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The "Signification" of William Reynolds's Clothes.

Modernized extract from a letter dated 28 January 1589 from the unemployed soldier William Reynolds to Walter Cope (BL MS Lansdowne 99, fols. 25-26).

MASTER COPE, I MOST HUMBLY recommend me unto you.... It hath pleased God now once again to move me to write to you, an Inferior person, that which he hath since in mercy showed to me, even the joyfullest tidings that ever was for England, which is now my third alarm to waken England, and the sweetest melody that ever England heard.... Although I have no library to increase profound knowledge yet I say he reads well and has good religion which preferreth the fear and love of God before the fear and love of mortal men.... I was touched for superstition, but who can better devise than God hath put into my mind, and I hope well for the advancing of his glory for my twelve days in black must take effect hereafter, yet will they think that which I mean to do to be my foolish and vain superstitious invention.... Upon Saturday last at night I desired God in my prayers that he would vouchsafe to teach me to understand his will, and suddenly I conceived the long and lamentable exile of the Jews, then I bowed myself toward the East and worshipped the Lord for that sweet conceit, and then again I conceived that after the twelve days, I should make me a suit of some pure white, and a cloak of pure sky color striped with some small lace of gold, and to line my cloak with a seawater green, and to make me a scarf of yellow, white, and green, a scabbard of red velvet, a white scarf about my right arm, and although some such motions had heretofore a little glimmered in my mind yet now when I perceived that God would make England pure and precious in his sight, which is but a small island compassed about with the sea, and that the sky, even God his word, should be clear, and therefore even Christ should shine clearly upon thee most comfortably, then I bowed myself the second time to the Lord, yet I conceived more, that my other cloaks bought before by me at a venture were brought to me by God and had their signification too, and here is my greatest grief, that as I bought the other by my friends' help, so would I buy the black and white too myself if my ability would serve, wherefore herein in respect of my country's honor I desire help for God's sake with speed (6 Psalm). Then considering better of my first cloak which was white mingled with red, and that when I bought it first I would not by no means line it, no, not the collar, for then it could not simply betoken God his wrath, then considering the second suit of tawny, I understood it best became my sad and penitent mind. Yet the darkness of my country England, by my cloak of russet lined with seawater and stockings of seawater, so that I could not step forth of England but into the sea which I compassed me about, and that the sky, God's word, was so darkened with the thick clouds of our sins that the sun, Christ, could not shine through it, also now I did perceive that many things which I have done spoke and writ before had a great signification, Yea the Lord moved me yet again to look well upon myself, and to compare myself to England: then I stood still a little while musing and pondering thereof, and suddenly I was ravished with joy above measure, then I laughed, I wept, and I rejoiced greatly, holding up my hands to heaven, saying, "O Joy of Joys, O wonder of wonders, O most true concent(1) of heavenly harmony, O Lord, Lord, how sweet and comfortable is thy majesty and mercy to weak man, even dust, Wherefore O England come, come, come."


(1.) "Concent," the technical musical term, rather than "consent."

KATHERINE DUNCAN-JONES prepared a New Arden edition of Shakespeare's Sonnets published in 1997. She is currently writing a biography of Shakespeare.
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Publication:Shakespeare Studies
Article Type:Excerpt
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 1, 2000
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