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Shakespeare, Bacon, and the Great Unknown online

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Transcribed from the 1912 Longmans, Green and Co. edition by David
Price, email [email protected]



The theory that Francis Bacon was, in the main, the author of
"Shakespeare's plays," has now been for fifty years before the
learned world. Its advocates have met with less support than they
had reason to expect. Their methods, their logic, and their
hypotheses closely resemble those applied by many British and foreign
scholars to Homer; and by critics of the very Highest School to Holy
Writ. Yet the Baconian theory is universally rejected in England by
the professors and historians of English literature; and generally by
students who have no profession save that of Letters. The Baconians,
however, do not lack the countenance and assistance of highly
distinguished persons, whose names are famous where those of mere men
of letters are unknown; and in circles where the title of "Professor"
is not duly respected.

The partisans of Bacon aver (or one of them avers) that "Lord
Penzance, Lord Beaconsfield, Lord Palmerston, Judge Webb, Judge
Holmes (of Kentucky, U.S.), Prince Bismarck, John Bright, and
or, at least, opposed to Will Shakspere's authorship. To these names
of scholars I must add that of my late friend, Samuel Clemens,
D.Litt. of Oxford; better known to many as Mark Twain. Dr. Clemens
was, indeed, no mean literary critic; witness his epoch-making study
of Prof. Dowden's Life of Shelley, while his researches into the
biography of Jeanne d'Arc were most conscientious.

With the deepest respect for the political wisdom and literary taste
of Lord Palmerston, Prince Bismarck, Lord Beaconsfield, and the late
Mr. John Bright; and with every desire to humble myself before the
judicial verdicts of Judges Holmes, Webb, and Lord Penzance; with
sincere admiration of my late friend, Dr. Clemens, I cannot regard
them as, in the first place and professionally, trained students of
literary history.

They were no more specially trained students of Elizabethan
literature than myself; they were amateurs in this province, as I am
an amateur, who differ from all of them in opinion. Difference of
opinion concerning points of literary history ought not to make "our
angry passions rise." Yet this controversy has been extremely

I abstain from quoting the "sweetmeats," in Captain MacTurk's phrase,
which have been exchanged by the combatants. Charges of ignorance
and monomania have been answered by charges of forgery, lying,
"scandalous literary dishonesty," and even inaccuracy. Now no mortal
is infallibly accurate, but we are all sane and "indifferent honest."
There have been forgeries in matters Shakespearean, alas, but not in
connection with the Baconian controversy.

It is an argument of the Baconians, and generally of the impugners of
good Will's authorship of the plays vulgarly attributed to him, that
the advocates of William Shakspere, Gent, as author of the plays,
differ like the Kilkenny cats among themselves on many points. All
do not believe, with Mr. J. C. Collins, that Will knew Sophocles,
Euripides, and AEschylus (but not Aristophanes) as well as Mr.
Swinburne did, or knew them at all - for that matter. Mr. Pollard
differs very widely from Sir Sidney Lee on points concerning the
First Folio and the Quartos: my sympathies are with Mr. Pollard.
Few, if any, partisans of Will agree with Mrs. Stopes (herself no
Baconian) about the history of the Stratford monument of the poet.
About Will's authorship of Titus Andronicus, and Henry VI, Part I,
the friends of Will, like the friends of Bacon, are at odds among
themselves. These and other divergencies of opinion cause the
Baconians to laugh, as if THEY were a harmonious circle . . . ! For
the Baconian camp is not less divided against itself than the camp of
the "Stratfordians." Not all Baconians hold that Bacon was the
legitimate son of "that Imperial votaress" Queen Elizabeth. Not all
believe in the Cryptogram of Mr. Ignatius Donnelly, or in any other
cryptograms. Not all maintain that Bacon, in the Sonnets, was
inspired by a passion for the Earl of Essex, for Queen Elizabeth, or
for an early miniature of himself. Not all regard him as the author
of the plays of Kit Marlowe. Not all suppose him to be a
Rosicrucian, who possibly died at the age of a hundred and six, or,
perhaps, may be "still running." Not all aver that he wrote thirteen
plays before 1593. But one party holds that, in the main, Will was
the author of the plays, while the other party votes for Bacon - or
for Bungay, a Great Unknown. I use Bungay as an endearing term for
the mysterious being who was the Author if Francis Bacon was not.
Friar Bungay was the rival of Friar Bacon, as the Unknown (if he was
not Francis Bacon) is the rival of "the inventor of Inductive

I could never have expected that I should take a part in this
controversy; but acquaintance with The Shakespeare Problem Restated
(503 pp.), (1908), and later works of Mr. G. G. Greenwood, M.P., has
tempted me to enter the lists.

