Bacon’s connection to the printing of “Shake-Speares Sonnets” – focusing on A Lover’s Complaint
Note: This post and the next are part of a pair, relating to the publishing of Shake-Speare’s Sonnets. The connection to the publisher and printer will be covered in the following posting. This post is an abridgement of a section of Nigel Cockburns book The Bacon-Shakespeare Question. He was curious about an entry in the Northumberland Manuscript (dated to 1597 and discussed earlier here in this ‘misc.’ evidence). See the two underlined entries of “Asmund and Cornelia” in the copied potion of the manuscript in the "Asmund and Cornelia" blog post made earlier this month.
Now, here is Cockburn’s analysis:
Asmund and Cornelia
I have left to the last the remaining inventory item, “Asmund and Cornelia” which is repeated to the left over the slight misquotation from L.1086 of The Rape of Lucrece. Everyone has been nonplussed by Asmund and Cornelia, since there is no trace of any work of that name having been published or mentioned elsewhere. It has been generally assumed to be a lost play or narrative poem. I make the novel suggestion that it was the original projected title for Shake-Speare’s longish poem A Lover’s Complaint which was published in 1609 in the same volume as the Sonnets. In the poem a nameless woman laments to an old man that a nameless youth had succeeded in seducing her by his devilish charm. Early in the 20th century some eminent Stratfordian scholars, to their discredit, questioned Shake-Speare’s authorship, but more recent Stratfordian studies based on style and parallelisms have confirmed the poem to be his.
[Note: More of Bacon’s connection to Shakespeare’s poem A Lover’s Complaint will be posted here later.]
For my part I had long suspected that Asmund and Cornelia was an alternative title for A Lover’s Complaint. Its position in the inventory immediately beneath the Richard plays (which likewise have no author ascribed to them, except in the subsequent scribbling), and also above a quotation from The Rape of Lucrece, inclines one to see it as a Shake-Speare work. Further, he had already published his other two long poems, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. That would have left only Asmund and Cornelia, if it is his, to be entered in the inventory and kept in manuscript in the bundle. I knew that my surmise would largely stand or fall on whether the names Asmund and Cornelia have associations which fit the theme of A Lover’s Complaint.
When I eventually looked them up, I found as follows: One Cornelia was a Roman matron of the 2nd century BC., celebrated for her accomplishments and virtues as a mother. After her husband’s death she refused to marry again but devoted her life to her children. Her name was for long a byword for female virtue. Shake-Speare mentions her favourably in Titus Andronicus 4.1.12; and in 4.2.141 the midwife is named Cornelia. Another Cornelia was wife of Pompey the Great. In 1595 Thomas Kyd published as Pompey the Great, his fair Cornelia’s Tragedy an English translation of a French play about her. It deals with the death of her husband in battle, and the suicide of her father soon afterwards. Most of the play consists of Cornelia’s lamentations for her misfortunes. The woman in A Lover’s Complaint is unmarried, and her story bears no relation to those of the real Cornelias. But both sentences italicised would make Cornelia an excellent choice of name for her, a name an author might use to evoke sympathy for the character. She was virtuous - it was not her fault that she was seduced by a devil. And the poem is one long lamentation by her.
As to Asmund, Asmodeus in Jewish legend was the king of demons, with a tendency towards licentiousness. There are various stories about his behaviour which bear no resemblance to the story of A Lover’s Complaint. But the important thing is that he was a devil, his name (or variants of it) being used by Elizabethan writers and for long afterwards to represent a devil. Thus Thomas Lodge his Wits Misery and the World’s Madness (1596), which has the subtitle Discovering the devils Incarnate of this Age, speaks at p. 45 of “The discovery of Asmodeus and his lecherous race of Devils Incarnate in our age”; and says: “No sooner came Asmodeus into the world by Sathan’s direction”. And at p. 94 he names an Arch-Devil Astaroth. So it is reasonable to infer that the author of Asmund and Cornelia chose the name Asmund for its likeness to Asmodeus, Asmund having the advantage of being acceptable as a real name. In 2 Henry VI, 1.4.23 the evil spirit (called “False fiend” in L.39) is addressed as Asmath. This may be a misprint for Asnath, which is an anagram of Sathan; or the n may have been changed to m to give the name some resemblance to Asmodeus. The weird form Asmath (or Asnath) is suitable for a spirit; and Asmund more suitable for a human being. Later, Milton in his Paradise Lost (1663) was to use Asmadai as the name of one of the rebel angels who fought for Satan; and the French writer Lesage to use Asmodée for the devilish character in his novel Le Diable Boiteaux (1707).
When one turns to A Lover’s Complaint one finds no doubt whatever about the devilry of its young man. L.317 explicitly brands him as a fiend: “The naked and concealed fiend he covered”. The aptness to Shake-Speare’s poem of both the names Asmund and Cornelia (double aptness in her case - virtue and lamentation), together with the other circumstances, makes it highly probable that the two works are the same. Shake-Speare had specified names in the titles of his two earlier long poems and may have been minded to do the same with A Lover’s Complaint. But since in the event no names are mentioned in its text, it is not surprising if it was thought better before publication to substitute a nameless title. If my identification of Asmund and Cornelia is correct, an obvious and pregnant question arises, which is: Unless Bacon was the poem’s author, how could he have it in his possession in manuscript under a different title perhaps about 12 years before it was published? It seems that A Lover’s Complaint was lying around in a Bacon file for more than 10 years, till it was finally brought out, dusted off, given a different title and published at the end of Shake-Speare’s Sonnets.
Note: This continues on part 4