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William Crawley | 19:00 UK time, Tuesday, 6 April 2010

talktalk.jpgI don't often post an open thread, but some of you tell me it's a good idea because it lets you get stuff off your chest without throwing the direction of other threads. It also permits you to make suggestions about subjects we might give some more substantial space to on Will & Testament. Let's see. Expatiate at will (sorry about the pun). Keep it legal. The house rules still apply.


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  • Comment number 1.

    I have noticed some contributors asking which of the Old Testament laws they are obliged to obey and which ones can be safely ignored. Observant Jews believe the 613 mitzvot (commandments) apply only to the Jews, and that Gentiles are covered by the Seven Laws of Noah.

  • Comment number 2.

    I am wondering about the Archbishop of Canterbury's position within the Church or Ireland, I have listened to him speak and find him an honorable man and a free thinker. I myself am a 28 years old Catholic however am disappointed with the state of the Catholic church at present. I respect Rowan Williams and would attend a church with him at its head. My understanding of the Church of Ireland's communion is one of a catholic/universal church. I am wondering how many attending the Church of Ireland would think as Rowan Williams and not like the (I apologize for the strength of this statement) sometimes absurd Evangelical's which are so commonly associated with Protestants in N. Ireland.

  • Comment number 3.

    Do followers of faith expect outsiders to respect their beliefs?

    #1 That is very interesting SG.


  • Comment number 4.

    Hi commonman - welcome to the blog. I am a liberal Anglo-Catholic member of the Church of Ireland so there is at least one who would broadly agree with Archbishop Rowan.

    The Church of Ireland is a wholly independent jurisdiction within the Anglican communion which has Rowan Williams as its head. That headship is a primacy of honour only, he has no authority whatsoever over any of the member chuches.

    The Anglican tradition values its Catholic heritage and sees itself as standing in the historic traditions of Apostolic faith which it addresses with a general (if sometimes slow) openness to new understandings which add to the richness of Christian experience. It would be fair to say that many Roman Catholics and Orthodox do not recognise the ordination of female and practising gay priests as authentic Catholic developments.

    You would generally find a greater predominance of a liberal and Catholic mindset in the Church of Ireland in the South than in the North but it certainly exists throughout the island.

    There is a huge diversity of both belief and practice to be found in the different parishes in Ireland - you will find some which are as Protestant, as reformed, as evangelical as anything you find even in Paisleyism - but (joy!) there are many others which are very different.

    I am definitely not in the business of proselytisation but if there are any questions you want to ask me go right ahead.

  • Comment number 5.

    Isn't it about time we made at least one human right a law? Lets feed the kids!!!

    Who'd be up for a Global Tax if it meant we could prevent children dying of starvation?

  • Comment number 6.


    I would. The only thing I would say is that rich countries can already afford to solve the problem.

    That we don't...

    Interestingly there are at least two OT laws/customs which sought to address the problem - gleaning, and jubilee.

  • Comment number 7.


    What a looney tunes idea! It's too simples! You don't expect politicians around the world to believe that a problem can actually be solved! And what about all those people, many of them Americans, who would complain about big government and yet more taxes. They'll tell us: "Let the spirit of free enterprise and charity feed the kids" (even though they haven't).

    I'm afraid your idea is a fantasy because in a mad world it's too obvious. It's like all those Shakespeare scholars who insist that William wrote the plays. Anyone who's a heretic is to them clearly a snob or mad, yet they believe the maddest thing of all: that you can acquire knowledge and learning without reading a book!

    BTW, William, I heard the item on the Book programme about Shapiro's book Contested Will. Not all heretics were/are American, as you suggested. Many were/are French, German, even Russian as well as Irish (me for one). Looney (pronounced Loney) was not, as you said, American: he was born in South Shields and taught in Gateshead.

    Not much balance in the discussion either. All three, including you, were orthodox. In fact, you went as far as to say that Shapiro's book ended the controversy. Total nonsense! The book hardly addresses the controversy at all and concentrates on psychoanalysing some of the heretics - hardly a convincing way to debate an issue. imagine dismissing religion on the grounds that all believers are nutcases!

  • Comment number 8.

  • Comment number 9.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 10.


    Is this some kind of competition between you and Graham?

  • Comment number 11.

    Brian, I don't want to enter again into a debate on the authorship of Shakespeare, but since the subject has been raised, eirenicist that I am, it strikes me this might be a wonderful opportunity for bridge-building between yourself and OT.

    There you both are, stentorian voices raised against a dismissive prevailing orthodoxy, amateur enthusiasts convinced of the rightness of your case contrary to the general consensus of a hostile professional establishment. You must have so much in common! Maybe it would be useful to share notes?

  • Comment number 12.

    Brian -- Thanks for your comments. My only regret is that we didn't include you in that discussion; that could have been fun. A slight correction: "BTW, William, I heard the item on the Book programme about Shapiro's book Contested Will. Not all heretics were/are American, as you suggested." -- I didn't suggest that they were *all* American. There are certainly non-American anti-Stratfordian scholars. On the question of balance, bear in mind that this was a 2-book review item, and when reviewers are selected for that kind of item, they are not vetted in advance of reading the book for their views on what the book claims. We thought it would be interesting to ask an actor and an artist to review two books about drama and art. I've enjoyed your review. And welcome to the blogosphere, Brian!

  • Comment number 13.


    Hmmmm. You’re not suggesting we’re BOTH wrong, are you? Your attempt to link OT and me as ‘strange bedfellows’ (The Tempest) is dubious. Which of OT's opinions are you thinking of?

    I think you’ll find that anyone with a modicum of intelligence has some opinion which is in a minority. We wouldn’t be up to much as freethinkers if we agreed with the experts all the time, would we?

    Only dead fish swim with the stream. Established traditions often inhibit free inquiry. Just look at the Catholic Church and the Inquisition.

    The orthodox tradition on Shakespeare is largely established by literary critics, who are the high priests of the Shakespeare myth. In any case, they are not necessarily the best judges of the matter (after all, if you take Shapiro’s view, you can’t infer the man from the works, which actually rules them out as authorities altogether, if you think about it, because their job is all about studying texts and making such inferences). Historians have often raised doubts. Hugh Trevor-Roper, whose speciality was the Renaissance, was a sceptic, as was Sir Arnold Toynbee.

    Literary critics often say that only an actor could have written the plays (completely wrong), yet an increasing number of actors doubt that one did, including Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Charlie Chaplin, Leslie Howard, Orson Welles, Sir John Gielgud, Derek Jacobi, Michael York, Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance. None of them thought (think) that William wrote Shakespeare, and they’re right. Chaplin wrote in his autobiography: “In the works of the greatest of geniuses humble beginnings will reveal themselves - but one cannot find the slightest sign of them in Shakespeare”. He concluded: "Whoever wrote them had an aristocratic attitude”. I think that’s basically correct.      


    I think the producer of the Book programme probably follows the predominant English assumption that heretics on this issue are cranks and the BBC shouldn’t ‘promote’ their opinion. This is the real snobbery (but, then, I think we in Ulster are often even more snobbish than the English).

    Shakespeare, whoever he was, said it all:

    “Man, proud man, dressed in a little brief authority,
    Most ignorant of what he’s most assured”.

  • Comment number 14.

    I see my post 8 has been reinstated so you can all read Brian's controversial views on the other Great Will!

  • Comment number 15.


    In the Book programme I think you did emphasise the American connection in regard to Shakespearean heresy and did refer to Looney as American. If this is meant to imply that many Americans have weird ideas about things in general, then I suggest this is the wrong explanation. Many of the heretics are non-English. I have a book by a Russian called Porohovshikov of Moscow University which is unorthodox. Among many arguments he presents are the fact the dramas display a superior amount of knowledge because the mastermind was clearly one of the best educated men of his time and they are overloaded with legal terms because he clearly studied law.

    A better explanation of the 'foreign' nature of much of the heresy is that non-English people can be more objective because they have not imbibed the English myth of the untutored country genius.

  • Comment number 16.

    Oh dears - my post was removed because the mods decided it could be construed as contempt of court (I respectfully disagree - it was fair comment and honest opinion, as now enshrined in law!)

    Anyway, it was to highlight the case for libel law reform, and to ask people to support the brave campaign by Simon Singh and others to promote free speech. The URL is http://libelreform.org

    It's odd - we have a post on this blog about some mopey-faced religiot claiming victimisation for wearing a crucifix, while a real proper writer and journalist is being sued for libel for voicing an opinion. I would like to reassure the moderators that NOTHING in this post or in my previous post is either sub judice or in contempt of court, but that the reaction in pulling my previous post precisely underlines the chilling effect that English libel laws have on free speech.

    Will, you should do a piece on Simon Singh.


    (and, Peter, I am not in competition with Graham, although we do seem to get sucked into these folies a deux...)

  • Comment number 17.

    Opps, Helio, I meant only to refer to the recent posts removed. Unless I'm now misunderstanding you after you not misunderstanding me which would mean that there was no misunderstanding for me to misunderstand, if you understand. :-)

  • Comment number 18.

    Brian, I agree that not all "heretical" authors on this question have been American. That's not challenged. You mention Porohovshikov, who argued that Roger Manners (the 5th Earl of Rutland) was the real Shakespeare, on the basis that Manners's life and chronology maps very neatly with key dates, etc., in connection with the plays. Manners has been defended by some other Russian analysts, and there are some remarkably curious overlaps in his life-story and the material we find in the plays (including place names, legal education, experience of life in Italy and Denmark, deep learning, etc). We also know that Manners had an interesting eccentricrity, in that he avoided attributions in respect of his own literary output. So, that is the case (very roughly). Is that your position on the authorship question?

  • Comment number 19.


    Agreed - very good news on Simon Singh. Very clear writer, I'm a big fan. And he's hardly noted for courting controversy. The very fact that he ended up in court is, frankily, frightening.

    "Private Eye" has been covering the case for some time. There are law firms who profit from the state of our libel laws, and frankly the whole thing gets a bit chilling.


  • Comment number 20.

    Brian - # 13

    "Let me not to the marriage of two minds Admit impediments".

    Actually - yes, I am suggesting you are both wrong! I am particularly thinking of OT's views on homosexuality. I am not talking about holding a minority opinion, rather about the fact that, in this instance, you both frame your arguments in an identical fashion.

    Similarity one - argument from authority, limiting authorities to those deemed relevant, presentation of one side of the argument as if it were conclusive.

    Example: list of actors only who support non-Shakespearean authorship when the recent Observer review piece on the book canvassed a broad selection of theatrical professionals and found opinion divided, a majority pro-Will, and obvious polemical reason for bias noted in the case of some of the antis.

    Similarity two - assertion - presentation of disputed matters as fact.

    Example: "the mastermind was clearly one of the best educated men of his time" - this is not clear at all! Only the shocking inadequacies of the modern education system could cause someone to think Shakespeare well-educated. He displays no more classical learning than one would expect from an average education of the time and access to a good compendium of Greek and Roman stories (many of which were available). Look at the opinion of the Cambridge-educated Milton, a lesser poet but a truly learned man, he speaks affectionately, if dismissively, of Shakespeare's stage work as "native wood-notes wild".

    Similarity three - exaggerating significance of data by omission of contra-indicators.

    Example: "they [the plays] are overloaded with legal terms because he clearly studied law" - one could just as convincingly argue on the basis that he was a farmer, or a soldier, or a merchant, or indeed, an actor.

    What really infuriated me though was that horribly snobbish little quotation from Chaplin. He wasn't himself an aristocrat, he wasn't a sixteenth century aristocrat, he simply would not know. He betrays his own social insecurity. Shakespeare was a prodigious genius whose talent transcended the limits of his background and is thus an inspiration to all humanity.

    "Ye gods, it doth amaze me
    A man of such a feeble temper should
    So get the start of the majestic world
    And bear the palm alone

  • Comment number 21.


    1. I nowhere stated that the majority actors are heretics. I am quite sure most are orthodox and I am also quite sure that most of them haven’t thought much about the issue. My point was simply that some actors dispute the orthodox view, including 3 well known modern ones. The point is this. Here’s an example of what you are up against if you are a heretic. A.L. Rowse: “Anyone who cannot see that the author of the plays was an actor must be a great fool”. Now, I would never say: anyone who thinks that the author WAS an actor must be a great fool”. This is just abuse, not argument.

    What I would say to you is this: the length of some of the plays, the frequent scene changes in many of them, the absence of adequate stage directions, the long monologues that depart from the interrelationship of orthodox drama, the sparsity of action, the use of characters as vehicles for ideas all argue against an actor as author and suggest that Rowse’s dismissal is somewhat cursory, to say the least. Maybe the issue should be addressed, rather than personal abuse hurled.

    2. “The native wood-notes wild”.This of course is way off the mark. Shakespeare does not ‘warble’ about banks and braes; he does not write sonnets to nightingales or odes to skylarks, he neglects to mention woodpeckers in the wood, squirrels in the trees or fish rising from streams. If his plays have rural settings, as in ‘As You Like It’, they are fantastical, not realistic. The more usual settings are: faraway places, the courts,gardens and castles of kings, princes and the nobility, and London, the Tower and Windsor. There is no indication whatsoever of Shakespeare having observed the habits of birds, insects and rural animals. Not only is there no Stratford colour in the works, but there is a lack of dialect from the area. Indeed, there is no mention of the town at all. The forest of Arden in AYLI is based on the forest of Ardenne as told in Lodge’s novel Rosalynde. Inanimate nature is described from the perspective of a city or suburban, not a rural background. Animals are generally the beasts of the chase: boar, deer and hare (e.g. Venus and Adonis, which describes a boar hunt and a hare hunt). Flowers are from gardens, not fields.

    3. On learning in general, the 18th century writer Upton got it right: “I have often wondered with what kind of reasoning anyone could be so far imposed on as to imagine that Shakespeare had no learning, when it must at the same time be acknowledged that, without learning, he cannot be read with any degree of understanding or taste”. He uses a host of Latin authors, often in the original not in translation. He frequently uses latinisms. He uses Italian and French sources, also often in the original. In fact, he uses hundreds of books as sources for his plays, yet the 19th biographer Haliwell-Phillipps tells us that whether William ‘ever owned a book in his life is exceedingly improbable’. Ye gods! Since there is TOO much learning in Shakespeare, including 15-20,000 words (Milton has only 7,000), for one man, it is not only probable that the mastermind was very cultured but also likely that there were many other pens involved in the writing of at least the original scripts.

    4. On legal knowledge, many famous lawyers have been heretics precisely because they are aware of the legal intimacy of the mastermind. This was pointed as long ago as 1790 by the orthodox scholar Malone. In 1902 Judge Webb of TCD wrote: “If anything is certain in regard to the sonnets, the poems and the plays, it is certain that the author was a lawyer”. In 2000 in ‘Shakespeare’s Legal Language’ Sokal and Sokal write: It is our view, derived from cumulative evidence, that...Shakespeare shows a quite precise and mainly serious interest in the capacity of legal language to convey matters of social, moral and intellectual substance”.

    5. Charlie Chaplin, like myself, came from a working class background (he spent some time in the workhouse). It is precisely because of our humble origins that we know how difficult it is to acquire a lot of learning and knowledge. This is hardly snobbery but the reverse: realism. Of course, the mastermind was a genius and had a great imagination, but genius will not furnish anybody with a vocabulary or knowledge in general. This has to be learned. This is Chaplin’s point. The knowledge that Shakespeare showed of the nobility, of the order of precedence at a coronation, of the machinations of the court, his interest in kings, queens, lords etc, his easy movement in the give and take of social intercourse among the aristocracy are signs of someone born and bred close to the court. Enoch Powell, who was also a heretic, put it like this. The works, he said, are written by someone “who has been part of a life of politics and power, who knows what people feel when they are near to the centre of power, near to the heat of the kitchen. It’s not something which can be transferred; it’s not something on which an author, just an author, can be briefed: ‘Oh, this is how it happened’; it comes straight out of experience - straight out of personal observation”. Precisely. And that is not William of Stratford, nor ever was.

  • Comment number 22.


    I was not concerned with pointing to Porohovshikov’s chosen candidate but merely to cite him as an example of a non-American heretic. I favour Sir Greenwood’s position that there were many pens but one mastermind but would suggest that the mastermind was Francis Bacon. I think Henslowe’s Diary gives an indication of the truth. Let me explain why.

    No theatre owner or manager of the day records ever having received a play from William of Stratford. Two of the most notable have left us written documentation of their careers. Philip Henslowe and Edward Alleyn, Henslowe's stepson, were partners in the ownership of a number of theatres, including The Rose which, according to Sidney Lee, "was doubtless the earliest scene of Shakespeare's pronounced success alike as actor and dramatist" (it features in Shakespeape in Love, where Henslowe isplayed by Geoffrey Rush). Haliwell-Phillipps even suggests that in the early years Shakespeare wrote all his plays for Henslowe's theatres. Both Henslowe and Alleyn kept papers in which they noted the names of every notable actor, poet and dramatist of the day and payments to them, yet the name of Shakespeare or Shakspere is absent. Henslowe kept a diary, discovered by Malone in Dulwich College (founded by Alleyn) about 1790, in which he set down the sums that he paid to various authors for their works. The names of nearly all the contemporary dramatists appear in it, including Drayton, Jonson, Dekker, Chettle, Marston, Wilson, Monday, Heywood, Middleton, Porter, Hathaway, Rankins, Webster, Day, Rowley and Haughton. Some of the entries, with their signatures, are actually written by the playwrights themselves, presumably in order to save Henslowe the trouble.

    The absence of Shakespeare is puzzling for at least two reasons. First, Henslowe would have recognised his talent and would have employed him like all the others. The second reason is that Henslowe did purchase some of the Shakespeare plays, even though the playwright is not named, because they are entered in the diary. Thus an entry for 23rd January 1594 reads: "R'd at 'titus and andronicus'". Henslowe was a bad speller, but this is plainly Titus Andronicus. Again, for 6th April 1594 we read: "Re'd at King Leare". Yet again, Henry V was acted for the first time in the theatre on 14th May 1592. It was very popular, being acted nine times in the winter of 1595-6. The diary also shows that Henry VI was acted for the first time in the theatre on 3rd March 1592. Another entry for 11th June 1594 records: "R'd at the tamynge of a Shrewe ixs" (9 shillings). Again, the play called by Henslowe 'Burone' and also 'Berowne' is probably Love's Labour's Lost, and 'Richard the Confessor', bought by Henslowe on 31st December 1593, seems to be Richard III. Hamlet is entered in 1594 and Troilus and Cressida in 1600. Here, then, are at least 7 and probably 9 plays by Shakespeare bought by Philip Henslowe, but Shakespeare's name is never mentioned in connection with any payment for them. It is difficult to understand how he could have obtained these plays from William, by all accounts a tight-fisted individual (see Ungentle Shakespeare by Katherine Duncan-Jones), without having paid him.

    Henslowe, it must be stressed, was a willing employer who recognised talent when he saw it. This is clearly seen in his diary. Drayton, Wilson, Monday and Hathaway received from him a monetary gift for one play in addition to their pay, as did John Day and Thomas Dekker for one of their efforts. So Shakespeare's talents and ability would surely have been appreciated by Henslowe. Why, then, did he not record having paid the author?

    The strange mystery presented by the omission of Shakespeare from Henslowe's diary has forced Stratfordians to suggest that these nine plays were earlier works which were not written by Shakespeare at all. This bizarre conclusion is unnecessary, for there is no reason to assume other than that they were the Shakespeare plays, or at least early drafts of them. In any case, it is absurd to suggest that Henslowe obtained inferior plays from other writers when Shakespeare was available. And if Shakespeare did write plays for Henslowe, what are they if not these? If they were earlier plays, they cannot have been much earlier than the Shakespeare works, because Henslowe often wrote "ne" in the outer margin if a play was new, and he did so in the case of, for example, Henry VI in 1592 and Titus Andronicus in 1594.

    There is a further mystery about Henslowe's Diary, namely that it records plays which were published under the name of Shakespeare but which were not in fact written by him. A case in point is Sir John Oldcastle, one of the nine extant 'false' plays noted earlier. The Diary informs us that it was written in 1599 by Monday, Drayton, Wilson and Hathaway. A later entry makes it clear that Dekker made additions in1602. Yet the published text went under the name of Shakespeare. There is a simple explanation, and it is that this name was known by whoever was responsible for publishing the play as a mask name which could be used for financial advantage without fear of comeback from the real author.

    Consider one more example from this Diary - the case of Troilus and Cressida. Here Henslowe does name authors. On page 147 he notes: "Lent unto Thomas Dounton, to lende unto Mr Dickers and Harey Cheattell, in earnest of ther booke called Troyelles and Cresseda the some of 3 pounds Aprell 7 day 1599" (1600). Later, he writes: "Lent unto Harey Cheattell and Mr Dickers, in prte of payment of ther booke called Troyelles and Cresseda the 16 of Aprell 1599, xxs". Now, this play was entered in the Stationer's Register a few years later: "7 Feb 1602-3, Mr Roberts the booke of Troilus and Cressida, as yt is acted by my lo Chamberlins men". In 1609 the play was eventually published under the name of William Shakespeare. The frequent claim that the Troilus and Cressida of Thomas Dekker and Henry Chettle must be a rival play and not that of Shakespeare is a totally unwarranted assumption. If we examine the Shakespeare play, we shall discover at least three different styles. The oaths, exclamations and ejaculations were commonly used by Dekker and Chettle in other works. Dekker, as parodied by Jonson in The Poetaster, was renowned for his use of big, clumsy words and abusive phrases and the play has plenty of them. Yet there is also a solid philosophical input, and this case does support the view that 'Shakespeare' was at least partly a mask name for a reviser or polisher of other writers' works. And when a play was dressed up and revised, by Shakespeare or whoever, it was sometimes felt justified in using the Shakespeare name because it was widely known in that capacity.

    So what Henslowe’s Diary and in particular the case of ‘Troilus and Cressida’ suggests is that in the case of many ‘Shakespeare’ works, an unknown mastermind often took works written for the stage by professional playwrights and transformed them by the magic of his genius into the works of ‘Shakespeare’. Bacon fits as the mastermind because the philosophical input is precisely the kind of stuff he wrote.

  • Comment number 23.

    Brian - # 21 (Have to be brief)

    1. My point was on how you framed your argument. You did not state, I agree, that the majority of actors are heretical but you did not contextualise as not necessarily representative those you did cite. Similar points about difficulty might be made about Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov - are you suggesting they were neither of them pianists?

    2. Milton was not saying that Shakespeare's plays were pastoral he was suggesting that the author's origins were not far off country-bumpkin. The plays are full of Warwickshire dialect, the article I mentioned notes that Banquo is described as "blood bolter'd" (having his hair matted with blood), and states that in Warwickshire snow is still sometimes said to balter on horses' feet. Trevor Nunn suspects Bacon or Oxford would have been unlikely to have been aware of the brilliant detail of the problems caused in the lower class of tavern by fleas breeding in the corners where men have been pi**ing; he goes on to relate the encounter of a RSC actor with two hedge setters in Warwickshire cutting stakes, asked what they did, the first replied "Well I rough hews 'em, and 'ee shapes their ends".

    3. Shakespeare, by his own admission, had a good basic education for his time - I nowhere suggested he had no education - it wasn't education which doubled Milton's word usage, that would scarcely been possible, it was genius - and genius, whatever forms it takes, does not inhabit committees!

