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Vere’s Rings in The Merchant of Venice by Ian Haste – Commentary by Charles Graves
To view or download this article as a PDF click HERE.
On Ian Haste’s article: Vere’s Rings in The Merchant of Venice
Ian Haste’s article is an amazing analysis of the Merchant which again leads us into Edward de Vere’s inner mental calculations. Although wedding rings meant something to men, they meant much more to women. The special relations within a couple are tested in Merchant but the author needed two weddings and the author of this article shows us – who follow his logic – that the plural of vera in Venetian language is vere. But those rings encircling our finger in marriage were at one time in the play held by a supposed lawyer and her/his supposed law clerk who was a boy. So, it also appears that not only did Edward proclaim that the rings were Vere but he might also be saying that vere equals his own two sexual aspects. For example, Nerissa’s pretended personality was a Narcissistic-like pretty boy. In other words, Vere is Bassanio’s ring of an adult woman; but Vere is also Graziano’s ring held by a young law clerk – in essence a boy. That is, two vere may also equal two aspects of de Vere’s personality as well as two persons and two rings.
It is a historical fact that de Vere lost several ships at sea approaching America in one of his capitalistic ventures which became common with Calvinistic-inspired London ‘undertakers’, such as those who built the ‘Plymouth’ (which sank) and the ‘Mayflower’. Moreover, Mark Antonio, in Roman times the imperial ruler, in conjunction with Portia (the wife of noble Brutus) in Julius Caesar, appears in Merchant on stage again in a new Renaissance ‘imperium’ surrounding Venice. It is likewise known that Edward de Vere studied law for a couple of years at the Inns of Court – perhaps by using Portia disguised as a renowned jurist, de Vere was attempting to change public opinion about types of love between men and women within a new British imperium. After the pound of flesh had been adjudicated, Merchant chapter five became a sort of socio-political comic oration concerning his name, his sexuality and the public. An important aspect of de Vere’s life may have been revealed for any audience aware that the ‘rings’ were symbolic (because they revealed his name as the author).
Perhaps de Vere, as a ‘Euphuist’, believed that both men and women would have good luck in the ‘new world’, not only in their voyages but in their private, most intimate lives if everyone followed the advice of Portia and – euphuistically– allowed women the privilege of showing the way to men in complicated matters such as law and love. But there may be more than this in Chapter V of Merchant. The ‘Euphuistic’ view itself may be based upon a prior recognition of important ‘feminine’ aspects within one’s own personality – as those revealed in several of the Sonnets where Edward shows pervasive love for a young man which becomes his ‘muse’.
It is certainly true as Ian Haste quite amply explains, that Edward de Vere used the idea that vere equals the Latin word for ‘true’ on many occasions (as a means of asserting his authorship of the Shakespeare canon), but we cannot forget that the historical meaning of de Vere is ‘of Veere’ which was the name of a town on Walcheren island in the Netherlands, that was given by Baldwin IV of (West) Flanders to his daughter Katherine when she married Alphonse de Vere. Alphonse was father of Alberic de Vere, chamberlain of William the Conqueror, and grandfather of the 1st Earl of Oxford, Aubrey de Vere. The name ‘Veere’ there refers no doubt to the ferry (veere in Flemish) which from that place linked two parts of the island. See Robert Clutterbuck, History and Antiquities of the County of Hertfordshire (1815) where the origin of the de Vere name is discussed. In the anonymous British play The Wisdom of Dr. Doddypoll (1600) which we have attributed to Edward de Vere (see the July 2017 DVS Newsletter) – there is a marriage at the end of the play between a Duke Alphonse and a Katherine, Dutchess of Brunswick, two of the main characters of the play who quite obviously represent the Alphonse de Vere and Katherine who held Veere on Walcheren island.
But, given previous efforts of Edward to assert his authorship of plays using the vere = truth motif, that his family name came from ‘ferry’ might not help his cause. Of course, one might claim that ferries also have a circular route like a ring – although denied by the Oxford Dictionary which claims ferry comes from old English foer – fare or travelling. But vera was also used for circles in Venice, the Mecca of ferries for travelling around. Whether it was ‘truth’, ‘wedding rings’ or ‘ferries’, apparently all three would have been useful – in a poetical sense – for Edward de Vere’s interests and as emphasised in the author’s signature translated in the capitalized word ‘Ring’.
VERE’S RINGS IN THE MERCHANT OF VENICE
Su Vera fictis libentus: Truth more readily than falsehood
By Ian Haste
Although Edward de Vere the 17th Earl of Oxford chose not to, or was prohibited from signing his works with his own name, he found a way to do so surreptitiously in at least one of his plays: The Merchant of Venice. De Vere spent ten months in Italy, from May 1575 until March 1576, and hinted at his name when he included its Latin root twice in creating his motto c.1579: Vero Nihil Verius as discussed in more detail in his article in Shakespeare Matters (Spring 2007) expanding on the theme discussed here.
