Dan Brown, what have you done? The success of your execrable books has tempted all sorts of kooks and charlatans to test the waters with their own dubious notions, except they aren't even acknowledging they're writing fiction.
A code-breaking book which aims to change the image of William Shakespeare and reveal him as a subversive who embedded dangerous political messages in his work is to be published in Britain.
Far from being an ambitious entertainer who played down his Catholic roots under a repressive Elizabethan regime, Shakespeare took deliberate risks each time he took up his quill, according to Clare Asquith's new book Shadowplay. She argues that the plays and poems are a network of crossword puzzle-like clues to his strong Catholic beliefs and his fears for England's future. Aside from being the first to spot this daring Shakespearean code, Asquith also claims to be the first to have cracked it.
This is utter nonsense. Not only is it beyond belief that a high-society housewife whose claimed cryptographic expertise was gleaned from theatre-going could have spotted something new others before her had missed, but the terrain she's covering is one already worked over by none other than William F. Friedman, the World War 2 code-breaking genius who founded what would later become the NSA: if a guy who broke Japan's PURPLE code and spotted the weaknesses in Enigma-type machines before the German military had even adopted them says there are no hidden messages in Shakespeare's work, I'm inclined to simply take his word on the matter.
Already hailed as a triumph of scholarship by writer and leading Catholic thinker Piers Paul Read (who wrote: 'It is rare when a work of such painstaking scholarship is so dramatic, important and exciting to read') and by Tom Paulin (who has called Asquith 'an inspired and compelling code-breaker'), the new book also makes the startling suggestion that Shakespeare studied covertly at an Oxford University college in order to gain such a wide-ranging literary knowledge.What a lot of balderdash! We already knew Tom Paulin wasn't the brightest bulb in the shed - anyone who can write earnestly of a "Zionist SS" isn't to be taken seriously - but what is most telling here is the gushing praise issued for this load of fantasy by "leading Catholic thinker Piers Paul Read": it is quite revealing of the intellectual bankruptcy of religious apologists of any stripe that they're all so quick to embrace any nonsense which paints their own narrow sectarian affiliations in a more flattering light. Is the Catholic Church really in need of the added kudos to be gained by embracing William Shakespeare as one of its own? Isn't it enough as it is to number the likes of Michaelangelo and Monteverdi amongst the sheep of the flock?
This ridiculous story illustrates the downside of the human mind's hunger for patterns, in that many of us are all too eager to find them even if we are entirely lacking in the intellectual power or self-discipline to keep ourselves off the path of self-deception, and it is these two qualities which separate the cryptographer from the ill-educated cranks and conspiracy-theorists who see secret Catholic messages and "Bible Codes" where none exist.
PS: If you're interested in learning more about why exactly books of this nature aren't worth giving the slightest credence to, reading up on the "Bible Codes" saga is actually an excellent place to start. I suggest looking here, here and here in increasing order of specificity. For amusement, I also suggest reading this: it transpires that Hermann Melville was another literary giant who went in for secret messages ...
PPS: Edwin M. Yoder doesn't think much of the quality of Clare Asquith's "scholarship" either:
Where seasoned Shakespeare scholars have stepped lightly, Mrs. Asquith rushes forward with a heavy tread; and the results are sure to try the patience of any reader who dares to imagine that Shakespeare's works are about what they seem to be about.