The Publishers’ Circular of January 11, 1902, contained a brief article that triggered a renewed interest in the most-read English author and the best-selling book of all time. It triggered a debate that continues to this day: did William Shakespeare participate in the translation of the King James Bible?
The article, written by a person identified only as “a learned correspondent in West Hackney,” focused its attention on Psalm 46. The author pointed out that Shakespeare’s name seemed to be encoded in the chapter.
As explained in the article:
DID SHAKESPEAR WRITE THE BOOK OF PSALMS?
‘S.L.H.,’ in the column of the Morning Leader headed ‘Sub Rosa,’ says that the following suggestion reaches him ‘from a learned correspondent in West Hackney’:—
‘In the name Shakespear there are four vowels and six consonants….. If you write down the figure 4 and then follow it by the figure 6, you get 46.
Very well — turn to Psalm 46 and you will find that in it the 46th word from the beginning is “shake,” while the 46th word from the end is “spear.”
This brief observation sparked many debates. Not only did it result in questions about Shakespeare’s supposed role in the King James Bible translation, but it also renewed the question about the proper spelling of the bard’s name. (As noted in this post, Shakespeare, himself, seemed a little vague on that particular matter.) Those who were quick to accept Shakespeare’s role in Psalm 46 confidently asserted that this was the author’s way of telling us that he preferred “Shakespear” as the appropriate spelling.
Skeptics were quick to point out that the word “spear” is the 47th and not the 46th word from the end of the 46th Psalm. Others said that this is the case only if you count “selah,” and you really shouldn’t do that, since it is just a fancy way of saying, “Chew on that for a while.”
Skeptics also pointed out that in the original 1611 King James Bible, the word spear was actually spelled “speare,” which contradicts the observation about the 4 consonants and spelling of Shakespeare’s name. Nonsense, proclaim the proponents of the discovery. The point of the matter is that “shake” is 46 words from the beginning, and “speare” is 46 words from the end, no matter how you cut it about the consonants. As if that weren’t compelling enough, Shakespeare was 46 years old in 1610, and that would have been about the time the translation was being finished.
Thus the controversy continues. Was this William Shakespeare’s sneaky little way of telling us, “Shakespeare was here,” or is it all a bunch of numerology nonsense? If the whole debate causes you distress, perhaps you would do well to focus on the psalm’s 10th verse: “Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world.”
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