Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Parallelisms - Part 2 of 3

Parallelisms Introduction

Part 2 of 3

Mutual Borrowing

What of the possibility that Bacon and Shake-Speare borrowed from each other? The opportunities for Shake-Speare to have borrowed from Bacon are acutely limited by the fact that by 1613, the approximate terminal date of the Shake-Speare works, the only literary or philosophical Bacon works to have been published were his first 10 Essays (1597) (with The Colours of Good and Evil and Meditationes Sacrae), The Advancement of Learning (1605) and The Wisdom of the Ancients (1609). The 2nd and fuller edition of the Essays was not entered in the S.R. till 12 October 1612, and so came too late to be of use to Shake-Speare. In the best parallels it would have been chronologically impossible for Shake-Speare to have borrowed from Bacon in almost every instance. (note: Cockburn's top 30 parallels were not posted sequentially nor identified as such here).

As to borrowing by Bacon from Shake-Speare, the Stratfordians profess to believe that Bacon disapproved of, or had no interest in, the public Theatre. Yet when it suits them, in order to explain an awkward parallel, they are ready to suppose that Bacon had read the Shake-Speare play in question or see it performed. Here they play with fire. For if Bacon was so conversant with the Shake-Speare works, may the reason not be that he was Shake-Speare himself?

Two factors make borrowing by Bacon from Shake-Speare extremely unlikely. First, 18 of Shake-Speare's 37 plays were not published till the First Folio of 1623. So Bacon could only have borrowed from them in works he wrote between 1623 and his death in 1626, unless he had earlier seen them performed on the stage. Secondly, hardly any of the parallels selected (for Cockburn's book) are consistent with borrowing by Bacon, even where borrowing was chronologically possible. They take various forms. Some are philosophizing comments on human nature or the human condition. Some are statements on nature or natural science. Some are about politics, history and other assorted subjects. It is not only ideas on these subjects which are paralleled; for again and again one finds them expressed in language which has significant points of similarity. It may be only an unusual word or it may be a collocation of non-consecutive words.

Now, Bacon had no need to borrow his ideas from Shake-Speare. Commonplaces he could find anywhere. And as to the unique or rare parallels to which we've mostly confined ourselves here, it must be emphasized that Bacon did not learn his philosophy (including human nature), his natural science, his politics, his history or his law from fleeting allusions to these subjects in the works of contemporary dramatists. He learnt them from other reading and, where applicable, from his own observations and cogitations. His acknowledged works contain countless statements on these subjects which are not to be found in the plays (which of their nature could only accommodate a small percentage) and therefore cannot have been borrowed from Shake-Speare.

Not even the verbal clothing of a parallel idea is likely to have been borrowed, for the similarity of language, though significant, is too fragmentary and oblique for easy borrowing. Many of the collocations of non-consecutive words would not even have been possible to parallel unless Bacon remembered, or had at his elbow, the exact wording of the Shake-Speare text. Often there was a gap of years between the Bacon work and the play. As to those parallels which depend solely on shared language, they too are of a kind unlikely to have been borrowed. If one found in Bacon some memorable line, such as "this sceptred isle set in a silver sea" and it was chronologically possible for Bacon to have borrowed it from Shake-Speare and there was no evidence or likelihood of a common source, one would conclude that Bacon borrowed the line from Shake-Speare. But of the purely language-only parallels included in those posted here, none are complete sentences, just little snatches of phraseology which seem idiosyncratic. For example, the parallel involving the expression "hatch and disclose", is one to suppose that one author borrowed this tautology from the other?

For these reasons borrowing by Bacon from Shake-Speare is not a realistic explanation of the parallels. And, as noted, it was almost always chronologically impossible for Shake-Speare to have borrowed from Bacon.

Apart from parallels due to sheer accident (which must be rare, except for commonplaces), the only other possible explanation remaining to be considered is derivation from a common source. But by definition this cannot explain parallels which are unique to Bacon and Shake-Speare since then they could have no earlier source. Nor is it likely to explain rare parallels, since the odds are much against both authors borrowing the same rare parallel from the same source (whether the source itself be rare or not).

end of part 2 of 3

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