Mr. Greenwood is worth fighting; he is cunning of fence, is learned
(and I cannot conceal my opinion that Mr. Donnelly and Judge Holmes
were rather ignorant). He is not over "the threshold of Eld" (as
were Judge Webb and Lord Penzance when they took up Shakespearean
criticism). His knowledge of Elizabethan literature is vastly
superior to mine, for I speak merely, in Matthew Arnold's words, as
"a belletristic trifler."

Moreover, Mr. Greenwood, as a practising barrister, is a judge of
legal evidence; and, being a man of sense, does not "hold a brief for
Bacon" as the author of the Shakespearean plays and poems, and does
not value Baconian cryptograms. In the following chapters I make
endeavours, conscientious if fallible, to state the theory of Mr.
Greenwood. It is a negative theory. He denies that Will Shakspere
(or Shaxbere, or Shagspur, and so on) was the author of the plays and
poems. Some other party was, IN THE MAIN, with other hands, the
author. Mr. Greenwood cannot, or does not, offer a guess as to who
this ingenious Somebody was. He does not affirm, and he does not
deny, that Bacon had a share, greater or less, in the undertaking.

In my brief tractate I have not room to consider every argument; to
traverse every field. In philology I am all unlearned, and cannot
pretend to discuss the language of Shakespeare, any more than I can
analyse the language of Homer into proto-Arcadian and Cyprian, and so
on. Again, I cannot pretend to have an opinion, based on internal
evidence, about the genuine Shakespearean character of such plays as
Titus Andronicus, Henry VI, Part I, and Troilus and Cressida. About
them different views are held WITHIN both camps.

I am no lawyer or naturalist (as Partridge said, Non omnia possumus
omnes), and cannot imagine why our Author is so accurate in his
frequent use of terms of law - if he be Will; and so totally at sea in
natural history - if he be Francis, who "took all knowledge for his

How can a layman pretend to deal with Shakespeare's legal
attainments, after he has read the work of the learned Recorder of
Bristol, Mr. Castle, K.C.? To his legal mind it seems that in some
of Will's plays he had the aid of an expert in law, and then his
technicalities were correct. In other plays he had no such tutor,
and then he was sadly to seek in his legal jargon. I understand Mr.
Greenwood to disagree on this point. Mr. Castle says, "I think
Shakespeare would have had no difficulty in getting aid from several
sources. There is therefore no prima facie reason why we should
suppose the information was supplied by Bacon."

Of course there is not!

"In fact, there are some reasons why one should attribute the legal
assistance, say, to Coke, rather than to Bacon."

The truth is, that Bacon seems not to have been lawyer enough for
Will's purposes. "We have no reason to believe that Bacon was
particularly well read in the technicalities of our law; he never
seems to have seriously followed his profession." {0a}

Now we have Mr. Greenwood's testimonial in favour of Mr. Castle, "Who
really does know something about law." {0b} Mr. Castle thinks that
Bacon really did not know enough about law, and suggests Sir Edward
Coke, of all human beings, as conceivably Will's "coach" on legal
technicalities. Perhaps Will consulted the Archbishop of Canterbury
on theological niceties?

Que scais je? In some plays, says Mr. Castle, Will's law is all
right, in other plays it is all wrong. As to Will's law, when Mr.
Greenwood and Mr. Castle differ, a layman dare not intervene.

Concerning legend and tradition about our Will, it seems that, in
each case, we should do our best to trace the Quellen, to discover
the original sources, and the steps by which the tale arrived at its
late recorders in print; and then each man's view as to the veracity
of the story will rest on his sense of probability; and on his bias,
his wish to believe or to disbelieve.

There exists, I believe, only one personal anecdote of Will, the
actor, and on it the Baconians base an argument against the
contemporary recognition of him as a dramatic author. I take the
criticism of Mr. Greenwood (who is not a Baconian). One John
Manningham, Barrister-at-Law, "a well-educated and cultured man,"
notes in his Diary (February 2, 1601) that "at our feast we had a
play called Twelve Night or What you Will, much like the Comedy of
Errors, or Menaechmi in Plautus, but most like and near to that in
Italian called Inganni." He confides to his Diary the tricks played
on Malvolio as "a good practice." {0c} That is all.

About the authorship he says nothing: perhaps he neither knew nor
cared who the author was. In our day the majority of people who tell
me about a play which they have seen, cannot tell me the name of the
author. Yet it is usually printed on the playbill, though in modest
type. The public does not care a straw about the author's name,
unless he be deservedly famous for writing letters to the newspapers
on things in general; for his genius as an orator; his enthusiasm as
a moralist, or in any other extraneous way. Dr. Forman in his queer
account of the plot of "Mack Beth" does not allude to the name of the
author (April 20, 1610). Twelfth Night was not published till 1623,
in the Folio: there was no quarto to enlighten Manningham about the
author's name. We do not hear of printed playbills, with author's
names inserted, at that period. It seems probable that occasional
playgoers knew and cared no more about authors than they do at
present. The world of the wits, the critics (such as Francis Meres),
poets, playwrights, and players, did know and care about the authors;
apparently Manningham did not. But he heard a piquant anecdote of
two players and (March 13, 1601) inserted it in his Diary.

Shakespeare once anticipated Richard Burbage at an amorous tryst with
a citizen's wife. Burbage had, by the way, been playing the part of
Richard III. While Will was engaged in illicit dalliance, the
message was brought (what a moment for bringing messages!) that
Richard III was at the door, and Will "caused return to be made that
William the Conqueror was before Richard III. Shakespeare's name
William." (My italics.) Mr. Greenwood argues that if "Shakspere the
player was known to the world as the author of the plays of
Shakespeare, it does seem extremely remarkable" that Manningham
should have thought it needful to add "Shakespeare's name William."

But WAS "Shakspere," or any man, "known to the world as the author of
the plays of Shakespeare"? No! for Mr. Greenwood writes, "nobody,
outside a very small circle, troubled his head as to who the
dramatist or dramatists might be." {0e} To that "very small circle"
we have no reason to suppose that Manningham belonged, despite his
remarkable opinion that Twelfth Night resembles the Menaechmi.
Consequently, it is NOT "extremely remarkable" that Manningham wrote
"Shakespeare's name William," to explain to posterity the joke about
"William the Conqueror," instead of saying, "the brilliant author of
the Twelfth Night play which so much amused me at our feast a few
weeks ago." {0f} "Remarkable" out of all hooping it would have been
had Manningham written in the style of Mr. Greenwood. But Manningham
apparently did not "trouble his head as to who the dramatist or
dramatists might be." "Nobody, outside a very small circle," DID
trouble his poor head about that point. Yet Mr. Greenwood thinks "it
does seem extremely remarkable" that Manningham did not mention the

Later, on the publication of the Folio (1623), the world seems to
have taken more interest in literary matters. Mr. Greenwood says
that then while "the multitude" would take Ben Jonson's noble
panegyric on Shakespeare as a poet "au pied de la lettre," "the
enlightened few would recognise that it had an esoteric meaning."
{0g} Then, it seems, "the world" - the "multitude" - regarded the
actor as the author. Only "the enlightened few" were aware that when
Ben SAID "Shakespeare," and "Swan of Avon," he MEANT - somebody else.

Quite different inferences are drawn from the same facts by persons
of different mental conditions. For example, in 1635 or 1636,
Cuthbert Burbage, brother of Richard, the famous actor, Will's
comrade, petitioned Lord Pembroke, then Lord Chamberlain, for
consideration in a quarrel about certain theatres. Telling the
history of the houses, he mentions that the Burbages "to ourselves
joined those deserving men, Shakspere, Heminge, Condell, Phillips and
others." Cuthbert is arguing his case solely from the point of the
original owners or lease-holders of the houses, and of the well-known
actors to whom they joined themselves. Judge Webb and Mr. Greenwood
think that "it does indeed seem strange . . . that the proprietor[s]
of the playhouses which had been made famous by the production of the
Shakespearean plays, should, in 1635 - twelve years after the
publication of the great Folio - describe their reputed author to the
survivor of the Incomparable Pair, as merely a 'man-player' and 'a
deserving man.'" Why did he not remind the Lord Chamberlain that
this "deserving man" was the author of all these famous dramas? Was
it because he was aware that the Earl of Pembroke "knew better than
that"? {0h}

These arguments are regarded by some Baconians as proof positive of
their case.

