Francis Bacon, the Earl of Southampton, and the long poems
The Stratfordian theory of William Shakspere of Stratford as the actual poet/playwright William Shakespeare holds that William of Stratford, not long after coming to London and becoming a playwright, either met Southampton, or knew of him, from Southampton’s regular attendance at the theater. And then sought his patronage in the poem Venus and Adonis (1593). Then dedicated a second poem, The Rape of Lucrece (1594) suggesting in its language a closer relationship, and probable patronage. Based on this presumption, it’s been further suggested, as by Stephen Greenblatt “Will in the World” that William and Southampton became close friends and possibly even lovers. This would then explain William’s access to court gossip, personalities, and knowledge of court life.
Keep in mind, though, that there is NO documentary evidence for this. There is no evidence whatsoever that William and Southampton ever actually met or knew each other. Though it’s logical that Southampton would have at least seen William if he were only an actor in the plays. It’s also logical then that they could have met, talked, and been friends. One of the hurdles, though, is that it’s a stretch for a young commoner, new to London from the country, to quickly cross the social chasm to become friends of an Earl, but we won’t say it couldn’t have been done. We do know that the Earl of Pembroke became close friends with theater owner Burbage, but how long that took and at what age it began I don’t think we know.
If William had not formally met Southampton and became his acquaintance, then another hurdle is the risk he would be taking in dedicating an erotic poem, or any poem, to him without receiving permission beforehand. Southampton did not rebuke the dedication and so we would assume that either the author did know him, or else Southampton liked the poem enough to forgive an un-asked for approval to do the dedication. After the two poems with their dedications to Southampton, Shakespeare did not dedicate any other work to him, though we are asked to believe that they were friends and possibly lovers for some time.
In comparison, the theory of Francis Bacon’s authorship of the two Shake-Speare poems has more supporting documentary evidence and logical support. Bacon was a commoner before his knighthood in 1603. And he was poor after not receiving an inheritance due to his father’s untimely death, and who did not provide for him in his will. He was friend and advisor to the Earl of Essex. Essex had been trying, in the early 1590s, to obtain for Bacon the government post of Attorney-General or of Solicitor-General, though he never succeeded.
When Southampton was eight year’s old his father died. He then became a royal ward of the state under William Cecil, Lord Burghley. Cecil was an uncle of Francis Bacon. Cecil’s wife Mildred Cooke was a sister of Bacon’s mother, as well as being “one of the two most learned ladies in the kingdom”. She then helped raise Southampton.
Bacon then would have known Southampton from an early age. Both Southampton and Bacon studied law at Gray’s Inn at or about the same time. When Southampton joined with Essex, around 1592, then Bacon would have become even closer to him. There then would be no social hurdle and little risk in Bacon writing a dedication to Southampton in a poem as Venus and Adonis or of Lucrece. And Bacon would have a need of his patronage perhaps as much as William of Stratford would. Bacon would have known that Southampton would soon be coming of age to receive his vast inheritance and so the timing of his dedication, if he was seeking the Earl’s financial support, would be well calculated. This assumes that Bacon allowed Southampton to know that he was writing under the pen name of William Shakespeare. If not, Bacon may have wanted Southampton to believe William of Stratford was the author to provide the playwright and the theater financial support for his future playwriting plans.
But what of supporting evidence of Bacon’s authorship? First, as discussed here in the forum on A Baconian Review of some Stratfordian Evidence, there is referenced how John Marston in 1598 strongly hinted at Bacon’s authorship of both Venus and Adonis as well as The Rape of Lucrece. Next, there is a near exact phrase from Lucrece found on the Northumberland MS containing lists of Bacon’s known works along with the name of “William Shakespeare” and the name of two Shakespeare plays and as well a variation on the unusual word “honorificabiletudine”, used in Love’s Labour Lost as “Honorificabilitidinitatibus”. This Lucrece phrase is found at line 1086 of the poem and in the MS mentioned is “revealing day through every crany peepes” followed by “and see Shak”.
Third, is the large, “priceless” Elizabethan mural of a scene from the poem Venus and Adonis found in a tavern a short two-miles from Bacon’s home at Gorhambury.
Fourth, are the following parallels in language between the writing in Shake-Speare’s dedications and Bacon’s writings:
1. The two dedications are in Bacon’s style in that they are both sophisticated, brilliant, pithy whereas most other Elizabethan dedications are longer.
2. They both display ‘antithesis’ with which Bacon was obsessed. Examples are “so strong a prop to support so weak a burden”, and “The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end; whereof this pamphlet without beginning…”.
3. The term “Honourable disposition” found in the Lucrece dedication was used by Bacon in at least two of his letters. This is discussed here in the forum category of ‘Parallels’.
4. Some think that the dedications were too ‘subservient’ to have been written by Bacon. But he has worded other dedications and letters similarly. A) In his dedication to Cambridge in his Wisdom of the Ancients, he wrote: “To you on this account I profess to owe both myself and all that is mine.” B) In a letter to the Duke of Buckingham he wrote: “I am your surer to you than to my own life”. C) In a letter to King James he wrote: “I have been ever your man, and counted myself, but an usufructuary [trustee] of myself, the property being yours”.
5. The Venus and Adonis dedication starts with “Right Honourable, I know not how I shall offend in dedicating my unpolished lines to your lordship, nor how the world will censure me…”. This is a Baconian phraseology, apparently picked up from his mother, or of both his parents, who likely got it from Horace. The Horace quote is in Bacon’s Promus notebook as [in Latin]: “Nescio quid meditans nugarum, totus in illis;” translated as “musing on trifles, I know not what, and quite absorbed in them.” His mother, troubled at her son’s habits of studious seclusion into the late hours, studying, as she would say “Nescio quod” “I cannot tell what.” In Bacon’s Novum Organum dedication to the King, he wrote “Your Majesty may perhaps accuse me of larceny, having stolen from your affairs so much time as is required for this work. I cannot tell, non habeo quod dicam; but, as usual, the self vindication is ample and triumphant.” And in his Wisdom of the Ancients he writes: “…that with a natural motion it may return to the place whence it came. And yet – I cannot tell, - there are few footprints pointing back toward you,…”.
This little phrase (or it’s slight variations) used in the Bacon family “I cannot tell” is found often in the Shake-Speare works: Antony And Cleopatra, 4.12.5; Richard III, 1.3.69; Henry V, 2.1.23; Much Ado About Nothing, 2.3.22; Merchant of Venice, 1.3.93; Macbeth; 1.2.42; Othello; 4.2.110. How commonly was it used by other Elizabethan authors?
Finally, the lack of further dedications to Southampton is more easily explained by the fact of Bacon’s fall out with Southampton in 1601 after the Essex rebellion when Bacon was required by Queen Elizabeth to help prosecute the two of them, leading to Essex’s execution and Southampton’s confinement in the Tower.
In summary, based on available evidence the theory of Bacon’s authorship of the two Shake-Speare poems Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece is much stronger than for that of the theory of William of Stratford’s authorship.
Note: For line references in the Shakespeare works I’m now using those found at: