Shakespeare, Bacon and the Great Unknown, by Andrew Lang

Introduction

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 innumerable most THOUGHTFUL SCHOLARS EMINENT IN MANY WALKS OF LIFE, AND ESPECIALLY IN THE LEGAL PROFESSION . . . “ have been Baconians, 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 bitter.

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 reasoning.”

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 province.”

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.” 1

Now we have Mr. Greenwood’s testimonial in favour of Mr. Castle, “Who really does know something about law.” 2 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.” 3 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.” 4

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.” 5 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.” 6 “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 author.

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.” 7 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”? 8

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. 9 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 10 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.” 11 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.”

1 E. J. Castle, Shakespeare, Bacon, Jonson, and Greene, pp. 194~195.

2 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, p. 145.

3 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, p. 340.

4 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, pp. 340, 341.

5 In Re Shakespeare, p. 54.

6 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, p. 341.

7 Ibid., p. 470.

8 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, p. 339.

9 The Vindicators of Shakespeare, pp. 115–116.

10 Ibid., p. 49.

11 The Vindicators of Shakespeare, p. 14.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/l/lang/andrew/shakespeare-bacon-and-the-great-unknown/introduction1.html

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 22:03