MA in English from National University in 2016, and writes about linguistics, narratology, and cognitive poetics.
How Much Do We Know About Shakespeare?
There is much less factual knowledge about William Shakespeare (1564-1616), the greatest playwright in the English language, than one would expect of such an important figure (Craig et al, pg.521). He apparently worked as a schoolteacher for a time and, in this capacity, acquired his broad knowledge of Renaissance learning and literature (Craig et al, pg.521). His work shows none of the puritan distress over worldliness (Craig et al, pg.521). He took the new commercialism and the bawdy pleasures of the Elizabethan Age in stride and with amusement (Craig et al, pg.521). In politics and religion, he was a man of his time and not inclined to offend his queen (Craig et al, pg.521). However, there is authorship to be in question regarding William Shakespeare’s histories, comedies, and tragedies; the literary works such as Hamlet (1603), Othello (1604), King Lear (1605), Macbeth (1606), and Romeo and Juliet (1597) that made Shakespeare immensely popular amongst both audiences and readers (Craig et al, pg. 521). Whether or not the claims surrounding Shakespeare’s work are legitimate, the burden of proof would seem to lie on those who wish to discredit the Bard. On the other hand, it's only fair to give attention to this debate as it has been ongoing for quite some time and shows no signs of waning anytime soon. Perhaps the truest candidate to claim the rights to the literary works that are “penned” under the name William Shakespeare is Sir Francis Bacon.
A Brief History of Sir Francis Bacon
He was born on January, 22, 1561, the second child of Sir Nicholas Bacon (Lord Keeper of the Seal) and his second wife Lady Anne Cooke Bacon, daughter of Sir Anthony Cooke, tutor to Edward VI and one of the leading humanists of the age (Klein, 2003). He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge from 1573–1575, and at Gray's Inn, London in 1576 (Buckingham et al, 2012). From 1577 to 1578, Bacon accompanied Sir Amias Paulet, the English ambassador, on his mission in Paris; but he returned when his father died (Klein, 2003). Bacon's small inheritance brought him into financial difficulties and since his maternal uncle, Lord Burghley, did not help him to get a lucrative post as a government official, he embarked on a political career in the House of Commons (Klein, 2003). In 1581, he entered the Commons as a member for Cornwall, and he remained a Member of Parliament for thirty-seven years (Buckingham et al, 2012). His involvement in high politics started in 1584 when he wrote his first political memorandum, A Letter of Advice to Queen Elizabeth (Klein, 2003).
Right from the beginning of his adult life, Bacon aimed at a revision of natural philosophy while also following his father's example by trying to secure high political office (Klein, 2003). From 1584 to 1617, he entered the House of Lords and was an active member of the Commons (Klein, 2003). When he lost Elizabeth I's favor over the subsidy affair of 1593, Bacon turned to the Earl of Essex as a patron (Buckingham et al, 2012). He served Essex as political advisor but distanced himself from him when Essex's failure in the Irish campaign became evident and when his rebellion against the Queen finally brought him to the executioner's block (Klein, 2003). It was not until 1603 that Bacon’s time had come. The Scottish king James VI succeeded the great Queen as James I of England and he was knighted in that year (Klein, 2003). He married a young and rich heiress in 1606 and was appointed Solicitor General in 1607, and the Attorney General in 1613 (Klein, 2003). He reached the peak of his splendid career from 1616 onwards: he became a member of the Privy Council in 1616, was appointed Lord Keeper of the Great Seal the following year – thus achieving the same position as his father – and was granted the title of Lord Chancellor and created Baron of Verulam in 1618 (Kelin, 2003).
In the same year, 1621, when Bacon was made Viscount of St. Albans, he was impeached by Parliament for corruption in his office as a judge (Klein, 2003). His fall was contrived by his adversaries in Parliament and by the court faction, for which he was the suitable scapegoat to save the Duke of Buckingham not only from public anger but also from open aggression (Mathews, 1999). He lost all his offices and his seat in Parliament but retained his titles and his personal property (Klein, 2003). As a result, Bacon devoted the last few years of his life entirely to his philosophical works. He died in April 1626 of pneumonia after an unforgiving experiment in which he attempted to use snow for meat preservation utility by stuffing the snow into chickens (Buckingham et al, 2012).
