was that there was no mechanism of duplicating the blocks, and the same ones were used by printers in two places quite far apart. An expert in wood engraving concluded that all of one particular design was printed from a single block. In all Ledsem identified 18 different versions of the AA headpiece. These fell into three categories as shown below.

Type 1 Had the AA emblem with two Putti like figures with a bowl of fruit or a sheaf of corn in between. It appeared in a wide range of publications over 40 years, however it early use is instructive.It was first recorded in a book on Hebrew Grammar of all things and published in Paris in 1576 by one Jo Valese.

Three years later the same block was used by Vautrollier to print the English Republic.

Now Vautrollier was a bookseller as well as a printer, he maintained strong links with France from where he imported books. The circumstantial evidence is that this is how the AA design emblem came to England.In 1589 it turned up in The Art of English Posie printed this time by Richard Field.

Now the Art of English Poesie was in its time the most comprehensive treatise on poetry and was printed anonymously. However Richard Waughaman has argued very strongly that the author was Edward de Vere. So there is a possible link there.

Type 2. AA emblem with a bowl of fruit in between

The type 2 emblem was used 36 times in a very wide range of publications by different publishers for nearly 60 years. Two versions of it were used in the Sonnets.

Type 3. AA emblem bound together

Which brings us of course to the emblem in Venus and Adonis. This was used in only 9 publications over a 30 year period, and where it turns up is very interesting.

It first appears in 1591 in a translation of a poem entitled Orlando Furioso by Sir John Harington.

The printer was again Richard Field.

Sir John was a godson of the Queen. Apart from inventing a flush toilet, Sir John was well known for overstepping the mark, his first attempt at the translation led to his being banished from court by the Queen for several years, because of the salacious nature of the text. He also served under Henry Wriothesley in Ireland. It was a small world wasn’t it?

Here is page from the book in which the headpieces are used with great enthusiasm. The one of interest appears vertically no less than 40 times within the whole work. There is something else of interest here.

If you take the left hand block and rotate it clockwise. And then take the right hand block and rotate it anticlockwise.

You will see that they are mirror images of one another in the vertical plane.In the top picture the light A is on the left and on the bottom one it is on the right. In other words these are two separate

blocks. When viewed on the completed page they do appear completely symmetrical. This does seem to be a lot of trouble to go to.

The third appearance of the header following on from Venus and Adonis was in The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser published by William Ponsonby in 1596.

The printer was almost certainly Richard Field. Now de Vere and Spenser appear to have close connections indeed one of the 17 dedicatory verses of the original publication in 1590 was to him.

The headpiece appears on both pages of Book one and on the right hand page of subsequent books of which there are six. Once again the two blocks are used being mirror images.

Now here is a full list of the headpiece appearances from 1591 to 1619.

I am unable to locate the last one, but all but one of the others, a book on horses by Gervase Markham were either printed by Richard Field or published by William Ponsonby.

Richard Field was in possession of the printing block in 1616. So here is the interesting thing.

Ponsonby published all but one of Spenser’s output.

He also published the works of Sir Philip Sidney, He issued both the 1590 and 1593 editions of the Arcadia, the 1595 edition of The Defence of Poesie and the large 1598 folio collection that included Astrophil and Stella. He also published the he works of Sidney’s sister Mary, Countess of Pembroke.

Sir Philip and Edward de Vere famously did not get on probably as a result of jealous rivalry, and the AA headpiece was not included in any of his works.

This seems to point to the headpiece being very specific to De Vere and Spencer, in first at least in later years it may just have acted as an interesting ornament.

Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586)

Mary Sidney Herbert (1561-1621)

The Meaning of the AA emblem?

So what can we make of all of this?

Well an emblem can mean whatever you like. It depends entirely on context, for example someone telephoning the Automobile Association would not expect to be put through to Alcoholics Anonymous.

The AA design emblem was employed extensively over a relatively short period of time, with the same printing blocks being employed by different printers, for a variety of authors, on a range literature.

It is highly unlikely therefore that the AA emblem signified one particular individual. Indeed the diversity of both authors and topics of the works makes it unlikely that they all belonged to some sort of secret society.

In one group the two A’’s appear like cartoon characters running away from one another.

In another they abut and act as deckchairs and in the last group between them is a further vertical emblem , which is quite separate from the acanthus plant design, but has leaf shaped projections. It is this one that we find in Venus and Adonis.

Running away


Venus and Adonis

Ledsem’s interpretation of the two A’s is that they stand for Albus the Latin for white and and Ater for black and, denoting the light and dark emblems. The implication was that the work contained both overt and concealed elements.

It might similarly be suggested that the word was Ars. the Latin for Art meaning skill or craft. The light and dark referring to comedy or tragedy. This may be simplistic but would encompass the wide variety of publications in which it was used.

If an emblem appears in a document alongside many other clues pointing to a particular individual then it is reasonable to interpret it in quite specific ways.

So let’s look at the emblem in relation relates to Edward de Vere and Apollo. This association appeared to be very strong. Indeed he referred to himself as Apollo as did others for example Ben Jonson in his eulogy to Shakespeare in the preface to the First Folio.

I would like to show you remarkable woodcut. It provides a Renaissance view of the relationship of Apollo to his fellow deities and appears in a book entitled Melopoeia by Petrus Tritonius in 1507, containing four voice settings of odes by the Roman poet Horace.


Here we see Apollo wearing a crown of bay leaves, playing what appears to be a Renaissance stringed instrument, and singing at Delphi below the twinned peaks of Mount Parnassus.

