Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Comedy of Errors - Authorship

Who wrote The Comedy of Errors? 

A lot of historical sleuthing has shown that William Shakspere is very unlikely to have been able to write The Comedy of Errors (or Love's Labor Lost and other Shakespeare works), and that Bacon was perfectly situated to have written them. The evidence is freely available to examine and too lengthy to post here but I can summarize it.

This I'm borrowing mostly from N.B.Cockburn's, The Bacon Shakespeare Question (1998).

The Comedy of Errors was first performed during the Gray's Inn Revels of Christmas 1594-5. Gray's Inn was one of the law schools in London. At times they held Revels for entertainment and as a kind of rehearsal in the arts of government for later careers for the students. The Revels over Christmas 1594-5 were on an unusually lavish scale. A fairly full account was published in 1688 called "Gesta Grayorum".

One of the entertainments of these Revels was A Comedy of Errors which is generally agreed to be the same as in the Shakespeare First Folio. There are several speeches in the Revels which people are in agreement that they were by Bacon. For instance, Stratfordian A.L.Rowse says "These were written by Bacon with whom such subjects were a characteristic concern."  So,
1) Already we know that both Bacon and "Shake-Speare" contributed to writing of these same Revels.
2) Then there are several parallels in plot between the play and the rest of the revels. For instance, both of them have a common theme of 'Errors and confusion due to sorcery'.
3) the 'Sorcerer' was probably Bacon, as he was the person most likely responsible for arranging for, planning, and managing the Revels, being also a Treasurer of Gray's Inn at the time. In addition, his name 'Bacon' links him to the philosopher/scientist Roger Bacon who Catholic Church had labeled a 'sorcerer'.
4) Cockburn cites language in Gesta Grayorum that suggests Bacon both hired players to put on the play but also wrote it for them.
5) Besides plot theme similarities, there are many idea and language similarities between the play and the rest of the revels that suggest the play's author knew the content and speeches in the rest of the Revels so that the play could be closely integrated with them.
6) There are a number of legal terms and references in this early play which are much more likely to have been written by a lawyer (Bacon) for other lawyers and law students, than by a non-lawyer (Will Shakspere).
7) The play is Shake-Speare's shortest and this also suggests it was written specifically for the Revels to fit in with them timewise. This implies that it wasn't meant for the theater in general as its length was too short for normal theater productions. And this adds to the reasons why a playwright is not likely to have written it, as it would have been uneconomical to spend the time on it. Playwrights did not seem to want to write plays for a single performance before a private audience. Most plays before Queen Elizabeth or King James had been performed elsewhere first.
8) There is also no record in Gray's Inn's accounts of having paid any playwright for the play, and since they were under tight finances at the time, it's also unlikely that they would have paid an outside playwright for it.
9) Perhaps most importantly, the historical evidence suggests that Gray's Inn had a tradition of writing it's own plays and masques. It's members "excelled in dramatics". In the Elizabethan time period there is only one play performed at one of the Inns of Court that wasn't written by a member there. This was George Chapman in 1613 and even he was said to have lived for a time at Gray's Inn and so even he could be regarded as being one of their members in an informal sense.
10) Finally, Will Shakspere's theater group the Lord Chamberlain's Men were scheduled to play before the Queen on the same night that The Comedy of Errors was played at Gray's Inn, and so it's very unlikely he could have been there for the play. Gesta Grayorum does say that "a Comedy of Errors ...was played by the Players" and that the sorcerer had "foisted a Company of base and common Fellows" to make up our disorders with a Play of Errors and Confusions." But, Cockburn argues, "this seems so offensive a description of the players, even by Elizabethan standards of class consciousness, that one wonders if the company was a mock one, part of the prevailing make-believe, consisting in truth of Inn members who could indulge in such jocular rudeness against themselves." Shakespeare scholars have tried to get around the problem of the Lord's men being at two places at once by inventing the possibility of an error in the dating of the records. But no other errors in such dating has been found and there's no other reason to argue for such an error.

Again, this is just a summary of some of the main evidential points that show there are "low odds" for Will Shakspere's authorship of The Comedy of Errors, and that Bacon is their most likely author.

See also Barry Clark's The Bacon Shakespeare Puzzle, chapter 6, pages 124-141 where he has additional evidence and analysis on this play.

Here's a paragraph from Clark's chapter:

"Curiously, there is no mention in the Gesta Grayorum of the author of The Comedy of Errors even though it lists the names of some 80 Grays Inn members who played the Officers and Attendants of the Prince. Neither is there a record in the Pension Book of Gray’s Inn of anyone (actor or dramatist) being paid for it while an entry on 11 February 1595 informs us that the sum of 100 marks was to be paid to “the gentlemen [of Gray’s Inn] for their sports and shewes this Shrovetyde at the court before the Queens Majestie” (see §6.11). So Gray’s Inn had a company of actors in existence at the time of the Gray’s Inn revels, payments to them were recorded in the Pension Book, and if the dramatist received no fee then he was most probably an Inns of Court member. Whoever he was, he would have required a sound command of Latin for neither of these two Plautine plays had been printed in English by the end of 1594."

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