Friday, November 23, 2007

Shakespearian anagrams

WARNING: This post is not about a military justice topic.

I was fortunate to have had a fabulous Advanced Con Law professor -- John Jeffries, who is now finishing up his tenure as dean of UVA Law. I distinctly remember so many of the discussions in his classroom more than 20 years ago. And it was he who introduced me to John Hart Ely's Democracy and Distrust, which influenced my view of constitutional law more than any other jurisprudential book I have read.

One of the things I expressly remember reading for that class was Justice Harlan's dissent in Wesberry v. Sanders, 376 U.S. 1 (1964), the case that essentially applied Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186 (1962), to federal congressional districts. It did so largely on the basis of Article I, section 2's provision that "[t]he House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several states." Justice Harlan objected in dissent, "Although many, perhaps most, of [the delegates to the constitutional convention] believed generally -- but assuredly not in the precise, formalistic way of the majority of the Court -- that within the States representation should be based on population, they did not surreptitiously slip their belief into the Constitution in the phrase 'by the People,' to be discovered 175 years later like a Shakespearian anagram." Wesberry, 376 U.S. at 27 (Harlan, J., dissenting).

While the phrase stuck with me, I never appreciated its true meaning until I recently read Bill Bryson's new biography of Shakespeare. Bryson devotes the final chapter of the book to considering who wrote Shakespeare's works. He concludes emphatically that Shakespeare's works were by -- of all people -- Shakespeare. Bryson also attempts to debunk the arguments put forward by others that Shakespeare's works were actually written by Francis Bacon or the Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford or Christopher Marlowe or many others other than the Bard of Avon. His synopsis of Bacon supporters' arguments includes a description of a supposed Shakespearian anagram:

Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence, . . . in [his] popular book, Bacon Is Shakespeare, published in 1910, found telling anagrams sprinkled throughout the plays. Most famously he saw that a nonce word used in Love's Labour's Lost, "honorificabilitudinitatiubus," could be transformed into the Latin hexameter "Hi ludi F. Baconis nati tuiti orbi," or "These plays, F. Bacon's offspring, are preserved for the world."

Bill Bryson, Shakespeare: The World As Stage 186-87 (2007).

I didn't realize until reading that passage that Harlan apparently was referring to anagrams that purported to rebut Shakespeare's authorship of his own works. His analogy becomes even more deliciously biting in light of that provenance.

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