    4. He had a lot of legal knowledge - admitted. He had a lot of agricultural knowledge, was he a farmer? He had a lot of military knowledge, was he a soldier? He had a lot of theoretical knowledge about acting - by this line of argument he must have been an actor. How did he get the time? He had a lot of knowledge about everything - the sign of a truly enquiring and acquisitive mind.

    5. It is Shakespeare's genius that he understood everybody, every stratum of society from top to bottom, every personality type, every profession. He understood clinically. That kind of understanding does not come from being an insider it is the peculiar insight of the perpetual outsider.

  • Comment number 24.


    Let’s cut the waffle and stick to the evidence.

    For the moment I shall confine myself to the first point, that only an actor could have written the plays and that to fail to see this is to ‘a great fool’.

    The evidence points to a different conclusion. I listed a number of difficulties with the view in my last posting in reply to you. Let me elaborate further.

    1. Consider what Charles Lamb wrote: “It may seem a paradox, but I cannot help being of opinion that the plays of Shakespeare are less calculated for performance on a stage, than those of almost any other dramatistt whatever. Their distinguishing excellence is a reason that they should be so. There is so much in them, which comes not under the province of actiong, with which eye, and tone, and gesture, have nothing to do”.

    Indeed, isn’t that why precisely Shakespeare is studied in every school on the planet? There is so much in the works that has nothing to do with the stage and everything to do with the mind. Shakespeare is the great educator and deliberately so (“he seems to shake a lance as brandish’d at the eyes of ignorance” - Ben Jonson).

    2. Lamb continues by saying that the characters are the objects of meditation rather than of interest or curiosity as to their actions. So with the great criminal characters such as Macbeth, Richard and Iago, we think not so much of the crimes which they commit as of the ambition and intellectual activity which prompts them to overleap these moral fences. But when we see those things represented, the acts which they do are almost everything, their impulses nothing. Lamb even argues that King Lear cannot be acted: “On the stage we see nothing but corporal infirmities and weakness, the impotence of Lear. While we read it, we do not see Lear, but we are Lear”. He ends by saying: “Lear is essentially impossible to be represented on a stage”.

    3. Consider what Swinburne wrote of the second quarto and folio Hamlets:

    “Scene by scene, line for line, stroke upon stroke, and touch after touch, he went over all the old laboured ground again; and not to ensure success in his own day, and fill his pockets with contemporary pence, but merely and wholly with a purpose to make it worthy of himself and his future students.

    Not one single alteration in the whole play can possibly have been made with a view to stage effect or to present popularity and profit.....Every change in the text of Hamlet has impaired its fitness for the stage, and increased its value for the closet in exact proportion. Now, this is not a matter of opinion--of Mr. Pope's opinion or Mr.Carlyle's; it is a matter of fact and evidence. Even in Shakespeare's time the actors threw out his additions; they throw out these very same additions our own time”.

    In the Folio edition the normal two hours traffic of the stage becomes four hours! What was an actor trying to do there? Was this full Hamlet performed at any time in the 17th century? Or much since?

    4. Swinburne’s view was similar to Coleridge’s, that Shakespeare was ‘no mere child of nature, no automaton of genius, no passive vehicle of inspiration possessed by the spirit, not possessing it; first studied patiently, then meditated deeply, understood deeply, till knowledge became habitual and intuitive”.

    5. Antony and Cleopatra has no fewer than 42 scenes (one of ten lines being followed by one of five!) The action shiftys swiftly between Rome, Egypt, Athens and elsewhere. Did a professional playwright write that? There is no record of its having been performed, which is hardly surprising. The longer plays that were performed in the public theatres were all drastically cut, a practice that has prevailed ever since.

    6. The ‘last romances’ like ‘The Tempest’ and ‘The Winter’s Tale’ are cannot be called plays in the conventional sense, being basically fantasies that have been staged with only mixed success.

    7. How many of the other Elizabethan dramatists were actors? Heywood was. Name another. Name another actor who not only wrote plays but two epic poems and 150 sonnets.

    8. Strangely, or not, there are far more allusions to the stage and acting in Francis Bacon's prose works than there are in Shakespeare!

  • Comment number 25.


    I will reply to you on the other points you made if you wish, but here's a thought on your comparison of my ratiocination with OT's, and a way in which my thinking is light years away from his. Surely it is more reasonable to argue that I am being perfectly consistent and rational in debunking both religious belief and the Stratfordian myth.

    1. Both set up fantastical gods who perform miracles that defy the laws of nature.
    2. Both have high priests who defend the faith by ridiculing sceptics: "the fool hath said in his heart there is no god.... anyone who cannot see that the author of the plays was an actor must be a great fool".
    3. Both have sacred texts full of improbable events: Bibles, Korans, Torahs on the one hand, Shakespeare biographies on the other.
    4. Both punish doubters: Inquisition, Sharia law, on the one hand, no university posts or publicity for heretics on the other.
    5. Both present the improbable as if it were obvious common sense: raising from the dead, walking on water on the one hand or quoting hundreds of literary sources without owning a book or showing an intimate knowledge of the law without having studied it.

  • Comment number 26.


    I want to deal with the colossal joke that the plays are ‘full of Warwickshire dialect’. In the Observer article to which you refer Robert McCrum (who has a bee in his bonnet about the topic because he can never resist referring to it, always in sneering tones) writes: “Warwickshire words are scattered through his lines, like poppies in a wheat field. When, in Macbeth, Banquo is described as ‘blood bolter'd’ (having his hair matted with blood), it is not difficult to imagine Shakespeare remembering that in Warwickshire snow is sometimes said to balter on horses' feet”. Bolter or balter is Scandinavian in origin, and there is no evidence that it is a specifically Warwickshire word.

    But, first of all, let me repeat my position. I do not think one man wrote all of Shakespeare. There are too many words and too wide a range of knowledge in the works. Remember too that there are 5 mentioned plays with the name Shakespeare on their title page, so clearly even the orthodox don’t believe Shakespeare wrote all of Shakespeare. Moreover, the entries in Henslowe’s Diary of some of these ‘Shakespeare’ titles with other playwrights’ names as their authors could indicate that they were indicate the original writers and that ‘Shakespeare’, whoever he was, dresse them up for publication. Theoretically, this allows even William of Stratford as the dresser, though that is in my view highly improbable. Anyway, the point is that in all probability there are many words in Shakespeare put there by many people. There were scores of playwrights in Elizabethan times from all over the country, and dialect words from many areas have been detected in the texts. Leicestershire dialect has been detected (Earl of Oxford came from that area), Yes, certainly, Warwickshire words have been detected (Michael Drayton came from there, as well as William) and Sussex dialect too (John Fletcher came from Sussex).

    But McCrum’s statement that Warwickshire words are scattered like poppies in a wheat field is a monumental exaggeration. Our knowledge of regional dialects in those times is pretty flimsy. The general usage in Shakespeare is clear and is stated in Helge Kokeritz: 'Shakespeare’s Pronunciation': “We have a few rhymes that seem to be dialectical, but again we cannot be absolutely certain that the pronunciation implied could not have been heard also in London”. Kokeritz concludes: “His own speech appears virtually indistinguishable from the general pattern of good colloquial English then spoken in London”.

    Miracle of miracles! The butcher’s boy even learned that in a flash, as a hen drops an egg! Oh, what a genius that man was!

    I repeat the point about Stratford. It is NEVER mentioned anywhere, whereas St Albans, Francis Bacon’s country home, is mentioned 17 times in the canon. Perhaps Mr McCrum can explain why that place is scattered through the lines, like poppies in a wheat field, whereas no trace Straford-Upon-Avon is to be found anywhere, not only the town but none oif its inhabitants get a mention as far as we know. William obviously did’t think much of the place while he was writing plays, but preferred to live there as a small town tradesman in later years hoarding corn and malt and leaving his plates and bowls to friends and his second-best bed (but no books or manuscripts) to his wife.

  • Comment number 27.

    Paragraph 2, third line, the '5' should be '51'.

  • Comment number 28.

    Actually I think that it isn't at all surprising that a man who doubts the existence of the Historical Jesus could doubt the existence of Shakespeare(-;

    That's a joke. I think this is a really enjoyable debate. I think that you guys might be taking it a bit *too* seriously.

    One interesting point. The meaning of the *texts* obviously does not turn on our knowledge of the inner psychological states, political views or social status of Shakespeare. We don't need knowledge of the Historical Shakespeare to gain knowledge of the meaning of the text.

    In other words, texts can take on meaning independently of author's purposes.


  • Comment number 29.

    Chappies, pseudobards and all that aside (and listen up, Will!), did anyone catch "Beautiful Minds" on BBC4 the other night? It's a documentary about great scientists, and the first was Northern Ireland's own Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, the discoverer of pulsars. The show concentrated on the nature of the scientific enterprise, which she describes (helpfully IMHO) as a "search for understanding" rather than a "search for truth" - an explicit affirmation that we never really have the whole picture, and that sometimes (like a Rubik's cube) we need to mess things up a bit before we can put it together again in a better way. She is a Quaker, an explicitly free-thinking denomination for whom I have a fair degree of respect, and she makes a connection between that and her own scientific mindset.

    Well worth a watch - it's on BBC iPlayer.

    Will, you should get her on SunSeq and write a post about her on the blog. NI doesn't have that many scientists who have had a profound effect on our understanding of the universe - there are Lord Kelvin, John Stuart Bell and Jocelyn Bell Burnell herself, but I can't think of many others in the physics realm.


  • Comment number 30.


    You make an interesting point. I think it is precisely one of the reasons for anonymity or allonymity in the case of the works of ‘Shakespeare’. The mask of an actor, I think, was used for a number of reasons (writers were imprisoned or hand their cut off for what they wrote in Elizabethan times; there was a ‘stigma of print’ about published poetry and plays; intellectiual freedom; the actor could be a go-between, etc).

    But there could be another reason, which relates to the impersonality theory of art. The mask was worn to protect the masterpieces from facile judgment on the basis of superficial knowledge of the mastermind; in short, to ensure their immortality. Biography can restrict art and denude it of its potentiality for multiplicity of meaning. The inner life of the mind is more complex and comprehensive than our words and actions usually indicate.

    And since we know so little about the mind of William, perhaps because there is so little to know, we are, to some extent, free to interpret the plays as we like. We add our own thoughts to the thoughts of the author and together we create and recreate the work so that it does indeed remain potent 'for all time'. Art is thus expanded and opened out, as we ourselves know more and understand more, not confined and restricted, as it might be if we interpreted it in relation to the known thoughts of the author.

    But, wait. That is PRECISELY what has happened in the case of ‘Shakespeare’, the greatest writer the world has ever seen. The text has taken on meaning independently of the author’s purpose. But, Graham, what if that was exactly what the mastermind intended? In other words, what if the Shakespeare mastermind deliberately created this very myth so that his art would be immortalised like no other? And what if close friends at the time recognised the extraordinary nature of that genius and protected it with their silence?

    Look at the time, and it is obvious who that mastermind was. Only one man qualifies. Only one man had the combination of philosophical outlook, psychological insight and unparalleled expressive power. Bacon was Shakespeare because only he qualifies and the works fulfiul his stated educational purpose. Hilliard did a miniature portrait of him at the age of 18. Around the top he wrote in Latin: “If only one could paint his mind”. But we have all painted that mind ever since, every time we study and interpret the plays. He himself started the ball rolling, through the ‘myth’ of Shakespeare and we have continued it ever since. We are fulfilling his very purpose.

  • Comment number 31.


    You make a very interesting case. I have to say I was surprised at how little we know about Shakespeare independently of the works.

    I'm not sure that I'm sold on Francis Bacon - by it's very nature that hypothesis would be very difficult to prove - but you present very interesting evidence that would suggest that the plays were the work of more than one individual.

    Is there any chance that Shakespeare (or another party)could have been an organising genius? Been able to bring different writers together, coordinate their work, seek input from court insiders?

    Or am I just up too late?

    In any case thanks for an interesting and entertaining introduction to the debate - (and to Parr for being your foil)


  • Comment number 32.

    Graham you will be aware from other exchanges that I regard authorship as being of no relevance whatever to the plays and poetry - it is purely a curiosity. I take a strong position on the issue though, because I hate the multi-layered snobbery which is at the root of those who contest Shakespeare's authorship. It is snobbery about birth, education, culture, position, even location. It is small minded snobbery because it denies genius to the humble and, moreover, as it would limit the scope of genius itself, it denies the fullness and greatness of human potential. I would go so far as to say that Brian's reading of Shakespeare is in its essence anti-Humanist. It is one of the most delightful ironies in all of human existence that probably the most sublime works of literature in any language were produced essentially as pot-boilers - their worth is an accident of genius.

    I do not happen to think that only a fool could hold anti-Stratfordian views, monumental perversity has also to be considered a possibility.

    Let me address one of two of the issues Brian raises in post # 24 only for now.

    I am not sure what was your point in quoting the opinion of a couple of mediocre Victorian hack writers as if they were some sort of gospel - their ideas were of their time, class-outlook, and probable personal inadequacy. Their views are nonsense, and nonsense from a named source is still nonsense.

    The plays were designed by a dramatist for performance, there have been many great Lears, great Hamlets and they make the text live. It is ridiculous to say that the roles cannot be realised. Give me a performance over a read any day.

    Are you suggesting that the Iliad and the Odyssey have no verbal or philosophical density? They were designed for aural consumption. The original audience of Shakespeare's plays would have been used to listening to the Homilies designed to be read in churches, or the sermons of Lancelot Andrewes and John Donne - those whose concentration has been reduced to a level where the only oral communication which can be apprehended is the sound-bite should not project modern incapacity back to a very different past.

    Things like multiple scenes would not have been a problem when there was no scenery to shift, when the background was realised in the viewer's mind. I rather think the example you quoted from Anthony and Cleopatra argues against authorship by a classical scholar - what greater departure from the classical unities could be imagined?

    I am not sure what your points are in 6, 7 and 8. Fallacious, strange, illogical, reasoning - I am tempted to check the moon phase when you were writing. I should note that I have certainly seen at least one memorable and great production of The Tempest.

  • Comment number 33.


    Careful. Your hackles are rising. Don’t get too carried away. That way madness lies.

    1. The Play’s the thing

    Oh, I see. A Christian who thinks truth doesn’t matter!!! Okay, maybe the Gospels were written by a quartet of Dead Sea hacks (or lunatics). It doesn’t matter. It’s only a curiosity. Actually, this is another ploy to silence heretics.

    You are saying that our possession of the masterpieces is what counts - 'the play's the thing'. Let 'Shakespeare' stand for the writer, whoever he was. But in context the play was the thing wherein Hamlet would 'catch the conscience of the King'. The play performed before Claudius had an external purpose and did not exist merely for its own sake. In other words, it matters who wrote the plays partly because it is worth understanding why, if it happened, a disguise was believed to be necessary in the first place. We need to discover the author's motives for concealing his identity, if indeed that is what he did.

    Justice also matters. The man who is generally acknowledged as the greatest poet, dramatist and humanitarian in the history of the world's literature deserves more than a shrugging indifference about his identity. If he did find it necessary to hide himself behind a mask, then we owe a debt of gratitude to his memory by establishing the truth and giving praise where it is due. Even if he wished to remain unknown for all eternity, that is no reason for us to acquiesce in his self-effacement. Praise where it is due should be given, not withheld, however modest the benefactor.
    More generally, the attitude that it doesn't matter implies that we might as well go blindfold through the whole field of literary history. Doesn't biography and social circumstance help us to understand art? It is true, and Ihave argued as much above, that superficial biography can restrict art. Nevertheless, while Shakespeare is still universally regarded as civilisation's greatest poet, the force and significance of his art is being increasingly reduced by the effort of making it cohere, however remotely, with the mundane and mercenary life of the man from Stratford. There is certainly often a gulf between Art and Life, but it is not that wide. The futile and self-defeating attempt to bring William's life within planetary space of the mind of Shakespeare has greatly simplified and distorted the extraordinary genius behind the works. The recent biographies by the likes of Greenblatt and Ackroyd are classic examples of this increasing reductionism. Artistic truth is therefore, at least in this case, dependent on factual truth and the real author deserves to be rescued from the false identification. We must discover the man in order to rediscover his art: as Prospero pleads, our indulgence must set him free.

    But, Parrhosios, why stop at literary biography? Does it matter who anyone was? Does history itself matter? Can facts be ignored? Is truth unimportant? Does anything matter? Curiously, the argument that it doesn't matter who wrote the works is often advanced by scholars, some of whom get very worked up about the true identity of the Dark Lady and whether or not Shakespeare was gay, but who fail to be aroused by the bigger question. Yet what is scholarship if not the 'disinterested pursuit of truth'? Is it not a denial of their whole function, a gross dereliction of their basic duty, a betrayal of their whole profession, to say that the authorship of Shakespeare doesn't matter?

    2. Alas, poor Coleridge, Lamb and Swinburne

    To describe the above three great writers as Victorian hacks as somehat harsh. Frankly, give me them and their insights into Shakespeare any time in preference to the likes of Robert McCrum and James Shapiro.

    3. All the world’s a stage

    I didn’t mean to imply that Shkespeare cannot be successfuly performed on stage, and I wouldn’t for one moment deny that there have been great performances of some of the more ‘difficult’ plays. However, they have been the exception rather than the rule. There has been the odd successful Tempest, but the majority fail. And Hamlet has only succeeded on the stage by being chopped in two.

    As I have suggested, I think many of them were indeed written specifically for the stage, but they were added to, embellished and dressed up for publication by a man of great intellect, and that comes out particularly in the tragedies and romances which ARE difficult, though not impossible, to stage.

    4. Caviare to the general

    Only 5 per cent of the population in Shakespeare’s time were literate. In many ways, the published works were like ‘pearls before swine’ and much in them would not have been understood. Hence the performed plays were much shorter than the published texts. Now this is not a question of denied ‘genius’ to the humble as you put it. I am humble and amn a genius, don’t you know! It’s a question of denying to a man born of illiterate parents, in a small provincial town, leaving school at an early (assuming he went to one at all, being a butcher’s/glover’s apprentice, married at 18 fleess from his wife and children at about 22, seeks his fortune in London, has no books in his possession, etc) intimate friendship with nobility, intimate knowledge of court life, of the legal system, of classical learning and philosophy, and writing in 1593 a poem (Venus and Adonis) imbued with the most elegant verses the age had produced and with the spirit of the highest culture of that age. There is frankly too big a gap here, and it has nothing to do with genius.

  • Comment number 34.


    Genius, wonderful though it is, nevertheless is not independent of the law of causation, and its possibilities do not transcend all natural laws, but are necessarily limited by the facts of education, knowledge and environment. In short, genius alone will not make a Shakespeare. The evidence of the works themselves is unmistakably that that requires, from the beginning of his career, a high degree of education and culture, of knowledge of human life, especially the court, and an intimacy with the law.

    Here’s an elementary matter that I have always found puzzling. It proves that genius cannot defy natural laws. For even if William were the genius that is said of him, not even he could solve the physical logistics of the massive Shakespeare library. Traces of hundreds of books have been found in the published plays. Where did William keep them? From the public records office and other sources, we can see that from 1597 to the early 1600s William shared his living between Stratford and London. Did he hoik all these books with him on his journeys back and forth?

    Take Plautus as just one author. As long ago as 1904, Churton Collins, a perfectly orthodox scholar, wrote: “It is probable almost to certainty that Shakespeare must have read Plautus in the original”. Where did he get it in Stratford? According to Haliwell-Phillipps, there were certainly no more than two or three dozen books in the whole town. We have to presume that,supposing the myth were true and that William did write Shakespeare, that he acquired most of his books in London. According to Aubrey, his early years were spent in Shoreditch. By the mid 1590s he had moved to St Helen’s, Bishopsgate. Then in 1597 he bought New Place in Stratford, so presumably he brought the books back from his digs in Bishopsgate on the north side of the Thames. In 1598 he is still in Stratford and on 4th February is on a list of hoarders. He is named as having illegally held 10 quarters of malt or corn during a famine. By 1599, however, he is back in London and recorded as a tax defaulter in Southwark, on the Surrey bankside. By about1603 he had moved to Silver Street, Cripplegate, in the city. So in this period he moved from lodgings in Shoreditch, to Bishopsgate to Stratford town, then to Southwark, and then to Cripplegate. Are we to assume that his substantial library went with him on all his travels?

  • Comment number 35.

    Dear All
    Sorry to break in on such wonderful stuff but I just had a thought today about the Presbyterian Mutual. I see that the Presbyterian Church is willing to put some money into a fund for those unfortunate enough to have lost substantially.
    I wonder would those who were involved in the run on the Society and who were able to get 100pence in the £ out like to contribute to those who stayed with the ship and will only get 12p or perhaps a little more.

  • Comment number 36.

    Brian - forgive the tetchiness - I went to a rugby breakfast on Saturday morning and didn't leave the Club until near midnight. Let us say it was a day of potations pottle deep. The wonder is that I managed a contribution on Sunday at all.

    I do consider myself an orthodox Christian, if only in the etymologically correct use of the term, but I do not think it matters a jot who wrote/compiled/edited/whatever the gospels. 

    I do not expect you to retain a verbatim memory of all of my posts but, if you looked at # 51 on the 36 Arguments for the Existence of God thread, you will see that I do not particularly value truth. You might also deduce from # 20 in the Hugo, we love you! thread that I am similarly unconcerned with history.

    However, to return to the bard and your specific points, first he lived in an age when translations of Latin texts were becoming more common and probably had access to cribs of one kind or another. I don't doubt but that he knew Plautus and similiar lower brow classical authors in some form. I cannot conceive, though, that the author of the plays we know had a full traditional classical education: the structural and formal concerns, the high seriousness, the consistency of mood which mark the works of the great Greek tragedians are wholly absent in Shakespeare, an absence of a kind which speaks of ignorance rather than conscious transformation. He exhibits a freedom in his treatment of structure and theme which comes from a knowledge of Roman crowd-pleasers and but scant aquaintance with serious classical critical theory.

    Then as to his access to books and libraries, the answer is surely in the poem to which to refer: Venus and Adonis. I do not think Shakespeare's sexuality matters, if pressed I would say he was probably bi-capable, but I think it highly likely that an ambitious, talented, young provincial in a somewhat louche occupation, coming to London and seeking to advance his career, would have fluttered his eyelashes at any susceptible benefactors. I think there is the strongest case for thinking he probably slept his way around some of the best private libraries in London.

    Look at the poem - it is impossible not to read it as a homosexual text. Is it because it is a love that dare not speak its name that "They that love best their loves shall not enjoy"? We can certainly see the appeal the work would have to a roué aristocrat - a beautiful young man is saying he'd rather spear a boar than dally with the most beautiful of women. The poem is a fantasy feeder of the first order, Will knew how to lead men as well as women up the garden path - and we can be sure from the results that he was after their books as well as their baubles! If you contest my reading explain these lines:
    "He ran upon the boar with his sharp spear,
    Who did not whet his teeth at him again,
    But by a kiss thought to persuade him there;
    And nuzzling in his flank, the loving swine
    Sheathed unaware the tusk in his soft groin

  • Comment number 37.


  • Comment number 38.


    I absolve you, though not in the Amon Goeth manner. I know that butterflies like the Parrhasius flit about from object to object without settling for long on any one. But in your present incarnation you should stay awhile on Pope’s wise words: a little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep or taste not the Pierian Spring.