The Authorship Debate
Bacon has been a traditional favorite on the list of candidates of William Shakespeare’s works (Pressely, 2012). Based on Pressely’s compilation, I was able to scour through several possible candidates such as Edward de Vere, Ben Johnson, and Christopher Marloe (Pressely, 2012). However, no single candidate stood out like Francis Bacon. Bacon’s proponents point toward his learning, correspondences and memoirs, as well as ciphers and other such coincidences (Pressely, 2012). However, his biggest critic is exactly how he could produce such a voluminous output of his own, and find enough spare time to produce it with such rich quality (Pressely, 2012). Based on "What Evidence points to Bacon as the Author of the Shakespeare play?," compiled by Mather Walker, there is plenty of justification for the likely hood that Sir Francis Bacon penned under the Nom de plume of Shakespeare (Walker, 2012).
Sir Francis Bacon was not only a Lawyer and philosopher, but he was also a concealed poet (Walker, 2012). Referring to himself in a letter he wrote in 1603, to his friend John Davies, he said, "So asking you to be kind to all concealed poets...", and in the book of eulogies written to him at his death in 1626, there are a number of references to his concealed writings (Walker, 2012). One example is the passage from R.C. of Trinity College: "Thou art the Jewel most precious of letters concealed" (Walker, 2012). In 1679 Bishop T. Tenison, who apparently had personal knowledge of the fact that Bacon was in the habit of producing pseudonymous works said, "Those who have true skill in the Works of the Lord Verulam [Bacon], like the Great Masters in Painting, can tell by the Design, the Strength, the way of the Colouring, whether he was the author of thisor the other Piece, though is name be not to it" (Walker, 2012). These direct sources clearly point to the fact that Sir Francis Bacon wrote in secrecy under an assumed name. Of course, we cannot simply assume he wrote under the name "William Shakespeare," but it does shed some light on the possibility.
What is less trivial and more convincing is that Bacon was closely associated with the author of the plays (Walker, 2012). The dedications of Venus and Adonis, and The Rape of Lucrece establish that the author had a close relationship with The Earl of Southampton (Walker, 2012). Southampton and Essex were inseparable friends, and at the time the dedications were written, Bacon was closely associated with Essex and the Essex circle, and frequently in his company, which would mean that he was frequently in the company of Southampton (Walker, 2012). Furthermore, the dedications of Venus and Lucrece indicate that the friendship with Southampton began in 1592 and had become more intimate by the time Lucrece was written (Walker, 2012). This follows the circumstances of Bacon's relationship with the Essex circle because their relationship began in late 1591 or in 1592, thus the indications are that his acquaintance with Southampton began shortly before Venus and Adonis was written; it is widely regarded that it was written in 1592 (Walker, 2012). On April 18, 1593 it was registered in the Stationers' Registers; it is written in a fashion that indicates the author is not established in his friendship with Southhampton and does not know how his dedication will be received (Walker, 2012). The printer was Richard Field, and it was dedicated to Henry Wriotheseley, 3rd Earl of Southampton as follows:
"To the Right Honorable Henrie Wriotheseley, Earle of Southampton, and Baron of Titchfield. Right Honorable, I know not how I shall offend in dedicating my unpolisht lines to your Lordship, nor how the worlde will censure me for choosing so strong a propp to support so weak a burthen, onely, if your Honour seeme but pleased,I account myselfe highly praised, and vowe to take advantage of all idele houres, till I have honoured you with some graver labour. But, if the first heire of my invention prove deformed, I shall be sorie it had so noble a god-father, and never after eare so barren a land, for feare it yeeld me still so bad a harvest. I leave it to your Honourable survey, and your Honor to your heart's content; which I wish may always answere your owne wish, and the world's hopeful expectation.
Your Honor's in all dutie.