On the left peak is the Goddess Athena/Minerva on her temple carrying a spear and On the right is the Goddess Artemis/Diana also carrying a spear. If we draw diagonals across the picture they intersect at Apollo’s throat.The small image from 1581 shows the influence of the star signs on the human body. Now it just so happens that the Astrological sign for Taurus the Bull is the throat.

Indicating that the voice of Apollo, is under its control. Taurus of course = Ox.

Might it then just be that the two A’s represent these two goddesses? Artemis being the moon Goddess would chime with the dark emblem?

If we flip back to the title page for a moment you will remember that I pointed out the two A’s in the headpiece.

Together with Hera /Juno we would have three spear carrying Goddesses with Apollo below Could this be further emphasis on the name Shake Speare?

Before we leave the double A emblem, here is one more thought with relation to Apollo. In this publication could the central element be a stylised I?

This would lead us to the story of a young Spartan man called Hiacinthus.

The death of Hyacinthus. Peter Paul Rubens

He was a young lover of Apollo and together they went out discus throwing.

Apollo threw the discus it hit a rock bounced back striking Hyacinthus in the head and killing him instantly.

Apollo was distraught and as the blood mingled with the soil a plant appeared, something like a lily. Apollo cried in anguish AI AI and inscribed the letters AI on the petals of the plant to beautify it further.

Here’s the point. The myth was retold by Ovid in Metamorphoses, and the fate of the young man bears great similarity to that of Adonis.

So in this another allegory is de Vere telling us that he was responsible for the metaphoric killing?


The Dedication Itself

At last we turn to the dedication itself. I am not going to analyse the meaning of the text, but its structure and what just might be a very clever switch, which turns on and off a meaning.

Now several things have been pointed out before. Alexander Waugh tells us that in the name William Shakespeare that there are 17 letters after the W, and that in total there are 17 W’s in the whole text. I think there may be more to this, and it is all about v’s and w’s. Essentially it was common to use VV as W in large type or at the beginning of a word.

1st edition 1593

Of the 17 w’s 10 are set as vv shown in red. Six of these arise in the last 3 lines. Even the w’s that are used are not the same. The two green ones are normal size but the four blue ones are rather small and sit above the base line. It reasonable to conclude that the type setter had run out of w’s.

2nd edition 1594

Here is the second edition published in 1594. Although the words are the same the whole piece has been reset with differences in spelling and line breaks. The type setter has however to retain 8 of vv’s. One might expect that all of the w’s would have been used up first, yet there are 3 in the penultimate line.

Now there is an interesting consequence of this.

By working backwards and forwards from the VV’s the word Vere or Ver can be picked out 11 times, using the double v’s only.

Below the effect is shown with the background darkened to make it easier to see.

Yes I can hear you say, r’s and e’s are common letters, and what about the single v’s in the piece? Well there are 8 of them from which you can do the same thing. But there is something else.

Using Gematria we assign the value of 20 for each V as a result of its position in the Latin alphabet.

So we have two 20’s which added give 40. That number again which expressed Edward de Vere’s closeness to God. So either the vv’s are just a chance fluke of typesetting or they are a switch which tells you to look out for de Vere and there he is.

Just as a footnote. We have the word Vere from Wriothesley’s name.We can also extract the words “son of” from the sentence as well. My message is merely this, Don’t rule out this possibility.

Very rapidly the things I have elaborated vanished from the

scene. I could find no images of the third edition but the 4th edition in 1596 looks thus. If there were any hidden messages in the original versions they were lost.

So to sum up the dedication page.

The AA design emblem was probably imported from France around 1579 by Vautrollier. The 3 main designs were used heavily during the 1590’s and then sparsely thereafter.

The design from Venus and Adonis was used by Richard Field from 1591, initially for publications with links to Edward de Vere, then by publications by him, and later at the discretion of the publisher / William Ponsonby for other projects

The original meaning of the AA design emblem is open to argument, but probably represented a general emblem for the Art of writing. A case can be made for the linked A’s to be more specific to de Vere and his associates, initially at least. A point emphasised by its absence from the published works of Sir Philip Sidney also by the same publisher.

The AA’s can be seen as an allegory of de Vere as Apollo and his relationship with Athena, Juno and Artemis, the spear carrying Goddesses.

It is also possible that there is a further allegory based on the myth of Hyacinthus

The manipulation of the v’s and w’s provides interesting speculation on cipher design.

Oh Oracle, what does it all mean? God knows

So that brings us to the end to what I hope you have found an interesting journey.

I am sorry it has been a long and tortuous one, but I wanted to explain the whole story.

At the very least I think I have found strong evidence of the philosophy of Edward De Vere concealed within just these two pages.

What I haven’t discussed is when the poem was written, to whom the allegory refers and why Edward De Vere chose to take up his pen-name in 1593. I’m, sure that that too would make an interesting investigation..

Selected Bibliography

A new light on the Renaissance displayed in contemporary Emblems. Harold Bayley The Secret Signature. Peter Dawkins. Internet search.

Baconiana Vol. VIII. Third Series. July, 1910. NO.31 THE A HEAD-PIECES. Y. Ledsem. Free download from

Emblemata. Alciato. All versions available at Alciato at Glasgow.

Shakespeare and the Emblem Writers. Henry Green. 1870. Free download form Gutenberg Aldus Manutius. Inventor of the modern Book. Khan Academy. Internet search.

The Mystery of Francis Bacon. William T Smedley. 1912. Free download from Orlando Furioso. 1591. Free download from

The gallery of Fontainebleau. The Khan Academy. Internet search.

A law case in Verse : Venus and Adonis and the Authorship Question. Roger Stritmatter. Available on internet search.

The Arte of English Poesie. The case for Edward de Vere’s Authorship Richard Waugaman. Internet search.

Oxford’s Metamorphosis. Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship. Hank Whittemore 2006.

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