How the Bard hides the Epiphany in 12th Night: an example of Shakespeare’s (secret) Compass

The road to hell is paved with novelists trying to get published 

To write literary fiction that stands a chance of succeeding is one of the toughest challenges facing the creative writer. Your work must not only stand out, but have the kind of inner depth that nourishes the soul of the reader. To write at that level means you need to live at that level.

Lucky for us, the greatest writer of all time, William Shakespeare, was also a master cryptologist. He has left us a legacy of how to write subtext that enriches our work with depth, meaning, and gravitas – and get away with heresy, blasphemy, and sacrilege on a grand scale should we wish to be subversive without ending up like Salman Rushdie.

Great literary fiction (e.g. the legend of the Holy Grail) expresses truth in a way that transcends the mind, transcends judgment, transcends comprehension and enters the lifestream of understanding direct via the jugular.

The seven points of Shakespeare’s Compass

My job is to help you understand and adapt the seven core principles that not only kept him alive but made his works immortal. Bottom line, Shakespeare is a master of telling the ultimate forbidden truth. And he tells it with wicked, fearless, ruthless, audacious, honesty.

Shakespeare dips his quill into the fountain of the waters of life and transforms the ultimate truth of the Grail into words, sounds, rhythms, signs and symbols that lead us to Ananda, the divine bliss of the soul.

The truth is what everyone wants to know until they’re told what it is.

Over the past 10 years, I have discovered that Shakespeare has taken the golden thread of universal truth that runs through the forbidden mystical subtext of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation and woven it into the essence behind his entire works.

This represents a spiritual/mystical teaching we can trace back as far as ancient Egypt and early Old Testament times. There are still teachers of Sufism, Sikhism, Sant Mat, and other schools in the West who have been given the inner keys to initiation into the Word of God. Teachings that empower individuals and thus threaten orthodox, organised religion and those in power who want to control us.

Enter Shakespeare: the master of truth, mockery, parody, and satire. The master of making the tyrants snort with laughter at their own lies and absurdities without even realising it.

12th Night? Where’s the Epiphany?

The big problem with a play effectively entitled ‘Epiphany’ is that even the ‘experts’ agree, it has nothing whatsoever to do with said Christian feast day. My conjecture was that in the master’s subtext the play is not only about the Epiphany, but also the Creation, the ‘fall of man’, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection and the reuniting of the sound and light of God as the whole / Holy Spirit. It is another of his masterclasses on how to write subtext that sells like hotcakes while committing heresy, blasphemy,  and sacrilege on a grand scale.

In my talk on 12th Night on 12th night 2023, the disguised visitors to that stable in Bethlehem – from Jesus Christ, the wise men, the Madonna and Satan – are all revealed. 

The two key hypotheses I want to use here as an example of the Bard’s genius with subtext are that (a) Feste represents the real ‘wise man’ of Epiphany disguised as ‘the fool’; and (b) Viola disguised as Caesario (King) represents ‘the tree of life’ (aka the Word of God) cut off in the Garden of Eden, restored by Jesus Christ, and the whole point of the coming of Christ in the first place!

And here’s a 3-minute gem that confirms this. An interaction between Feste and Viola, two-thirds into the play. To add to the confusion, the subtext of this scene also points to a subterranean connection between Shakespeare’s 12th Night and the ever-popular Epiphany carol, ‘The Little Drummer Boy’!

As the scene opens, Feste is playing a drum, a little drum called a tabor. In the forbidden mystical teaching mentioned earlier, one of the key mystical sounds of ‘the Word’ heard in meditation is the sound of a drum – pa rapa pum pum: an uncanny foreshadowing of the popular carol, ‘The Little drummer boy’. This was not simply penned by Katherine Kennicott Davis in 1941 but given inspirationally to her by her intuitive voice. Whether or not she herself was aware of its mystical symbolism who knows?

A little boy is called to the epiphany where the baby Jesus is laid in a manger but had no gift to bring save his music – his drumming: ironically symbolising The Word Of God, the gift Jesus brought to the world. 

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Thus in around 1600, Shakespeare writes a play about Epiphany called 12th Night, with a wise man, disguised as a fool playing a drum. In 1941 Katherine Davis is inspired to write a song about a fictional little drummer boy called to the Epiphany in Bethlehem.

I now invite you to take this image and these words with you when you watch the following scene between Feste and Viola.

The conjecture again: that Viola represents ‘the Word’, ‘the name of God uttered in the Creation’. And here it is – not proof, never proof, always deniable – but corroboration – a confirmatory nod, wink, or a nudge that this conjecture is correct:

First, a nod: first line of the scene (Act 3, Scene 1):

VIOLA:  Save thee, friend, and thy music. Dost thou live

by thy tabor?