The Rape of Lucrece, however, was probably written in 1594. The dedication indicates that the friendship, apparently just beginning at the time of the dedication of Venus and Adonis, is now firmly established (Walker, 2012). On May 9, 1594 Lucrece was registered with the following dedication:
To the Right Honourable Henry Wriothesley Earle of Southampton, and Baron of Titchfield:
The loue I dedicate to your Lordship is without end; whereof this Pamphlet without beginning is but a superfluous Moity. The warrant I have of your Honourable disposition, not the worth of my untutored Lines, makes it assured of acceptance. What I have done is yours, what I have to do is yours, being part in all I have, devoted yours. Were my worth greater, my duety would shew greater, meane time, as it is, it is bound to your Lordship; To whom I wish long life still lengthened with all happiness,
Your Lordship's in all duety
However, this was not the end of the incidences regarding Bacon’s association with both known associates of the author of the plays, and places and events reflected in the plays. The Comedy Of Errors was first played at a Christmas entertainment at Gray's Inn which Francis Bacon had the principal part in producing (Walker, 2012). Bacon was raised in the Cecil household; topical reading of some of the plays indicates a close association with this household (Walker, 2012). There is no doubt that the character of Polonius was William Cecil, Lord Burghley and Richard III is modeled after Robert Cecil, the son of William Cecil (Walker, 2012). Bertram in All's Well That Ends Well is modeled after Edward de Vere, XVII Earl of Oxford who was a ward in the Cecil household and who married Anne, William Cecil's daughter (Walker, 2012). Bacon was also a courtier and had close contact with Queen Elizabeth I, and those in close contact with her, thus having enough knowledge of her insomuch as Richard II is modeled after Elizabeth and the first record of Richard II is in a letter from Essex where he mentions it is being played in the Hoby household (Walker, 2012). The Hobys were Francis Bacon’s first cousins and Francis and his brother Anthony were close to the Hobys (Walker, 2012). Love's Labour Lost has numerous topical references to members of the Essex circle, knowledge that could only have come from within (Walker, 2012). Othello was modeled after Sir Walter Raleigh, and Iago after Lord Henry Howard and Robert Cecil (Walker, 2012). And lastly, The Tempest had its rise from papers of the Virginia Company of which Bacon was a moving force (Walker, 2012). It is seemly more likely for a candidate to be highly considered when known to be associated with these many small circles. How else could one write about a Queen’s conflicts without firsthand knowledge of them? This is also more reason for Bacon to assume such a nom de plume; for the sake of escaping the wrath of a queen who was not inclined to the crude humor that is often associated with William Shakespeare. He wrote under such a veil, for the fear of being condemned for his writings whether they were about Queen Elizabeth, or the Essex circle.
However, Sir Francis Bacon did leave clues behind to hint us something. Many expressions and metaphors used by Bacon appear in Shakespeare’s plays, in scary similitude (Walker, 2012). For example, in Bacon’s, Essay of Friendship, he wrote “Men have their time, and die many times, in desire of some things which they principally take to heart.” (Bacon, 1599) The same philosophy was expressed in almost the exact way in the same year as Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, “Cowards die many times before their deaths.” (Shakespeare, 1599) Another parallel from Julius Caesar is, “There is a Tide in the affayres of men, Which taken at the flood leades on to Fortune.”(Shakespeare, 1599) Compared to what Bacon wrote in his De Augmentis, “In third place I set down reputation because of the peremptory tides and currents it hath, which if they be not taken in their due time are seldom recovered” (Bacon, 1612). These are only two of the endless list of incredible similarities that can be drawn from Francis Bacon’s philosophy and published essays and William Shakespeare’s plays (Walker, 2012).
