Not Bacon! By Isabel Gortazar
There are so many reasons why I am sure Francis Bacon did NOT write Shakespeare, that to explain them all would exceed the limits of this article.
I shall leave aside, for the moment, the various clues in the texts of the First Folio, showing the undying resentment that Marlowe nursed against Bacon for his betrayal of the Earl of Essex - a betrayal that resulted in Essex’s death and, indirectly, in Marlowe’s dying in exile. Instead, I will focus on the strictly objective reasons provided by Bacon’s own work, and I shall attempt to prove that nothing in his highly talented, persnickety, sour, misogynist mind could be mistaken for the depth of understanding and compassion that is the essence of the Great Bard.
In the following poem, Bacon displays his un-Shakespearean banality, both in content and style.
Yet since with sorrow here we live oppressed,
What life is best?
Courts are but only superficial schools,
To dandle fools.
The rural parts are turned into a den,
Of savage men.
And where's a city from all vice so free,
But may be termed the worst of all the three?
Domestic cares afflict the husband's bed,
Or pains his head.
Those that live single take it for a curse,
Or do things worse.
Some would have children; those that have them none,
Or wish them gone.
What is it then to have or have no wife,
But single thraldom or a double strife.
Our own affections still at home to please,
Is a disease.
To cross the sea to any foreign soil,
Perils and toil.
Wars with their noise affright us; when they cease,
Wars worse in peace.
What then remains, but that we still should cry:
Not to be born, or being born to die?.1
Does this sound like Shakespeare? I don’t think so. The sour misogyny and querulous tone of the poem would have given Shakespeare the creeps. And what does he mean by: Those that live single take it for a curse, / Or do things worse?
Bacon’s homosexuality would be nobody’s business but his own, except for the misery that he seems to have felt on its account. Unlike other notorious homosexuals of his time, such as his brother Anthony and King James, whose licentiousness permeated the entire fabric of the Court, Francis Bacon’s writings distill barrels of bitterness against women for being women, and against himself for loathing them.
But before I move on, I would like to know in what way could the poem above quoted, published under Bacon’s own name, be less indiscreet, or dangerous in any way, than the various Shakespeare poems. What fearful secrets, not yet revealed after 500 years, are encoded in the 154 Shakespeare Sonnets, that made it necessary for Bacon to use an alias and to waive forever all the glory and profit that he might have derived from them? For a man that was endemically short of cash, this is difficult to understand. Nor could social status be the reason; the Oxford Book of Sixteenth Century Verse contains poems from two monarchs and a number of aristocrats, including the Earls of Essex and Oxford, Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Philip Sidney, to name only a few.
Now let’s look at Bacon’s Essays.2 They are not as interesting as Montaigne’s, but they are curious and well written. One cannot fail to admire the precise mind that produced them, even though most of what they say is by now irrelevant. And this is another major difference with the Shakespearean output, all of which is as relevant today as it was 500 years ago.
Bacon writes about down-to-earth reality such as he sees it, with a sententious, precise language worthy of better causes. He discourses on nearly all matters, divine and human, without room for a single smile, or a single flight of fancy. Here and there, we get a glimpse of the author’s bitterness, trying to explain himself to himself. As in, for example: Ambition is like Choler, Which is an Humour, that maketh Men Active, Earnest, Full of Alacritie, and Stirring, if it be not stopped. But if it be stopped, and cannot haue his Way, it becommeth Adust, and thereby Maligne and Venomous.3
And the Essays provide much information about his view of women. In his Essay: On Beauty, Bacon starts by stating that Vertue is like a rich stone, best set plaine; And surely Vertue is best in a body that is comely, though not of Delicate Features. (…) Neither it is almost seene, that very Beautifull Persons, are otherwise of great Vertue. Having established this general rule, he admits that there may be exceptions, and he then mentions six men in history, who were all High and Great Sprits; And yet the most Beautifull Men of their Times. Needless to say, women are not mentioned at all; not even Helen of Troy gets a line of commendation.
In Of Marriage and Single Life, we read that wives and children are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief. Certainly the best works and of greatest merit for the public, have proceeded from the unmarried or childless men. And later: wives are young men’s mistresses, companions for middle age, and old men’s nurses.