In reading Act V of The Merchant of Venice many have seen light-hearted banter between lovers without realizing there were many hints of the name of the true author of the play, hidden, but with generous clues to enable a careful reader to discover the name of the 17th Earl of Oxford.
What was the author trying to tell us in the final act of the play? He took one word and repeatedly demanded in four distinct ways that we pay attention to it. Yet, for the past four hundred years, while finding it mildly amusing, few people seem to have noticed it as vitally important. That word was ‘Ring’ and it leads us directly to the name of the author of The Merchant of Venice and, by extension, to the author of the entire Shakespeare canon. The most obvious clue is in Act V where ‘Ring’ is used excessively.
I refer to this ten-line passage as ‘The Ring Speech’ and to understand the play properly it should be read attentively. Much can be lost if the words fly by without the audience having a chance to mull over the spoken or written word. Let us now mull over the words spoken by Bassanio in ‘the Ring Speech’ in Act V:
First, in the passage it is not necessary to use Ring so repetitively to make the meaning of the verse perfectly understood. Second, the author has grouped the words ‘Ring’ in an obvious pattern. Third, as the words are spoken, ‘Ring’ resounds at repeated and regular intervals with the emphasis given to that last word of the line.
This resonance would be lost if ‘Ring’ were placed within the body of the sentence. Ring is also visually more noticeable when placed at the end of the line. Fourth, and most important, in the 1598 Quarto and the 1623 First Folio, every time it appears in this ring speech the word ‘Ring’ is capitalized.
While the author was using Ring as a code to reveal his name within the play, he would also have been aware that, as with Plato’s Ring of Gyges in Book 2 of his Republic, a ring could make him invisible. As we have more recently seen with Wagner’s Ring Cycle and Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, possession of a certain Ring can provide invisibility to its owner. In this way, de Vere both reveals his name and conceals it at the same time.
Why emphasize the word ‘Ring’ rather than some other word? One reason is that much of Act V of The Merchant of Venice is about wedding rings, with the word ‘Ring’ being written thirty-five times at the end of the play; that is, in the last few lines of Act IV and the whole of the short Act V.
As The Merchant of Venice is one of more than a dozen plays set at least in part in Italy, it seems logical to look for an Italian connection. If one translates the word ‘ring’ into Italian, the first answer will be ‘anello’, which is the general noun for ring and often requires an adjective as there are several kinds of ring. For example: un anello d’oro (a gold ring), anello nuziale (wedding ring). The rings referred to in Act V are all wedding rings and it is wedding rings that are given capitalization in The Merchant of Venice. The turquoise ring that Jessica gave for a monkey in Act III was not a wedding ring and so was not capitalized.
Although the English ‘wedding ring’ is defined in Italian as ‘anello nuziale’, there is another Italian word that emerges from an ancient dialect which also means wedding ring. That word is Vera.
From an Italian dictionary found in the Italian Cultural Centre in Vancouver
The Italian dictionary offers two definitions for vera. First, vera is a singular feminine noun and is defined as ‘well-curb’ which is ‘a lined shaft made in the earth from which to obtain water, oil, or natural gas’. Another vera example is a flat circular band of metal which wraps around the joining place of two underground pipes which transport fluids. The vera at the joining of two separate entities which seals them together ‘for ever’ is not only defined as ‘ring’; the dictionary clearly states vera as ‘wedding ring’.
How blatant this becomes when written in Italian!
Se si sapeva a chi ho dato la vera
Se tu sapessi per il quale ho dato la vera
e avrebbe concepito per quello che ho dato la vera
e come a malincuore ho lasciato la vera
quando nulla sarebbe stato accettato, ma la vera
si dovrebbe ridurre la forza del tuo dispiacere
Se tu avessi conosciuto la virtù del la vera
Oppure metà della sua dignità che ha dato la vera
O il vostro onore per contenere la vera
Non sarebbe poi si sono separati con la vera.
This brings to mind the Echo Verses by Edward de Vere, c.1581, in which he writes his own name after the last word, beneath the line, of four consecutive lines demonstrating his fascination for showing his name in his writing, and as the last word in the line as in the ‘Ring Speech’:
Oh heavens! Who was the first that bred in me this fever?
Who was the first that gave the wound whose fear I wear for ever?
What tyrant, Cupid, to my harm usurps thy golden quiver?
What sight first caught this heart and can from bondage it deliver?
The Italian dictionary’s second definition of vera is ‘wedding ring’ – but in dialect only. Before Italy became a unified nation in March 1861, the city-states which preceded unification each spoke in a different dialect. In 1575 the dialect given for Venice was ‘voce venezia’ (‘voice of the Venetian people’ or ‘as spoken in Venice’). Vera translated to wedding ring in Venice only – not in Milan, Rome, Naples, nor any of the other Italian City States, and Edward de Vere was living in Venice at that time.