This is a super-subtle reference to the presence of the ‘saviour’ and that the music (food of love) tabor/drum/ heartbeat is the life force of the creation ‘the Word made flesh’ that feeds and sustains all life. Of course he ‘lives by the tabor’ – we all do. But not all of us hears it.

Second, a wink: half-way through the scene, confirms Viola as ‘the Word’:

 …her name’s a word. Tucked away in this quick-fire exchange. That’s all we get. That’s all the allusion/confirmation we need.

FOOL:  I would therefore my sister had had no name, sir.

VIOLA:  Why, man?

FOOL:  Why, sir, her name’s a word, and to dally with

that word might make my sister wanton.

Third, a nudge: the ending of the scene, confirms Feste as the ‘wise man’.


This fellow is wise enough to play the Fool


Most importantly with the Grail truth is that it is hidden for good reason. It is hidden beyond reason – we have to transcend the reasoning, logical mind that needs things to make sense. The truth does not make sense. If something makes sense it cannot be the truth. It may point the way. But the truth is within. Always within. And we must be ready and willing to look inside.

Here below, you can enjoy the text of the entire 3-min scene.

If you’d like to hear my talk on 12th Night on 12th night 2023

If you want some help applying these cryptic principles to add depth, meaning and gravitas to your work, then book in a call here.

Scene 1
Enter Viola and Feste, the Fool, playing a tabor.
VIOLA  Save thee, friend, and thy music. Dost thou live
by thy tabor?
FOOL  No, sir, I live by the church.
VIOLA  Art thou a churchman?
FOOL  No such matter, sir. I do live by the church, for I
do live at my house, and my house doth stand by the
VIOLA  So thou mayst say the king lies by a beggar if a
beggar dwell near him, or the church stands by thy
tabor if thy tabor stand by the church.
FOOL  You have said, sir. To see this age! A sentence is
but a chev’ril glove to a good wit. How quickly the
wrong side may be turned outward!
VIOLA  Nay, that’s certain. They that dally nicely with
words may quickly make them wanton.
FOOL  I would therefore my sister had had no name,
VIOLA  Why, man?
FOOL  Why, sir, her name’s a word, and to dally with
that word might make my sister wanton. But,
indeed, words are very rascals since bonds disgraced
VIOLA  Thy reason, man?
FOOL  Troth, sir, I can yield you none without words,
and words are grown so false I am loath to prove
reason with them.
VIOLA  I warrant thou art a merry fellow and car’st for
FOOL  Not so, sir. I do care for something. But in my
conscience, sir, I do not care for you. If that be to
care for nothing, sir, I would it would make you

VIOLA  Art not thou the Lady Olivia’s Fool?

FOOL  No, indeed, sir. The Lady Olivia has no folly. She
will keep no Fool, sir, till she be married, and Fools
are as like husbands as pilchers are to herrings: the
husband’s the bigger. I am indeed not her Fool but
her corrupter of words.
VIOLA  I saw thee late at the Count Orsino’s.
FOOL  Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the
sun; it shines everywhere. I would be sorry, sir, but
the Fool should be as oft with your master as with
my mistress. I think I saw your Wisdom there.
VIOLA  Nay, an thou pass upon me, I’ll no more with
thee. Hold, there’s expenses for thee. Giving a
FOOL  Now Jove, in his next commodity of hair, send
thee a beard!
VIOLA  By my troth I’ll tell thee, I am almost sick for
one, aside though I would not have it grow on my
chin.—Is thy lady within?
FOOL  Would not a pair of these have bred, sir?
VIOLA  Yes, being kept together and put to use.
FOOL  I would play Lord Pandarus of Phrygia, sir, to
bring a Cressida to this Troilus.
VIOLA  I understand you, sir. ’Tis well begged. Giving
another coin.
FOOL  The matter I hope is not great, sir, begging but a
beggar: Cressida was a beggar. My lady is within, sir.
I will conster to them whence you come. Who you
are and what you would are out of my welkin—I
might say “element,” but the word is overworn.

He exits.

This fellow is wise enough to play the Fool,
And to do that well craves a kind of wit.
He must observe their mood on whom he jests,
The quality of persons, and the time,
And, like the haggard, check at every feather
That comes before his eye. This is a practice
As full of labor as a wise man’s art:
For folly that he wisely shows is fit;
But wise men, folly-fall’n, quite taint their wit.

As I see it, the truth of this scene relates to the ultimate truth of not only the epiphany, but also of why Jesus Christ had to come, what he did for all mankind, and what it means to each and everyone of us today.

In a nutshell, in the beginning, Adam & Eve and Lucifer cut off the sound of God’s name, the Word of all creation, from its ‘twin’ the light and spirit of God.

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