Cuthbert Burbage, in 1635 or 1636, did not remind the Earl of what
the Earl knew very well, that the Folio had been dedicated, in 1623,
to him and his brother, by Will's friends, Heminge and Condell, as
they had been patrons of the late William Shakspere and admirers of
his plays. The terms of this dedication are to be cited in the text,
later. WE all NOW would have reminded the Earl of what he very well
knew. Cuthbert did not.

The intelligence of Cuthbert Burbage may be gauged by anyone who will
read pp. 481-484 in William Shakespeare, His Family and Friends, by
the late Mr. Charles Elton, Q.C., of White Staunton. Cuthbert was a
puzzle-pated old boy. The silence as to Will's authorship on the
part of this muddle-headed old Cuthbert, in 1635-36, cannot outweigh
the explicit and positive public testimony to his authorship, signed
by his friends and fellow-actors in 1623.

Men believe what they may; but I prefer positive evidence for the
affirmative to negative evidence from silence, the silence of
Cuthbert Burbage.

One may read through Mr. Greenwood's three books and note the
engaging varieties of his views; they vary as suits his argument; but
he is unaware of it, or can justify his varyings. Thus, in 1610, one
John Davies wrote rhymes in which he speaks of "our English Terence,
Mr. Will Shakespeare"; "good Will." In his period patriotic English
critics called a comic dramatist "the English Terence," or "the
English Plautus," precisely as American critics used to call Mr.
Bryant "the American Wordsworth," or Cooper "the American Scott"; and
as Scots called the Rev. Mr. Thomson "the Scottish Turner."
Somewhere, I believe, exists "the Belgian Shakespeare."

Following this practice, Davies had to call Will either "our English
Terence," or "our English Plautus." Aristophanes would not have been
generally recognised; and Will was no more like one of these ancient
authors than another. Thus Davies was apt to choose either Plautus
or Terence; it was even betting which he selected. But he chanced to
choose Terence; and this is "curious," and suggests suspicions to Mr.
Greenwood - and the Baconians. They are so very full of suspicions!

It does not suit the Baconians, or Mr. Greenwood, to find
contemporary recognition of Will as an author. {0i} Consequently,
Mr. Greenwood finds Davies's "curious, and at first sight,
inappropriate comparison of 'Shake-speare' to Terence worthy of
remark, for Terence is the very author whose name is alleged to have
been used as a mask-name, or nom de plume, for the writings of great
men who wished to keep the fact of their authorship concealed."

Now Davies felt bound to bring in SOME Roman parallel to Shakespeare;
and had only the choice of Terence or Plautus. Meres (1598) used
Plautus; Davies used Terence. Mr. Greenwood {0j} shows us that
Plautus would not do. "Could HE" (Shakespeare) "write only of
courtesans and cocottes, and not of ladies highly born, cultured, and
refined? . . . "

"The supposed parallel" (Plautus and Shakespeare) "breaks down at
every point." Thus, on Mr. Greenwood's showing, Plautus could not
serve Davies, or should not serve him, in his search for a Roman
parallel to "good Will." But Mr. Greenwood also writes, "if he"
(Shakespeare) "was to be likened to a Latin comedian, surely Plautus
is the writer with whom he should have been compared." {0k} Yet
Plautus was the very man who cannot be used as a parallel to
Shakespeare. Of course no Roman nor any other comic dramatist
closely resembles the AUTHOR of As You Like It. They who selected
either Plautus or Terence meant no more than that both were
celebrated comic dramatists. Plautus was no parallel to Will. Yet
"surely Plautus is the author to whom he should have been compared"
by Davies, says Mr. Greenwood. If Davies tried Plautus, the
comparison was bad; if Terence, it was "curious," as Terence was
absurdly accused of being the "nom de plume" of some great "concealed
poets" of Rome. "From all the known facts about Terence," says a
Baconian critic (who has consulted Smith's Biographical Dictionary),
"it is an almost unavoidable inference that John Davies made the
comparison to Shakspere because he knew of the point common to both
cases." The common point is taken to be, not that both men were
famous comic dramatists, but that Roman literary gossips said, and
that Baconians and Mr. Greenwood say, that "Terence" was said to be a
"mask-name," and that "Shakespeare" is a mask-name. Of the second
opinion there is not a hint in literature of the time of good Will.

