Sunday, May 1, 2011

Promus - 1 - Introduction

Parallels between Shake-Speare and Bacon's Promus

With this post I'm starting a series of what are called Promus parallels. The Promus was a kind of notebook for Francis Bacon in which he jotted down thoughts and phrases that could be of use to him later in his writings. There are about 1655 entries and they are all or nearly all in his handwriting, and include metaphors, similes, aphorisms, apothegms, turns of speech, proverbs, repartee, forms of compliment and single words. Their principal sources were Latin and Greek classics (Seneca, Horace, Virgil and Ovid), the Vulgate (the Latin Bible), a collection of English proverbs by John Heywood, and by Erasmus' Adagia. It includes many French, Spanish, and Italian proverbs plus some of Bacon's own invention. They are dated from about early December 1594 to late January 1596.

Cockburn estimates that about 600 of the 1655 entries have enough points of contact to a passage in the Shake-Speare plays and poems to count as parallels. That itself is significant especially since the Promus was all or nearly all compiled prior to the performance or publication of any of the Shake-Speare works, half of which were not published until the First Folio in 1623. Most of these parallels were Elizabethan commonplaces in that they were derived from sources which would have been available to many scholars or other playwrights. But one question is why Bacon and Shake-Speare use so many of the same commonplaces when there were many others available? Often only parts of a Promus entry are paralleled. And many parallel passages do not have the same meaning, or they mean the opposite. The relevant question though is whether the Shake-Speare passages look like offshoots from the Promus entries.

The Stratfordians do not question that this bulk of parallels exist. H.N. Gibson in his The Shakespeare Claimants, accepted that the proposition that the Promus entries occur profusely in the Shake-Speare plays "is substantially correct and would not be disputed by anyone". Similarly, E.A. Abbot conceded that the Promus contains "a very considerable similarity of phrase and thought between these two great authors". So the question, as with the non-Promus parallels, is how unique are these Promus Bacon/Shake-Speare parallels likely to be, and could they be the result of mutual borrowing?

As to mutual borrowing this is rejected for the following reasons:

1)  Shakspere would not have had access to Bacon's private notebook. 2) Only about a third of the Promus entries are in English. 3) None of the plays had been published until 1597 and probably only about 10 had been written and acted by early 1596. 4) If somehow Bacon had jotted notes either from a published or live play that he viewed one would expect these jottings to be bunched together in the Promus. But they are not grouped play by play. The parallel entries are instead widely scattered in the Promus for each Shake-Speare play they are found in. 5) If Bacon had borrowed something from Shake-Speare, one would have expected him to jot it down it its original form, not in a foreign language, and almost none of the parallel entries found in Shake-Speare are in the same Promus form. Many are in seed form only.

Bacon took nearly all of his English proverbs for his Promus from John Heywood, just as most of Shake-Speare's English proverbs are from Heywood. Other playwrights seem not to have relied so heavily on Heywood's proverbs. Only one Stratfordian seems to have attempted to study Bacon's Promus in detail (Charles Crawford in an article Collectanea Stratford on Avon 2nd Series (1907) and his attempt can best be described as sloppy (my summation of Cockburn's analysis).

The following Promus Bacon/Shake-Speare parallels will delve into more foreign language and grammatical analysis and so will not be as straightforward as many of the non-Promus parallels previously posted. But readers will see how challenging and interesting the authorship question can be.

end of Promus - Part 1

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