    I went to a school where the motto was ‘quarere verum’ (seek the truth). It was a good motto and a valuable one. I think the truth matters almost more than anything else. It is the Holy Grail of all learning and all philosophy. It is the Veedon Fleece of enlightenment. Belittle truth and you belittle life itself. Indeed, your attitude is well summed up by Francis Bacon in that rifle-shot opening to his essay on the subject: “’What is truth?’ said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer”. He goes on to say, donning his Prosperovian mask, that “no pleasure is comparable to the standing upon the vantage ground of truth (a hill not to be commanded, and where the air is always clear and serene) and to see the errors, and wanderings, and mists, and tempests, in the vale below; so always that this prospect be with pity, and not with swelling or pride”. The echoes of the play resonate in those ‘wanderings’, ‘mists’ and ‘tempests’, don’t you think?

    You seem unable or unwilling to grasp the essential fact that Shakespare the mastermind was a genius but an EDUCATED GENIUS. But of course, you are not alone. In order to fit the mundane and mercenary of William of Stratford to the works, recent biographers like Greenblatt and Ackroyd have stripped the Bard bare, downgrading the intellect from that rightly discerned by the likes of Lamb, Coleridge and Swinburne, and left him as an empty-headed bore, a country bumpkin made good.

    In doing so, they betray the genius and nullify the efforts of every teacher of Shakespeare in the world who spends hours explaining every philosophical and pyschological theme, every classical allusion or pun, every reference to contemporary politics, every legal parallel, every contrast between appearance and reality, between dogmatism and scepticism, between love and romance, between justice and revenge, service and ambition, between art and nature, and between deduction and induction. The deep thought (and, yes, the deep throat - see below) is swept aside and the greatness of the works are nullified.

    The mastermind clearly read many foreign language texts IN THE ORIGINAL. There was no translation of Ovid’s Fasti (on which The Rape of Lucrece is based), of Bellesforest’s Histoires Tragiques (on which Hamlet is based), on Ser Giovanni’s Il Pecorone (on which The Merchant of Venice is based) or Cinthia’s Hecatommithi (on which Othello is based).

    The idea that he slep his way around some of the best libraries in Britain smacks too much of the jolly jape Shakespeare in Love, where the line ‘Stay a little for I come again in ‘Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter’ (the original title of the play, don’t you know?) is composed after an orgasm. You seem to imply that Shakespeare rose up from time to time from his manly love’s labours and grabbed a tome or two. “my library was dukedom enough” in ‘The Tempest’ is obviously a printer’s error for: “My duke’s library was nearly enough”.

    Perhaps Southampton had copies of Ovid’s Fasti or Giovanni Il Pecorone, which they both dipped into between the sheets. But here’s the rub: Southampton was intimate with Bacon at the same time as Shakespeare! Perhaps William and Francis shared his bed as well as his library. ‘The love I dedicate to your lordship is without end’, writes Shakespeare in the preface to The Rape of Lucrece at precisely the time Bacon was Southampton’s mentor and lover at Gray’s Inn. Yet no biographer of Southampton or William has ever turned up any reference by Southampton to William of Stratford. Strange.

    Both Shakespeare the author and Bacon shared the ‘Greek vice’. Aubrey refers to Bacon being a ‘pederast’ and Bacon’s mother wrote to his brother Anthony that “I pity your brother for keeping that bloody Perez, yea a coach (or coach) companion, and bed companion, a proud, profane, costly fellow’”. Southampton is probably the lovely boy of the sonnets and the reference in Sonnet 82 to ‘thou art fair in knowledge and in hue’ is strong supporting evidence (Southampton was fair). At the trial of Essex, Bacon’s intervention saved Southampton, a fellow conspirator, from the block, though by this time their relationship had considerably cooled.

    The homosexual inclinations of both Bacon and Shakespeare is one more piece in the jigsaw. Of course, William of Stratford was, by all accounts, exceeedingly heterosexual. Indeed Germaine Greer even thinks that he contracted syphilis from overindulgence with prostitutes at the theatres.

  • Comment number 39.

    Lux Fuit - # 35. Welcome to the blog! We need more people with a sense of humour like yours!

  • Comment number 40.

    Brian - I really have to ask myself, in something close to despair, how anyone could read that quotation from Bacon and think that he might have had any hand in the writing of Shakespeare's plays. If there is a constant theme in Shakespeare it is illusion: the illusory nature of human perceptions, the subjective nature of truth. Shakespeare knew there is no such thing as truth and saw that pursuit of this unattainable goal was good material for both comedy and tragedy.

    You misunderstand the whole thrust of the Tempest when you suggest that Prospero stands above the "errors, wanderings, and mists", he is part of them, he too is subject to them, and they are of the very fabric of existence. It is not actors who "are such stuff As dreams are made on", it is the world, it is everything in it, it is all of humanity including Prospero himself and Shakespeare himself.

    I am quite prepared to admit that Shakespeare was an 'educated genius' but he was self-educated. You make baseless assertions about knowledge of original texts while ignoring my substantial point that he appears totally blindly ignorant of the actual mechanics of how the classical greats composed tragedy and the theoretical conceptions which shaped and productively limited their art. He writes tragedy according to comedic rules. His works, for the classical purist, have a wince-making structural gaucheness which those whose knowledge of the ancients is more limited might only be able to grasp by imagining the output of a modern writer who has heard of Pinter but only ever seen a few Whitehall farces.

    I tend to think that Shakespeare was almost certainly essentially heterosexual but quite willing to engage in homosexual relationships with an eye to business. Whatever its comedy potential, nothing alters the fact that securing the sexual and perhaps pedagogic interest of a scholarly and wealthy patron or patrons is by far the most likely means by which a rustic of prodigious genius with an insatiable thirst for knowledge yet possessed of but mediocre education (supposing the King Edward Grammar School was a local equivalent of Inst) acquired the volume of unstructured learning Shakespeare possessed.

    You mentioned Pope, but remember his assessment of the the origin of Shakespeare's genius agrees with Milton's and with mine: he directly contrasts Shakespeare's nature and Jonson's art.

  • Comment number 41.

    Parrhasios and Brian,

    Did you attend different 'ecoles' together?

  • Comment number 42.


    I have not been following the blog consistently in the last year or so. Are you Portwyne in another disguise? Or is asking that question too much of a concern for truth? I am puzzled that you quibble over the minutiae of accuracy but have no care for the truth. But let’s get it straight: it is you who denigrates truth and then reads into Shakespeare what you think verifies your own peculiar position. The truth about Shakespeare is the opposite of what you suggest.

    Maybe you should read Bacon’s essay because it does talk about the attraction of illusion. For example, he writes, echoing Hamlet: “A mixture of a lie doth ever add pleasure. Doth any man doubt, that if there were taken out of men’s minds vain opinions, flattering hopes, false valuations, imaginations as one would and the like, but it would leave the minds of a number of men poor shrunken things, full of melancholy and indisposition, and unpleasing themselves. One of the fathers, in great severity, called poesy vinum demonum, because it filleth the imagination, and yet it is but with the shadow of a lie”.

    In other words, poetry seeks the truth through ‘the shadow of a lie’: it seeks the truth through myth and fiction. It couldn’t be clearer what he means.

    In the Novum Organum Bacon talks about the fictions that we create for ourselves and calls them Idols: idols of the tribe (perceptual illusions), idols of the cave (personal biases), idols of the marketplace (linguistic confusions) and idols of the theatre (dogmatic philosophical systems - interesting that he identifies philosophy with a theatrical metaphor, believing as he did that the ‘theatre’ was ‘philosophy personified’, the term he had inscribed under the statue of Orpheus in his garden).

    Anyway, the point is that idols of the cave are the type here. “Every one... has a cave or den of his own, which refracts and discolours the light of nature, so that people seek the truth in their own little worlds, and not in the great and common world”.

    Now, this is precisely what Shakespeare is doing in his plays. The discrepancy between appearance and reality is a recurring theme. Lear equates words and appearances with truth and reality, but when he is finally stripped of his ‘vain opinions’ and discovers THE TRUTH (Parrhasios, please note) he becomes,as Bacon suggests, one of those ‘poor shrunken things, full of melancholy and illusion, and unpleasing to themselves’, But the truth is the path to grace and forgiveness.

    Much of Shakespeare is precisely about this path of self-discovery: in the comedies men do discover the truth about themselves, but in the tragedies they do not or do too late. When the characters lose themselves for any length of time it is generally because they adopt a false consciousness which prefers deception and/or self-deception to the truth.

    So, you couldn’t be more wrong about The Tempest. Yes, Prospero HAS BEEN subject to the 'errors and wanderings and tempests’, but he has found his way to self-knowledge and has now become the teacher who tries to civilise humanity through Ariel, his agent, just as Bacon tries to civilise humanity through his agent ‘Shakespeare’. Ariel, in other words, is the key to the Shakespeare myth. In this very play, Bacon tells us that he created the myth of Shakespeare. That is why it is placed at the beginning of the First Folio: it is the thread that provides a path through the Shakespearean maze. Just as Zeus used Hermes, Jupiter used Mercury, and God used Jesus, so Prospero has used Ariel. The truth is conveyed through a myth or lie. The idols of the threatre and the cave are destroyed by theatrical means.

    So Shakespeare is, on the contrary, all about the truth.

    The likes of Milton and Pope came not long after Shakespeare and were influenced by the biographies of Aubrey and by their misunderstandings of Jonson.The later opinions of the likes of Coleridge, Lamb and Swinburne were based upon close studies of the actual texts. Remmber that in the canon, there are twice as many words as Milton used, so how on earth could ‘Shakespeare’ have less learning than Milton. It’s a nonsense.

    As for: “I tend to think that Shakespeare was almost certainly essentially heterosexual but quite willing to engage in homosexual relationships with an eye to business”. Oh, dear, what tripe! But then of course as someone unconcerned about the truth, you can make up what you like. When he drools over the lovely boy in the sonnets, I suppose he’s making it all up to get some money. Ah, how disappointing, that all that great poetry is but a fraud. Pope’s stupid and totally inaccurate couplet:

    “For gain, not glory, wing'd his roving flight,
    And grew immortal in his own despite”.

    should be rewritten

    “For gain, not love, wing’d his roving thrusts
    And grew gay in his own disgusts" .

  • Comment number 43.

    RJB: "An apple, cleft in two, is not more twin Than 'us' two creatures". You would agree, Brian?
    Brian - did your heart warm within you?
    "What's in a name? that which we call a rose
    By any other name would smell as sweet;
    So Parrhasios would, were he not Parrhasios call'd,
    Retain that dear perfection which he owes
    Without that title
    I have not read Bacon (but I will) so I cannot comment as yet but, at first glance, your interpretation seems somewhat stretched. I will have to see if Bacon really thought one might search for truth through lies and report back.
    I don't agree with your reading of Lear and will return to you on it but the essence of my understanding is that the seeing things as they are is, in Lear, not distinct from madness. There is no redemptive power in truth, Gloucester sensibile of reality, desires the consolation of wrong imaginations.
    I will come back 0n this and your other arguments as soon as I have time.

  • Comment number 44.


    The Tempest undoubtedly contains allusions to pagan myths. Prospero is partly an Orphic figure. Like Orpheus, his songs can charm wild beasts and coax even rocks and trees into movement. Orpheus was also an augur and seer who practised magical arts, instituted mystic rites and prescribed initiatory and purificatory rituals, just as Prospero does in the play. There are also parallels with Prospero and Zeus or Jupiter. Miranda, daughter of Prospero, is Proserpina, daughter of Jupiter or Zeus; Caliban is Pluto or Hades, and he has designs on Miranda, as Pluto had on Proserpina; and Ariel, Prospero's servant, is Hermes or Mercury, the servant and agent of Zeus or Jupiter. These links are too comprehensive to be unintentional. So in Act 1 Scene 2 Ariel refers to his use of "Jove's lightning", Jove being another name for Jupiter; Prospero calls on Hymen, who is the Greek god of marriage; Ferdinand refers to "Phoebus' steeds" as symbols of day-time and the sun; and the characters in Prospero's masque originate in classical myths as well.

    There is also abundant evidence that Christian symbolism is superimposed on pagan myth. Prospero in this analogy is clearly God, Ferdinand, who 'dies' during the masque and then ascends to heaven, can be seen as a Christ figure, Miranda is the 'bride' of Christ, and Caliban is quite clearly the Devil. What of Ariel? He is not only Hermes or Mercury in pagan terms; he also plays the part assigned in the Old Testament to the Angel of the Lord and in the New Testament to the Spirit. In the Gospel story it is the Spirit which descends upon Christ when he has risen from the baptismal water: "Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness" (Matt. 4:1). Similarly, it is Ariel in the play who brings the travellers out of the sea to wander in the maze of the 'desolate isle'.

    Clearly, then, the dramatist has consciously woven together pagan and Christian mythology. What was his purpose? In 'Shakespeare's Mystery Play' Colin Still maintains that they share a 'timeless theme', namely man's spiritual pilgrimage, the greatest of all epic themes. It is the account of the way in which man can through redemption and rebirth reverse the Fall. It is the story of the upward struggle of the human spirit, individual or collective, out of the darkness of 'sin' and error, into the light of wisdom and truth. This, I think, is substantially correct—as far as it goes. For Shakespeare is looking not only to the past but also to the present and the future. As a poet he is not merely dramatising a treatise on myth, he is also offering us one of his own.

    The Tempest is therefore not simply a dramatic fusion of pagan and Christian myths of rebirth; it is also, and more important, a dramatised account of the author's own intellectual rebirth and his attempt through myth to engender the same rebirth in others. In view of the fact, admitted by most scholars, that the work is partly a personal allegory, what other possible reason can the author have for including the earlier myths, other than to draw our attention to a parallel myth of his own creation? The universal and personal myths must share common features, and part of the puzzle presented by the playwright is for us to discover them.

    We might suppose that the author's myth is quite simply the corpus of his works. The Shakespeare myth is thus nothing more or less than the stories in the plays. Or perhaps it is the author's creative genius. Partly it is, but it might also be something more intriguing. Consider that in all three allegories the supreme god is a hidden, mysterious figure whose purpose of engendering rebirth is carried out by an agent. Zeus or Jupiter uses Hermes or Mercury and God uses the Spirit, just as Prospero uses Ariel.

    If the dramatist is saying that he too uses an agent, then who is the agent represented by Ariel through whom the author of The Tempest and other plays conveys his message? Why, Shakespeare, of course! 'Shakespeare' is the playwright's agent, and one of the aims of this crucial play is to show that 'Shakespeare' is not its author, but the agent of its author.

    Fanciful? Well, there is no question that the author does deliberately portray the play itself as being about the theatre. The shipwreck is described by Prospero as a theatrical show staged by himself, or by Ariel on his behalf. There is reference to the "spectacle of the wreck" (1:2); Antonio and Sebastian are "cast" in a "troop" to "act"; Miranda's eyelids are "fringed curtains"; the banquet scene in Act 3 makes extensive use of costume, dance and music, as does the masque in Act 4; Prospero even alludes in his farewell speech to "the great globe itself"; and he creates masques and anti-masques in which Ariel disguises himself as figures from classical mythology. 'Masque' is, after all, the French origin of the English word 'mask', which means disguise. Here the dramatist is perhaps telling us that he too uses a mask to conceal his real identity.

    Since Ariel is an actor in Prospero's drama, is not the author informing us that his agent is someone who performs in his plays? In his essay on The Tempest in The Crown of Life, G. Wilson Knight actually refers to Ariel as "the enactor of Prospero's conception" and as his "stage-manager", a position often attributed to William of Stratford. Perhaps he acted as ago-between, arranging for the plays to be performed in the public theatre in return for payment and possibly even his accreditation for their authorship. Whatever the precise nature of William's role, it is he who provides the real author with his own myth, to parallel the earlier myths indisputably interwoven into the play.

    Moreover, William of Stratford does not share much affinity with Prospero. For, in keeping with the heroes of nearly all the plays, he is an aristocrat. Statistically, we could put it like this: of 37 plays, including Pericles, 17 are about kings, 3 are about princes, 8 are about dukes, 8 are about lords or other noblemen, and 1 features Sir John Falstaff. Now it may well be claimed that the plots, almost all of which are borrowed, had these settings and they were what the audiences wanted. This point is debatable, but surely in this particular play—where all critics accept that there is a clear personal note and where the plot is not directly borrowed from another —the author would have chosen a hero of his own background and sympathies?

    Yet Prospero is again a nobleman, the rightful Duke of Milan. In allegorical terms, some critics have even regarded him as the personification of aristocracy and Caliban as the personification of democracy. If The Tempest dramatises the relation of the poet to his art and to the world, why would its author identify himself with an aristocrat unless he was one, or at least had aristocratic sympathies?

    Prospero also describes himself as "for the liberal arts without a parallel". If this is meant as the author's description of himself—and why not?— then (a) it is a high claim indeed; and (b) it is definitely not the image we have of William of Stratford.

    I hope this makes it clear what I am saying about the meaning of the play. It is a play about the creation of the Shakespeare myth to educate humankind on the path of 'virtue and equity and peace' (Bacon). It is Baconian to the core. Yet there there are none so blind as those who will not see.

    La Bruyere is still right: "The opposite of what is generally believed is often the truth".

  • Comment number 45.

    Brian - thank-you for pointing me to the Novum Organum. I had not previously read any of Bacon's works but this proved a joy. I noted as he spoke of the future progress of sience and discovery he said "There is therefore much ground for hoping that there are still laid up in the womb of nature many secrets of excellent use, having no affinity or parallelism with anything that is now known, but lying entirely out of the beat of the imagination, which have not yet been found out". I was reading his text on my i-phone while waiting (vainly) for a flight!!

    Bacon has someone wonderful advice for us all and I think I could do no better than preface my return to your comments on Shakespeare with these words of his: "The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion (either as being the received opinion or as being agreeable to itself) draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else by some distinction sets aside and rejects, in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusions may remain inviolate". There is food for thought for both of us there.

    Bacon seems to have had very little time for traditional philosophy, seeing manifest errors in just about every historical approach. If he saw theatre, as you suggest, as 'philosophy personified', from what I read, that means he saw it as a perverse, dangerous and corrupting influence on the human mind. I do not see this man using drama either as a means of education or a repository of his own understanding.

    It does not have the correct substance: "For the human understanding is obnoxious to the influence of the imagination no less than to the influence of common notions. For the contentious and sophistical kind of philosophy ensnares the understanding; but this kind, being fanciful and tumid and half poetical, misleads it more by flattery". Bacon, if he writes true, must have despised the conventions, the superstitions, the half-theology, the whole imaginative engagement of a play like The Tempest.

    Drama, too, does not have the correct form: "the first and most ancient seekers after truth were wont, with better faith and better fortune, too, to throw the knowledge which they gathered from the contemplation of things, and which they meant to store up for use, into aphorisms; that is, into short and scattered sentences, not linked together by an artificial method". What is more artificial than a play? What could be further from a set of aphorisms? Bacon is explicit - he says quite clearly: "for my part, relying on the evidence and truth of things, I reject all forms of fiction and imposture".

    There is yet another powerful argument from the Novum Organum against Baconian authorship of Shakespeare. Bacon is clear that neither actual theatre, nor it metaphorical equivalent, classical philosophy, really works on the level of truth. Both are more satisfying when they invent: "in the plays of this philosophical theater you may observe the same thing which is found in the theater of the poets, that stories invented for the stage are more compact and elegant, and more as one would wish them to be, than true stories out of history". Bacon is not concerned, however, at a fundamental level with spare elegance: he is concerned (unlike Shakespeare) with truth. It is as I suspected. How could the man who wrote shakespeare's plays write this: "there is as much difference in philosophy between their vanities and true arts as there is in history between the exploits of Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great, and the exploits of Amadis of Gaul or Arthur of Britain. For it is true that those illustrious generals really did greater things than these shadowy heroes are even feigned to have done; but they did them by means and ways of action not fabulous or monstrous. Yet surely it is not fair that the credit of true history should be lessened because it has sometimes been injured and wronged by fables"?

    I could go on to show how Bacon's understanding both of hope and how it is to be encouraged and developped, and of nature versus nurture are at variance with the position we might derive from the plays.

    I did read the work, I again thank you for the reference, but I am only the more sure that Bacon had no hand in the plays.

    I started with Bacon, I might as well finish with him as I could compile no surer rebuttal of your post # 44 than this: "The human understanding is of its own nature prone to suppose the existence of more order and regularity in the world than it finds. And though there be many things in nature which are singular and unmatched, yet it devises for them parallels and conjugates and relatives which do not exist".

  • Comment number 46.


    Thanks for your considered comments. Apologies for the delay in responding. I have been busy, but now I’m a bit more free I will address your last post. You are only doing what every orthodox critic does, namely trying to distance Bacon’s thinking from Shakespeare’s in order to substantiate what is already believed, that he had no hand in the writing of the plays. Actually, heretics are usually subjected to a two-pronged attack: on the one hand, we are told that Bacon’s intellectual interests and beliefs are far removed from Shakespeare’s; on the other, whenever numerous identities of thought and expression are indicated, we are told that they both shared Elizabethan commonplaces.

    In the former case, the usual approach is to misrepresent Bacon and then inform us that Shakespeare doesn’t agree with the caricature. Your comments generally fit that category. Against your quote at the end, I think the key Baconian quote in this context is not any of the ones you have given, but this one: “men create oppositions which are not, and put them in new terms, so fixed as, whereas the meaning ought to govern the term, the term in effect governeth the meaning” (essay ‘Of Unity in Religion’).

    You have admitted that you had not read any of Bacon’s works before. It is therefore extremely unwise to dip into his writing and then make sweeping statements about his ideas. Recall Pope’s advice about drinking deep or tasting not the ‘pierian spring’.

    Read 'The Advancement of Learning' and 'De Augmentis' and discover that Bacon accords drama precisely the same crucial importance that Hamlet does in Shakespeare’s play.

    Even the language is similar. Hamlet calls it a ‘mirror up to nature’; Bacon calls it the ‘political glass’. Drama, Bacon says, is a unique means of popular education, an essential means of presenting unorthodox views to a wider audience, and should be used by the philosopher to ‘insinuate into men’s minds the love of equity and virtue and peace’.

    As for poetry, he says that it has ‘some participation of divineness', that it is 'a dream of learning', that in his own day it ‘has no deficience', and that, “I have no intention of making a hymn to the Muses, though I am of opinion that it is long since their rites were duly celebrated".

    Bacon practised what he preached. His prose writings are saturated with theatrical imagery, and we know that as a young student in Gray’s Inn he wrote and participated in masques. Even as late as 1613 he was recorded as being the ‘chief contriver’ of a masque for Princess Elizabeth.

    Now, to address your specific argument, although Bacon rejected scholastic philosophy, he considered himself a philosopher. In 'The Masculine Birth of Time', written about 1603, he argues that in order to communicate knowledge effectively "a new method must be found", which will allow for "quiet entry into minds so choked and overgrown" by centuries of error that they do not grasp the truth in its pure form. Since the "human understanding is no dry light", the philosopher who wants to communicate his ideas must accept and exploit the fact that understanding is subject to "a fusion of the will and affections". The use of imagination is thus necessary as a means of proving and demonstrating the meaning of experience. The philosopher must "beguile" his audience with art. In this way his method will have in it "an inherent power of winning support". To what sort of art is he referring if not rhetoric, poetry and drama?