His marriage must have been a lark. At the age of forty-five, Francis Bacon had married the fourteen-year-old Alice Barnham. The couple had no children; Bacon disinherited his wife for some unknown reason the year before he died. Alice Bacon married someone else two weeks after Sir Francis’s death.
A profound respect for, and understanding of, women is perhaps the most conspicuous characteristic in the Shakespearean Canon, which fact helps us to dismiss both Shakespeare and Bacon as possible authors, on the grounds of their well-documented family life. (Marlowe’s alleged homosexuality, based exclusively on the charges presented by his enemy,Richard Baines, cannot be taken seriously; and his early heroes, such as Tamburlaine and Faustus, are both heterosexual.)
It is important to realize how the capacity for rebellion and independence in women is important to Shakespeare, and how insistently he explores (both as Marlowe and later), the myriad nuances of the use that women make of whatever power they have, from the murderous power of Catherine of Medicis and Lady Macbeth, to the self-liberating power of Rosalind, Beatrice and Viola, or the self-serving power of Dido, Volumnia and Cleopatra. Even the angelic Cordelia and Desdemona show a considerable measure of self-respect and the capacity to make dangerous choices.
And there is no denying that the author loves and admires these women he has invented (or perhaps known): their panache, their wit. He loves those thoroughly modern Mrs. Page and Mrs. Ford, the Merry but ruthlessly independent Wives of Windsor; he loves Rosalind and Beatrice. How could Francis Bacon, the woman-hater, have written those comedies?
In his Masonic Utopia, New Atlantis, 4 Bacon describes The Feast of the Family (my italics): “It is granted to any man that shall live to see thirty persons descended of his body, alive together and all above three years old, to make this feast. The Father of the Family, whom they call the Tirsan, (a possible anagram for artisan, with its connotations of the Masonic Craft)…taketh to him three of such friends as he liketh to choose…The Tirsan cometh forth with all his generation or lineage, the males before him,and the females following him; and if there be a mother from whose body the whole lineage is descended, there is a traverse placed in a loft above, on the right hand of the chair, with a privy door, and a carved window, leaded with gold and blue, where she sitteth but is not seen. …” etc.
Freud would have had a field day exploring the mind of a man who disliked and, possibly, feared women as much as that. Renaissance Freemasons were explicitly sexist, but this Tirsan seems to consider the exercise of procreation so distasteful to a man that he deserves a national feast to glorify his public- spirited effort for, he says, the King is debtor to no man but for the propagation of his subjects. The mother of those children, the woman he had to take to his bed out of duty to his King, will be allowed to attend the ceremony, as long as she remains out of sight!
Now, this was not the situation of women in Jacobean England, bad as it was. It is no good trying to explain this mise-en-scene in terms of the period’s social mores. This is a ceremony that Bacon is inventing for his Utopian New Atlantis, a ritual that he describes with obvious approval. The narcissistic treatment he lavishes on the Father and the subordinate role he gives to the Mother, is not just early Masonic, it is thoroughly Baconian. When Shakespeare creates his plucky heroines he does so in the very same period (actually some twenty-five years earlier), within the same social rules for women. But while Shakespeare obviously wishes his heroines more liberated than women actually were at the time, Bacon, in his ideal City of Bensalem,wishes them totally subordinate to the male, and invisible!
Here is Emilia’s rebellious speech (Othello FF- Act IV, 3):
But I do think it is their husbands' faults
If wives do fall: say that they slack their duties,
And pour our treasures into foreign laps,
Or else break out in peevish jealousies,
Throwing restraint upon us; or say they strike us,
Or scant our former having in despite;
Why, we have galls, and though we have some grace,
Yet have we some revenge.
Bravo, Emilia! Was Alice Barnham at all like her and is that the reason why she was disinherited? We can see that Shakespeare is openly on Emilia’s side, but such a wife would have been a nightmare for Francis Bacon.
© Isabel Gortázar, February 2009
1The Oxford Book of Sixteenth Century Verse: Farnaby, Florilegium Epigrammatum Graecorum, 1629.
2 The Essayes or Counsels Civill and Morall of Francis Lo.Verulam Viscount St Alban, London. Printed by John Haviland for Hanna Barret, 1625.
3The Essays. Op cit; On Ambition.
4Francis Bacon: New Atlantis (Three Early Modern Utopias), Oxford World’s Classics, Ed. Susan Bruce, Oxford University Press, 1999.
Nor Oxford Either! By Isabel Gortazar
A few reasons why the Earl of Oxford could not have written Shakespeare
Some people commenting on my recent piece on Bacon have asked whether I could give equally cogent reasons against the Earl of Oxford’s claim. I can.
Even if I could believe for a split second that an Elizabethan Earl would stoop to the “indignity” of writing plays for the public theatres under cover of a front man, I would still find ample reasons to argue against the Earl of Oxford’s authorship of the Canon. I shall, however, leave to my colleagues arguments of style, character, etc., and concentrate here on two points: a) The class objection and, b) The dates of composition of The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale. I will also leave for another time my comments on the various attacks against Oxford that we find in the Canon, including the extraordinary All’s Well that Ends Well and, by omission, the unhistorical absence of the Earl of Oxford among King Hal’s small band of brothers, in the Battle of Agincourt.
Things that an Earl would not do
In the 1580s, writing plays for the public theatres was a mere notch above bear baiting. While monarchs, aristocrats and courtiers were busy writing poems, plays for private performances, such as the Countess of Pembroke’s Antonius; and even some long narratives, such as Sir Philip Sydney’s Arcadia, the job of entertaining the masses was left to the professionals, as indeed was being done in the continent, by the various Mecenas who sponsored composers and dramatists. The Duke of Mantua, Vincenzo Gonzaga (1562-1612), for example, was a conspicuous and generous patron of Opera and Drama, including the groundbreaking commedia dell’arte, but nobody has suggested that he wrote any of the plays or librettos, although he probably slept with the sopranos.1
The much-discussed appearance of Oxford in Francis Meres' Palladis Tamia (1598) must be considered in this light. After assigning to Shakespeare all the Shakespearian comedies that had appeared so far, Mr. Meres includes the name of “Edward, Earl of Oxford” among “the best for comedy.” As he doesn’t explain to which comedies he refers, Oxfordian followers have taken for granted that he must be referring to the very comedies that he believes were written by Shakespeare. But how can that be?
By declaring the Earl of Oxford to be among “the best for comedy,” Meres is surely telling us that he has had the opportunity to watch at least one comedy that he knows to have been written by Oxford. So, either he is referring to a funny poem and not a play at all, or he must mean a private performance of some (untitled) play or masque written by the Earl for his guests or friends; otherwise we must believe that the Oxford/Shakespeare secret was so little a secret that the likes of Francis Meres knew about it. And, even worse, that he not only knew about it, but that despite the efforts made by the Earl to keep his authorship secret, he could not prevent/destroy/explain Mr. Meres’ tell-tale document.
We know that many aristocrats, courtiers and lawyers wrote masques and plays, often in Latin; quoting the sources for this information would be an endless task. Francis Meres’ reference would be most satisfactorily explained by one, or more, private performances he may have attended, of which fact he was proudly showing off; his comment cannot be but an attempt at flattery. Had he put his foot in it by disclosing an activity that Oxford was, allegedly, taking such pains to keep secret, his flattery could have backfired most distressingly. The Earl of Oxford was not a man to take such a faux pas sitting down; getting Palladis Tamia out of circulation would have been child’s play to him. The reason why he didn’t was surely because it never occurred to him that anybody would interpret Meres’ reference to mean what the modern Oxfordians, brought up in a class-less society, think it means.
When around 1586 a very young "Shakespeare"2 wrote The Famous Victories of Henry the Fift (an anonymous play, the authorship of which is much debated by scholars), he did not disguise his flattering intentions towards the Earl of Oxford; unlike Henry V, written in 1599, The Famous Victories has an Earl of Oxford permanently present, both where his presence was historically correct and where it wasn’t. The fact that on 26th of June of that year, the Earl had just been granted by the Queen an annuity of one thousand pounds for no clear reason,3 has led to the conjecture that the sum was granted so that he could organize and pay for the production of “historical” plays that would enhance the virtues of the Lancastrian/Tudor Monarchs. If this were the case (and we don't know that it was), we can hardly wonder at the young "Shakespeare" lavishing praise on a glorified Oxford, King Hal’s friend and advisor. In that scenario, we can easily guess also that a man who, apparently, had a gift for comedy, would have added to such plays, written by one or more professional dramatists, a few speeches of his own, just as Hamlet does for his “Mousetrap." An officious Francis Meres would have considered any of such speeches excuse enough for his flattering homage to a powerful Earl.
But, as I say above, one would need to understand why the Earl of Oxford, if he were Shakespeare, when turning Famous Victories into Henry V, totally obliterated his ancestor from the play, thus depriving his own name of deserved fame and glory.
Henry V: Act IV, scene 3: Agincourt.
“….then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.”
Alas, poor Oxford! To have risked his life for King and Country in this glorious battle, and to be removed from the list of “household words” by his own descendant!
But wait! A new theory is now being aired that explains the absence of Oxford from Agincourt: According to the Oxfordians, Edward de Vere was not really the Earl of Oxford, (although he did use the title and, it seems fraudulently, passed it on to his own son), because he was Queen Elizabeth’s illegitimate child. As far as I know, there are already three would-be “Shakespeares” making the same claim: Francis Bacon, the Earl of Oxford, and a new one, William Hastings.4
One wonders how the poor Queen managed to keep all those little bastards secret from the Puritans, and from her people in general, despite the amount of midwives, nurses and other necessary servants, both at the palace and in the homes of the respective foster parents, that would have known the truth and gossiped. But maybe it’s all true and Queen Elizabeth was for several years giving birth to sundry little Spear-shakers.
But then there is the puzzling fact that, except for Faulconbridge in King John, Shakespeare doesn’t like bastards very much; some of his most despicable villains, Prince John in Much Ado, and Edmund in King Lear, are illegitimate.
And now let me move on to more scholarly arguments. When arguing Oxford’s authorship of The Tempest, his followers wave aside the date of 1609 and the wreck of the Sea Venture in Bermuda, saying, not unreasonably, that tempests are all very much the same.5 The tempest in The Tempest could have been any tempest, and since the the Earl had died in 1604, the tempest of 1609 could not be the tempest in The Tempest.
That is not the case for other historical events, though. The story of Prospero and Antonio surprisingly echoes the rivalry between the eccentric Habsburg Emperor Rudolf II and his brother Matthias. Matthias repeatedly betrayed Rudolph and, as early as 1606, convoked a family (Habsburg) meeting in order to have Rudolph declared incapable of ruling. However, it was not until, precisely, 1611 that Matthias succeeded in forcing his brother to abdicate so that he, Matthias, could be elected Emperor.
The description that Prospero makes of himself when he says that he, as Duke of Milan, had been for the liberal arts /without a parallel, matches Rudolph’s reputation as a lover of astronomy, alchemy and chemistry; he was a patron of Occultist painters, such as Arcimboldo, and scientists such as Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler. He was obviously uninterested in politics, and had often left Matthias in charge of political concerns while he, like Prospero, remained rapt in secret studies. This strange Emperor, who died in 1612, is confusedly reputed to have been a scientist, a magician and a freethinker as well as a Catholic. He established his Court in Prague, which became the European centre of Occultism.
So, although perhaps all tempests are much alike, Occultist Habsburg rulers being dethroned by their brothers in connivance with their families don’t grow on trees. While looking at those Habsburg royals in The Tempest, acting towards each other in the play, more or less as they did in reality, one wonders what is Shakespeare trying to tell us. That this historical parallel may help us to fix once and for all the date of composition of The Tempest, sweeping the “comedy-loving” Earl of Oxford off the board, is a bonus, and, as far as this essay is concerned, it is a major bonus. However, the main object of our author for having all those Habsburgs on stage seems clear enough to me: To establish a firm link between Spain and the redeemed Magus, Prospero. The name Prospero is the Spanish/Italian name for the Latin Prosperus, and it is synonymous to Fausto/Faustus, and thereby hangs a tale, to be told in the ripeness of time.
