Shakespeare, Bacon and the Great Unknown, by Andrew Lang

Chapter v

Shakespeare, Genius, and Society

A phrase has been used to explain the Greek element in Shakespeare’s work, namely, “congruity of genius,” which is apt to be resented by Baconians. Perhaps they have a right to resent it, for “genius” is hard to define, and genius is invoked by some wild wits to explain feats of Shakespeare’s which (to Baconians) appear “miracles.” A “miracle” also is notoriously hard to define; but we may take it (“under all reserves”) to stand for the occurrence of an event, or the performance of an action which, to the speaker who applies the word “miracle,” seems “impossible.” The speaker therefore says, “The event is impossible; miracles do not happen: therefore the reported event never occurred. The alleged performance, the writing of the plays by the actor, was impossible, was a miracle, therefore was done by some person or persons other than the actor.” This idea of the IMPOSSIBILITY of the player’s authorship is the foundation of the Baconian edifice.

I have, to the best of my ability, tried to describe Mr. Greenwood’s view of the young provincial from Warwickshire, Will Shakspere. If Will were what Mr. Greenwood thinks he was, then Will’s authorship of the plays seems to me, “humanly speaking,” impossible. But then Mr. Greenwood appeared to omit from his calculations the circumstance that Will MAY have been, not merely “a sharp boy” but a boy of great parts; and not without a love of stories and poetry: a passion which, in a bookless region, could only be gratified through folk~song, folk-tale, and such easy Latin as he might take the trouble to read. If we add to these very unusual but not wholly impossible tastes and abilities, that Will MAY have been a lad of genius, there is no more “miracle” in his case than in other supreme examples of genius. “But genius cannot work miracles, cannot do what is impossible.” Do what is impossible to whom? To the critics, the men of common sense.

Alas, all this way of talking about “miracles,” and “the impossible,” and “genius” is quite vague and popular. What do we mean by “genius”? The Latin term originally designates, not a man’s everyday intellect, but a spirit from without which inspires him, like the “Daemon,” or, in Latin, “Genius” of Socrates, or the lutin which rode the pen of Moliere. “Genius” is claimed for Shakespeare in an inscription on his Stratford monument, erected at latest some six years after his death. Following this path of thought we come to “inspiration”: the notion of it, as familiar to Australian savages as to any modern minds, is that, to the poet, what he produces is GIVEN by some power greater than himself, by the Boilyas (spirits) or Pundjel, the Father of all. This palaeolithic psychology, of course, is now quite discredited, yet the term “genius” is still (perhaps superstitiously) applied to the rare persons whose intellectual faculties lightly outrun those of ordinary mortals, and who do marvels with means apparently inadequate.

In recent times some philosophers, like Mr. F. W. H. Myers, put — in place of the Muses or the Boilyas, or the Genius — what they call the “Subliminal Self,” something “far more deeply interfused than the everyday intellect.” This subconscious self, capable of far more than the conscious intelligence, is genius.

On the other side, genius may fairly be regarded as faculty, only higher in degree, and not at all different in kind, from the everyday intellect which, for example, pens this page.

Thus as soon as we begin to speak of “genius,” we are involved in speculations, psychological, psychical, physical, and metaphysical; in difficulties of all sorts not at present to be solved either by physiological science or experimental psychology, or by psychical research, or by the study of heredity. When I speak of “the genius of Shakespeare,” of Jeanne d’Arc, of Bacon, even of Wellington, I possibly have a meaning which is not in all respects the meaning of Mr. Greenwood, when he uses the term “genius”; so we are apt to misunderstand each other. Yet we all glibly use the term “genius,” without definition and without discussion.

At once, too, in this quest, we jostle against “that fool of a word,” as Napoleon said, “impossible.” At once, on either side, we assume that we know what is possible and what is impossible — and so pretend to omniscience.

Thus some “Stratfordians,” or defenders of the actor’s authorship, profess to know — from all the signed work of Bacon, and from all that has reached us about Bacon’s occupations and preoccupations, from 1590 to 1605 — that the theory of Bacon’s authorship of the plays is “impossible.” I, however, do not profess this omniscience.

On the other side the Baconian, arguing from all that HE knows, or thinks he knows, or can imagine, of the actor’s education, conditions of life, and opportunities, argues that the authorship of the actor is “impossible.”

Both sides assume to be omniscient, but we incontestably know much more about Bacon, in his works, his aims, his inclinations, and in his life, than we know about the actor; while about “the potentialities of genius,” we know — very little.

