“What’s in a name?” – asked Juliet. Well, a lot if you’re the Supreme Being. When Moses famously asks God in Exodus 3:14 by what name He wishes to be known to the Hebrews, the cryptic reply comes from the burning bush, “I am that I am.”
The Supreme Being is known by thousands of names in dozens of religions, yet this is perhaps the only sacred scripture in which the Creator is held to give directly and unmistakably the Name by which He is to be known.
“I am that I am.”
And so this unique phrase is one of the most powerful in world literature, held in awe by Christians and Jews alike – the very Name of God Himself.
Thus it would take a lot of chutzpah, presumably, to use this majestic Name, this holy phrase by which the Infinite Godhead Itself has reached out to puny humanity, as one’s own appropriated personal moniker.
It would take an ego the size of…oh, let’s say, a tormented genius world-poet whose gifts have been described by generations as nothing less than divine? A dramatist whose devotees have actually been accused of “bardolatry?”
As Heinrich Heine memorably put it:
“Surely, the good God is entitled to the first place. But the second certainly belongs to Shakespeare.”
As prominent Oxfordian scholar and author Hank Whittemore has noted in his excellent resource, 100 Reasons Why Oxford Is Shakespeare, “to my knowledge only two individuals during the Elizabethan age declared in writing, “I AM THAT I AM,” and apparently they did so within identical contexts: the author of Shakespeare’s sonnets and Edward de Vere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford.”
In the year 1584, de Vere wrote a furious postscript in a letter to his father-in-law, William Cecil, Lord Burghley – perhaps the most powerful man in England – in which he warned him to cease his devious and patronizing practice of using household servants to spy on Edward de Vere’s private life:
“But I pray, my Lord, leave that course, for I mean not to be your ward nor your child. I serve her Majesty, and I AM THAT I AM, and by alliance near to your Lordship, but free, and scorn to be offered that injury to think I am so weak of government as to be ruled by servants, or not able to govern myself. If your Lordship take and follow this course, you deceive yourself, and make me take another course than yet I have not thought of. Wherefore these shall be to desire your Lordship, if that I may make account of your friendship, that you will leave that course as hurtful to us both.”
A bitter protest by a proud man. Yet the “divine phrase,” feels almost like an interpolation, a coded warning (for surely Edward de Vere knew full well that Burghley would absorb the biblical weight being invoked) to refer to de Vere’s possession of a semi-divine status, one which he expected Burghley to remember and to be duly respectful of.
For those who give credence to either of the two most controversial theories regarding Edward de Vere’s true parentage (memorably dramatized in Roland Emmerich’s excellent film, Anonymous), that could mean a) De Vere means Burghley to remember that he is actually the secret son of Queen Elizabeth and therefore heir to the divine right of kings, or b) that he is the father of Elizabeth’s secret son, Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, and therefore the sire of a future king, or c) (shudder) that both a) and b) are true.
In any case, Burghley is known to have used spies habitually in all contexts, for to a man in his position, accurate intelligence was paramount.
And then there is the curious parallel of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 121, in which the poet complains bitterly of being spied upon!
Tis better to be vile than vile esteemed,
When not to be receives reproach of being,
And the just pleasure lost, which is so deemed,
Not by our feeling, but by others’ seeing.
For why should others’ false adulterate eyes
Give salutation to my sportive blood?
Or on my frailties why are frailer SPIES,
Which in their wills count bad what I think good?
No, I AM THAT I AM, and they that level
At my abuses reckon up their own.
I may be straight though they themselves be bevel;
By their rank thoughts my deeds must not be shown;
Unless this general evil they maintain:
All men are bad and in their badness reign
Really, the compelling evidentiary power of this parallel is such that one is almost embarrassed to have to point it out. Given the hundreds of other specific parallels linking Oxford to a poet whose lack of personal contemporary literary evidence for his authorship is unique, this one stands out for the sheer arrogance displayed in the indignant pique of an insulted genius: “I am near unto God – and might as well be God – so back off, old man!”
Call me an unreformed conspiracy theorist, but I can’t help pointing out one more intriguing parallel usage of that awe-inspiring Name. “I am that I am” is documented as the most secret inner circle sacred phrase once (and perhaps still) used by the Freemasons to initiate at their highest 33rd Degree level of mastery. When this secret was exposed by a lapsed Mason in the 19th century, rumors flew that he paid with his life for the betrayal of this most sacred Masonic ritual. Given that the Masons claim Shakespeare as an initiate – and given that Sonnet 121 also contains numerous Masonic code phrases such as “straight” and “bevel” and “level” – one is tempted to speculate that Edward de Vere was warning Burghley to back off spying on a fellow Mason.
Nah…just another wacky coincidence!