    An answer is provided in 'The Wisdom of the Ancients', published in1609. Here he justifies the use of parables because they lead "the understanding of man by an easy and gentle passage through all novel and abstruse inventions which any way differ from common received opinions". After all, parables actually preceded arguments: "as hieroglyphics preceded letters, so parables were more ancient than arguments". He then adds that "in these days also, he that would illuminate men's minds anew in any old matter, and that not with disprofit, must absolutely take the same course, and use the help of similes". In such passages Bacon is emphasising his view that "parabolical poetry", as he calls it, provides one method of presenting unorthodox views to a reluctant audience.

    It is also interesting that 'The Wisdom of the Ancients' was written at precisely the time that Shakespeare turned to romance and the fairy tale, indeed to the very medium of parable that Bacon elucidates in this work. Again, the chronology of development is the same. Early in his career Bacon had rejected the parable as unsuitable, but by 1609 he had fully accepted it as a vehicle for both the presentation and preservation of philosophy. Shakespeare, too, would appear to have followed this course.

    You should also consider what Bacon says about the ‘idols of the theatre’: "Lastly, there are Idols which have immigrated into men's minds from the various dogmas of philosophies, and also from wrong laws of
    demonstration. These I call Idols of the Theatre, because in my judgment all the received systems are but so many stage plays, representing worlds of their own creation after an unreal and scenic fashion. Nor is it only of the systems now in vogue, or only of the ancient sects and philosophies, that I speak; for many more plays of the same kind may yet be composed and in like artificial manner set forth; seeing that errors the most widely different have nevertheless causes for the most part alike. Neither again do I mean this only of entire systems, but also of many principles and axioms in science, which by tradition, credulity, and negligence have come to be received".

    It is very intriguing that he should refer to dogmatic philosophy in terms of idols of the theatre. For Bacon, as for Shakespeare, the theatre is a metaphor for the world. Of course, in this metaphor Bacon is also bringing philosophy and drama together. I think he is hinting that he is trying to defeat these dogmatic systems by theatrical means - by creating a new body of drama which eschews dogmatic philosophy in favour of a more open, objective and sceptical approach to the world and its problems. By using plays to combat the 'idols of the theatre' he is, in effect, practicing the negative capability which Keats believed the playwright possessed so enormously - that state in which he was "capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason".

    Bacon doesn’t mean that all theatre is mere illusion. Although he compared the dogmas of philosophers to plays, he nevertheless considered himself a philosopher. Just as all philosophy need not be as illusory as that which had so far prevailed, so plays were capable of development for moral purposes. Bacon's philosophy was one which rejected dogma and system and replaced them with a method. By the same token, Shakespeare was a philosopher who also rejected these enemies of truth and who was doing something new in his plays.

    Consider, for example, the judgment of an orthodox scholar, Stanley Wells - a man who elsewhere dismisses Baconianism as the product of either "snobbery, self-advertisement or folly" - writing in an essay entitled 'Shakespeare and Romance'. 'The Tempest', he claims, is "a romance containing a built-in criticism of romance". In other words, the illusion that the author creates out of his literary imagination is a structure through which he can reject what is illusory in favour of what is truthful, possible or desirable. The idols of the theatre are destroyed by theatrical means. Fiction and imposture are defeated by an art traditionally used for fiction and imposture.

    According to Bacon, dogmatic systems of thought arise from the slavery of disciples to their masters instead of a commitment to truth. As he puts it in The Advancement of Learning, "for as knowledges are delivered, there is a kind of contract of error between the deliverer and the receiver; for he that delivereth knowledge desireth to deliver it in such form as may be best believed and not as may be best examined; and he that receiveth knowledge, desireth rather present satisfaction than expectant inquiry; and so rather not to doubt, than to err; glory making the author not to lay open his weakness, and sloth making the disciple not to know his strength".

    Bacon also says that even those who reject outmoded philosophies merely want to substitute their own prejudices for those of their opponents. They want "only to change doctrines and transfer the kingdoms of opinions to themselves". According to Bacon, however, the genuine scientist should try to give "light to other men's minds" rather than "lustre to his own name". He says that "doctrine should be such as should make men in love with the lesson, and not with the teacher, being directed to the auditor's benefit, and not to the author's commendation" (Advancement, ch.20).

    I suggest to you, Parrhasios that in order to break this 'contract of error', Bacon developed a philosophy AND practice of impersonality - he lured men into the maze of Shakespeare in order to make them in love with the lesson, not the teacher, and to help them see through their fictions and impostures.

  • Comment number 47.


    I am throwing another pearl at you. It concerns external evidence about who wrote ‘The Tempest’.
    An immediate inspiration for the play was the wreck of the 'Sea Venture', which was the flagship of a fleet of nine ships with five hundred colonists that sailed from Plymouth in June 1609, bound for the new colony of Virginia. Off the coast of Bermuda in July there was a storm, probably a hurricane, which drove the ship apart from the others (Ariel, of course, refers to the ship being hidden in the "still-vexed Bermoothes"). The ship carried the admiral Sir George Somers, the deputy governor-designate Sir Thomas Gates, and Sir William Strachey, who eventually succeeded Gates. In England it was thought that the ship had gone down with all on board, but in fact the crew had run the ship ashore between two rocks. All were unharmed and landed safely on the island, which was one of the Bermudas. They passed some time there before eventually setting off for Virginia, where on arrival in May 1610 they found that the colony had fallen apart since Captain John Smith had returned to London. Strachey was appointed secretary to the Council by the Virginia Company, and in July 1610 he sent a letter home by Gates.

    Among the literature published about the New World, this 20,000-word letter, known as the 'True Reportory of the Wrack', is recognised as the playwright's main source by every orthodox scholar, though there is evidence that he also used Sylvester Jourdain's 'Discovery of the Bermudas'(1610) and the Council's own pamphlet 'True Declaration of the State of the Colonie in Virginia' (1610). It is, however, Strachey's letter which concerns me here. It was first published in 1625, fifteen years after it was written, so William of Stratford could not have seen the published version since he died in 1616. There are those who take the view that the so-called echoes of Strachey in Shakespeare are a mark of both writers drawing on the stock of commonplaces of travel literature and storm depictions in particular. But they are mistaken. The author of The Tempest clearly saw the text of Strachey's letter sometime between July 1610 and November 1611 when the play was first performed, for he made extensive use of it.

    The description of the storm in Act 1 Scene 2 by Ariel is strikingly similar to that in the letter, down even to the use of identical words and metaphors. Strachey writes: "Only upon the thursday night Sir George Somers being upon the warch had an apparition of a little round light, like a faint Starre, trembling, and streaming along with a sparkleing blaze, halfe the height upon the Main Maste, and shooting sometimes from Shroud to Shroud,tempting to settle as it were upon any of the foure Shrouds; and for three or four hours together, or rather more, halfe the night it kept with us, running sometimes along the Maine-yard to the very end and then returning".

    Ariel tells Prospero:

    "I boarded the ship; now on the beak,
    Now in the waist, the deck, in every cabin,
    I flamed amazement. Sometimes I'd divide
    And burn in many places. On the topmast,
    The yard and bowsprit, would I flame distinctly,
    Then meet and join" (1:2).

    Strachey goes on to write: "Could it have served us now miraculously to have taken our height by, it might have strucken amazement, and a revenance". Here is surely the genesis of Shakespeare's 'flamed amazament'. Then Strachey writes: "Our clamours dround in the windes, and the windes in thunder. Prayers might well be in the heart and lips, but drowned in the outcries of the officers". In the play the boatswain says: "A plague upon this howling; they are louder than the weather, or our office" (1.1), and a few lines later the mariners cry, "To prayers! To prayers!" On the same page Strachey writes of "the glut of water", while Shakespeare has: "Through every drop of water... gape at the widest to glut him". This seems to be the sole occurrence of the word 'glut' in Shakespeare.

    Strachey tells how "in the beginning of the storme we had received likewise a mighty leake", while Gonzalo says the ship in the play is "as leaky as an unstanched wench" (1.1). Strachey says that "there was not a moment in which the sodaine splitting, or instant oversetting of the Shippe was not expected", while the mariners in the play cry, "We split, we split!" (1.1). Strachey tells how "we…had now purposed to have cut down the Maine Mast", while the boatswain in the play cries, "Down with the topmast" (1.1). Strachey says that "who was most armed, and best prepared, was not a little shaken", while Prospero asks, "Who was so firm, so constant, that this coil / Would not infect his reason?"

    Nor is it merely a question of similar descriptions of a storm. The springs, the berries and the sea-birds mentioned by Strachey all find their echoes in the play. For example, Strachey mentions the "Berries, whereof our men seething, straining, and letting stand some three or four daies, made a kind of pleasant drinke", while Caliban says that Prospero "wouldst give me / Water with berries in't" (1.2). Strachey mentions, among other animals, "Toade", "Beetell" and "Battes", while Caliban curses Prospero with "toads, beetles, bats" (1.2). Strachey also mentions "Sparrowes" and "Owles", both of which are mentioned in passing in the play (4.1, 5.1). In fact, the relevant passage of Strachey mentions owls and bats consecutively: "Owles, and Battes in great store", and Ariel's song in Act 5 mentions them in consecutive lines: "There I couch when owls do cry. / On the bat'sback I do fly" (5.1).

    The most striking parallel is this reference: "Tortoise... such a kind of meat, as a man can call neither absolutely fish nor flesh, keeping most what in the water and feeding upon Sea-grasses like a Heifer". In the play Prospero addresses Caliban: "Come, thou tortoise", while Trinculo dubs him "man or fish" and Stephano calls him a "moon-calfe".

    I have cited only some of the innumerable parallels between the letter and the play. Now, there are two important facts about Strachey's letter that bear on the question of Shakespeare's identity. It was not published until 1625, long after William's death, and it was written in confidence to an unknown recipient. It begins "Madam", and the most plausible explanation is that she was Elizabeth, daughter of the Earl of Dunbar and wife of Lord Howard of Walden. In the body of the letter she is called "right noble ladie", signifying nobility below the rank of countess, which certainly fits. Strachey's home town was Saffron Walden, where Lord Howard had his county seat. Again, Strachey specifically mentions that one of the mutineers on Bermuda was from the town, though he says nothing of the origins of the others. Lord Howard had large investments in the Virginia Company, so Strachey probably wrote the letter in order that Howard could lay it before the Council of the company in London. He would certainly not have published it because that would have ruined his career. In any case, it would not have been passed by the wardens of the Stationers' Company because the Virginia Company would not have wanted to discourage further investment by publicising how the money already put into Virginia had been wasted.

    How, then, did Shakespeare gain access to Strachey's confidential letter? In his 1954 introduction to the Arden edition of The Tempest, Frank Kermode suggests that Shakespeare must have known some member of the Company who acquainted him with the details. Sure, the author must have obtained the information at first hand, but there is not a single shred of evidence that William of Stratford was acquainted with anyone connected with the Viginia Company, and certainly nothing to show that he was personally known to Strachey or to Lord Howard of Walden or his wife (maybe Lord Howard was a specific instance of your surmise that William slept with the nobility in order to gain information for his plays, ha, ha). This hasn't prevented the orthodox from making conjectures. For example, Dudley Digges, one of the most active and important members of the council, was the stepson of William's friend Thomas Russell, so perhaps, they say, Digges showed the letter to Shakespeare. But, in any event, would any member of the Council of the Company have dared to commit a breach of confidence, tantamount to revealing a state secret, by showing the letter to an actor?

    We need to stress the importance the Council attached to secrecy in communications to and from Virginia. Item 36 of the Council's instructions to Sir Thomas Gates before he set out for Virginia in June 1609 states that letters to him and his successors must be kept secret. Item 13 of the instructions to Governor Lord de la Warr before he set out in 1610 to take over from Gates says: "Your lordship must take especial care what relations [accounts] come into England and what letters are written and that all things of that nature may be boxed up and sealed and sent first to the Council here". The colony needed men and money, and any unfavourable publicity could have jeopardised its success. Strachey would have been fully aware of this need for secrecy, and presumably so would the lady to whom the letter was sent. What Stratfordians ask us to believe is that someone who read this letter, presumably a member of the Council, showed it to a provincial actor from Stratford. This is very unlikely.

    In any event, the significant fact about this letter - which, to repeat, every orthodox scholar from Malone onwards accepts was accessed by the author of The Tempest - is that it does clearly support Bacon's claim to the Shakespeare authorship. First, he was a member of the Council of the Virginia Company and would therefore have read it. Second, in 1612 the same Strachey wrote The Historie of Travell into Virginia Britannia and dedicated it to none other than... Francis Bacon. It begins: "Your Lordship ever approving of the most noble fautor [founder, supporter?] of the Virginia Company, being from the beginning (with other Lords and Earls) of the principal Council applyed to propagate and guide it".

    So Strachey was fully aware of Bacon's special interest in the venture and in the New World generally. It is also worth noting that the wreck of the Sea Venture on Bermuda gave Britain her first Crown Colony. Its first coinage carried Bacon's crest on one side and a picture of the ship under full sail on the other. That's how close Bacon was to the story of the 'Sea Venture'.

  • Comment number 48.


    ‘The Tempest’ ends with Prospero’s epilogue. What is your interpretation of this plea? How does it fit in with your conception of Shakespeare? Why does he appeal to the audience to be set free after he has been set free in the story  – “Let your indulgence set me free”?

    An orthodox view is that this epilogue is simply the conventional plaudit but, while this is its ostensible purpose, its underlying motive goes deeper. In my interpretation it is related to the whole Shakespeare enterprise, which is the use of imagination (poetry and drama) in the service of truth.

    Thus it is not only Prospero who is making the plea; it is the author himself. And he asks for forgiveness for something relating to his works which was done 'to please' ( bear in mind the Renaissance belief in instruction by pleasing). The reference to ‘my sails' (‘Gentle breath of yours my sails must fill, or else my project fails, which was to please’) can be taken in the poetic sense because Shakespeare several times, as in sonnet 80, refers to his pen as a bark floating upon the water and in sonnet 86 he actually states that the sails of his verse are spread and it is for us, his readers, to fill them with the breath of our own genius. Colin Still, in the work I cited in an earlier post (‘Shakespeare’s Mystery Play’), comes close to the solution in suggesting that the author is pleading for release through interpretation. But a more apt summary of Prospero's epilogue is that it is a plea for discovery.

    As Bacon himself suggested, 'it is this glory of discovery that is the true ornament of mankind'. Discovery is indeed the key because the very context of the play is the discovery of new worlds. So, first, by interpreting the play correctly, we discover its true author. By following the mythical threads we reach the centre of the maze ('as strange a maze as e'er men trod') where we find the real author hiding behind his mythical mask. We can then forgive him for his 'motley' which, like that of Jaques in As You Like It, gave him leave to speak his mind and tell the undiluted truth.

    Secondly, there is the discovery of a new world in ourselves and in our potentialities. We shall do this partly by employing the force of our intellect in discovering the meaning of the play. But unless we apply the author's message, he will be condemned to 'dwell in this bare island' of his literary imagination. It is our task to finish in the real world what the author has begun in the theatrical world. As John Middleton Murray suggests in his chapter on 'Shakespeare's Dream', "the island is a realm where God is good, where true Reason rules; it is what would be if humanity-the best in man-controlled the life of man".

    Murray also says that the island is a realm where by Art or Nurture Prospero transforms man's nature to true human nature. And he concludes that in the play the author has "embodied his final dream-of a world created anew". But Murray also asks the pertinent question: was it only a dream? The play is thus an expression of Orphic hope. 'Prospero' has not only the meaning of 'I make happy' but also 'I hope'. Once again, Bacon himself made the connection: "And as Aristotle saith, That young men may be happy, but not otherwise but by hope; so we must all acknowledge our minority, and embrace the felicity which is by hope of the future world" (Advancement).

    Prospero's hope is therefore that, instead of forgetting his message when we leave the theatre or put down his book, we shall take it to heart and live our life according to its precepts. And the hope of the mastermind behind Shakespeare is precisely that of Francis Bacon: that he has succeeded "through persuasion and eloquence to insinuate into men's minds the love of virtue and equity and peace". In Baconian terms, too, Prospero is a trumpeter, not a combatant; "nor is mine a trumpet which summons and excites men to cut each other to pieces... but rather to make peace between themselves, and turning with united forces against the Nature of things, to storm and occupy her castles and strongholds, and extend the bounds of human empire, as far as God almighty in his goodness may permit" (De Augmentis, Bk 4, ch.1).

    When mankind has followed this path, then and then only will the true author of ‘The Tempest’ be set free.

  • Comment number 49.


    What bemuses me about the authorship question is how facile is the dismissal of heretical opinions.
    You see it in all the mainstream reviews of Shapiro’s book. But it was ever thus. Go back 100 years.
    Here is Karl Elze (1901): "The so- called Bacon theory is a disease of the same species as table-turning and spiritualism". Or 50 years: A. L. Rowse, "many idiots have supposed that Bacon wrote Shakespeare's plays". Reese (1953) is equally damning: "To assemble detailed arguments against anything so devotedly silly as Baconism is a waste of time".

    The cacophony of contempt is matched only by a deafening silence in terms of actual argument or evidence. Reese’s judgment is ASSUMED to be correct, with the result that orthodox scholars rarely examine the Shakespeare question at all but simply repeat one another (snobbery, self-advertisement, folly, are words that are constantly conjured up). As a result, unsupported assumptions are handed down and pass for proven facts.

    Thus Craig Brown in the Mail on Sunday repeats the mistaken belief that “it was nearly 200 years after Shakespeare had died before anyone thought to question his authorship”. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Robert Greene did, 1592. Joseph Hall did, 1597. John Marston did, 1598. The authors of Return from Parnassus did 1599-1601. The author of Ratseye’s Ghost did, 1605. George Wither did, 1645. The author of The Learned Pig did, 1786.

    The Shakespeare authorship is a classic example of how myths, assumptions and phoney scholarship become ‘facts’ by mere repetition. Here’s another example. Because there are two references by Thomas Nashe to a ‘Hamlet’ as having been performed in the 1580s (the first reference is to a performance in 1586), orthodox scholars realise that to attribute it to William would be stretching credulity to the limit as he had hardly left Stratford in 1586. So some of them put forward the idea that Nashe was referring to an ealier Hamlet not by Shakespeare but by some other dramatist, Thomas Kyd being the most popular candidate. What has happened through time is that this ‘ur-Hamlet’, as it is called, has taken a life of its own and has become accepted as a reality. In actual fact, it has no evidence for its existence whatsoever.

  • Comment number 50.

    Brian - I had gone away you know, but only for the weekend and now I'm back I will be replying just as soon as I can - I do not guarantee, however, that I will have read the entire Bacon canon by the time of my next post...

  • Comment number 51.


    I suggest you read some of Bacon's essays, where the words frequently read like prose versions of lines from the Shakespeare plays. Here's a few examples.

    Polonius tells Laertes: "to thine own self be true, and it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man". In 'Of Wisdom for a Man's Self' Bacon renders this as: "Be so true to thyself as thy be not false to others". Notice the subtle difference in meaning. What Polonius means from his own viewpoint is: "look after yourself and your own interests"; Bacon says: "Do this only in so far as it does not conflict with the ends of others" (the context makes this clear, so that "so true to" means "only so true as").

    Lear exclaims: "When we are born we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools". Bacon in his essay 'On Death' writes: "Life, which being obtained, sends men headlong into this wretched theatre, where being arrived, their first language is that of mourning" (this looks like a prose transcription of the Lear quote; note also the use of theatre imagery common to both).

    Macbeth says to the doctor: "Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased,
    Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,
    Raze out the written troubles of the brain
    And with some sweet oblivious antidote
    Cleanse the stuff'd bosom of that perilous stuff
    Which weighs upon the heart?"

    Bacon writes in 'Of Friendship' (after referring to diseases): "no receipt
    openeth the heart but a true friend, to whom you may impart griefs, joys, fears, hopes, suspicions, counsels, and whatsoever lieth upon the heart to oppress it".

  • Comment number 52.

    Honestly, Brian, do you really think Rabbie Burns wrote Blackadder?

  • Comment number 53.


    The case of Rabbie Burns is instructive. Thank you for raising it (Blackadder I shall treat as a red Herring). The Ayrshire ploughman sings of the scenes in which he had been bred, in which he lived and breathed and had his being: sweet Scottish lassies, or the banks and braes of bonny Doon, or of the Brigs of Ayr, or of Green grow the Rashes o’, or of Auld Lang Syne. All of this he sings in his own homely dialect. The very genius of lyrical poetry speaks from his mouth, but speaks in a Scottish language. A man of ‘lowly birth’ and of imperfect education like Burns can, if endowed with genius, write great poetry. The question is: what kind of poetry? Certainly not ‘Venus and Adonis’, a poem steeped in classical allusions, written in highly cultured English, showing intimate knowledge of court life and ‘fashionable’ society, and dealing in such a lifelike manner with foreign countries.

    Shakespeare does not merely give the 'illusion' of great culture, learning and courtly intimacy; he breathes it from every fibre of his being in the same way that Burns smells a red, red rose.

  • Comment number 54.

    Brian, you're good on this, you know! I lack the necessary cultural perspective to make much of a judgement, but this is all most enlightening. I'll let you chaps know when I invent my time machine, but before you can go to Elizabethan London, I should point out that I have booked a trip to 1st century Jerusalem. For a fun experiment I plan to pilot my craft into a cramped tomb and remove a body and take it back to the present. It is *possible* that the quantum repercussions caused by this might blow the stone away from the mouth of the tomb and cause a shack-and-awe response among some bystanders, so I hope I don't generate too many time-fault paradoxes along the way. I'll bring my hologram machine too, because I have some great practical jokes I want to try out.

  • Comment number 55.

    Well at least that theory can account for the evidence...

  • Comment number 56.


    Perhaps, as a scientist, you should stick to your last and stop trying to do historians out of a job. It is only by studying evidence that Christian critics of the ‘resurrection’ were able to demythologise Christianity and contribute to the develoment of agnosticism/atheism etc. Otherwise, the majority of people in the West would still believe the myth.

    I don’t wish to discuss religion as such here. There are plenty of other threads for that. But there are parallels between the Christian and Shakespeare myths, as I have already intimated.

    Let me return to the Burns parallel with ‘Shakespeare’. Now, Burns certainly wasn’t illiterate or uneducated. Despite his humble background, he was fortunate to be born in a land where there had long been an enthusiasm for education. He was taught by his father and at the Dalrymple parish school, and then by John Murdoch who gave him training in English and French and even a little Latin. So Burns had a little learning.

    William of Stratford, according to tradition, went to King’s New School, Stratford, though there is no real evidence for this. There is certainly no mention of this school in the whole of Shakespeare and no tribute to any of its teachers. Nor does anyone who attended the school mention William. Anyhow, let’s assume that he did attend it and that he too had a little learning.

    Orthodox theory is that he left at 13 to help his father. Unless the school was unusual, he would have studied a little Latin, but he would not have studied Ovid or Virgil, whom Shakespeare the mastermind quotes liberally and knows intimately. He would not have read Montaigne’s ‘Essays’, Chaucer’s ‘The Canterbury Tales’, Boccaccio’s ‘Decameron’ or Bellesforest’s ‘Histoires Tragique’, which the author of ‘Hamlet’ clearly did. If he educated himself after school, where did he obtain the books? According to Haliwell-Phillipps, there were probably no more than two or three dozen books in the whole town, and they wouldn’t have been found in his house, since his parents were illiterate. Writing in about 1660 Rev John Ward, rector of Stratford parish church, stated: “I have heard that Mr Shakespeare was a natural wit, without any art all”. He means bookish learning and this is obviously true of the man from Stratford as evidenced by his life.

    Now, it is possible, through the trickery of the artist, for a writer to give the illusion that he has knowledge of something, but with Shakespeare the classical learning is deep, the philosophical understanding is profound and knowledge of court life and the habits of the artistocracy is second nature. Studying the works of Shakespeare the author should make us aware of the evident truth that they were no more written by the man from Stratford than the man in the moon. But such is the power of myth, whether religious or secular, that most people do not see the truth in front of their very eyes but prefer to believe the ‘authorities’ and the myth they uphold.

  • Comment number 57.

    Brian, at the beginning of your response in # 46 you say: "...heretics are usually subjected to a two-pronged attack: on the one hand, we are told that Bacon’s intellectual interests and beliefs are far removed from Shakespeare’s; on the other, whenever numerous identities of thought and expression are indicated, we are told that they both shared Elizabethan commonplaces". This response to 'heretics' actually seems an entirely reasonable approach to me (although all you have produced so far could more accurately be characterised as vague similarities rather than identities). It is the approach warranted by Bacon's own words when he cautions his readers: "The steady and acute mind can fix its contemplations and dwell and fasten on the subtlest distinctions; the lofty and discursive mind recognizes and puts together the finest and most general resemblances. Both kinds, however, easily err in excess, by catching the one at gradations, the other at shadows".

    When I read your polemic it is precisely like reviewing intellectual arguments for the existence of God - there is nothing there that would convince anyone other than an already willing buyer. Take the Strachey letter: I read nothing in your excerpts to make me think it a necessary source of The Tempest. Shipwreck on an island with strange inhabitants or characteristics is a literary topos of extreme antiquity -Shakespeare's precedents ran from Homer to Sir Philip Sidney. There is no need to suppose Shakespeare read the letter at all and no sure evidence either that Bacon himself had any more knowledge of it. St Elmo's fire is a phenomenon known from the classical period, tortoises were described in the bestiaries, sailors have been known to pray when they think their ship is sinking in just about every culture under the Sun, and wooden ships have been described as leaky in just about as many (though seldom with such a wonderfully graphic simile as that Shakespeare employs). 

    So your argument, in short, is that a star proof of Bacon's authorship is a letter which, wonder of wonders, shares a common mention of owls and bats (!) in one sentence with a similiar incredible conjunction in The Tempest, a letter which you only surmise Bacon may have read, a letter which is not even a necessary source. What more persuasion could a man need?

    You argue that the author of the Shakepeare canon had to be an aristocrat - that he has the voice of an insider. I argue the opposite. To me he sounds like what he was, a lower middle class provincial who has mixed with a sophisticated metropolitan elite, a perpetual outsider with a keen eye and ear who has grasped the basics of an aristocratic culture but misses subtle nuances. Oddly, one of the resemblances you cite as a parallel actually, in its differences, illustrates what may be one such nuance, appropriately a verbal one. Shakespeare puts the word mirror in Hamlet's mouth while Bacon speaks of a glass. Such distinctions have long since lost their significance but, even when I was a child, they still possessed a telling social resonance.

    I first encountered the notion that Bacon might have written 'Shakespeare' while at school - fortunately it was through reading Monsignor Ronald Knox's Essays in Satire. Knox was able to demonstrate, using one methodology of the Baconians, that Queen Victoria was the real author of the poem In Memoriam which the credulous had thitherto attributed to the lowly poet Tennyson. I recommend it to anyone interested in the subject. Like the Baconian case, it both highlights the wonders and the dangers of human ingenuity.

  • Comment number 58.


    Your comment on the Strachey letter reminds me of the typical orthodox response to the Oxfordian theory: Oxford could not have written 'The Tempest' because the wreck of the 'Sea Venture' upon which the play is based happened after his death. Could you be clear? Do you deny that the play was based upon this event? And if the author used sources other than Strachey’s letter for his information, what were they?

    Most orthodox scholars do believe that Shakespeare used Strachey’s letter. So you are a heretic on that point. Frank Kermode, in his introduction to the 1954 Arden edition of the play, suggests that Shakespeare must have known some member of the company who acquainted him with the details of the letter (of course, there is not a shred of evidence of any connection between William and any of the Company members). The point about these details is not only the events themselves but also the terminology used by Strachey, which you wrongly argue is a commonplace of wreck literature. The parallels are too comprehensive to be merely a verbal recollection (also, the actual letter is 20,000 words long!). Clearly, Shakespeare is using a written document.

    Here’s a list of the main parallels. Not that many make the same connections, like berries AND water, ‘purposed’ to cut the mast and ‘down’ with the mast. If this is coincidence, then its arm stretches a very long distance

    “Strucken amazement” (of a blaze)
    “flamed amazement”
    “Main Maste”
    “mighty leake”
    “the ship is a leaky as an unstaunched wench”
    “Glut of water”
    “every drop of water...to glut him”
    “We split, we split”
    ‘Purposed to have cut down the maine mast”
    “Down with the topmast”
    “Who was most armed, and best prepared, was not a little shaken”
    “Who was so firm, so constant, that this coil would not affect his reason”
    “Berries... made a kind of pleasant drink”
    “Water with berries in it”
    “Toade, beetell, battes”
    “toads, beetles, bats”
    “Tortoise...neither absolutely fish nor flesh”;
    “man or fish” (of Caliban, the ‘tortoise’)
    “feeding upon sea-grasses like a heifer
    “ a moone-calf (of Caliban, the ‘tortoise’)”

    Of course, another undoubted source of ‘The Tempest’ was Montaigne’s essay ‘Of the Cannibals’, probably in the translation by John Florio who was, yes you guessed, another friend of Francis Bacon’s.

    It is not just Strachey and Florio who were Bacon’s, and apparently Shakespeare’s, friends. In fact, the coincidences of names are extensive. Bacon knew of Caius at Cambridge, as did the author of The Merry Wives of Windsor. Bacon was close to Southampton in the late 1580s and early 1590s. So, obviously, was the author of Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. Indeed, if we fiollow your surmises, both Bacon and Shakespeare shared Southampton’s bed! Bacon also knew Perez and, as I’ve said, Florio, who are characterised as Armado and Holofernes in Love's Labour's Lost. Shakespeare also wrote a sonnet, Phaeton to his Friend Florio. According to Rowse, Bacon slept with Perez. Bacon was the nephew of Burghley, who is satirised as Polonius in Hamlet.

    Traces of Shakespeare's friendship with Essex have been discovered in Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus. Essex was close to Bacon in the 1590s. Bacon became a close friend of Ben Jonson, and so did Shakespeare. Indeed, Jonson was probably staying with Bacon when he wrote the prefatory lines for the First Folio. Pembroke and Montgomery, the "incomparable paire" of the Folio dedication, supported Bacon at the time of his fall in 1621. Thomas Nashe, Francis Meres, John Davies of Hereford and Tobie Matthew all knew Bacon and all praised Shakespeare, the last cryptically calling him 'that excellent author Sir John Falstaffe'. Despite these numerous apparently shared relationships, Bacon never once mentioned Shakespeare, perhaps because, as he himself said, "Of myself I say nothing".

  • Comment number 59.

    Para before list, first line: 'not' should be 'note'

  • Comment number 60.


    You say of Shakespeare: “To me he sounds like what he was, a lower middle class provincial who has mixed with a sophisticated metropolitan elite, a perpetual outsider with a keen eye and ear who has grasped the basics of an aristocratic culture but misses subtle nuances”.


    These are false antitheses. It is possible to feel an outsider from your own class or environment. Bacon was the very outsider you suggest of Shakespeare. He was known as ‘the hermit’ at Gray’s Inn. In a letter to Thomas Bodley he wrote: “knowing myself by inward calling to be fitter to hold a book than to play a part, I have played my part in civil causes, for which I was not very fit by nature, and more unfit by the peoccupation of my mind” (what was his mind preoccupied with, I wonder). Towards the end of his life, he reinforced this judgment: “I may truly say my life hath been a stranger in the course of my pilgrimage”.


    1.Subject matter

    Whereas his contemporaries usually wrote about middle class Elizabethans or underlings, Shakespeare’s plays take place in courts and palaces and the characters are kings, queens and other ‘lofty’ personages. The ‘lower orders’ generally provide comic relief. As Hugh Trevor-Roper, the Renaissance historian, put it, “The independent sub-noble world of artisans and craftsmen, if it exists for Shakespeare, existys only as his butt. Bottom, Quince, Snug, Dogberry and Verges - these poor imbeciles are used only to amuse the nobility by their clumsiness. Even the middle classes are scarcely better treated”. (‘Realitees, 1962).

    He writes almost exclusively about kings, princes, dukes and noblemen. No hero in Shakespeare is lower than a knight, Falstaff, and whether he is a hero or a parody of a hero, is a moot point. Compare Shakespeare with Ben Jonson’s subject-matter, for example, someone who was also from a fairly humble background. And whereas Dekker can write about ‘The Shoemaker’s Holiday’, you won’t find in Shakespeare any trace of humble country pursuits such as practised around Stratford or elsewhere - no village green, no maypole, no fair, no market, no harvst, no haymaking, no reaping, no fruit-picking. Why not, Parrhasios, why not?

    2. Language

    The language of the courts in the plays is refined. The orthodox biographer E.K. Chambers wrote: “What has perhaps puzzled readers most is the courtesy of Shakespeare: his easy movement in the give and take of social intercourse among persons of good breeding”.

    3. Friendships

    Shakespeare the author clearly had aristocratic friends. This is shown by the dedications. The poems ‘Venus and Adonis’ and ‘The Rape of Lucrece’ are dedicated in affectionate and familiar terms to the Earl of Southampton. Is it likely that a man of William's background would have addressed a nobleman in such a way as "the love I dedicate to your lordship is without end"? The tone here is that of one upper class person addressing another. Certainly, actors were regarded as 'rogues and vagabonds' and did not normally fraternise with the nobility. None is mentioned in William's will. And much of Southampton's correspondence survives, yet there is no mention of William or Shakespeare anywhere. No biographer of Southampton has been able to trace any association whatsoever between him and the Stratford man. Nor is there any mention of him in the extant correspondence of either the Earls of Pembroke or Montgomery, to whom the First Folio is dedicated. Shakespeare was obviously friendly with the nobility but equally obviously they were not at all friendly with him - under that name, at any rate.


    According to the orthodox scholar Churton Collins, "the author of the Shakespeare plays was essentially aristocratic in temper and sympathy". Take The Tempest itself. Just as Prospero performs his magic arts on the island through other characters, so too does Shakespeare perform his poetic magic through the actors who speak his lines. Prospero's magic has indeed close affinities to dramatic invention: he can wreck ships without destroying them, conjure banquets where no food is eaten, and direct the movement of characters throughout the island. Yet Prospero is also a nobleman, the rightful Duke of Milan. Indeed, Prospero is often seen as the personification of aristocracy, just as Caliban is seen to personify democracy. If the play dramatises the relation of the poet to his art and to the world, why would its author identify himself with an aristocrat unless he was one, or at least had aristocratic sympathies?

    Or take ‘Hamlet’, the other play where it is genertally assumed that the hero is close to the author . He is the Prince of Denmark. Why should Shakespeare identify himself most closely with a prince and a duke unless he was of that social standing? Or do you think he merely envied them? That’s a dangerous road to go down since there is no evidence that William wanted to live among them. After all, he retired to Stratford to indulge petty bourgeois pursuits of selling corn and malt and moneylending.

    Shakespeare the author approved the existing social and political framework and abhorred mob rule. A. Hart in ‘Shakespeare and the Homilies’ (1934) points out that “Shakespeare outdoes every important dramatist of the time in the number and variety of the allusions made to the divine rights of the reigning monarch, the duty of passive obedience, enjoined on subjects by god, and the misery resulting from civil war and rebellion”. But he was too intelligent to be a blind conservative. He knew the shortcomings of the aristocracy as well. He is a critical conservative in this resopect.

    Shakespeare’s political and social approach is in total accord with that of Bacon. At the trial of Essex for treason in 1601, Bacon declared: “By the common law of England, a prince can do no wrong”. Or as Shakespeare put it in Pericles: “Kings are earth’s gods; in vice their law’s their will; and if Jove stray, who dares say Jove doth ill?”

    Both Shakespeare and Bacon shared contempt for the mob and thought that the hierarchy of society should be preserved. In his famous speech in ‘Troilus and Cressida’, Ulysses says: “Take but degree away, untune that string, and hark what discord follows”. Bacon says: “Nothing doth derogate from the dignity of the state more than confusion of degrees” (‘Advancement of Learning’). In the same work, he refers to “men, who are full of savage and unreclaimed desires of profit, of lust, of revenge: which as liong as they give ear to precepts, to laws, to religion, sweetly touched with eloquence and persuasion of book, of sermons, of harangues, so long is society and peace maintained; but if these instruments be silent, or that sedition and tumult make them not audible, all things dissolve into anarchy and confusion”. Note that both authors (or THE author, more likely) describe the hierarchy as ‘degree’ and both use a very similar musical analogy: Shakespeare, ‘unstring that bow’, and Bacon, ‘if these instruments be silent’.

  • Comment number 61.


    I have before me Professor Hugh Trevor-Roper’s essay in Realitees magazine, which I quoted above. Here is why Charlie Chaplin is right about Shakespeare (“whoever wrote them had an aristocratic attitude”). The Professor says: “Shakespeare could see and feel the sufferings of the poor. He could make great tragedies oput of the insensitivity or unworthiness of kings. But of social or political protest there is, in his works, no trace.

    “Whatever his own social circumstances, in his outlook Shakespeare was an unquestioning aristocrat. To him the establshed order is a mystical harmony, kings rule by divine right, and any challenge to that harmony, that right, is unforgivable. It was its usurpation of the throne which, in the historical plays, was the hereditary tragedy of the house of Lancaster. On the other hand, popular rulers - whether Roman tribunes or English rebels - are to him vulgar demagogues. The people, indeed, are quite unfit for public affairs. Kings may make wars for trifles, nations may be sacrificed to chivalric honour, but the duty of the people is to admire and obey”.

    “A cultured, sophisticated aristocrat, fascinated alike by the comedy and tragedy of human life, but unquestioning in his social and religious conservatism - such is the outward character revealed by Shakespeare’s work”.

    ... "if we look further, we soon find; something else. In his contact with nature, as with all else, Shakespeare shows - and this indeed seems his most personal characteristic - an extreme, exaggerated sensitivity.

    In my view, that is essentially correct. Shakespeare was a sensitive, delicate, immensely cultured aristocrat - about as far removed from William of Stratford as can be determined from the externals of HIS life.

    I have also Trevor-Roper’s book Renaissance Essays, which are quite brilliant: the essay on Thomas More contains superb insights.

  • Comment number 62.


    Back to Strachey's letter. In ‘The Age of Shakespeare’ (2004) Frank Kermode writes: “There is no doubt that Shakespeare would be well aware of the doings of the Virginia Company... and he appears to have seen William Strachey’s report of the wreck of one of the company’s ships in 1610, not published until later” (p175).

    There is a comprehensive list of parallels between ‘The Tempest’ and Strachey’s Letter on this website.


    David Kathman, who believes that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare, is using the parallels listed on this site to disprove the notion that Oxford wrote the plays. Since Oxford died in 1604, he could not have known about the wreck on the ‘still-vex’d Bermoothes’, as Shakespeare the author clearly did. What Kathman doesn’t discuss is the connection between Strachey’s letter and Bacon. He (Bacon) was born three years before William and died 10 years after him, so there is no problem for him.

    Kathman demonstrates pretty conclusively that Strachey’s letter pervades the whole play. “It provides the basic premise and background of the shipwreck, many details of the storm, the general characteristics of the island along with many details, the basic elements and many details of the conspiracies, many verbal parallels (most of them involving similar or identical contexts), and direct suggestions of the magic, love story, wood-carrying, and Prospero vs. Caliban elements of the play”.

    Do you still persist in your mistaken assumptions that Shakespeare didn't use the report as a source and that he was not aristocratic? Or, as with all god-believers, do you still prefer to ignore the evidence and believe the myth and mistakenly assume you are right because you have a certain amount of 'authority' to give you assurance? It is you and your 'authorities' who are the 'willing believers' immune to the obvious evidence in this case. Hence your reliance on vague, unsupported statements or religious eccentrics like Ronald Knox.

  • Comment number 63.


    In his acclaimed 1998 biography, 'Shakespeare: A Life', Park Honan writes of the sources of 'The Tempest': “What is certain, however, is that he knew the so-called ‘Bermuda’ pamphlets and some of the men associated with the Virgina Company’s enterprise...Shakespeare evidently read an account of the storm, of Jamestown’s plight, and of hostile natives in a letter by Strachey, dated 15th July 1610, then in manuscript” (p371)

    Do you still think Shakespeare didn't read Strachey's letter?

  • Comment number 64.


    In ‘William Shakespeare: His Life and Work’ (1999), Anthony Holden writes: “It is known that Shakespeare read Strachey’s account”, though he offers no evidence apart from the ‘still-vex’d Bermoothes’ phrase.

    In ‘William Shakespeare: A Biography’ (1962, 1967), A.L. Rowse writes: “This letter provides the whole basis for ‘The Tempest’ (p382). Later he writes:

    “The conspiracy against Prospero’s life, engaged in by Caliban, the wicked Antonio, and the rest, comes straight out of Strachey. There were two or three attermpts at mutiny and groups of men withdrawing from the little commonwealth, wandering off in the woods. At length there was a practice against the life of the governor, for which the guilty leader was condemned to be hanged: ‘the ladder being ready, after he had made many confessions, he earnestly desired, being a gentleman, that he might be sbhot to death; and towards the evening he had his desire, the sun and his life setting together.

    “Strachey mentions the early descriptions of the Islands by Gonzalo Ferninando Oviedo - so that two names come from that source: Ferdinand, son to the King of Naples, and Gonzalo, an honest old councillor”. (pp383-384).

    So it clearly futile to deny that Shakespeare the author used Strachey’s letter and the vast majority of orthodox scholars accept this. The problem for them is to explain how William of Stratford gained access to this letter, and I’m afraid they can’t. A Baconian, however, can do so without any difficulty, since Bacon was a member of the Council of the Virginia Company to which the letter was presented. Bacon would definitely have read this letter.

  • Comment number 65.


    As in most of the Shakespeare plays, the mastermind who wrote or edited them wears his learning so lightly and weaves it so subtly into the text of the work that it is almost missed  – almost, but not quite. But it does require learning to detect the sources. This is why teachers of Shakespeare have to unravel the allusions for their pupils. A good example is in Act 2 Scene 1, when Gonzalo (the name, remember, taken straight from Strachey’s letter) suddenly introduces the names of Dido (Queen of Carthage) and Aeneas. In Virgil’s ‘Aeneid’, Dido tries to detain Aeneas by her throne, but he flees from Carthage to Cumae. In choosing for the locale of his characters both Tunis and Naples, the modern names for Carthage and Cumae, Shakespeare is clearly appropriating and alluding to Virgil for his own purposes.

    The classical ‘theft’ is also apparent in Prospero’s ‘Ye elves of hill’ speech, which is based on Medea’s incantation in Ovid’s 'Metamorphoses'. A teacher familiar with the latter can demonstrate how Shakespeare used the original Latin to write this speech and not Golding’s translation. I surmise that William of Stratford, had he been able to write decent English, would probably have been too buy with his corn and malt (and, if Germaine Greer is to be believed, his London prostitutes) to seek out the original Latin.

  • Comment number 66.

    Brian - will have to study your posts more carefully but I still do not see that Strachey's is by any means a necessary source. Coincidence of material and expression in two accounts of similar events simply does not require connection. 

    Where on earth did you get your notion of what constitutes an aristocrat? Aristocrats, like any other group of people, defy precise classification or category specific characteristics. Only genealogy defines an aristocrat and, by that measure, Skakespeare was not of their number. He does show every sign, however, of the jumped-up sycophantic social climber we might well imagine the author of the plays to be. Look at Perdita who rejects Polixenes' arguments on art's place within nature and will not set her dibble in the earth to plant a streaked gillivor and contrast it with Bacon's pragmatism when he says: "For I do not run off like a child after golden apples, but stake all on the victory of art over nature in the race". I see that as insecure snob v. socially secure realist.

    I then read this particular comment with nothing short of stunned incredulity: "... Shakespeare shows - and this indeed seems his most personal characteristic - an extreme, exaggerated sensitivity.  In my view, that is essentially correct. Shakespeare was a sensitive, delicate, immensely cultured aristocrat". Do you even read your own posts? Look at that wonderful, graphic, lewd, vulgar simile you quoted in post # 47 - it is utterly typical of the man - his works abound with examples which would never pass moderation. His spectacular indecency most certainly does not preclude membership of the aristocracy, anything but; it does, however, call into question the readings of someone who sees the author as a delicate sensitive soul!

    Finally parts of Ovid and Virgil, even when I was at school, were just beyond Caesar as beginners' Latin. I had read some of both in the original by the time I was fourteen, I rather suspect in the tougher regime of a sixteenth century grammar school so had Shakespeare.

  • Comment number 67.


    Your scepticism about the Strachey would be admirable if it didn’t smack of a predermined orthodoxy on the authorship. It’s just as I thought: you are impervious to reason and argument because you have already made up your mind who wrote Shakespeare (or, more likely, have had it made up for you). You are guilty of precisely that of which you accuse me  – a common failing of human beings in general, I find.

    When you say that Strachey is not a ‘necessary’ source, do you mean it is an unlikely source, a possible source, a likely source or a probable source? What on earth do you mean? Do you mean that we should ignore it? No one piece of evidence for any fact is ever going to prove anything about anything, but it is always part of a jigsaw which we put together to create a representation of the truth. Are you saying that anyone investigating the authorship should ignore this letter?

    Do you mean that they should ignore the fact that the language in the letter and the play is often identical, the situations are exactly parallel, that many of the events described are similar, including the storm, the island, the conspiracies, that there are even common names, that even the vast majority of scholars accept its relevance. Even Strachey has a digression in which he mentions Aeneas, followed closely by a digression in which he mentions Dido.

    As Kathman says in the reference I gave (though you may not have read it because you don’t want to consider that it was probably used by Shakespeare), the letter pervades the play. “It provides the basic premise and background of the shipwreck, many details of the storm, the general characteristic of the island, along with many details, the basic elements and many details of the conspiracies, many verbal parallels (many of them involving similar or identical contexts), and direct suggestions of the magic, love story, wood-carrying, and Prospero vs. Caliban elements of the play”.

    You cannot dismiss the evidence as if it were mere coincidence. That's not good enough.

    I will comment on aristocracy in a further posting.

  • Comment number 68.


    ‘Aristocrat’ is, as you suggest, a very loose term which defies precise classification, but you immediately contradict yourself by saying that it is defined only by genealogy.

    Aristocracy is literally ‘rule of the best’ and in ancient Greece they were ‘prominent’ citizens. Generally, they are the ‘elite ruling class’, that is those who are privileged by birth and wealth and who form the government of a country. You can play around with the term as much as you like. The fact of the matter is that in Tudor and Stuart times, we are referring to Kings, princes, dukes, earls and other titled nobility.