Thus, with all Bacon’s occupations and preoccupations, he had, the Baconians will allow, GENIUS. By the miracle of genius he MAY have found time and developed inclination, to begin by furbishing up older plays for a company of actors: he did it extremely well, but what a quaint taste for a courtier and scholar! The eccentricities of genius MAY account for his choice of a “nom de plume,” which, if he desired concealment, was the last that was likely to serve his turn. He may also have divined all the Doll Tearsheets and Mrs. Quicklys and Pistols, whom, conceivably, he did not much frequent.

I am not one of those who deny that Bacon might have written Hamlet “if he had the mind,” as Charles Lamb said of Wordsworth. Not at all; I am the last to limit the potentialities of genius.

But suppose, merely for the sake of argument, that Will Shakspere too had genius in that amazing degree which, in Henry V, the Bishop of Ely and the Archbishop of Canterbury describe and discuss in the case of the young king. In this passage we perceive that the poet had brooded over and been puzzled by the “miracle” (he uses the word) of genius. Says Canterbury speaking of the Prince’s wild youth,

“Never was such a sudden scholar made.”

One Baconian objection to Shakespeare’s authorship is that during his early years in London (say 1587–92) he was “such a sudden scholar made” in various things.

The young king’s

      “addiction was to courses vain,

His companies unletter’d, rude, and shallow,”

precisely like Shakespeare’s courses and companions at Stratford

“Had never noted in him any study.”

Stratford tradition, a century after Shakespeare left the town, did not remember “any study” in him; none had been “noted,” nor could have been remembered. To return to Henry, he shines in divinity, knowledge of “commonwealth affairs,”

“You would say, it hath been all in all his study.”

He is as intimate with the art of war; to him “Gordian knots of policy” are “familiar as his garter.” He MUST have

“The art and practic part of life,”

as “mistress to this theorie,”

“Which is a wonder how his Grace should glean it,”

as his youth was riotous, and was lived in all men’s gaze,

“And never noted in him any study,

Any retirement, any sequestration

From open haunts and popularity.”

The Bishop of Ely can only suggest that Henry’s study or “contemplation”

“Grew like the summer grass, fastest by night,

Unseen,”

and Canterbury says

“It must be so, for miracles are ceased.”

And thus the miracle of genius baffles the poet, for Henry’s had been “noisy nights,” notoriously noisy.

Now, as we shall later show, Bacon’s rapid production of the plays, considering his other contemporary activities and varied but always absorbing interests, was as much a miracle as the sudden blossoming of Henry’s knowledge and accomplishments; for all Bacon’s known exertions and occupations, and his deepest and most absorbing interest, were remote from the art of tragedy and comedy. If we are to admit the marvel of genius in Bacon, of whose life and pursuits we know much, by parity of reasoning we may grant that the actor, of whom we know much less, may have had genius: had powers and could use opportunities in a way for which Baconians make no allowance.

We now turn to Mr. Greenwood’s chapter, “Shakespeare and ‘Genius.’” It opens with the accustomed list of poor Will’s disqualifications, “a boy born of illiterate parents,” but we need not rehearse the list. 63 He “comes to town” (date unknown) “a needy adventurer”; in 1593 appeared the poem Venus and Adonis, author’s name being printed as “W. Shakespeare.” Then comes Lucrece (1594). In 1598 Love’s Labour’s Lost, printed as “corrected and augmented” by “W. Shakespere.” And so on with all the rest. Criticism of the learning and splendour of the two poems follows. To Love’s Labour’s Lost, and the amusing things written about it by Baconians, I return; and to Shakespeare’s “impossible” knowledge of courtly society, his “polish and urbanity,” his familiar acquaintance with contemporary French politics, foreign proverbs, and “the gossip of the Court” of Elizabeth: these points are made by His Honour Judge Webb.

All this lore to Shakespeare is “impossible”— he could not read, say some Baconians, or had no Latin, or had next to none; on these points I have said my say. The omniscient Baconians know that all the early works ascribed to the actor were impossible, to a man of, say thirty~-who WAS no more, and KNEW no more, than they know that the actor was and knew; and as for “Genius,” it cannot work miracles. Genius “bestows upon no one a knowledge of facts,” “Shakespeare, however favoured by nature, could impart only what he had learned.”

Precisely, but genius as I understand it (and even cleverness) has a way of acquiring knowledge of facts where the ordinary “dull intelligent man” gains none. Keen interest, keen curiosity, swift observation, even the power of tearing out the things essential from a book, the gift of rapid reading; the faculty of being alive to the fingertips — these, with a tenacious memory, may enable a small boy to know more facts of many sorts than his elders and betters and all the neighbours. They are puzzled, if they make the discovery of his knowledge. Scott was such a small boy; whether we think him a man of genius or not. Shakspere, even the actor, was, perhaps, a man of genius, and possessed this power of rapid acquisition and vivid retention of all manner of experience and information. To what I suppose to have been his opportunities in London, I shall return. Meanwhile, let the doubter take up any popular English books of Shakespeare’s day: he will find them replete with much knowledge wholly new to him — which he will also find in Shakespeare.

A good example is this: Judge Webb proclaimed that in points of scientific lore (the lore of that age) Shakespeare and Bacon were much on a level. Professor Tyrrell, in a newspaper, said that the facts staggered him, as a “Stratfordian.” A friend told me that he too was equally moved. I replied that these pseudoscientific “facts” had long been commonplaces. Pliny was a rich source of them. Professor Dowden took the matter up, with full knowledge, 64 and reconverted Mr. Tyrrell, who wrote: “I am not versed in the literature of the Shakespearian era, and I assumed that the Baconians who put forward the parallelisms had satisfied themselves that the coincidences were peculiar to the writings of the philosopher and the poet. Professor Dowden has proved that this is not so.” 65

Were I to enter seriously on this point of genius, I should begin by requesting my adversaries to read Mr. F. W. H. Myers’s papers on “The Mechanism of Genius” (in his Human Personality), and to consider the humble problem of “Calculating Boys,” which is touched on also by Cardinal Newman. How do they, at the age of innocence, arrive at their amazing results? How did the child Pascal, ignorant of Euclid, work out the Euclidean propositions of “bars and rounds,” as he called lines and circles? Science has no solution!

Transport the problem into the region of poetry and knowledge of human nature, take Will in place of Pascal and Gauss, and (in manners and matter of war) Jeanne d’Arc — and science, I fancy, is much to seek for a reply.

Mr. Greenwood considers, among others, the case of Robert Burns. The parallel is very interesting, and does not, I think, turn so much to Mr. Greenwood’s advantage as he supposes. The genius of Burns, of course, is far indeed below the level of that of the author of the Shakespearean plays. But that author and Burns have this in common with each other (and obviously with Homer), that their work arises from a basis of older materials, already manipulated by earlier artists. Burns almost always has a key-note already touched, as confessedly in the poems of his predecessor, Fergusson; of Hamilton of Gilbertfield; in songs, popular or artistic, and so forth. He “alchemised” his materials, as Mr. Greenwood says of his author of the plays; turned dross into gold, brick into marble. Notoriously much Shakespearean work is of the same nature.

The education of Burns he owed to his peasant father, to his parish school (in many such schools he might have acquired Latin and Greek; in fact he did not), to a tutor who read with him some English and French; and he knew a modernised version of Blind Harry’s Wallace; Locke’s Essay; The Spectator, novels of the day, and vernacular Scots poets of his century, with a world of old Scots songs. These things, and such as these, were Burns’s given literary materials. He used them in the only way open to him, in poems written for a rural audience, and published for an Edinburgh public. No classical, no theatrical materials were given; or, if he read the old drama, he could not, in his rural conditions, and in a Scotland where the theatre was in a very small way, venture on producing plays, for which there was no demand, while he had no knowledge of the Stage. Burns found and filled the only channels open to him, in a printed book, and in music books for which he transmuted old songs.

The bookish materials offered to Will, in London, were crammed with reminiscences from the classics, were mainly romantic and theatrical; and, from his profession of actor, by far the best channel open to him was the theatre. Badly as it paid the outside author, there was nothing that paid better. Venus and Adonis brought “more praise than pudding,” if one may venture a guess. With the freedom of the theatre Will could soar to all heights and plumb all depths. No such opportunity had Burns, even if he could have used it, and, owing to a variety of causes, his spirit soon ceased to soar high or wing wide.

I take Shakespeare, in London at least, to have read the current Elizabethan light literature — Euphues, Lyly’s Court comedies, novels full of the classics and of social life; Spenser, Sidney — his Defence of Poesy, and Arcadia (1590)— with scores of tales translated from the Italian, French, and Spanish, all full of foreign society, and discourses of knights and ladies. He saw the plays of the day, perhaps as one of “the groundlings.” He often beheld Society, from without, when acting before the Queen and at great houses. He had thus, if I am right, sufficient examples of style and manner, and knowledge of how the great were supposed (in books) to comport and conduct themselves. The books were cheap, and could be borrowed, and turned over at the booksellers’ stalls. 66 The Elizabethan style was omnipresent. Suppose that Shakespeare was a clever man, a lover of reading, a rapid reader with an excellent memory, easily influenced, like Burns, by what he read, and I really think that my conjectures are not too audacious. Not only “the man in the street,” but “the reading public” (so loved by Coleridge), have not the beginning of a guess as to the way in which a quick man reads. Watch them poring for hours over a newspaper! Let me quote what Sir Walter Raleigh says: 67 “Shakespeare was one of those swift and masterly readers who know what they want of a book; they scorn nothing that is dressed in print, but turn over the pages with a quick discernment of all that brings them new information, or jumps with their thought, or tickles their fancy. Such a reader will have done with a volume in a few minutes, yet what he has taken from it he keeps for years. He is a live man; and is sometimes judged by slower wits to be a learned man.”

I am taking Shakespeare to have been a reader of this kind, as was Dr. Johnson, as are not a few men who have no pretensions to genius. The accomplishment is only a marvel to — well, I need not be particular about the kind of person to whom it is a marvel!

Here, in fairness, the reader should be asked to consider an eloquent passage of comparison between the knowledge of Burns and of Will, quoted by Mr. Greenwood 68 from Mr. Morgan. 69

Genius, says Mr. Morgan, “did not guide Burns’s untaught pen to write of Troy or Egypt, of Athens and Cyprus.” No! that was not Burns’s lay; nor would he have found a public had he emulated the contemporary St. Andrews professor, Mr. Wilkie, who wrote The Epigoniad, and sang of Cadmeian Thebes, to the delight of David Hume, his friend. The public of 1780–90 did not want new epics of heroic Greece from Mossgiel; nor was the literature accessible to Burns full of the mediaeval legends of Troy and Athens. But the popular literature accessible to Will was full of the mediaeval legends of Thebes, Troy, and Athens; and of these, NOT of Homer, Will made his market. Egypt he knew only in the new English version of Plutarch’s Lives; of Homer, he (or the author of Troilus and Cressida) used only Iliad VII., in Chapman’s new translation (1598). For the rest he had Lydgate (perhaps), and, certainly, Caxton’s Destruction of Troy, still reprinted as a POPULAR book as late as 1713. Will did not, as Mr. Morgan says, “reproduce the very counterfeit civilisations and manners of nations born and buried and passed into history a thousand years before he had been begotten . . . “ He bestowed the manners of mediaeval chivalrous romance on his Trojans and Greeks. He accommodated prehistoric Athens with a Duke. He gave Scotland cannon three hundred years too early; and made Cleopatra play at billiards. Look at his notion of “the very manners” of early post-Roman Britain in Cymbeline and King Lear! Concerning “the anomalous status of a King of Scotland under one of its primitive Kings” the author of Macbeth knew no more than what he read in Holinshed; of the actual truth concerning Duncan (that old prince was, in fact, a young man slain in a blacksmith’s bothy), and of the whole affair, the author knew nothing but a tissue of sophisticated legends. The author of the plays had no knowledge (as Mr. Morgan inexplicably declares that he had) of “matters of curious and occult research for antiquaries or dilettanti to dig out of old romances or treaties or statutes rather than for historians to treat of or schools to teach!”

Mon Dieu! do historians NOT treat of “matters of curious research” and of statutes and of treaties? As for “old romances,” they were current and popular. The “occult” sources of King Lear are a popular tale attached to legendary “history” and a story in Sidney’s Arcadia. Will, whom Mr. Morgan describes as “a letterless peasant lad,” or the Author, whoever he was, is not “invested with all the love” (sic, v.1. “lore”), “which the ages behind him had shut up in clasped books and buried and forgotten.”

“Our friend’s style has flowery components,” Mr. Greenwood adds to this deliciously eloquent passage from his American author, “and yet Shakespeare who did all this,” et caetera. But Shakespeare did NOT do “all this”! We know the sources of the plays well enough: novels in one of which “Delphos” is the insular seat of an oracle of Apollo; Holinshed, with his contaminated legends; North’s Plutarch, done out of the French; older plays, and the rest of it. Shakespeare does not go to Tighernach and the Hennskringla for Macbeth; or for Hamlet to the saga which is the source of Saxo; or for his English chronicle~plays to the State Papers. Shakespeare did not, like William of Deloraine, dig up “clasped books, buried and forgotten.” There is no original research; the author uses the romances, novels, ballads, and popular books of uncritical history which were current in his day. Mr. Greenwood knows that; Mr. Morgan, perhaps, knew it, but forgot what he knew; hurried away by the Muse of Eloquence. And the common Baconian may believe Mr. Morgan.

But Mr. Greenwood asks “what was the poetic output?” in Burns’s case. 70 It was what we know, and THAT was what suited his age and his circumstances. It was lyric, idyll, song, and satire; it was not drama, for to the Stage he had no access, he who passed but one winter in Edinburgh, where the theatre was not the centre of literature.

Shakespeare came, with genius and with such materials as I have suggested, to an entirely different market, the Elizabethan theatre. I have tried to show how easily his mind might be steeped in the all~pervading classicism and foreign romance of the period, with the wide, sketchy, general information, the commonly known fragments from the great banquet of the classics — with such history, wholly uncritical, as Holinshed and Stow, and other such English chroniclers, could copiously provide; with the courtly manners mirrored in scores of romances and Court plays; and in the current popular Morte d’Arthur and Destruction of Troy.

I can agree with Mr. Greenwood, when he says that “Genius is a potentiality, and whether it will ever become an actuality, and what it will produce, depends upon the moral qualities with which it is associated, and the opportunities that are open to it — in a word, on the circumstances of its environment.” 71

Of course by “moral qualities,” a character without spot or stain is not intended: we may take that for granted. Otherwise, I agree; and think that Shakespeare of Stratford had genius, and that what it produced was in accordance with the opportunities open to it, and with “the circumstances of its environment.” Without the “environment,” no Jeanne d’Arc — without the environment, no Shakespeare.

To come to his own, Shakespeare needed the environment of “the light people,” the crowd of wits living from hand to mouth by literature, like Greene and Nash; and he needed that pell-mell of the productions of their pens: the novels, the poems, the pamphlets, and, above all, the plays, and the wine, the wild talk, the wit, the travellers’ tales, the seamen’s company, the vision of the Court, the gallants, the beauties; and he needed the People, of whom he does not speak in the terms of such a philanthropist as Bacon professedly was. Not as an aristocrat, a courtier, but as a simple literary man, William does not like, though he thoroughly understands, the mob. Like Alceste (in Le Misanthrope of Poquelin), he might say,

“L’Ami du genre humain n’est point du tout mon fait.”

In London, not in Stratford, he could and did find his mob. This reminds one to ask, how did the Court-haunting, or the study~haunting, or law-court, and chamber of criminal examination-rooms haunting Bacon make acquaintance with Mrs. Quickly, and Doll Tearsheet, and drawers, and carters, and Bardolph, and Pistol, and copper captains, and all Shakespeare’s crowd of people hanging loose on the town?

It is much easier to discover how Shakespeare found the tone and manners of courtly society (which, by the way, are purely poetic and conventional), than to find out where Bacon got his immense knowledge of what is called “low life.”

If you reply, as regards Bacon, “his genius divined the Costards and Audreys, the Doll Tearsheets and tapsters, and drawers, and Bardolphs, and carters, from a hint or two, a glance,” I answer that Will had much better sources for THEM in his own experience of life, and had conventional poetic sources for his courtiers — of whom, in the quick, he saw quite as much as Moliere did of his Marquis.

But one Baconian has found out a more excellent way of accounting for Bacon’s pictures of rude rustic life, and he is backed by Lord Penzance, that aged Judge. The way is short. These pictures of rural life and character were interpolated into the plays of Bacon by his collaborator, William Shakspere, actor, “who prepared the plays for the stage.” This brilliant suggestion is borrowed from Mr. Appleton Morgan. 72

Thus have these two Baconians perceived that it IS difficult to see how Bacon obtained his knowledge of certain worlds and aspects of character which he could scarcely draw “from the life.” I am willing to ascribe miracles to the genius of Bacon; but the Baconians cited give the honour to the actor, “who prepared the plays for the stage.”

Take it as you please, my Baconian friends who do not believe as I believe in “Genius.” Shakespeare and Moliere did not live in “Society,” though both rubbed shoulders with it, or looked at it over the invisible barrier between the actor and the great people in whose houses or palaces he takes the part of Entertainer. The rest they divined, by genius.

Bacon did not, perhaps, study the society of carters, drawers, Mrs. Quickly, and Doll Tearsheet; of copper captains and their boys; not at Court, not in the study, did he meet them. How then did he create his multitude of very low-lived persons? Rustics and rural constables he MAY have lovingly studied at Gorhambury, but for his collection of other very loose fish Bacon must have kept queer company. So you have to admit “Genius,”— the miracle of “Genius” in your Bacon — to an even greater extent than I need it in the case of my Will; or, like Lord Penzance, you may suggest that Will collaborated with Bacon.

Try to imagine that Will was a born poet, like Burns, but with a very different genius, education, and environment. Burns could easily get at the Press, and be published: that was impossible for Shakespeare at Stratford, if he had written any lyrics. Suppose him to be a poet, an observer, a wit, a humorist. Tradition at Stratford says something about the humorist, and tradition, IN SIMILAR CIRCUMSTANCES, would have remembered no more of Burns, after the lapse of seventy years.