The Spanish links and sources
As it happens, the historical Duke of Milan in 1611 was the Spanish Habsburg King, Philip III, who was also King of Naples, which means that there are seven Spanish royals in The Tempest: Prospero, Antonio, Miranda, Alonso, Claribel, Sebastian and Ferdinand. Rudolph and Matthias were their Austrian cousins, so our author is keeping the parallel in the family. Moreover, the Infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia (a good option for the nickname “Claribel”) was in fact “next heir of Naples," as we are told Claribel was, in the same scene6 where we are unnecessarily informed that Widow Dido’s Carthage and Claribel’s new kingdom, Tunis, are one and the same place.
The historical Infanta, later known as Archduchess Isabella, Regent of the Netherlands, was also heiress to the rest of the Spanish Empire, should her brother die childless (as is feared in the play), but more relevant to our story, she was the official Catholic Pretender to the English Throne, after the death of Mary Queen of Scots. Plots and counter-plots on Catholic issues in reference to England and the continent would have been discussed at the Catholic centres of power, such as the Jesuit-run Royal Seminarie College of St. Alban, in the city of Valladolid, where King Philip III settled his Court between 1601 and 1606, and the nearest of such colleges to the previous centre of power, Madrid. That the English government was taking Claribel’s claim seriously seems to be proven by, among other things, the fact that the Earl of Essex during his trial in February 1601, openly accused Robert Cecil of favouring her claim over King James’ of Scotland.7
But the links to Spain do not end there. Try as they may, Stratfordians have found it difficult to ignore Antonio de Eslava’s Noches de Invierno (Winter Nights).8 Eslava’s collection of tales was published in Pamplona in 1609 (so five years after Oxford’s death), but to believe that William Shakespeare could read books in Spanish is too much even for Stratfordian Bardolaters. There is no record that the book was translated into any language, until a German version appeared in Vienna in 1649: Winternächte…aus dem Spanischen in die Teutche Sprache, by Mateo Drummer. Some of the tales are ingenious, but their pseudo-philosophical background is rather trite. Despite the book’s lack of special merit, there are some coincidences worth mentioning.
Both The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale are supposed to have been written late in 1610 or early 1611. We have a “digest” of The Winter’s Tale left by Dr. Simon Forman, who saw it at the Globe on 15th May 1611.9 In Eslava’s Winter Nights, the story of Milon and Berta and the birth of their son, Orlando/Roldan,10 nephew to the Emperor Charlemagne, has a happy ending after a series of adventures not altogether unlike the happenings in The Winter’s Tale, as we know it today, but no more than that.11 The official source for The Winter’s Tale is Robert Greene’s Pandosto (1588), in which the falsely accused Queen really dies; sixteen years later, Pandosto falls in love with his recovered daughter not realizing who she is, and ends up committing suicide.
The Tempest and The Tale were performed at Court that same year, on November 1st and 5th respectively, and although none of Eslava’s stories are as obvious a source for The Winter’s Tale as his King Dardano’s tale is for The Tempest, it is nevertheless curious to find that in the corresponding Revels Accounts (5th November) the title of the play is A Winter Night’s Tale. So, in 1611, Shakespeare used Eslava’s title for one of the plays, and one of Eslava’s tales for the other.
In his Arden Edition of The Tempest, Prof. Kermode12 gives a summary of the story of Niciforo and Dardano,13 and comments: “More attention has been paid to Eslava’s story, which has found supporters from Garnett to Hardin Craig. This tale has no magic island, but it has a dethroned king, skilled in magic, who is forced to sail away from his Kingdom, taking with him his daughter; he builds himself a palace under the sea and eventually leads to it the disinherited son of his enemy, as a husband for his daughter.” Etc. Kermode goes on to quote Hardin Craig: “This Spanish tale (...) in its political intrigues, its adventures and its use of tempest and sea, has much in common with The Tempest.”14
So we find that some Stratfordians have reluctantly agreed that Eslava’s tale may have to be considered as a source for Shakespeare’s play, while others have gone to much trouble trying to find the thread by which the man from Stratford could have possibly known/read the story; as usual, after much scholarly digging, the thread became so elaborate that the further they delved into it, the more questions it begged. Prof. Kermode gave up the struggle with the following comment: “This weird structure of Bulgarian, Byzantine, Latin, Italian, Spanish and German testimony is a prize mare’s nest, and it is politic to avoid stirring it any further.”15 Quite.