    These are the kinds of people, like Prince Hamlet or Duke Prospero, that Shakespeare the author writes about and knows about and puts bits of himself into. They move on and off the stage ‘as to the manor born’. They are living men and women, the characters with real individuality and complexity, whereas it is the ordinary citizens, the mob, who are vile-smelling and fickle-minded (‘Julius Caesar’), mechanicals (as in A M Dream), upstart rebels (like Jack Cade in ‘Henry VI’) and simple-minded country yokels (William, note William!, in ASYLI). So it is not only his power of representing royalty and the nobility in vital, passionate characters but also his failure to do the same in respect of other classes that clearly marks Shakespeare as a member of the aristocracy.

    Consider what Hazlitt says about ‘Coriolanus’: “Shakespeare has in this play showed himself well versed in state affairs. Coriolanus is a storehouse of political commonplaces. Anyone who studies it may save himself the trouble of reading Burke’s ‘Reflections’ or Paine’s ‘Rights of Man’ or the debates in both Houses of Parliament since the French Revolution or our own. The arguments for and against aristocracy or democracy, or the privileges of the few and the claims of the many... are here well handled, with the spirit of the poet and the acuteness of the philosopher” (‘Characters of Shakespear’s Plays’).

    Exactly. Note the fusion of poet and philosopher that I was suggesting earlier. Hazlitt, of course, goes on to say that Shakespeare ‘seems to have a leaning on the arbitrary side of the question. This is surely correct. The contrasts between the commanding figure of Coriolanus and the baseness of the ‘rabble’ are emphasised by a series of images which surely indicate the author’s dislike of the masses. This animal names applied to them include dogs, cats, curs, hares, geese, camels, mules, crows, monnows and goats. They are all represented as cowardly creatures which are to be hunted. They are also associated with evil smells of breath and body. In contrast, the author’s admiration for ‘great’ men leads him to characterise Coriolanus by images of boldness and force. He is a dragon, an eagle, a steed, a tiger. Volumnia compares him to the bear from which enemies flee like children, and Aufidius likes him to the osprey, which takes fish by ‘sovereignty of nature’. In this play, as throughout the works, Shakespeare tends to treat the masses as a kind of brute force, easily incited to violence or adulation but uninfluenced by rational appeal.

    Cedric Hardwicke, the actor (Frollo in Lawton’s 1939 classic Hunchback), put it thus in ‘A Victorian in Orbit’: “His contemporaries wrote in the main about middle-class Elizabethans or underlings of the court. Yet without exception Shakespeare’s principals were kings or queens or noblemen of rank. He created no hero less than a knight. Of his age, only Will wrote exclusively of kings, dukes and earls. I am tempted to wonder what the reason might be”.

    As Hugh Trevor-Roper puts it in that essay in ‘Realities’: The independent subnoble world, the world of artisans and craftsmen, if it exists for Shakespeare, exists only as his butt”.

    Here are Richard Garnett and Edmund Gosse, two perfectly orthodox scholars (writing in ‘English Literature’ of Shakespeare):

    “Nothing is more remarkable in his earliest productions than their perfect polish and urbanity. The principal characters in ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ are princes and nobles... the young patricians in The Two Gentlemen of Verona have in every respect the ideas and manners of their class. The creator of such personages must have been in better company and enjoyed a wider outlook on society that can easily be believed attainable by an actor or resident in a single city”.

    Then, there is the fact of aristocratic friends. Shakespeare the author dedicated 'Venus and Adonis' and 'The Rape of Lucrece' in affectionate terms to the Earl of Southampton. Is it likely that a man of William’s background would have publicly addressed a nobleman in such a way as ‘the love I dedicate to your lordship is without end’? The tone here is one upper class person addressing another. Actors, on the other hsnd, were regarded as ‘rogues and vagabonds’ and did not normally fraternise with the nobility. None is mentioned in William’s will. That applies to the Earls of Pembroke and Mongomery, though the First Folio of Shakespeare is dedicated to them as the ’incomparable pair’ - high praise indeed (both of them defended Bacon at his fall). No biographer of Southampton, Pembroke or Montgomery has ever been able to unearth any documented evidence of any connection between them and William of Stratford.

    Aristocratic in knowledge, aristocratic in temperament and preference, aristocratic in expression and refinement and aristocratic in friendships. Since Shakespeare thought like an aristocrat, Shakespeare wrote like an aristocrat and Shakespeare lived like an aristocrat, it is reasonable to conclude that Shakespeare WAS an aristocrat.

    I shall deal with art and nature and Eliabethan grammar school education in further postings.

  • Comment number 69.


    In post 66 you imply a contrast between Bacon and Shakespeare in their attitude to art which again, in Bacon’s words, creates ‘oppositions which are not’. Of course, an essential theme of 'The Tempest', the play we have been discussing, is that Nature, far from being the idealistic image of Montaigne in his essay ‘On the Cannibals’ (Caliban being an anagram of ‘canibal’ as then generally spelt), can be cruel and nasty. Art can also be dangerous if misused (Antonio), but if applied properly it can control nature and curb its baser urges. This is the heart of Bacon’s message too.

    Let us examine the evidence in more detail. Once again, we shall see that it is perfectly orthodox critics who help us to draw Bacon ever closer to Shakespeare.

    In his chapter on 'Pan, or Nature' in 'The Wisdom of the Ancients' (1609) Bacon writes: either nature "came of Mercury, that is, the Word of God, which the Holy Scriptures without all controversy affirm"; or it came from "the confused seeds of things"; or "it points to the state of the world, not considered in immediate creation, but after the fall of Adam, exposed and made subject to death and corruption; for in that state it was, and remains, to this day, the offspring of God and sin". These three opinions correspond to three modes of reality - a higher, a middle and a lower order. So when Bacon speaks of effecting "a commerce between the mind of man and the nature of things", he means, above all, that man should strive to re-establish (or, to use his word, 'instaurate') that higher nature in which in his view God intended him to live, and in which he did live before the Fall.

    As Northrop Frye suggests in 'A Natural Perspective' (1965), these three modes of reality are also found in Shakespeare. The lowest order of nature is "the abyss of disorder which Shakespeare often summons up by the word 'nothing' and symbolises, most frequently, by the tempest. It is also the world of the devouring time which sweeps everything into annihilation. The subjective equivalents for storm and tempest are madness, illusion or death itself" (p137). Although Shakespeare suggests that all three modes are 'natural', he regards the ideal as nature as God planned. And it was Bacon who suggested: "No one can treat of metaphysics, or of the eternal and immutable in nature, without rushing at once into natural theology".

    This contrast between the highest and the lowest mode of nature is reflected also in the duality of the human soul. Man, according to Bacon, has two souls: one peculiar to himself, the rational soul which he derives from "the breath of God"; and the other, shared by him in common with the "brutes", the irrational soul, deriving from the "wombs of the elements". Thus "all natural bodies have really two forces, or consist of a superior or an inferior species". Frye believes that Shakespeare's basic message is that man should for ever strive to attain the higher nature. To it, "or to the equivalent of it, man strives to return through the instruments of law, religion, morality, and (much more important in Shakespeare's imagery) education and the arts" (Frye, p136)).

    This view has been expressed by a number of critics including Elizabeth Sewell in 'The Orphic Voice' and John Danby in 'Shakespeare's Doctrine of Nature'. Sewell explicitly states that "Shakespeare in his dramas accomplishes the Baconian work" (p155), while Danby regards King Lear as 'the real Novum Organum of Elizabethan thought' (p15). There you are: identity of thought in the dramatist and the philosopher out of the mouths of orthodox scholars.

    Frye writes particularly about the late romances, where he finds that all the arts are employed as regenerative symbols, but especially music because it expresses the "harmony of the soul". Bacon of course says the same thing in prose on numerous occasions, notably in that famous account of the Orphic legend in the Advancement where he actually refers to learning in the context of "Orpheus' theatre". In his chapter on Orpheus in 'The Wisdom of the Ancients' Bacon says that he stands for 'philosophy', and intriguingly, as I said in an earlier posting, he even had a statue of Orpheus erected in his garden which he called 'Philosophy Personified'. In Baconian terms, therefore, the Shakespeare plays are deliberately intended as Orphic drama, enticing man away from his lower and towards his higher nature through explorations, precepts, laws and religion "sweetly touched with eloquence and persuasion".

    King Lear is a key play on the theme of the higher and lower natures. G. Wilson Knight is surely correct to see it as "a play of naturalism, of spiritual qualities represented as a natural growth" (‘The Wheel of Fire’, p229). Goodness becomes the 'natural' goal of man and the aim of evolution. Wilson Knight considers that Edmund, Lear and Cordelia correspond to three periods in man's evolution - the primitive, the civilised, and the ideal. When Edmund declares, "Thou, Nature, art my goddess; to thy law, my services are bound", the nature to which he is appealing is Bacon's lowest form, the animal law. The same is true of Goneril and Regan. Lear calls the former a "detested kite" on whom Regan would show her nails to her "wolvish visage". He refers to Goneril's "sharp-toothed unkindness, like a vulture here". Albany also compares the sisters to animals, calling them "tigers, not daughters" and names Goneril a "gilded serpent". All three - Edmund, Goneril and Regan - embody Albany's view that "humanity must perforce prey on itself, like monsters of the deep". This lower form, sometimes called in political language the new individualism or even a nascent capitalism, sees no moral order in the world apart from the self and the assertion of one's own interests. The 'good' life consists in an aggressive assertion of one's own individuality.

    The higher nature is epitomised in Cordelia. It is the nature which Edmund denies to exist and which Lear fails to recognise when it is before him. She is the norm itself or, as Danby puts it, "she belongs to the utopian dream of the artist and of the good man" (16). But she is not only Nature in this higher sense; she is also Art, the art pledged to present and express the wholeness society violates. This wholeness or community of goodness - call it culture, civilisation, or what you will - is partly based on the traditional Christian conception which stresses faith, hope, love and charity. It is also partly feudal in its emphasis on the need for communal 'bonds', but it also predates both Christianity and feudalism. It goes back at least to the wisdom of the ancient Greeks.

    Shakespeare's position is similar to Plato's Gorgias where Socrates says that wealth and power are corrupting influences because people who possess them will be guided by their further pleasures rather than by knowledge of what is right and good. To rule a state or to rule oneself, one must know what is best for the state or for human life, and one must learn to take pleasure in practising these virtues. For Plato in the Gorgias, a true art is regulative and corrective; its goal is to maintain order and harmony; and it seeks 'good' rather than 'pleasure'. Of course, this is the very antithesis of the orthodox view of Shakespeare's motivation in writing plays, but it is a view which is supported by a clear understanding of the texts of those works.

    Implicit in this analysis is the notion that art is not something distinct from nature but rather one of man's chief ways of aspiring to this higher nature. The affinity between art and nature is made clear by Bacon in a passage from Descriptio Globi Intellectualis (‘Map of the Intellectual World’):

    "It is the fashion to talk as if art were something different from nature, so that things artificial should be separated from things natural, as differing totally in kind; whence it comes that most writers of natural history think it enough to make a history of animals or plants or minerals, without mentioning the experiments of mechanical arts (which are far the most important in philosophy)... Therefore as nature is ever one and the same, and her power extends through all things, nor does she ever forsake herself, these three things should by all means be set down as alike subordinate only to nature; namely, the course of nature; the wanderings of nature; and art, or nature with man to help. And therefore in natural history all these things should be included in one continuous series of narratives".

    Thus art is an agent of nature and necessary to the development of created nature. It is largely through art that we fulfil our higher nature. Art is nature with man to help. Again, what Bacon says in prose, Shakespeare says in verse:

    "Yet nature is made better by no mean
    But nature makes that mean; so ever that art
    Which you say adds to nature, is an art
    That nature makes. You see, sweet maid, we marry
    A gentler scion to the wildest stock,
    And make conceive a bark of baser kind
    By bud of nobler race. This is an art
    Which does mend nature-change it rather; but
    The art itself is nature".
    The Winter's Tale, (Act IV, Scene IV)

    Throughout Shakespeare the higher and lower natures are continually contrasted. The latter are portrayed through qualities such as deception, lust, cruelty, ambition, selfishness and wanton emotion. The role of art becomes crucial. It is the skilful use of the higher qualities of wisdom, insight, knowledge, love, friendship, justice, humility, selflessness, and so on, as a means of rendering them more permanent features of human 'nature'. Art - including, crucially, dramatic art - fulfils a fundamental role in nature's renewal, or, to use Bacon's word again, instauration.

  • Comment number 70.


    As to Shakespeare's sensitivity, Ben Jonson in his Folio verse on the Droeshout portrait says that “it was for gentle Shakespeare cut’. In the ‘not of an age, but for all time’ verse he also refers to ‘my gentle Shakespeare’. To Heming and Condell, or whoever wrote their words, he was a “most gentle” expresser of nature. In 1647 Sir John Denham refers to “Shakespeare’s gentler muse”. In 1604 Anthony Scoloker in his Epistle to the Reader hopes of his ‘Diaphantus’ that it was be like “friendly Shakespeare’s tragedies”.
    In ‘The Return from Parnassus’ he is “sweet Mr Shakespeare”, and to Milton he is “sweetest Shakespeare, fancy’s child”. To Dryden, “He was the man who of all modern, and perhaps ancient poets, had the largest and most comprehensive soul”.

    Read Harold Goddard’ book ‘The Meaning of Shakespeare’ and especially his chapter on ‘King Lear’ and see why “the tender and sensitive’ Shakespeare, as Goddard calls him, included the blinding of Gloucester. Bacon, of course, said it explicitly “Men taste well knowledges that are drenched in flesh and blood” (‘Advancement of Learning’). Writing a play in which a character’s eyes are gauged out doesn’t imply that the writer is cold and insensitive. It is entirely possible to write of cruel actions without being cruel. Or to act such actions in plays or films. At least half of all the Hollywood tough guy actors wouldn’t have said boo to a goose.

  • Comment number 71.


    Of William's education we have no real evidence, although as he was an actor we have to assume that he could read, although if he played small part his fellow actors might possibly coached him in his lines. The six signatures attributed to him are certainly scribbles and suggest a guided hand.

    The tradition, though, is strong that he left school early to help his father whose fortunes were declining. So, even if we assume that he did go to Stratford Grammar School, the orthodox concede that it was not the full education normally received there. At most, it would have been 6 years. We know that at Ipswich Grammar SchoolHorace and Ovid were not studied until the 7th year.

    Halliwell-Phillipps, one of William's few honest biographers, says in his 'Outlines' that "I have the impression that the extent of the poet's school acquirements have been greatly exaggerated". He writes: "Lily's Grammar and a few classical works chained to the desks of the free schools, were probably the only volumes of the kind to be found at Stratford-upon-Avon".

    He would have learnt some Latin but no English history, no modern languages (he would not have learned the French that is used in Henry V, for example), no mathematics or science and, last but not least, virtually no English. There was no English Grammar until 1586.

    There can be no conceivable doubt that whatever formal education William of Stratford may have acquired, it would have in no way equipped him with the knowledge and learning displayed in the Shakespeare works. William would have had to do an awful lot of self-education and would have needed voluminous tomes to assist him, and by all accounts he would not have found these books in Stratford, where William seems to have remained for 10-12 years after he left school.

    When David Garrick visited Stratford in 1769 he described it as "the most dirty, unseemly, ill-paved, wretched-looking town in all Britain". I'm afraid, Parrhasios, that the earthy Stratford environment in which William lived for the first 22 years or so of his life was totally inimical to the culture and learning displayed by the Shakespeare mastermind. Don't you see this obvious fact?

  • Comment number 72.

    Brian - first the letter, post # 67.

    The letter is nothing but a red herring. When I said it is not a necessary source I meant precisely that: it is entirely possible for the play to have been written without sight of the letter. I tend to think the play was written without sight of the letter and that the resemblances are merely coincidental. Coincidence is often the real explanation behind many of the most absurd fantasies.

    What really smokes the fish, however, is the fact that, even if we could say Strachey was a definite source, it proves nothing: we do not know that Bacon did read the letter, we do not know that Shakespeare did not. You offer only speculation and conjecture.

  • Comment number 73.

    Brian - # 68 Aristocracy

    You adduce utterly convincing evidence that Shakespeare was a snob, none that he was an aristocrat. The playwright may have been the Hyacinth Bucket of his day, obsessed with nobility, wealth, and power, creating an imagined high society world to compensate for the disappointing reality of his origins. I am afraid to say when I read the plays I see fantasy not familiarity, wish-fulfillment not documentation of daily life.

    The same is true of the dedications: you mistake obsequiousness for familiarity, the grasping pursuit of potential patronage for fraternal affection. This is not, however, an easy mistake to make and suggests to me the self-same attachment to a pre-conceived position of which you accuse me.

    You speak of Shakespeare's contempt for the common man, something I concede, but it is a contempt born out of intimacy rather than distance. Shakespeare knows what it is to be poor and marginalised: he knows, he hates it, and he hates those who remind him of what he was and indeed what he still is. The portrayal of the so-called lower orders in the plays is a portrayal of the author's self-denial with remnants even of his self-hatred. (Remember this is a man who knows all about what we would loosely term depression today). It is a gutsy earthy thing as the language indicates. It is sensual. It is memory. It has the vital connective tissue which all the aristocratic elements signally lack. An Elizabethan aristocrat would not have had the connection with the artisan class to develop the antipathy Shakespeare employs. This was an age where the nobility idealised poverty, they would not have known what it smelled like.

  • Comment number 74.

    Brian - # 69 and 70.

    I nearly choked on my gin - twice! You have been debating fundamentalists too long - quotations lifted and twisted do not cut the mustard. The quotation from Polixenes is directly repudiated by Perdita the heroine of the play. Shakespeare cites your argument, Bacon's argument, and then promptly dismisses it.

    You then have the audacity to quote Milton, you must surely have known that I would recognise the line you cite as the predecssor to the one in which the poet characterises Shakespeare's output as "native woodnotes wild" - an opinion you rubbished in an earlier exchange. It is typical of the pick and mix approach of Baconians generally.

    I consider academic literary criticism one of educated man's most futile endeavours. People should read the plays and poetry for themselves and form their own opinions. Background can be useful but, when it comes to interpretation, my views are as good as anyone else's. The only academic tome I've ever read about the bard is Shakespeare's Bawdy and I only read that to make sure I understood the dirty jokes properly. I am not impressed by citations from critics - as I demonstrated quite some time ago an imaginative critic can plausibly make any text say nearly anything.

    The depth in Skakespeare's plays comes not from conscious purpose but from cognitive wholeness; the brilliant perceptions and connections of an unparalleled observer and critic of human nature are much more plausibly unconscious realisations than conscious manufacture. Genius (or nature), rather than art (or, as you would have it, polemic). The Shakespeare I read would actually be pleased at that thought - insufferable snob that he was...

  • Comment number 75.

    Brian - no # 71

    You said it yourself - we just don't know. Assumptions are not arguments. Education need not stop at school.

  • Comment number 76.


    Ha! Ha! Now we have the Hyacinth Bucket approach to Shakespeare Criticism: all snobbery, speculation and conjecture. Ignore the facts, just keep up appearances. We won’t want to challenge ‘respectable’ opinion, would we?

    Lectures by Stratfordians to heretics on conjecture and speculation is always good for a laugh, considering that the whole case for William of Stratford is based on a mountain of wild conjecture. Read any Shakespeare biography and it is littered with ‘probablys’, ‘possibilys’, ‘guesses’, ‘maybes’, ‘likelys’, ‘perhapss’, ‘presumablys’, ‘not unreasonable to supposes’, and so on. Key conjectures include:

    1. William went to school (not a shred of evidence whatsoever).
    2. William obtained a wide education (not a shred of evidence whatsoever).
    3. William could write (not a shred of evidence whatsoever).
    4. William studied law (not a shred of evidence whatsoever).
    5. William was friendly with the nobility, especially Southamprton (not a shred of evidence whatsoever).
    6. William wrote plays (the name ‘William Shakespeare’ appearrs on the title page of 51 printed plays; otherwise, no evidence whatsoever).

    A genuine, open-minded sceptic on the Shakespeare authortship would want some evidence for these conjectures. At least, with the Strachey letter, I have presented some evidence of its PROBABLE use by the author of ‘The Tempest’. We do not KNOW that Bacon read Strachey’s letter, that is true. BUT we know that the letter was presented to the Council of the Virginia Company, of which Bacon was a member. Therefore it is reasonable to presume that he read the letter. It seems to me that it is far mnore difficult to explain how William got hold of this letter, and ANY explanation of that necessity in the current state of knowledge is pure conjecture. You dismiss it out-of-hand as a red herring and substiture pure conjecture in its place.

    Like so many Stratfordians, you present my case for me. ‘Obsequious’ is precisely the frequent description of Francis Bacon’s letters to the nobility by many of his biographers. Bacon was not a member of the higher nobility. His father, Elizabeth’s Keeper of the Great Seal, was a knight. His uncle became Lord Burghley when Queen Elizabeth elevated him to first Baron Burghley in 1571. A certain fawning and obsequioiusness was common in the correspondence of members of the lower nobility in seeking patronage from the higher nobility, and Bacon was certainly no exception in this regard. He sent fawning letters to Lord Burghley, but disliked the man intensely, as clearly did the author of ‘Hamlet’ in modelling Polonius on the Queen’s chief advisor. The tone of the dedications to the two long poems fits Bacon exactly. Southampton was an earl by inheritance, Bacon was a a commoner but a member of the lower nobility and would have addressed him in precisely this way.

    I have presented many parallels between the Strachey letter and the play and you will find many more in the article I cited. You dismiss them as mere coincidences.You say you ‘tend’ to think the play was written without sight of the letter’. Why, then, do you think that many perfecly orthodox scholars disagree with you? Or are you just saying it because you don’t WANT to think that the letter was used in case you give the slightest concession to the heretics’ case?

    Just read post 75. It's a hoot. Let me finish your statement. "Education need not stop at school; therefore I shall conjecture, without any evidence, that William acquired it from voluminous reading afterwards: he slaughtered a calf or fitted a glove with one hand while reading Virgil with the other". How's that for speculation?

  • Comment number 77.


    I’m not sure what you are saying about Milton (post 74). Do you mean that rubbishing one of his opinions implies rubbishing them all? And you accuse me of faulty reasoning! I’ll reply to your comment on art and nature in another posting, but I want here to take up your references in posts 66 and 72 to coincidences.

    William of Stratford never admitted to writing plays. None of his relatives or his acting or commercial friends said he wrote plays. The testimony of a writer, Ben Jonson, is unreliable and contradictory. So there is a dearth of direct evidence that William wrote Shakespeare. This means that the evidence in this case is almost entirely circumstantial. Whether you think he wrote Shakespeare or not, you have to rely largely on circumstantial evidence. You look for facts that can be used to infer other facts. Such circumstantial evidence can accumulate into a collection, so that each piece corroborates the other piece, and taken together they can all support the inference that the assertion is true.

    The key word is ‘collection’. Sure, one connection between Bacon and Shakespeare proves nothing. It can be regarded as merely a coincidence. But when they are stretched into an arm that can circumnavigate the globe, then the fish is well and truly smoked.

    In a criminal trial, circumstantial evidence is more common than direct evidence. Thus if witness A says he saw B shoot C, that is direct evidence. But it applies only in a minority of cases. Instead, evidence is mostly circumstantial. So witness A may say he saw B going into C’s house with a gun. Fair enough; that’s some evidence, but hardly sufficient. If he then says, I also heard a scream coming from the house, that’s stronger. Then if he finally says he saw B running from the house with a smoking gun, that’s pretty strong and the fish is fairly well cooked. All three together could convict B of killing C, even though there is no absolute proof.

