“I am not as I seme to be”: the Origins of OTHELLO

Vere poetry, I am not as I seme, plaintextFig. 1

Vere poetry, I am not as I seem, VERE covert, minde, PEN HIDFig. 2

   When I went through this poem for the first time, I wasn’t surprised to find I kept returning to the word “covert”.  In fact, the letter-strings and clusters are clearly covert.  Secrets are embedded within plainexts ostensibly to be read for their overt, in-plain-view content.  The message of the poem, play, correspondence, dedications, prefaces and so forth are sleight of hand, distractors for the unaware.  To those “in-the-know”, it can be assumed that certain key words, phrases and often odd spellings of words (even odd and unusual for Elizabethans in an age of uncodified grammar) were/are internal clues to the presence of hidden messages.  And with a method of uncovering them, much, if not similar or even the same method, everything from Crown espionage to personal correspondence, both domestic and romantic in nature, could be carried out secretly in the confidence that sophisticated encryptions would not fall into the wrong hands.  In an age lacking a government postal service, any correspondence — especially when given to someone who could easily read to whom the correspondence was intended — could be examined.  The writer of any corresponce, then, wanted a method so as to feel secure that some suspicious person could make a thorough examination,  ” . . . and finde no secrets”.

   The cluster above has the encrypter, that is, the poet (likely de Vere) stating up-front he believes it “wise to cloke the covert (covert minde, covert pen).  That “covert” is at least one of, if not the, main key word functioning as a flag for anyone for whom the ciphertext was intended is apparent.  This is reinforced for me when I look  closely at line sixteen:  “Of wise to cloke the covert minde.”  The c in “covert” is the 17th letter (17th Earle) in the line, a visible fact reinforced by the observation that immediately before the upward letter-string of “VERE” is an “e”.  What can be seen, then, is another overt, but yet covert, signal that “covert” is the main focus, signaling the word itself is a clue, especially when “the covert” is highlighted:  “th E.C.O. vert”.  In fact, the visual clue in the plaintext is so clear, there is no doubt as to the identity of the author.


Vere poetry, I am not as I seme to bee, IAGO, covert mindeFig. 3

And this is IAGO in  OTHELLO:

Othello, I.i. 45 -71, plaintextFig. 4:  “I am not what I am”  (i.e., “I am not what I SEME to bee”)

Othello, I am not what I seme to be, support, ED VERE, I am not what I amFig. 5  

I. I. MMXIV       


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