Lastly, and perhaps the most intriguing aspect surrounding Francis Bacon’s claim to Shakespeare’s works is marks in symbols (Walker, 2012). The light “A”, dark “A” headpiece, most commonly known as a Masonic symbol that stands for Athena, was utilized by Bacon to mark the works that he produced (Walker, 2012). Bacon combined this Masonic symbol of the light “A” and the dark “A” along with his coat of arms to create an emblem that would identify the books with which Bacon had connections with (Walker, 2012). He used this emblem initially in 1577 until his death in 1626 when it disappeared completely (Walker, 2012). However, the list of books that bore Bacon’s unique emblem covers most of the notable books of the English literary renaissance including Shakespeare’s The Sonnets, First Folio 1623, and the Bible-King James Version (Walker, 2012).
Based on the overall research conducted concerning the plausibility of Sir Francis Bacon being the true author of the works of Shakespeare, I find that there is much evidence in support of him. Enough evidence to make him the most likely candidate, at the least, for there are simply too many similarities and thought-provoking letters surrounding the possibility that it cannot be ignored. In all trueness, there is much more evidence I would be inclined to present, however, for the sake of the paper and its requirements, I must refrain. I believe that the evidences above were the most necessary and foundational components of the Bacon Theory, thus I made them the priority of this paper. In future papers, of course, I may want to expand these proofs to broader horizons. Yet, as it stands, I see only one possible candidate for Shakespeare’s works who could not possibly be William Shakespeare, and that is Sir Francis Bacon.
Bacon, F. (1601) The essays. Retrieved from http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/texts/bacon/essays_contents.html
Buckingham et al. (2012). The philosophy book: big ideas simply explained. New York, NY: DK Publishing.
Craig et al. (2006). The heritage of world civilization. (9 ed., Vol. 1). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Klein, J. (2003, December 29). Francis bacon. Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/francis-bacon/
Mathews, N. (1999), Francis Bacon. The History of a Character Assassination, New Haven and London.
Pressely, J. (2012, February 5). The authorship debate. Retrieved from http://www.bardweb.net/debates.html
Shakespeare, W. (1994) The complete works of William Shakespeare. (1994 ed. Vol. 1). New York, NY. Barnes & Noble, Inc.
Walker, M. (2012, March 16). What evidence points to bacon as the author of shakespeares plays. Retrieved from http://www.sirbacon.org/matherevidence.htm
Glen Rix from UK on November 07, 2017:
As you say, the burden of proof rests with those who claim that Shakespeare did not write the plays. The thrust of their main argument appears to be that Shakespeare did not have a university education and therefore would not have had the depth of knowledge evident in the texts. I accept that as a member of a theatre company he may have been involved in a collaborative effort - the comic scene in AMSND in which Bottom attempts to direct the players is a clue to how WS perceived the process of staging a play. However, Ben Johnson’s tribute to Shakespeare in the frontispiece of the First Folio of Collected Works is good enough for me to believe that Will was the substantive writer.
Audrey Howitt from California on March 05, 2017:
Well argued--and well researched
FlourishAnyway from USA on December 23, 2016:
Well written and nicely argued. I have heard of this argument but never delved into the details. You did a fantastic job laying out your case.
Ted Bacino on December 20, 2016:
Questions about who actually wrote the works of Shakespeare have been surfacing for decades. However, this year the New Oxford Complete Works of Shakespeare credits Christopher Marlowe with some of the Shakespeare body of work.
Marlowe, England’s foremost playwright before Shakespeare, was supposedly murdered in 1593, just a few days before he was to be sentenced for treason. He was “immediately buried in an unmarked grave which hasn’t been found to this day.”
Some Shakespeare scholars believe that Marlowe faked his death and spent the rest of his life in hiding as William Shakespeare, an unknown actor who had never written anything before, suddenly appears on the scene writing these classic works.
After 1616, the year the actor died, 14 plays by “Shakespeare” continue to appear, leading some to believe that Marlowe actually outlived the Bard.
My novel, “The Shakespeare Conspiracy” by Ted Bacino, tells the story of Marlowe’s life in hiding as he continues to write. The last third of the book is a supplement detailing the actual facts pertaining to this theory.
The article “Dead Men Don’t Write Plays – Not Even Shakespeare” gives an overview of the New Oxford announcement.
The stage version of the novel has had successful productions in various U.S. cities. The web site is www.TheShakespereConspiracy.com.