Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Parallelisms - Part 3 of 3

Parallelisms Introduction

Part 3 of 3

The Number of Parallels

The Baconians have not compiled one comprehensive list of all the parallels they allege between the works of Bacon and Shake-Speare, though different writers have made their own lists. The fullest list is in Bacon and Shake-speare Parallelisms (1902) by Edwin Reed. He lists 885 parallels. About 230 of his are not parallels at all. I (Cockburn) regard about 150 of Reed's parallels (excluding Promus parallels) as good parallels. Further real and spurious parallels are to be found in The Great Cryptogram (1888) by Ignatius Donnelly, also in Shakespeare Studies in a Baconian Light (1901) by G.M. Theobald, and in The Bacon-Shakespeare Anatomy (1945) by W.S. Melsome, and in other Baconian works.

Most of the true parallels are not unique to Bacon and Shake-Speare. But one should be cautious about describing them as "commonplaces". Many, such as proverbs, undoubtedly merit that description. But there is a tendency among Shake-Speare scholars to apply the term "commonplaces" to anything in Shake-Speare (or Bacon) for which they have found one, two or three parallels elsewhere in Elizabethan literature. In many cases they could perhaps find more if they tried; but not necessarily. Even where a parallel can justly be called a commonplace, some are obviously more commonplace than others. Even the commonest commonplaces may in the aggregate be relevant to authorship, for each of us has his favorite commonplaces and if one finds two Elizabethan authors using a great many of the same commonplaces out of the yet far greater number available to them, that will have some significance. A further qualification which must be made is that a sentiment may be commonplace in prose but not in drama, or vice versa. Take proverbs, for example. Proverbs were common in prose, but they don't seem to be particularly common in Elizabethan drama. So if one finds one author (say, Bacon) in prose and another (say, Shake-Speare) in drama voicing a lot of identical sentiments which were common in one medium but not in the other, that gives greater weight to the parallels than if they had been common in both media.

I estimate that the total number of Bacon-Shake-Speare parallels which I personally would consider fit for inclusion on a list is somewhere in the region of 1100 (which includes about 600 Promus parallels).

Reading through seemingly interminable lists of parallels is not everyone's idea of light entertainment. But they are one extremely important plank in the Baconian case and any serious student of the authorship controversy must perform that chore. (Note: Cockburn selected about 100 non-Promus parallels that he thought were most likely to be unique to the two authors. And then added a number of Promus parallels.)

 His list of parallels contain many plural-headed ones, which are of particular importance for reason already mentioned. Many of the parallels in his list do or may shed light on the correct interpretation of Shake-Speare texts which have puzzled commentators. These explanatory parallels deserve extra attention because when one has to consult Bacon to understand Shake-Speare, it is not unreasonable to suspect common authorship. Some at least of them should also be of interest to scholars who concern themselves only with textual matters but seem unfamiliar with the Bacon texts in question.

end of part 3 of 3

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