    So the Strachey letter is a piece of the jigsaw, no more, no less. Then we discover that, to give a few other examples:

    1. The author of ‘Hamlet’, who saturates the play with legal terminology, had read Plowden’s Commentaries and Reports, published in 1571, because he satirises the case of Hales v Petit contained therein in the dialogue of the two graveiggers in Act 5, Scene 1 - the inference being that he was either a lawyer or at least had studied law in some detail.

    2. The author of ‘Hamlet’ knew Lord Burghley because he satirises him as Polonius, even down to little details such as: spying on his son in Paris, mocking his ‘Precepts’ (first printed in 1618, after William’s death), and sending up his egoism cloaked as morality and his long-winded verbosity.

    3. In the 1603 quarto of ‘Hamlet’ the author adheres to the theory that the centre of the earth is molten: "Doubt that in earth is fire..." (2:2). However, the1604 quarto alters the line to: "Doubt that the stars are fire...". So the author has dropped the molten theory. By coincidence, it seems, Bacon also changed his mind on this matter, according to his biographer Spedding before September 1604. Thus in Cogitationes de Natura Rerum he states, in contradiction to most scientists of the day, that the centre of the earth is cold.

    4. The coincidences of ideas are remarkable. Bacon opposed the dogmatism and facile certainty of many previous thinkers. So too did Shakespeare. Bacon opposed the false attempt to set man apart from nature. So too did Shakespeare, who knew that art itself is nature. Bacon hated the general preference for falsity to truth, for appearance to reality. So too did Shakespeare, who knew not 'seems'. Bacon attacked the preference for deductive to inductive reasoning. So too did Shakespeare, whose villains are all excellent deductive reasoners. Bacon hated the tendency for emotion to overpower reason. So too did Shakespeare, whose nobler reason overcame his fury. Bacon attacked the tendency to put self before others. So too did Shakespeare, whose tragic heroes all fall from this mistake. Bacon was a humanist and a liberal Christian. Shakespeare's humanism and liberal Christianity shine through his works. Bacon believed that religion should not be argued about. Shakespeare omits theological argument. Bacon accepted aristocratic political principles. Shakespeare's viewpoint is fundamentally aristocratic.

    5. Bacon set out to change men's habits of thinking. He believed he was educating man to progress towards a better world in which science and religion, art and nature, induction and deduction, reason and passion, self and others, love and learning would all be integrated in a new harmony. Such, too, was the aim of Shakespeare, and the ignorance and futile argument at which he shook his 'lance' were identical.

    6. Bacon's contemporaries alluded to his 'concealed poetry', a term which he applied to himself. If he did write poetry, its themes would be the same as Shakespeare. And that is because it is Shakespeare.

    There are many, many coincidences, whether of names (Caius, Southampton, Perez, Florio, Burghley, Essex, Ben Jonson, Strachey, Pembroke, Montgomery, Nashe, Meres, John Davis of Hereford, John Marston, all of whom were friends of Bacon and ‘Shakespeare’), or places (Cambridge, St Albans, Gray’s Inn, York Place, all in Shakespeare and intimate to Bacon), or dates (hermitage in the 1580s, plays appearing in profusion in the 1590s, Dark period after the Essex affair, plays petering off as Bacon climbed the winding stair of politics, the 1623 Folio appearing after Bacon’s fall and including six plays never heard of before). They all add up. With William of Stratford, nothing adds up.

  • Comment number 78.

    Brian - what bugs me about the anti-Stratfordians is the partiality of their vision: they diminish Shakespeare because they do not see him whole. You cite legal knowledge as evidence of Baconian authorship, you are bound to know that an equally convincing and equally specious case could be made for Oxford's authorship on grounds of military knowledge. Haven't you heard of that thing authors have been known to do - research? Shakespeare didn't have to read law reports he could have sat in on actual trials.

    What I was saying about Milton was not a suggestion that you had to accept all of his ideas, rather it was an expression of surprise that you could rubbish one half of a single sentence while quoting approvingly from the other half!

    I think conspiracy theorists almost always exploit and distort coincidence. You quote multiple similarities between the letter and the play. Both are long works on a similar topic written by authors from the same culture and same time. Common influences together with limitations of expression and vocabulary will account naturally for most of the correspondences, undoubtly there will be parallels elsewhere, that leaves perhaps a couple of remarkable duplications and, for me, a couple is well within the range of acceptable coincidence.

  • Comment number 79.

    Parrhasios: I thought you had given up.

    1. The Diminution of Shakespeare

    In no way do I seek to diminish Shakespeare the author. Quite the opposite. Have you read any of the recent ‘biographies’? There is real diminution for you, with each successive biography plumbing new depths of banality. One of the worst is Stephen Greenblatt’s Will in the World. Shakespeare wrote about the great themes: love, ambition, power, friendship, justice, revenge, dogmatism and scepticism, art and nature, appearance and reality, and so on, but they are largely absent from this dreary work. Instead the greatest writer the world has ever seen is reduced to a superficial folk artist, whose life and work are 'a triumph of the everyday' and who wrote 'as if he thought that there were more interesting things in life to do than write plays'. Greenblatt does to Shakespeare what Hollywood does to every work of higher culture: reduces it to trivial, mindless entertainment.

    What we long for in his blighted biography is some attempt to reveal the greatness of the world's supreme poet and dramatist. But instead of a silk purse, we are offered an endless string of sows' ears. Examples abound everywhere. How about this? Do you realise that Shakespeare may have learned to 'poach' from other writers by being - a poacher!

    In the final pages Greenblatt mentions a letter by Machiavelli shortly after he had lost his position in Florence and had been forcibly rusticated. He writes with disgust of the vulgar arguments and stupid games he was forced to watch at the local taverns. His only relief came in the evenings when he would take down from his shelves his beloved authors – Cicero, Livy, Tacitus  – and feel that at last he had companions fit for his intellect. Greenblatt comments: "Nothing could be further from Shakespeare's sensibility. He never showed signs of boredom at the small talk, trivial pursuits and foolish games of ordinary people". How could anyone read Shakespeare and write such total and complete rubbish? Shakespeare the author was steeped in these very classical writers and in 'extraordinary' people, though no one has ever found a book that belonged to William or a lord who mentions ever having met him.

    Will in the World is the reducio ad absurdum of trying to marry the mundane and mercenary life of William of Stratford to the verse: Shakespeare as an empty-headed bore. It is a truly awful book in which almost every page is a travesty of the extraordinary mastermind behind the immortal works.

    And have you read Ackroyd’s biography, which followed hot on the heels of Greenblatt’s? Here you will find even more diminution of the works. He informs us that Shakespeare didn't know what he was writing until he had written it and that he had no message, no opinions, no religious faith, no 'morality' in the conventional sense. Thus is the bard stripped bare. Ackroyd writes: "He is one of those rare cases of a writer whose work is singularly important and influential, yet whose personality was not considered to be of any interest at all. He is obscure and elusive precisely to the extent that nobody bothered to write about him".

    How’s that for denigration, Parrhasios? Greenblatt and Ackroyd both fail to detect Shakespeare the philosopher, whose plays consciously and deliberately are about great themes and antitheses. It is precisely the combination of philosophy, psychology and poetry which ensures Shakespeare's greatness for all time. Harold Bloom, who is much closer to the truth than Ackroyd, rightly deduces that his creations directly reflect their creator: his intelligence is more comprehensive and more profound than that of any other writer we know. "The aesthetic achievement of Shakespeare cannot be separated from his cognitive power" (Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, 1999, p729).

    Make no mistake, Parrhasios. It is not I who diminish Shakespeare the author but those so-called scholars who try to marry William to the immortal verse. As for the man from Stratford, by all accounts he was a mediocre actor who played minor roles, a theatrical investor and moneylender, a shrewd businessman who knew how to make a quick buck, a skinflint who hoarded his wealth and gave nothing to the poor (see Ungentle Shakespeare by Katherine Duncan-Jones, The Arden Shakespeare, 2001), and a womaniser who consorted with prostitutes (who may have died of syphilis -Germaine Greer: Shakespeare's Wife). Through the compounded errors of four centuries  – and misguided biographies like Greenblatt’s and Ackroyd's - this invisible man (of that at least Ackroyd is correct) has had greatness thrust upon him.

    2. Conspiracies

    You need to define what you mean by ‘conspiracy’ in this context. If you refer to the belief that Shakespeare hid his identity behind an allonym (the name of a real person of the time), then you have to accept that this practice in general DID happen at the time because several writers refer to it, yet 400 years later we seem to be no wiser about whom they were talking about.

    Take The Art of English Poesie (1589), published anonymously but now generally accepted as the work of George Puttenham. He claims to have known "many gentlemen in the court that have written commendably and suppressed it again, or suffered it to be published without their own names to it, as if it were a discredit for a gentleman to seem learned and to show himself amorous of any good art".

    Thomas Nashe writes in the preface to Robert Greene's Menaphon (1589): "Sundry other sweet gentlemen have vaunted their pens in private devices and tricked up a company of taffeta fools with their feathers".

    Greene himself writes in A Farewell to Folly (1591): "Others... if they come to write or publish anything in print... which for their calling and gravity being loth to have any profane pamphlets pass under their names, get some other Batillus to set his name to their verses. Thus is the ass made proud by this underhand brokery, and he that cannot write true English without the aid of clerks of parish churches, will need make himself the father of interludes". Batillus put his name to the works of Virgil, and interludes were plays.

    According to the testimony of these three writers, therefore, some literature of the time, including plays, was published anonymously or under the names of other people. In other words, writers did conspire to conceal their identity.

    The second conspiracy, however, is a more insidious one, and unfortunately you have shown yourself to be part of it. It is collective contempt as a substitute for investigation. Every time the issue of the authorship surfaces in Britain, 'Shakespeare scholars' step forward to bury it and debunk the sceptic. "None of the doubters is a literary scholar"; "no academic has ever doubted the overwhelming evidence that the man who wrote the plays was the actor from Stratford"; "denial of William's authorship is akin to Holocaust denial"; "fully explaining the authorship controversy isn't a job for a Shakespeare scholar; it's a job for a pathologist".

    These are all common scornful dismissals of anything that smacks of heresy. As for us sceptics ourselves, we are systematically labelled as cranks, fanatics, idiots or snobs. That is the level of debate on the subject by scholars who belittle their profession every time they deny the importance of the issue or abuse an opponent.

    This second conspiracy is akin to a religious faith in which the priest-scholars make a tacit assumption that part of their role is to propagate and protect the accepted belief. So, if the first conspiracy was a plan to convey the truth through a myth, the second is a collective effort to maintain the myth in preference to a genuine search for the truth. Although a scholar is supposed by definition to be a truth-seeker, it is highly ironic that on the Shakespeare authorship question so many scholars are guilty of betraying their very function. This is the trahison des clercs de Shakespeare  – the treason of the Shakespeare scholars.

    3. Knowledge of the Law

    Shakespeare knowledge of the law is, as I have said, deep and profound. I am not alone. Maklone said it over 200 years ago before there was any open argument about authorship: “Shakespeare’s knowledge and application of legal terms seems to me not merely such as might have been acquired by casual observation of his all-comprehending mind; it has the appearance of technical skill”. This depth of legal knowledged as been attested by countless lawyers and judges ever since (the only peoplke who try to refute it are Stratfordians, because it doesn’t seem to fit their man). As for military knowledge, there seems to be quite a lot of that as well, but I think it is consistent with someone close to the levers of power, as Bismarck described Shakespeare.

  • Comment number 80.


    On the Strachey letter, you still insist on denying the parallels. Look, do you accept the fact that Shakespeare the mastermind rarely invented narratives himself? Every play has sources in other works (“he lit his torch at every man’s candle” - Wlliam Rawley of Francis Bacon). Indeed, many of the plays were ‘improved’ versions of earlier plays, as Henslowe’s Diary indicates (‘Troilus and Cressida' orginally written by Dekker and Chettle and dressed up by a philosopher, i.e. Bacon). Why should The Tempest be an exception?

    The storyline in itself was not of much interest to Shakespeare. It was what it could tell him about the human condition and what he could convey to us about it and about himself and his thoughts (“If only one could paint his mind” - Nicholas Hilliard around a portrait of Francis as an 18-year-old). Hamlet is the obvious example. An old story by Saxo Grammaticus via Belleforest is taken as a means of painting a picture to us of the author as an immature, young man (‘Hamlet’ is a little Bacon, just as ‘Horatio is ‘I speak reason’, Fortinbras is ‘strong in the arm’ etc. Why should Hamlet himself not be a pun?), while at the same time conveying a moral about the wrong of private revenge (read Bacon’s essay Of Revenge).

    So why on earth Shakespeare the author NEEDED to make up the story of The Tempest when William Strachey had done it for him is a question you need to answer.

  • Comment number 81.

    Time to throw in a grenade


    There is a forum where this article can be discussed.


  • Comment number 82.


    Your grenade is really a damp squib. The linked article is confused. Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence believed that ciphers and emblems proved Bacon wrote Shakespeare, which puts him in what we might call the ‘lunatic fringe’ of the anti-Stratfordians. No alleged cipher or emblem I have seen proves anything of the sort and only serves to encourage derision of heresy. The article’s argument is a bit like saying religion is rubbish because Nelson McCausland believes the earth is only 6,000 years old. In other words, in terms of the bigger picture it’s a red herring.

    As for Bate’s three reasons why people are prepared to believe that Shakespeare did not write the plays, this is frankly an insult to intelligence. 3 reasons? More like 3,000,003 reasons, which I won’t list here and now. I personally didn’t arrive at my position as a result of either of the first 2 reasons he cites. The absence of manuscripts doesn’t in itself establish anything, as many manuscripts of the period are missing. As for his second reason, historians of the period including Arnold Toynbee and Hugh Trevor-Roper were not amateurs but did not believe that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. Moreover, his implication seems to be that literary critics ARE the right people properly to evaluate the evidence. Why? Are historians like Toynbee and Roper unsuitable? Here, surely, is the real snobbery.

    As for his third reason, it contains a mixture of sense and nonsense. For example, it is not Shakespeare’s greatness that suggests he was born of nobility but his intimate knowledge of their manners and behaviour (kings, dukes and princes, for example) and of specific members of that class (such as Southampton, Essex, Pembroke and Montgomery).

    As for conspiracies, I have already dealt with that point in reference to Shakespeare above. There were clearly plots to conceal the identity of certain writers, but that doesn’t mean that every actor or playwright of the time knew about them.

    As for Christianity and Shakespeare, all I would say is that every opinion should be based on solid evidence. As far as I am concerned, there is solid evidence that Bacon wrote Shakespeare but nothing to support the existence of a miracle-performing Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels.

    It seems clear to my modest brain that the real conspiracy here is the attempt by many Christians to propagate the absurd idea that Jesus was immortal and indeed God incarnate. At least, I do not assert that Bacon defied the laws of nature, though I might go so far as to suggest he was the god of literature.

  • Comment number 83.


    I think I let you off too lightly in my last posting, If we define ‘conspiracy’ as a collective action for some secret purpose (which may be good as well as bad), then I suggest to you that the arch conspirators here are those who uphold the Jesus and Shakespeare myths by presenting them as plausible exceptions to the laws of nature and causation. I don’t want to argue the Jesus one on this thread (as I’ve said, there is ample opportunity on other threads).

    In Shakespeare’s case, part of the Stratford myth is to argue that genius is knowledge. “Shakespeare knew about the law or the aristocracy because he was a genius”. But genius never gave a man the knowledge of the legal doctrine of ‘uses’ or the order of procession at a coronation. Genius may be a gift of nature, but nature alone cannot gave knowledge and culture.

    I have argued with Parrhasios that Shakespeare did not conjure up his own plots. He snapped them up from other writers, and the evidence supports the view that that includes ‘The Tempest’, often said to be original. This implies that he read a lot, often in the original language. It moves us away from the direction of William, who may never have owned a book in his life.

    In 1598 Francis Meres compared Shakespeare to the Latin author Plautus for comedy, but this is no coincidence. ‘The Comedy of Errors’, is often said to be Shakespeare’s earliest, though the ‘Gesta Grayorum’ suggests that it was written in 1594 for the Gray’s Inn revels that Christmas. But the point is that it is directly based on a play of Plautus, namely the ‘Meneachmi’, and also borrows from another play of Plautus, the ‘Amphitruo’. Churton Collins, a perfectly orthodox scholar, writes: “It is probable almost to certainty that Shakespeare must have read Plautus in the original”.

    In other words, it wasn’t by any miraculous gift of nature that Shakespeare was being compared to Plautus. It was partly the fact that he stole plots from him! Thus his genius was backed up by extensive classical reading, thorough legal study and intimate knowledge of the aristocratic centre of power.

  • Comment number 84.

    Brian - sorry, I am afraid I'm involved with something at the moment which is absorbing most of my time (and concentration) and that accounts for both the delay in replying and the brevity of the response.

    I have never read a biography of Shakespeare, I would have no interest whatever in doing so. I am not concerned with who wrote the plays, only with who didn't. I have, however, over the years, read just about the entire Shakespeare canon together with quite a number of works by contemporaries like Spenser, Sidney, Marlowe, Webster, Greene, Dekker, Nashe, Kyd, and Lyly. When you read the bard in this relevant context, I am afraid, his humble origins are plain.

    I am amazed that you had the temerity to quote from Nashe's Preface to Greene's Menaphon - amazed, staggered, astounded, flabbergasted!! Greene (Groatsworth of Wit) describes Shakespeare as an "upstart crow" in borrowed plumage, a jack-of-all-trades, a conceited versifier who considered himself the equal of educated men. Greene is an exact contemporary, his bitter jealousy is apparent, he quotes from one of the plays, it is obvious who he considers the author to be and it is equally obvious that he has scant respect for his educational background. The Preface itself combines evidence of the ever growing availability of classical material in translation and scathing criticism of the efforts of uneducated poets and play-wrights: "euery mechanicall mate abhorreth the English he was borne too, and plucks, with a solemne periphrasis, his vt vales from the inke-horne". Nashe praises people of whom most of us would never have heard and their aureate English, scarcely comprehensible today, set alongside the output of the playwright places Shakespeare gloriously and inescapably on the vulgar end of the social spectrum. He specifically has a dig at Kyd and that is a good comparison for us: same social and educational background, same flowery dedications to assorted nobles, similar use of classical authors - did Bacon produce his oeuvre too?

    I have dealt with the law issue before - Shakespeare had what a partisan observer might choose to call specialist knowledge of a huge number of fields. I know of no candidate who could account for all the so-called specialist knowledge the playwright possesses; to single out an area of choice and give it prominence is unscholarly and indeed irrational. I remember meeting aeons ago a delightful old biddy who was convinced 'Shakespeare' was her Irish ancestor or relative; she, too, had loads of similarly superficial evidence to support the contention - I can only await with bated breath your citation of Bacon's undoubtedly extensive Irish connections...

    On Strachey I do not deny the parallels, I deny the significance of the parallels. I am well aware that Shakespeare used sources and that his genius was in his treatment not in originality, what after-all did Nashe identify in the Preface as the hallmark of a modern poet? "Nil dictum quod non dictum prius". I suspect Shakespeare cobbled together the storyline of The Tempest from multiple sources but I just do not regard that particular letter as necessarily one of them.

    You think Hamlet might be a pun - according to The Preface (again) there were tragical Hamlet's knocking around Elizabethan London before Shakespeare's realisation, did Bacon write them too? But then he would hardly have needed to resort to "English Seneca read by Candlelight".

    Post # 80 does come close, however, to raising the first really interesting issue I have noted since you drew my attention to Bacon's works - I am surprised you haven't ever referred to it. I have found some of the parallels between Bacon's theory of disposition and expression and Shakespearean characterisation absolutely fascinating - I can only conclude Bacon was an avid and attentive theatre-goer! It would be too delicious to think he got many of his best ideas from the bard.

    One tiny little thing in your response to Graham relates to a matter with which I am specifically acquainted. You cite the processional order of a coronation ceremony as the esoteric knowledge of an aristocratic elite when it was in fact nothing of the kind. I have an area of interest which has led me to read, whenever I have the opportunity, Mediaeval and Renaissance common-place books in search of references to a specific subject (not at all related to Shakespeare) - the range of material is huge and hugely diverse but orders of precedence are not uncommon even when the compiler is of low social status - the last such I encountered was in a fifteenth century manuscript belonging to a rural parish priest from Bedfordshire.

  • Comment number 85.

    Graham - you old eirenicist you! After years in which I have consistently disagreed with Brian on all the important issues of our time and all the cultural giants of our culture from Shakespeare to Hugo are you seeking to provoke a consensus?

    If you are suggesting that maybe God wrote the gospels I'm fairly certain Brian's opinion and mine will not be a million miles apart.

  • Comment number 86.

    Oh, I just wanted to get you guys talking again. This is all very entertaining!!!

    And having spotted that article I couldn't resist!


  • Comment number 87.

    1. William went to school (not a shred of evidence whatsoever).
    2. William obtained a wide education (not a shred of evidence whatsoever).
    3. William could write (not a shred of evidence whatsoever).
    4. William studied law (not a shred of evidence whatsoever).
    5. William was friendly with the nobility, especially Southamprton (not a shred of evidence whatsoever).
    6. William wrote plays (the name ‘William Shakespeare’ appears on the title page of 51 printed plays; otherwise, no evidence whatsoever).

    Couldn't we apply similar rules to Ben Johnson, or any number of mediaeval authors if we want to go back further?


  • Comment number 88.


    You say: “I have never read a biography of Shakespeare, I would have no interest whatever in doing so. I am not concerned with who wrote the plays, only with who didn't”. Now, here is a curious statement indeed! How, then, do you know or accept that William of Stratford wrote the works? Or who didn’t? Or you saying that you accept ‘the consensus’? Why? What happened to ‘thinking for yourself’? And why accept the consensus on William’s authorship but reject it about the Strachey letter?

    It is also strange to imply that a reading of the works alone should lead the mind to someone like William. My point above is that that is the real diminution of Shakespeare the author. From what we know of the documentation of William, he was not interested in philosophy or poetry or politics. He was more concerned about money and corn and malt. One thing you would learn if you read biographies of William is that they have changed over the years. Earlier biographers like Haliwell-Phillipps, Sir Sidney Lee, A.L. Rowse, Ivor Brown etc, told us about the corn and malt but ignored them when interpreting the works. Thus we were still able to detect the genius behind the Stratford smokescreen. More recently, Greenblatt and the other Shakespeare wallahs (as Germaine Greer calls them) seriously try to marry to the verse with the result that the verse is reduced practically to emptiness. That is the real diminution of Shakespeare the mastermind. The bard is stripped bare as an empty-headed bore. The attempted marriage of life and art has greatly reduced the works in meaning and significance

    It means that the general public is losing sight of the incredible genius behind the works: the philosophy and the psychology and the poetry and the insight have become less relevant to the world than the plates and bowls and second-best bed.