Imagine Will, then, to have the nature of a poet (that much I am obliged to assume), and for nine or ten years, after leaving school at thirteen, to hang about Stratford, observing nature and man, flowers and foibles, with thoughts incommunicable to Sturley and Quiney. Some sorts of park-palings, as he was married at eighteen, he could not break so lightly as Burns did — some outlying deer he could not so readily shoot at, perhaps, but I am not surprised if he assailed other deer, and was in troubles many. Unlike Burns, he had a keen eye for the main chance. Everything was going to ruin with his father; school-mastering, if he tried it (I merely follow tradition), was not satisfactory. His opinion of dominies, if he wrote the plays, was identical with that frequently expressed, in fiction and privately, by Sir Walter Scott.

Something must be done! Perhaps the straitest Baconian will not deny that companies of players visited Stratford, or even that he may have seen and talked with them, and been attracted. He was a practical man, and he made for London, and, by tradition, we first find him heading straight for the theatre, holding horses at the door, and organising a small brigade of boys as his deputies. According to Ben Jonson he shone in conversation; he was good company, despite his rustic accent, that terrible bar! The actors find that out; he is admitted within the house as a “servitor”— a call-boy, if you like; an apprentice, if you please.

By 1592, when Greene wrote his Groatsworth, “Shakescene” thinks he can bombast out a blank verse with the best; he is an actor, he is also an author, or a furbisher of older plays, and, as a member of the company, is a rival to be dreaded by Greene’s three author friends: whoever they were, they were professional University playwrights; the critics think that Marlowe, so near his death, was one of them.

Will, supposing him to come upon the town in 1587, has now had, say, five years of such opportunities as were open to a man connected with the stage. Among these, in that age, we may, perhaps, reckon a good deal of very mixed society — writing men, bookish young blades, young blades who haunt the theatre, and sit on the stage, as was the custom of the gallants.

What follows? Chaff follows, a kind of intimacy, a supper, perhaps, after the play, if an actor seems to be good company. This is quite natural; the most modish young gallants are not so very dainty as to stand aloof from any amusing company. They found it among prize~fighters, when Byron was young, and extremely conscious of the fact that he was a lord. Moreover there were no women on the stage to distract the attention of the gallants. The players, says Asinius Lupus, in Jonson’s Poetaster, “corrupt young gentry very much, I know it.” I take the quotation from Mr. Greenwood. 73 They could not corrupt the young gentry, if they were not pretty intimate with them. From Ben’s Poetaster, which bristles with envy of the players, Mr. Greenwood also quotes a railing address by a copper captain to Histrio, a poor actor, “There are some of you players honest, gentlemanlike scoundrels, and suspected to ha’ some wit, as well as your poets, both at drinking and breaking of jests; AND ARE COMPANIONS FOR GALLANTS. A man may skelder ye, now and then, of half a dozen shillings or so.” 74 We think of Nigel Olifaunt in The Fortunes of Nigel; but better gallants might choose to have some acquaintance with Shakespeare.

To suppose that young men of position would not form a playhouse acquaintanceship with an amusing and interesting actor seems to me to show misunderstanding of human nature. The players were, when unprotected by men of rank, “vagabonds.” The citizens of London, mainly Puritans, hated them mortally, but the young gallants were not Puritans. The Court patronised the actors who performed Masques in palaces and great houses. The wealth and splendid attire of the actors, their acquisition of land and of coats of arms infuriated the sweated playwrights. Envy of the actors appears in the Cambridge “Parnassus” plays of c. 1600–2. In the mouth of Will Kempe, who acted Dogberry in Shakespeare’s company, and was in favour, says Heywood, with Queen Elizabeth, the Cambridge authors put this brag: “For Londoners, who of more report than Dick Burbage and Will Kempe? He is not counted a gentleman that knows not Dick Burbage and Will Kempe.” It is not my opinion that Shakespeare was, as Ben Jonson came to be, as much “in Society” as is possible for a mere literary man. I do not, in fancy, see him wooing a Maid of Honour. He was a man’s man, a peer might be interested in him as easily as in a jockey, a fencer, a tennis-player, a musician, que scais-je? Southampton, discovering his qualities, may have been more interested, interested in a better way.

In such circumstances which are certainly in accordance with human nature, I suppose the actor to have been noticed by the young, handsome, popular Earl of Southampton; who found him interesting, and interested himself in the poet. There followed the dedication to the Earl of Venus and Adonis; a poem likely to please any young amorist (1693).

Mr. Greenwood cries out at the audacity of a player dedicating to an Earl, without even saying that he has asked leave to dedicate. The mere fact that the dedication was accepted, and followed by that of Lucrece, proves that the Earl did not share the surprise of Mr. Greenwood. He, conceivably, will argue that the Earl knew the real concealed author, and the secret of the pseudonym. But of the hypothesis of such a choice of a pseudonym, enough has been said. Whatever happened, whatever the Earl knew, if it were discreditable to be dedicated to by an actor, Southampton was discredited; for we are to prove that all in the world of letters and theatre who have left any notice of Shakespeare identified the actor with the poet.