The use of vere to mean wedding rings has since spread throughout northern Italy as exemplified in its use by Benito Mussolini who, in 1935 championed his ‘L’ora Alla Patria’ edict (Gold for the Country), which forced at pain of death the confiscation of the wedding rings of married couples as a way to raise money for Italy’s war with Abyssinia. Soon after it was issued, ‘L’ora Alla Patria’ was changed by the common folk to ‘Vera Alla Patria’, as the only gold owned by most citizens was in the shape of a ring on their left hand. It was not the gold that they resented being stolen so much as the wedding ring and what it represented.
Today in Italy the use of vera to mean wedding ring is more widespread, but in 1575, when de Vere was living in Venice, Venice was the only location where ‘vere’ meant ‘wedding rings’.
Vera is a singular feminine noun and, as such, ends with the letter ‘a’. To pluralize a singular feminine noun, the final ‘a’ of the word is changed to the letter ‘e’ as in mela (apple) to mele (apples), tazza (cup) to tazze (cups), so vera (wedding ring) to vere (wedding rings).
There are four versions of The Merchant of Venice up to and including the First Folio and although the high frequency of the use of the word ‘ring’, the grouping of ‘rings’, and the placement of ‘rings’ as the last word in each line were the same in every version, capitalization of the word ‘Ring’ was not.
In Act IV of the Roberts’ Quarto of 1598 (the de Vere original) the word Ring is capitalized in ten of the eleven times it is used. In Act V, ‘Ring’ is capitalized in fifteen of the sixteen lines to end the play. In both the Heyes Quarto of 1600 and the Pavier of 1619 there is no instance of any such capitalization.
In Act V of the First Folio of 1623, the word ‘ring’ occurs twenty-four times. The first twenty occurrences are capitalized, the final four are lower case. It is as though instructions were given to the compositors as follows:
Roberts first quarto of 1598: Ensure the ‘Ring Speech’ is capitalized, then
continue capitalizing every word ‘Ring’ as many times as possible to the end of the play.
Hayes 1600 & Pavier 1619: No instructions given. No capitalization of ring.
First Folio of 1623: The compositors were told to capitalize the ‘Ring Speech’ and every instance of the word ‘ring’ in Act 5.
I quote Richard Roe in The Shakespeare Guide to Italy to illustrate the importance of capitalizing certain words, seemingly out of context:1
Tranect? What is this? In the First Folio, ‘Tranect’ is capitalized; it is
considered a proper name, most likely because it is something unique.
In modern editions of The Merchant,, the word is written ‘tranect.’ As we
have seen before, and will see again, spelling for this playwright is of
critical importance. Word meanings are significantly altered if a capital
– as opposed to a lower case – letter is used in this playwright’s plays.
Editors seem unaware that the author capitalized certain nouns to
indicate that he was referring to a specific thing, one thing among a
general class. He did this for accuracy and emphasis, but also for those
who might read, rather than see, his plays (p. 146–7).
- The earliest version of The Merchant of Venice, the first quarto, was entered into the Stationers’ Register 22 July 1598 by John Roberts.
- An entry into the Stationers’ Register 28 October 1600 shows James Roberts transferred the rights to: Thomas Haies. ‘Entred for his copie under the
- handes of the Wardens and by Consent of Master Robertes. A booke called the booke of the Merchant of Venyce.’
- The third version, the Pavier (False Folio) of 1619 was neither quarto nor folio and was falsely dated 1600. Printed in 1619 by William Jaggard in a format slightly larger than quarto, but smaller than folio.
- The First Folio was published in 1623 by ‘the two brethren’ and others.
For almost twenty years before the First Folio in 1623, the two brethren William Herbert and Philip Herbert were friends and patrons of Ben Johnson, who wrote much of the Introduction to the First Folio. In 1597 the parents of William Herbert proposed his marriage to de Vere’s second daughter Bridget. (But in 1598 she married someone else.) On 27 December 1604, Philip Herbert married de Vere’s younger daughter Susan, thus becoming the son-in-law of Edward de Vere. The 1604–5 season saw seven plays by Shakespeare and two plays and a masque by Jonson.
In some of these, Philip Herbert, Susan, and Elizabeth de Vere were major participants. It was these, the family and friends of Edward de Vere, who were the very people responsible for publishing the First Folio of 1623. In his article ‘The Case for Oxford Revisited’ (The Oxfordian, Vol. XI, 2009), Ramón Jiménez states:
The collection of Shakespeare’s plays published in 1623, the First
Folio, gives every appearance of being the fruit of 20 years of
association among Ben Jonson, the three Vere daughters, Elizabeth,
Bridget and Susan, and the Herbert brothers, William 3rd Earl of
Pembroke, and Philip, 1st Earl of Montgomery.