What surprises one most in this controversy is that men eminent in
the legal profession should be "anti-Shakesperean," if not overtly
Baconian. For the evidence for the contemporary faith in Will's
authorship is all positive; from his own age comes not a whisper of
doubt, not even a murmur of surprise. It is incredible to me that
his fellow-actors and fellow-playwrights should have been deceived,
especially when they were such men as Ben Jonson and Tom Heywood.
One would expect lawyers, of all people, to have been most impatient
of the surprising attempts made to explain away Ben Jonson's
testimony, by aid, first, of quite a false analogy (Scott's denial of
his own authorship of his novels), and, secondly, by the suppression
of such a familiar fact as the constant inconsistency of Ben's
judgments of his contemporaries in literature. Mr. Greenwood must
have forgotten the many examples of this inconsistency; but I have
met a Baconian author who knew nothing of the fact. Mr. Greenwood,
it is proper to say, does not seem to be satisfied that he has solved
what he calls "the Jonsonian riddle." Really, there is no riddle.
About Will, as about other authors, his contemporaries and even his
friends, on occasion, Ben "spoke with two voices," now in terms of
hyperbolical praise, now in carping tones of censure. That is the
obvious solution of "the Jonsonian riddle."

I must apologise if I have in places spelled the name of the Swan of
Avon "Shakespeare" where Mr. Greenwood would write "Shakspere," and
vice versa. He uses "Shakespeare" where he means the Author;
"Shakspere" where he means Will; and is vexed with some people who
write the name of Will as "Shakespeare." As Will, in the opinion of
a considerable portion of the human race, and of myself, WAS the
Author, one is apt to write his name as "Shakespeare" in the usual
way. But difficult cases occur, as in quotations, and in conditional
sentences. By any spelling of the name I always mean the undivided
personality of "Him who sleeps by Avon."


Till the years 1856-7 no voice was raised against the current belief
about Shakespeare (1564-1616). He was the author in the main of the
plays usually printed as his. In some cases other authors, one or
more, may have had fingers in his dramas; in other cases, Shakespeare
may have "written over" and transfigured earlier plays, of himself
and of others; he may have contributed, more or less, to several
plays mainly by other men. Separately printed dramas published
during his time carry his name on their title-pages, but are not
included in the first collected edition of his dramas, "The First
Folio," put forth by two of his friends and fellow-actors, in 1623,
seven years after his death.

On all these matters did commentators, critics, and antiquarians for
long dispute; but none denied that the actor, Will Shakspere (spelled
as heaven pleased), was in the main the author of most of the plays
of 1623, and the sole author of Venus and Adonis, Lucrece, and the

Even now, in England at least, it would be perhaps impossible to find
one special and professed student of Elizabethan literature, and of
the classical and European literatures, who does not hold by the
ancient belief, the belief of Shakespeare's contemporaries and
intimates, the belief that he was, in the sense explained above, the
author of the plays.

But ours is not a generation to be overawed by "Authority" (as it is
called). A small but eager company of scholars have convinced
themselves that Francis Bacon wrote the Shakespearean plays. That is
the point of agreement among these enthusiasts: points of difference
are numerous: some very wild little sects exist. Meanwhile
multitudes of earnest and intelligent men and women, having read
notices in newspapers of the Baconian books, or heard of them at
lectures and tea-parties, disbelieve in the authorship of "the
Stratford rustic," and look down on the faithful of Will Shakespere
with extreme contempt.

From the Baconians we receive a plain straightforward theory, "Bacon
wrote Shakespeare," as one of their own prophets has said. {4a}
Since we have plenty of evidence for Bacon's life and occupations
during the period of Shakespearean poetic activity, we can compare
what he was doing as a man, a student, a Crown lawyer, a pleader in
the Courts, a political pamphleteer, essayist, courtier, active
member of Parliament, and so on, with what he is said to have been
doing - by the Baconians; namely, writing two dramas yearly.

But there is another "Anti-Willian" theory, which would dethrone Will
Shakspere, and put but a Shadow in his place. Conceive a "concealed
poet," of high social position, contemporary with Bacon and
Shakespeare. Let him be so fond of the Law that he cannot keep legal
"shop" out of his love Sonnets even. Make him a courtier; a
statesman; a philosopher; a scholar who does not blench even from the
difficult Latin of Ovid and Plautus. Let this almost omniscient
being possess supreme poetic genius, extensive classical attainments,
and a tendency to make false quantities. Then conceive him to live
through the reigns of "Eliza and our James," without leaving in
history, in science, in society, in law, in politics or scholarship,
a single trace of his existence. He left nothing but the poems and

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Online LibraryAndrew LangShakespeare, Bacon, and the Great Unknown → online text (page 1 of 17)