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May 2000

THE SHAKESPEARE CODES: THE SONNETS DECIPHERED

by David Basch

This is the third of David Basch's books in which he explores the Judaic influences on the work of William Shakespeare. In doing so, he also succeeds in deciphering the meaning of the Sonnets, a task that had long resisted solution.

While the Sonnets is one of the most popular of the Poet's works it yet has been one of his most troublesome. While it is unique in presenting the Poet speaking in his own voice with the implication of presenting him directly, unfiltered through the characters and stories of his plays, this has not come as an unmixed blessing. In spite of the great beauty of the sentiments and poetic expressions of the Sonnets, it often is marred by the difficulties in meaning of not a few of its 154 poems. Moreover, the poems have been disturbing for what they seem to tell about the Poet himself as a man riven with dark obsessions.

With this as its context, the Sonnets hardly offered a promising prospect for disclosing a Judaic content, let alone one that resolves its mysteries -- a surmise testified to by the books of many accomplished commentators that have taken readers along an opposite course. How then could Basch, the most unlikely of commentators, find what has eluded all others? He explains this anomaly by simply stating that the only reason this happened is that he had received the guidance of the great Poet himself through the codes that the Poet left behind in this very work. It is this discovery that more than justifies still another book in an already crowded field of all those on the Sonnets.

The codes presented in this latest book are unlike the recondite ciphers and codes alleged decades earlier by commentators to prove that Francis Bacon or others wrote the Poet's works (all of which allegations having been fully discredited). The key to the new codes is their Judaic origin, something completely overlooked in prior investigations. This omission relegated attempts at finding devices as akin to solving a nine-dot puzzle by staying within the envelope of the nine dots. But Basch, who was trained as an architect and city planner, was not limited by conventional assumptions of Shakespearean scholarship that had insured failure. As a result, he was able to embark on the fascinating process of discovery and interpretation which he now shares with his readers.

The author is not alone in defending his findings. The Chancellor of Israel's Bar-Ilan University, Rabbi Emanuel Rackman, has openly confirmed Basch's work. (A statement of the rabbi's views appears on the back cover of the book.) Rabbi Rackman is confident that what has been revealed will be "an important addition to the Poet's legacy to the world" even as it will also be of particular and "enormous interest to the Jewish community." The Rabbi, who was at various stages of his career a practicing attorney and pulpit rabbi in the United States and became Chancellor of Bar-Ilan University as a result of his great success in launching the Judaic Studies program of the City University of New York, is hardly someone that could be called less than a credible witness. His corroboration of Basch's work certainly tells that those interested in this topic should not fail to check this book out.

The 634 pages of The Shakespeare Codes is arranged in two parts. The first is comprised of seven chapters dealing with the analysis of the Sonnets. What emerges is the variety of the codes and devices that the Poet used and how these enabled the revelation of the inner meaning of some of the most difficult of the poems and of the message of the work as a whole. The second part, which comprises a book in itself, presents a sonnet by sonnet analysis of each of the 154 sonnets -- most of these not treated earlier -- and for the first time applies to them the new insights. Accompanying this is a copy of each sonnet in its original Quarto text and layout, including the odd spelling and other format features that were found to have been essential in revealing the codes. Lest any reader think that this portion of the book would be an anticlimax in the light of the earlier dramatic discoveries, that reader is soon disabused of this preconception as some of the most spectacular of the findings appear here.

What will be appreciated by readers are the author's efforts and schemes to communicate with those unfamiliar with the Sonnets or with Judaic materials. Also, since this book could only deal with the wealth of its subject matter in a limited way -- not least owing to the author's own admitted limitations as a Shakespearean and Judaic scholar -- it positively stimulates and invites the ingenuity of others. Such persons will be delighted to learn that they have ample opportunity to bring to bear their own talents and wisdom to this unfolding subject.

In The Shakespeare Codes, David Basch has once again made significant additions to the study of the Poet's work and to a lot more besides. Not only do Shakespeare's poems become more understandable and enriched, but the Poet himself is truly revealed in ways never before thought possible as he expresses his personal thoughts in words of wisdom and insight for a modern world. These are contributions that admirers of the Poet will find most welcome as they become aware of the nature and scope of what has newly been revealed and learn of the uncanny skill and genius that the Poet used in bringing this forth.

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