In the entire 1623 First Folio of The Merchant of Venice the capitalized ‘R’ is used thirty-seven times: seventeen times for a proper noun, starting a new line or to begin a sentence, while in twenty of those thirty-seven times, the R is used to capitalize the word ‘Ring’.
In Act V alone the word ‘ring’ is used twenty-four times. The first twenty occurrences were capitalized and, I maintain, the final four occurrences were lower case simply because they ran out of capital ‘R’s at the end of the play.
Only the editions authorized by de Vere and his friends and family gave special emphasis to the word Ring.
Changing the contemporary spelling of Renne to Wren in the Roberts 1598 quarto released one capital ‘R’, increasing the total available capital ‘R’s for Ring. It was replaced in the 1623 folio.
1598 Roberts Quarto 1623 First Folio
Within 114 lines in the 1598 quarto the word ring appears sixteen times and every time, except for one, it is capitalized. The exception is the word Rode (Rhodes) which was a port in Greece and, as such, demanded capitalization. I maintain that the instructions here were to begin capitalization of the word ‘ring’ in the Ring Speech and continue to the end of the play. Intent on ensuring the exact number of capital ‘R’s for the word Ring, the compositors at first overlooked the proper noun Rode, and when they were obliged to capitalize it, took one capital ‘R’ from the word Ring at line 2686, as is evident from the chart on the opposite page.
Here we have a play (written by a man called de Vere) whose final act is much about wedding rings (Vere). Ring being used an inordinate thirty-five times at the end of the play and where, I maintain, but for the want of capital letters, all words Ring would have been capitalized.
Twenty-five years after the First Quarto, during which time copies of the play gave no emphasis of the word ‘Ring’, the First Folio publishers reinstated that emphasis. The First Folio which resurrected the highlighting of ‘ring’ was produced and financed by the family and friends of Edward de Vere. Why would the Man from Stratford demand that we pay attention to that particular word in such a persuasive fashion?
The source for The Merchant of Venice is generally accepted to be from a collection of short stories called Il Pecorone by Giovanni Fiorentino c.1558. The
source story contained one young couple and only one ring was given: a vera. He wrote about more than one wedding ring to get an exact match with his name and introduced another couple which called for a second ring to be given, and more than one wedding ring would be referred to as: vere.
The comic relief in the final scene of The Merchant of Venice, like his source play Il Pecorone before it, does not depend on more than one ring. The giving of a ring with a promise to keep it forever, the giving it away to a perceived stranger the very next day to one who was in reality his own wife, the embarrassment, the guilt, the shame and the reconciliation, could all be equally accomplished between Portia and Bassanio alone. Nerrissa’s ring, the second ring, is dramatically redundant to the plot. But Nerrissa’s ring, that second ring which enables the plurality of the rings, is absolutely crucial if the author is Edward de Vere, to enable the singular ‘wedding ring’ to become the plural ‘wedding rings’, which is the direct English translation of the Italian word which spells the name of the true author: VERE.
The play ends with the two words: ‘Nerrissas Ring’. Nerrissa is the companion, not the mistress. One might expect the ending to emphasize the more important character and end with Portia’s Ring. However, with Nerrissa’s ring we are reminded of that second Ring yet again and can transition from Ring to Rings to VERE.
The final word of the play is the capitalized Ring, and that final word, were it attached to a document or letter, is placed exactly where an author would sign his name – and I suggest that is precisely what he did.
Photographs taken from The Norton Facsimile, the First Folio of Shakespeare, prepared by Charlton Hinman (New York: W. W. Norton & Company Inc., 1968) which was given to Ian Haste by Professor Sam and Ruth Ann Saunders in Seattle in 2013.
The author wishes to thank his late good friend Dino Marazzi for his knowledge and encouragement which made all this possible.
Introduction to Ian Haste
Ian Haste is a recently joined member of the DVS, who has a fascinating background which explains his equally fascinating observations! An Englishman by birth and current abode, he and his wife attended the late Dan Wright’s conferences in Portland Oregon, which became a second home to them, and allowed them to get to know many Oxfordians, giving him a thorough appreciation of the Shakespeare Authorship Question.
Ian has transcribed hundreds of documents from the British Library in London, including a significant number for Professor Alan Nelson, who he knows well, and for Professor Helen Good of Hull University. A major project of his was transcribing the entire correspondence, sent to him by Professor Good, between Lord Burghley et al. in London and Admiral William Clinton as he progressed with his army into the Northern Rebellion in the harsh winter of 1569.
In this issue we have published a piece first presented in Portland Oregon and published in Shakespeare Matters, which we believe DVS members will enjoy reading although in a slightly abridged form. We hope to publish in the January 2022 issue his investigation of Richard II (or was it Henry IIII?) preceding the Essex rebellion.
To view or download this article as a PDF click HERE.