    The point, of course, and I think you accept this, is that Shakespeare is on an entirely higher plain of consciousness than would be suggested from the known life of William. A study of the works does reveal an incomparable mind at work – a mind that still bestrides the intellectual and imaginative worlds like a colossus: “a creature of incomparable abilities of mind, of a sharp and catching apprehension, large and faithful memory, plentiful and sprouting invention... a man so rare in knowledge of so many several kinds, endued with the facility and felicity of expressing it all, in so elegant, and yet so choice and ravishing a way of words, of metaphors and allusions, as perhaps the world hath not seen, since it was a world”.

    These are the words of Tobie Matthew about Bacon and to whom Francis sent many of his works in manuscript for comment. It was the same Tobie Matthew who wrote in the postscript to a letter to Bacon: “the most prodigious wit that ever I knew, of my nation and this side of the sea, is of your Lordship’s name, though he be known by another”.

    If you look at the ‘man so rare’ quote, you will see that it is indeed a definition of ‘most prodigious wit’. The word ‘wit’ is a hold-all term which means: intelligence (‘a creature of incomparable abilities of mind’); the faculty of knowing in general (‘a man so rare in knowledge...’); power of expression (‘endued with the facility and felicity of expressing it all...’).

    And no one has ever found another Bacon whom Matthew knew and to whom he might have been alluding.

    On Robert Greene’s upstart crow, I will post later today.

  • Comment number 89.


    I have been out, but have now returned. So here, a little late, is a take on Greene's Groatsworth. As I quoted above, it is Greene among others who tells us that in Elizabethan England front men were employed by anonymous authors to protect their reputations. Whether scholars want to believe it or not, it was done. But 400 years later these same scholars have not unearthed the authors or the front men.

    Now turn to the passage about a ‘Shake-scene’ from the 1592 pamphlet "Greene's Groatsworth of Wit" to which you refer. It ends with a personal letter addressed to three unnamed fellow scholars and dramatists, generally thought to be Nashe, Peele and Marlowe - fellow 'university wits'. Greene warns them about actors whom he calls "those puppets that speak from our mouths, those anticks garnished in our colours". He continues:

    "Yes, trust them not; for there is an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that, with his tiger's heart wrapt in a player's hide, supposes he is well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you; and, being an Johannes Factotum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country. O, that I might entreat your rare wits to be employed in more profitable courses, and let those apes imitate your past excellence, and never more acquaint them with your past inventions".

    'Shake-scene' is generally taken to refer to Shakespeare. Certainly, the line 'tiger's heart wrapped in a player's hide', is a parody of the line 'O tiger's heart wrapt in a woman's hide', which appears in the third part of Henry VI, Act 1, Scene 4. Orthodox scholars assume from the pun and the parody that Greene is deploring the fact that the actor from Stratford is also an author of plays in blank verse. But it is possible to argue that Greene is doing nothing of the sort. What Greene is deploring in general is that actors receive more credit and financial reward than the writers of the plays they perform. In particular, he refers to one actor who, like the rest, is a puppet and an ape and who merely speaks the playwright's words on the stage. This is surely the meaning of 'bombast out a blank verse', just as 'Shake-scene' also means that he is a stage-shaker, trying to steal the scenes by his exaggerated acting.

    But what really annoys Greene about this particular actor is that plays are being presented as having been written by him when clearly they are not. Greene is objecting to the fact that this actor is receiving credit which is denied to the real author or authors. This meaning of Greene's statement is suggested by his description of the actor as an 'upstart crow, beautified with our feathers'. The orthodox line is that this is a reference to Shakespeare's plagiarism from other authors, but there was nothing unusual in stealing lines or phrases from other writers (as you know from your study of contemporary literature), and therefore it was hardly worth remarking. Greene would have had no reason to complain about mere plagiarism because he did it himself. That makes no sense at all. But it is the only explanation which Stratfordians will accept because to do otherwise would be to face up to the possibility that Robert Greene was spilling the beans about the authorship at the very beginning.

    As a classical scholar, Greene is probably referring to Aesop's fable about the jackdaw, a member of the crow family. In this story Jupiter decided to create a sovereign over the birds and so proclaimed that, on a certain day, they should all present themselves before him, when he would choose the most beautiful among them to be king. The jackdaw, realising his own ugliness, collected the feathers which had fallen from the wings of other birds and stuck them all over his body in order to make himself the most beautiful. On the appointed day when Jupiter proposed to make him king, the other birds protested and each plucked from the jackdaw his own feathers.

    So in terms of Greene's attack, what William Shakspere was doing was passing off as his own plays which were not his at all. Recall Greene's earlier remark about the 'ass made proud' by this 'underhand brokery' because some noblemen get others to set their name to their verses. Note that Nashe's remark, quoted earlier from the preface to another work of Greene's, talks of tricking up a company of taffeta fools 'with their feathers'. It is precisely the same point that Greene is making in his 'Shake-scene' comment. He is saying that William is one of these 'taffeta fools', tricked up or beautified with verses he has not himself written.

    After the publication of the Groats-worth, the man who had prepared it for the printer (and perhaps actually wrote it in the first place under Greene's name), Henry Chettle, came out with a statement that it had been "offensively...taken" by "one or two" of the "divers play-makers" addressed by Greene. In the case of one of these, he said he was sorry he had not spared him because he himself had seen his civil misdemeanour and "divers of worship"- persons of high degree - had "reported his uprightness... and grace in writing".

    Is Shakespeare not only the upstart Crow but also the playwright whom Chettle says he was sorry he had not spared, as many orthodox scholars claim? But surely Chettle was not apologising to the victim of the attack but expressing regret on account of one of two playwrights offended by it. Moreover, when a person has been excoriated as the upstart Crow was in Groats-worth, it makes no sense to refer to him as one of those who took offence because the intention was to offend him in the first place! Anyway, Chettle states explicitly that the playwright about whom he was sorry was one of those addressed by Greene. That means that if the playwright and the actor attacked in Groats-worth were the same and were Shakespeare, then Greene (or Chettle) in warning the playwrights about the actor would have been warning Shakespeare about himself! We should add that clearly the authorship of Groats-worth was in dispute at the time. The playwright Thomas Nashe protested, "God never have care of my soul, but utterly renounce me, if the least word or syllable of it proceeded from my pen". The extremity of Nashe's fear lest he be thought implicated is sufficient indication in itself that someone a good deal more important that a Johnny-come-lately from the provinces could have been expected to be antagonised by the pamphlet.

    Greene, Nashe and Marlowe had all been to Cambridge, and therefore it is surely possible that at least some of the noblemen poets who concealed their identity also attended that university and were known to them, either as contemporary students or through the Cambridge grapevine. Nashe’s play The Isle of Dogs is listed on the cover of the Northumberland manuscript, which links Bacon and Shakespeare.

  • Comment number 90.


    I was not suggesting that Francis Bacon invented the name 'Hamlet. In Saxo Grammaticus the character is called Amlethus (Latin); and in Belleforest he is called Amleth. Clearly, the author of the play formed an anagram of Amleth to arrive at Hamlet. The question is: why did he want to do this? Why create 'Hamlet' out of 'Amleth'. If Bacon wrote Shakespeare, then the answer is obvious: 'Hamlet' is a little Bacon and the play is a self-analysis of the author as a young man. Most other names in the play are puns, so why not the chief protagonist?

    As for 'English Seneca read by candlelight', 'English Seneca' indeed fits Bacon to a tee. Philosopher, yes, statesmen, yes, dramatist, YES! William on the other hand... I think not.

  • Comment number 91.


    You ask after quoting me as follows (post 87):

    1. William went to school (not a shred of evidence whatsoever).
    2. William obtained a wide education (not a shred of evidence whatsoever).
    3. William could write (not a shred of evidence whatsoever).
    4. William studied law (not a shred of evidence whatsoever).
    5. William was friendly with the nobility, especially Southamprton (not a shred of evidence whatsoever).
    6. William wrote plays (the name ‘William Shakespeare’ appears on the title page of 51 printed plays; otherwise, no evidence whatsoever).

    Couldn't we apply similar rules to Ben Johnson, or any number of mediaeval authors if we want to go back further? •

    1. We know Ben Jonson, the son of a clergyman, went to Westminster School (yes, Nick Clegg’s old alma mater) because, among other things, he wrote a tribute to his headmaster:
    “Camden! most reverend head
    To who I owe
    All that I am in arts, all that I know”.

    William, on the other hand, makes no mention of any school or of anything, except silver plates, bowls and rings and a second-best bed (in his will). Nor does anyone who attended the school mention William. If he went there, he seems neither to have thought much of the place nor to have been thought much of by his classmates or teachers. About William, there is complete silence from pupils and teachers alike.

    Certainly, there is no mention of King’s New School in the Shakespeare works and no tribute to any of its teachers, though there is a reference to Caius, who lectured at Cambridge.

    2. Jonson obtained a broad education at the school and is known as a man of vast reading.

    3. Jonson left seventeen complete plays, over three dozen court masques and entertainments, three collections of verse, a grammar of the English language, two translations of Horace’s Art of Poetry, a commonplace book containing his thoughts on ideas and manners, a sheaf of letters, and many scattered poems, inscriptions and marginal doodlings that were either not collected or not published in his own lifetime. A manuscript of Jonson’s Masque of Queens is in the British Museum.

    4. We know Ben Jonson was friendly with Bacon. On Bacon’s 60th birthday in 1621 he wrote a celebratory poem, which begins:

    “Hail, happy genius of this ancient pile!
    How comes it all things so about thee smile?
    The fire, the wine, the men!  and in the midst
    Thou stand'st as if some mystery thou didst!”

    To what mystery is this referring? Curiously, Jonson was staying with Bacon at the very time he was probably writing all the prefatory bits of the Shakespeare First Folio.

    Also, curiously he seems to have confused Bacon and Shakespeare. In the prefatory poem he puts Shakespeare on a pedestal higher than:

    “For the comparison
    Of all, that insolent Greece, or haughtie Rome,
    Sent forth”.

    The unusual phrase ‘insolent Greece or haughty Rome’ is Jonson’s translation from a sentence in Seneca. Yet in his ‘Timber, or Discoveries’, a kind of notebook published in 1641 four years after his death, he writes that the British have produced many wits but the greatest of all was Bacon (no Shakespeare mentioned at all) and he writes of Bacon:

    “He who hath fill’d up all numbers; and performed that in our tongue, which may be compar’d, or preferr’d, either to insolent Greece, or haughty Rome. In short, within his view, and about his times, were all the wits born, that could honour a language, or help study”.

    It's not just the same phrase, 'ancient Greece and haughty Rome' applied to both. Read the Shakespeare First Folio verse: he was the ‘soul of the age’; ‘all the Muses still were in their prime, when like Apollo he came forth’; Nature will ‘vouchsafe no other wit’ such ‘rich spun and woven lines’; and Shakespeare helped study by shaking a lance ‘as brandish’d at the eyes of ignorance’.

    Here Jonson is saying what Tobie Matthew said in the ‘most prodigious wit’ postscript quoted in post 88 above. Bacon was the greatest wit he ever met. And he uses the same phrase which in the Folio he had applied to Shakespeare. To say that he forgot he had done so is to miss the point: it’s not just the phrase but the whole idea, as the other parallels clearly indicate.

    Incidentally, we might ask what does “He who hath fill’d up all numbers” mean? Is he referring to the various parts of Bacon’s life, perhaps? But the context does not warrant this interpretation. Turn to Shakespeare and we may have the answer. In ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ (iv.3) we read: “These numbers I will tear and write in prose”. In other words, ‘numbers’ can mean verses, and to say that Bacon has fill’d up all numbers may imply that he has written all kinds of poetry (remember that Bacon called himself a ‘concealed poet’, and Aubrey in his ‘Brief Lives’ wrote that “his Lordship was a good poet but concealed, as appeared by his letters”. But where is the concealed poetry of Francis Bacon? Answer: we have it in Shakespeare).

  • Comment number 92.


    # 90.

    What I am saying about the coining of the precise form of the name Hamlet is that it was not the work of the Shakespeare author unless the play is of a much earlier date than is commonly assumed. Nashe speaks of "a sort of shifting companions, that runne through euery Art and thriue by none... [who] ...will affoord you whole Hamlets, I should say handfuls of Tragicall speeches". This is proof that, not just the name, but the form of the name was already in current use. "English Seneca read by candlelight" was not designed as a compliment, it was meant rather as an indictment of the efforts of those tragedians who cribbed their plots and vocabulary from English translations of the Roman author.

    # 88

    I do not know that William of Stratford wrote the plays but I do think that someone like what we know of William is the most psychologically probable author and I intend, just as soon as time permits, to show you why I think this is the case - that reply may be slightly more lengthy than my norm. It is at the core of my reading of the plays and these are the most interesting issues you raise.

    I have no historical interest in authorship indeed, as you will know from previous exchanges, I do not believe in history and I think that, if there is such a thing as truth, it is of very little everyday importance. The past is nothing but, at worst, a mine for prejudice or, at best, a source of harmless delusional escapism. (I may, should time permit, make some further observations on this theme on the Saville thread). I have said I am concerned, not with who wrote the plays, but with who did not. My concern is not historical: it is ideological. It is important that people understand that it does not take an aristocrat to produce this corpus of work, this gift to humanity, which offers unparalleled insights into the human mind in language of surpassing beauty. It is important that we recognise that genius is as likely to reside in the imagination of the flawed and conflicted artisan as it is in the designs of the great and good philosopher-statesman.

    We are agreed, I venture to suggest absolutely agreed, on the sublime quality and value of the work. We disagree to the extent that you think the authorship as a matter of fact is somehow important and you think the evidence points to Bacon as author. I do not care who wrote the works in the slightest but I am wholly opposed to any theory which asserts that a common man could not have been the author. I want to assert that raw human potential is not class-related, and that genius and application can overcome virtually any obstacle to realise that potential.

    I can find evidence for my contention just as you provide evidence for yours. We evaluate each others evidence and, of-course, we reject it based on what we think we know. "Will it be ever thus?" You know, I rather think it will...

  • Comment number 93.


    Your position is contradictory. You are not concerned about truth or history but argue historical points when it suits, like Nashe's reference to 'Hamlet'.

    The point is that there is no evidence to suppose that the 'Hamlet' to which Nashe refers is not an earlier draft by the author of Shakespeare. Harold Bloom believes this and so did Peter Alexander. In other words, there was no Ur Hamlet.

    Many scholars argue that Nashe is ascribing Hamlet to Thomas Kyd and that this Ur-Hamlet—as it has been designated—is now lost. There are probably three main reasons from Nashe's reference for this line of thought. First, Nashe refers to someone born into the trade of 'noverint', and this is sometimes taken to mean a scrivener, the trade of Kyd's father. But the word 'noverint' usually refers to a lawyer or to a legal writ, and in the latter sense it still applies today. A scrivener was a professional copyist, and Kyd's father was for a time warden of the Scriveners' Company. According to Richard Grant White, "by the trade of Noverint be meant that of an attorney. The term was not uncommonly applied to members of that profession, because of the phrase, Noverint universi per presentes, (know all men by these presents) with which deeds, bonds, and many other legal instruments then began".

    In his 'Terrors of the Night' (1594) Nashe writes: "Whereupon I thought it as good for me to reap the fruit of my labours, as to let some unskilful penman or noverint-maker starch his ruff". Here 'noverint-maker' appears to mean the writer or copier of a legal writ', and implies a distinct difference from 'noverint'.

    Whatever Nashe meant by 'noverint', there is no evidence that Thomas Kyd followed his father's profession: it is merely assumed on the basis of Nashe's comment. We should also add that the published play itself fully justifies the interpretation of 'noverint' as lawyer because legal knowledge and terminology pervade the text.

    Second, 'English Seneca' is allegedly a description of Kyd since he drew heavily on that author. The Spanish Tragedy, probably written, like this early Hamlet, in the mid-late 1580s, was clearly inspired by Seneca's tragedies. But Kyd was not alone — Shakespeare the author was also so inspired. Indeed, 'English Seneca' fits him more than Kyd, for Seneca was a philosopher as well as a dramatist.

    Third, 'the Kid in Aesop' is taken to be a pun on his name. Yet it is by no means clear from this deliberately obscure passage that 'noverint', 'English Seneca', 'the Kid in Aesop' and 'whole Hamlets' are all linked to the same dramatist. Nashe is referring to a sort or group, and it may be that these references are to more than one member of it, one of whom—not necessarily Kyd—wrote Hamlet.

    The practice which Nashe seems to be complaining about is that whereby a group of men desert the legal profession to which they were born and busy themselves in writing plays, thus encroaching on professional playwrights like himself. These men, he continues, obtain their clever thoughts and sayings from the English translation of Seneca. Nevertheless, Nashe admits, the play called Hamlet by one of these lawyers is a distinctly better effort. His allusion to imitating the Kid in Aesop suggests rather that this author of Hamlet imitated the style of Kyd's plays.

    Is it possible that Nashe saw the play performed at Cambridge in 1586 while he was still attending the university? It does seem likely that this Hamlet was performed in the 1580s, though not in the public theatre but at university or the inns of court.

    There is no doubt about the teasing nature of the whole extract and that Nashe deliberately refrains from naming the author of Hamlet. A possible reason is provided in another part of this preface to Greene's 'Menaphon' (1589) where, as I quoted earlier, he claims that "sundry other sweet gentlemen have vaunted their pens in private devices and tricked up a company of taffeta fools with their feathers". Perhaps, therefore, Nashe does not name the author of Hamlet because he is respecting the author's wish not to be publicly known. In any case, Nashe's passage is the only justification for the belief in an Ur-Hamlet, and it seems to be very flimsy indeed.

    Therefore, it seems to me that Shakespeare himself invented the name of the play. And he gave it the name of 'Hamlet' because through an anagramatic tweak of Belleforest's Amleth it obviously a pun on his own name!

  • Comment number 94.

    Where do you guys stand on the vuvuzela issue?

  • Comment number 95.


    I wanted an opportunity to return to 'The Winter's Tale' and the alleged art v nature dichotomy. But before doing so, here's another remarkable coincidence. Compare the list of flowers given by Perdita with that given by Bacon in his essay 'Of Gardens', first published in 1625, where he calls gardening ‘the purest of human pleasures’. Since William of Stratford died in 1616, he could not have seen this essay. Do you think Bacon stole from Shakespeare, or is it just another one of those coincidences (lots of writers wrote about gardens and about similar flowers)? Yet the flowers named in ‘The Winter's Tale’ appear to have been drawn from one and the same calendar, and in about the same order as those of the Essay.

    Spedding, Bacon’s major biographer, who was not a Baconian wrote: "The scene in the Winter's Tale where Perdita presents the guests with flowers suited to their ages, has some expressions, which, if this Essay (‘Of Gardens”) had been contained in the earlier edition, would have made me suspect that Shakespeare had been reading it”.

    First Bacon:

    "There followeth, for the latter part of January and February, the mezereon-tree, which then blossoms,......primroses, anemones; the early tulippa;.... For March, there come violets, specially the single blue, which are the earliest; the yellow daffodil; the daisy;.....sweet briar. In April follow the double white violet; the wall flower; the stock gilliflower; the cowslip; flower-de-luces, and lilies of all natures; rosemary-flowers; the tulippa; the double peony; the pale daffodil;"........... (Essay 'Of Gardens')

    Now ‘The Winter’s Tale’ (Act 4, Scene 3):

    “Out, alas!
    You’d be so lean, that blasts of January
    Would blow you through and through.— Now, my fair’st friend,
    I would I had some flowers o’ the spring that might
    Become your time of day; and yours, and yours,
    That wear upon your virgin branches yet
    Your maidenheads growing: O Proserpina!
    For the flowers now that frighted thou let’st fall
    From Dis’s waggon! daffodils,
    That come before the swallow dares, and take
    The winds of March with beauty; violets dim,
    But sweeter than the lids of Juno’s eyes
    Or Cytherea’s breath; pale prime-roses,
    That die unmarried, ere they can behold
    Bright Phœbus in his strength, a malady
    Most incident to maids; bold oxlips and
    The crown imperial; lilies of all kinds,
    The flower-de-luce being one!”

    ‘Primroses’ and ‘prime-roses’; ‘daffodils’ and ‘daffodils’; ‘violets’ and ‘violets’; ‘flower-de-luce’ and ‘flower-de-luce’;‘Lilies of all natures’ and ‘lilies of all kinds’. Coincidence again, Parrhasios?  – the arm of which is stretched to infinity when we talk of Bacon and Shakespeare.

  • Comment number 96.

    You mean, Graham, to vuvuzela or not to vuvuzela, is that your question?

  • Comment number 97.


    To say that vuvuzelas are like the drones of bees is an insult to the bees. Football is a colossal bore: 22 mentally challenged, boorish men chasing a bag of wind, and endless analysis of sweet fanny adam, as if it any of it mattered a fig. It is a sad reflection on the human race that we would hear less in the media about the threat of a nuclear war than a goalie letting in a ball. Terry Eagleton has a point in The Guardian. It is the modern opium of the people:


  • Comment number 98.


    More like: "Sound and fury, signifying nothing"

  • Comment number 99.


    To return to the art and nature false dichotomy and to the speech of Polixenes where he avers that ‘art itself is nature’. You say that Perdita refutes this. Within HER terms that is true, but you have ignored the Bacon quote I gave that “art is nature with man to help”. The statement of Polixenes is true or false depending on whether we choose to use the word ‘nature’ in an all-inclusive or in a restricted sense, to contrast art with nature or subsume it under it.The opposite meanings of ‘nature’ are clear in the statement: “It is the nature of art to add to nature”.

    Perdita assents to the idea that art is nature in the abstract (“So it is”) but rejects it in the concrete. Shakespeare interprets art as a higher kind of nature; in other words, as Bacon says, ‘nature with man to help’. This higher kind of nature is linked to the same idea in all of the late romances that the inborn nobility of royal children shines through even if they have been nurtered in the wild or on a remote island, like Miranda in ‘The Tempest’. Caliban has been brought up in the same environment but he is ‘a born devil, on whose nature nurture can never stick’. In ‘The Winter’s Tale the other young shepherdesses do not share Perdita’s nobility.

    In our age this may seem snobbish and it probably is, but remember that only 5% of the population of England were literate in Shakespeare’s time. To a highly cultured and literate mind like that of the dramatist, they must have seemed at times savage and lacking in refinement.

    I do think Shakespeare/Bacon sides with the nobility in all his plays because he himself came from that class, but he believed that their innate nobility can, with education, be spread to the ‘lower orders’. That was what Bacon was all about, and why, for example, he wrote ‘The Advancement of Learning’. But it is also indeed what Shakespeare is all about: his art is designed to educate a wider public to a more civilised culture, a culture which he identifies with the upper classes. It is why Hamlet and Prospero, both identified with the playwright, are respectively a prince and a duke. Jonson was right: Shakespeare shook a lance, as brandisht at the eyes of ignorance. His art was aimed at improving our ‘nature’.

    There is a sense in which the myth of Shakespeare was designed to be democratic. If people believed that the man from Stratford was the real author, then his humble background and qualifications would encourage many to read the works and be inspired by his supposed example. After all, in the Christian myth God supposedly chose to intervene in the world in the mask of a humble carpenter.

    Why did God choose a 'nobody' through whom to convey divine truth? Perhaps it was because the mass of people would more willingly follow one of their own. And perhaps the god of literature ultimately decided to impart his message through a humble butcher/glover boy.

  • Comment number 100.

    Graham - with regard to the vuvuzela I can do nothing but refer you to the Shakespearean injunction: "Take, o take, those lips away..."

    Brian - the bull has seen the red rag in # 99!


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