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Seventeen is magic to Oxfordians. They see it everywhere in Shakespeare’s work, enwoven in the very fabric of his poetry. Septimodecimists find 17s in the praises of Ben Jonson, in Francis Meres’s catalog of poets, underlying and denying what they plainly wrote.
That language, to initiates, is but a screen, devised to hide a deeper truth, encoded in, occulted by these writers' “arithmetical arrangements.” "Read the puzzle, not the poem," they urge us.1 Words lie; but numbers? Never, if properly manipulated. By divination with 17s, the tribe of Ned can find him stamped on every page. This belief is more than talismanic—it is Trinitarian, the central mystery of their faith. Their Lord has hidden patterns of himself—his “authorial watermark”—in his creation.
Behold, the priesthood speaks: “Can this pattern of deviations from symmetry, in itself balanced, be ascribed to mere chance? ... Here de Vere is concealed and at the same time, by a fugue-like textural procedure, revealed as Shakespeare.”2