This appears to me to be the natural way of looking at the affair. But, says Mr. Greenwood, of this intimacy or “patronage” of Southampton “not a scrap of evidence exists.” 75 Where would Mr. Greenwood expect to find a scrap of evidence? In literary anecdote? Of contemporary literary anecdote about Shakespeare, as about Beaumont, Dekker, Chapman, Heywood, and Fletcher, there is none, or next to none. There is the tradition that Southampton gave the poet 1000 pounds towards a purchase to which he had a mind. (Rowe seems to have got this from Davenant — through Betterton.) In what documents would the critic expect to find a scrap of evidence? Perhaps in Southampton’s book of his expenditure, and that does not exist. It is in the accounts of Prince Charlie that I find him, poor as he was, giving money to Jean Jacques Rousseau.

As to the chances of an actor’s knowing “smart people,” Heywood, who knew all that world, tells us 76 that “Tarleton, in his time, was gracious with the Queen, his sovereign,” Queen Elizabeth. “Will Kempe was in the favour of his sovereign.”

THEY had advantages, they were not literary men, but low comedians. I am not pretending that, though his

      “flights upon the banks of Thames

So did take Eliza and our James,”

Will Shakspere “was gracious with the Queen.”

We may compare the dedication of the Folio of 1623; here two players address the Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery. They have the audacity to say nothing about having asked and received permission to dedicate. They say that the Earls “have prosecuted both the plays and their authour living” (while in life) “with much favour.” They “have collected and published the works of ‘the dead’ . . . only to keep alive the memory of so worthy a Friend, and Fellow” (associate) “as was our Shakespeare, ‘your servant Shakespeare.’”

Nothing can possibly be more explicit, both as to the actor’s authorship of the plays, and as to the favour in which the two Earls held him. Mr. Greenwood 77 supposes that Jonson wrote the Preface, which contains an allusion to a well-known ode of Horace, and to a phrase of Pliny. Be that as it may, the Preface signed by the two players speaks to Pembroke and Montgomery. To THEM it cannot lie; THEY know whether they patronised the actor or not; whether they believed, or not, that the plays were their “servant’s.” How is Mr. Greenwood to overcome this certain testimony of the Actors, to the identity of their late “Fellow” the player, with the author; and to the patronage which the Earls bestowed on him and his compositions? Mr. Greenwood says nothing except that we may reasonably suppose Ben to have written the dedication which the players signed. 78

Whether or not the two Earls had a personal knowledge of Shakespeare, the dedication does not say in so many words. They had seen his plays and had “favoured” both him and them, with so much favour, had “used indulgence” to the author. That is not nearly explicit enough for the precise Baconians. But the Earls knew whether what was said were true or false. I am not sure whether the Baconians regard them as having been duped as to the authorship, or as fellow-conspirators with Ben in the great Baconian joke and mystery — that “William Shakespeare” the author is not the actor whose Stratford friend, Collyns, has his name written in legal documents as “William Shakespeare.”

Anyone, however, may prefer to believe that, while William Shakspere was acting in a company (1592–3), Bacon, or who you please, wrote Venus and Adonis, and, signing “W. Shakspeare,” dedicated it to his young friend, the Earl, promising to add “some graver labour,” a promise fulfilled in Lucrece. In 1593, Bacon was chiefly occupied, we shall see, with the affairs of a young and beautiful Earl — the Earl of Essex, not of Southampton: to Essex he did not dedicate his two poems (if Venus and Lucrece were his). He “did nothing but ruminate” (he tells the world) on Essex. How Mr. Greenwood’s Unknown was occupied in 1593–4, of course we cannot possibly be aware.

I have thus tried to show that Will Shakspere, if he had as much schooling as I suggest; and if he had four or five years of life in London, about the theatre, and, above all, had genius, might, by 1592, be the rising player-author alluded to as “Shakescene.” There remains a difficulty. By 1592 Will had not time to be guilty of THIRTEEN plays, or even of six. But I have not credited him with the authorship, between, say, 1587 and 1593, of eleven plays, namely, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Titus Andronicus, Comedy of Errors, Love’s Labour’s Lost, King John, the three plays of Henry VI, and The Taming of the Shrew. Mr. Greenwood 79 cites Judge Webb for the fact that between the end of 1587 and the end of 1592 “some half-dozen Shakespearean dramas had been written,” and for Dr. Furnivall’s opinion that eleven had been composed.