And here is Eslava’s tale: Dardano, King of Bulgary, being dethroned by his enemy Nicífero, Emperor of Greece, has to flee in a boat with his daughter, Serafina. He builds a magic palace at the bottom of the Adriatic Sea where he teaches his daughter philosophy and history. They live there happily until such time as Serafina reaches a marriageable age. Meanwhile, Nicífero has died, disinheriting his eldest son, Valentiniano, a nice, amiable man, in favour of his second son, Juliano, proud and arrogant. Fearing for his life, Valentiniano approaches a port in the Adriatic Sea, looking for a ship. An old man, no other than Dardano, offers to take him in his small boat; Valentiniano is then transported by magic to the sea palace where he falls in love with Serafina. Meanwhile, Juliano has taken sail in order to marry the daughter of the Emperor of Rome. During the return voyage, a fierce tempest breaks out. At this point, Dardano emerges from the bottom of the sea and shows himself to all those who believe him dead. He then accuses Juliano of being worse than the cruel Hyrcanian tiger. Shortly after the tempest, Valentiniano and Serafina become the king and queen of the joint kingdoms.
Well, if this is not a source for The Tempest, I don’t know what is. Which means, among other things, that the author of the play had to read Eslava’s book in Spanish and after 1609, either in the edition published in 1609 in Pamplona, or in the edition published in Brussels in 1610. Which doesn’t look good for William Shakespeare or, indeed, for the Earl of Oxford, dead since 1604. And if anybody is tempted to suggest that both The Tempest and Eslava’s story may derive from a common, earlier source, they will still need to explain the coincidence in time of The Tempest with the title of The Winter Night’s Tale.
1Bellonci, Maria. Segreti dei Gonzaga. Milan, 1947.
2A revision of the original Famous Victories of Henry the Fift was published anonymously in 1598. This revised version, which contains heavy Marlovian clues, introduced the character of Sir John Oldcastle, turning him into a clownish figure. This instantaneous transformation of Sir John in the very first act, is accepted by scholars to be the origin of Falstaff.
3The National Archives E 403/2597, ff.104v-105 1.
4Nield, Robert. Breaking the Shakespeare Codes. CC Publishing, 2007.
5Stritmatter, Roger and Lynne Kositsky. "Shakespeare and the Voyagers Revisited." Review of English Studies 58, 2007. p. 447-472. I am grateful to Donna Murphy for bringing this essay to my attention.
6The Tempest, Act II, scene 1.
7THE HELMINGHAM MS: The Arraignment, conviction and condemnation of Rob. Earle of Essex, and Henrie Earle of Southampton houlden at Westminster the XlXth. of Febr.. 1600 43rd Reg. before the Lord high Steward1 appoynted for that daye beeing the Lord Treasurer of England, as followeth: ETC.
8Antonio de Eslava’s Noches de Invierno, 1609, Pamplona, Spain. I must thank my late friend Roberta Ballantine for bringing Eslava’s book to my attention, well before I found the Stratfordian comments on it.
9Forman, Dr. Simon. Book of Plays. Oxford: Bodleian Library, 1611.
10Eslava, Antonio de. Winter Nights, Chapter VIII: Do se cuenta los amores de Milan de Aglante con Berta y el nacimiento de Roldán y sus niñerias.
11In his synopsis of the play, Dr. Forman does not mention the statue of Hermione, so either he was a forgetful spectator or the statue was not there in May 1611; Perdita, however, was duly “lost” (as befits her name) for sixteen years, like the girl in Pandosto. Which means that the happy ending, as far as the slandered Queen was concerned, was not in the original play as seen by Dr. Forman.
12Prof. Frank Kermode’s edition of The Tempest, in the Arden series, is dated 1954, revised 1961-2.
13Eslava, Antonio de. Winter Nights. Chapter IV: Do se cuenta la soberbia del rey Nicifero y incendio de sus naves y la arte mágia del rey Dardano.
14Craig, Hardin. Interpretation of Shakespeare. 1948. p.345.
15Kermode op cit. p. 66.