delivering a document into the hands of a messenger. This meaning also comes to be closely
associated with the legal sense of "attest" or "witness, as when, in Two Gentlemen of Verona,
Julia promises to "seal the bargain" of her promises to Proteus "with a holy kiss" (2.2.7).
The second action was one of enclosing. To seal a document meant to seal it off
unwanted readers. Thus the frequent comparison of a seal to a lock: a seal is a symbolic lock; it
preserves a document for intended readers while protecting the contents
from casual or
malevolent eyes. Thus, the anonymous letter written by the conspirators inviting the collusion of
Brutus in their plot against Julius Caesar, when discovered lying on the casement of a window by
Lucius, is "sealed up (2.1.37). Only Brutus may read the contents. Thus, also, the oracle's word
in The Winter's Tale is sealed to prevent premature disclosure of the answer to Polixenes' inquiry
regarding Perdita's legitimacy. Officers must appear onstage to cross-examine the messengers,
Cleomines and Dion, for the purpose of ensuring the authenticity of the document bearing the
You shall swear upon this sword of justice
That you, Cleomines and Dione, have
Been both at Delphos, and from thence have brought
This sealed-up oracle, by the hand deliver'd
Of great Apollo's priest; and that since then
You have not dared to break the holy seal
Nor read the secrets in't
Cleo, Dion. All this we swear.
Break up the seals, and read.
In such uses, the dramatist lays pronounced emphasis on the hermetic function of sealing as a
way of protecting the contents of a document from misuse by unauthorized persons. The seals of
Daniel, Isaiah or Revelations -- like those of Apollo's oracle in The Winter's Tale --are symbolic
of the hermetic nature of the texts enclosed within them and, ultimately of the hermetic, "sealed-
up" character of the texts -- the plays -- within which they appear as simulacra.
The pseudonymous publication of the Shakespeare works was, then, a kind of "sealing" in
both senses of the word. The placing of the name "Will-I-Am Shakespeare" was the final act of
composition of the plays, equivalent to the authentication of the work by imposing a seal upon it.
Placing the works under the false seal of the "Shakespeare" name obscured their actual contents
from casual surveillance by those lacking sympathy for the author and his work. Ben Jonson
writes of this sealing in his introductory verses to the first folio alluding to the authors "true-
filed and well turned" lines, punning on the name Shakespeare:
in each of which he seems to shake a lance
as brandisht in the eyes of ignorance.