If I believed that half a dozen, or eleven Shakespearean plays, as we have them, had been written or composed, between 1587 and 1592, I should be obliged to say that, in my opinion, they were not composed, in these five years, by Will. Mr. Greenwood writes, “Some of the dates are disputable”; and, for himself, would omit “Titus Andronicus, the three plays of Henry VI, and possibly also The Taming of the Shrew, while the reference to Hamlet also is, as I have elsewhere shown, of very doubtful force.” 80 This leaves us with six of Dr. Furnivall’s list of earliest plays put out of action. The miracle is decomposing, but plays numerous enough to stagger my credulity remain.

I cannot believe that the author even of the five plays before 1592–3 was the ex-butcher’s boy. Meanwhile these five plays, written by somebody before 1593, meet the reader on the threshold of Mr. Greenwood’s book 81 with Dr. Furnivall’s eleven; and they fairly frighten him, if he be a “Stratfordian.” “Will, even Will,” says the Stratfordian, “could not have composed the five, much less the eleven, much less Mr. Edwin Reed’s thirteen ‘before 1592.’” 82 But, at the close of his work 83 Mr. Greenwood reviews and disbands that unlucky troop of thirteen Shakespearean plays “before 1592” as mustered by Mr. Reed, a Baconian of whom Mr. Collins wrote in terms worthy of feu Mr. Bludyer of The Tomahawk.

From the five plays left to Shakespeare’s account in p. 51, King John (as we know it) is now eliminated. “I find it impossible to believe that the same man was the author of the drama” (The Troublesome Reign of King John) “published in 1591, and that which, so far as we know, first saw the light in the Folio of 1623 . . . Hardly a single line of the original version reappears in the King John of Shakespeare.” 84 “I think it is a mistake to endeavour to fortify the argument against him” (my Will, toi que j’aime), “by ascribing to Shakespeare such old plays as the King John of 1591 or the primitive Hamlet.” 85

I thought so too, when I read p. 51, and saw King John apparently still “coloured on the card” among “Shakespeare’s lot.” We are now left with Love’s Labour’s Lost, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Comedy of Errors, and Romeo and Juliet, out of Dr. Furnivall’s list of plays up to 1593. The phantom force of miraculously early plays is “following darkness like a dream.” We do not know the date of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, we do not know the date of Romeo and Juliet. Mr. Gollancz dates the former “about 1592,” and the latter “at 1591.” 86 This is a mere personal speculation. Of Love’s Labour’s Lost, we only know that our version is one “corrected and augmented” by William Shakespeare in 1598. I dare say it is as early as 1591–2, in its older form. Of The Comedy of Errors, Mr. Collins wrote, “It is all but certain that it was written between 1589 and 1592, and it is quite certain that it was written before the end of 1594.” 87

The legion of Shakespearean plays of date before 1593 has vanished. The miracle is very considerably abated. In place of introducing the airy hosts of plays before 1592, in p. 51, it would have been, perhaps, more instructive to write that, as far as we can calculate, Shakespeare’s earliest trials of his pinions as a dramatist may be placed about 1591–3. There would then have been no specious appearance of miracles to be credited by Stratfordians to Will. But even so, we have sufficient to “give us pause,” says Mr. Greenwood, with justice. It gives ME “pause,” if I am to believe that, between 1587 and 1592, Will wrote Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Comedy of Errors, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Romeo and Juliet. There is a limit even to my gullibility, and if anyone wrote all these plays, as we now possess them, before 1593, I do not suppose that Will was the man. But the dates, in fact, are unknown: the miracle is apocryphal.

63 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, pp. 54, 55.

64 National Review, vol. xxxix., 1902.

65 The Pilot, Aug. 30, 1902, p. 220.

66 The oldest mention of a CIRCULATING library known to me is in Hull, in 1650, when Sir James Turner found it excellent.

67 In his Shakespeare (English Men of Letters), pp. 66, 67.

68 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, pp. 77, 78.

69 The Shakespearean Myth, p. 162.

70 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, p. 76.

71 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, p. 81, note I.

72 Penzance, The Bacon–Shakespeare Controversy, pp. 150, 151. Citing Appleton Morgan’s Shakespearean Myth, pp. 248, 298.

73 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, p. 175.

74 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, p. 457.

75 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, p. 58.

76 Apology the Actors, 1612.

77 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, p. 267.

78 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, pp. 267, 268.

79 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, pp. 50–52.

80 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, p. 51.

81 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, p. 51.

82 Ibid., p. 500, citing Mr. Reed’s Francis Bacon our Shake~speare, chap. ii. pp. 62, 63.

83 Ibid., pp. 500–520, chap xvi.

84 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, p. 512.

85 Ibid., p. 514.

86 Ibid., p. 386, note I.

87 Ibid., p. 93.

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