Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Bacon and Shakespeare - Attitude on Money

 Opinions, attitudes and interests of Shake-Speare and Bacon

Attitude to Money

When Shake-Speare's plays mention money, they express contempt for it, with lines such as: "How quickly nature falls into revolt / When gold becomes her object...the cankered heaps of strange achieved gold" (2 Henry IV, 4.5.65-6 & 71); and "There is thy gold - worse poison to man's soul" (Romeo and Juliet 5.1.80). And one surely gets the impression that these lines reflect the author's personal sentiments.

But Will Shakspere had a tooth for money. He can perhaps be described not unfairly as a wheeler-dealer, ever eager to make a penny. His biographers record his various property transactions that we know of. Money lending seems to have been one of his activities. In 1608 he sued for £6, being money lent at interest, and when the Defendant failed to pay (and was imprisoned till bailed) Shakspere sought payment from the surety. In 1598 his friend Richard Quinney asked him by letter for a loan of £30, and the letter's working (e.g. "If we bargain farther, you shall be the paymaster yourself") suggests, as Stratfordians agree, that it was a loan at interest. In his Groatsworth of Wit (1592) Robert Greene had accused actors as a class of lending at interest.

The dislike of moneylenders expressed in The Merchant of Venice seems to be authorial, not just adopted for dramatic reasons. So it seems a little odd, if Shakspere was Shake-Speare, that he should have been a money-lender himself. To explain this, H.N. Gibson in his The Shakespeare Claimants p. 39, fell back upon psychology - guilt may lead a man to condemn what he himself practices. But far more often a man justifies what he practices or keeps quiet about it. That Shakspere lent money at interest is not offered as a moral criticism. But it suggests a type of mind which seems difficult to reconcile with Shake-Speare's lofty and majestic spirit.

Bacon's attitude to money seems to have matched Shake-Speare's. Spedding wrote of Bacon that his "fault had always been too much carelessness about money" and that "though always too ready to borrow, to give, to lend and to spend, [he] had never been either a bargainer or a grasper or a hoarder". In a letter to the Queen in 1593 Bacon wrote truly: "My mind turns upon other wheels than profit" (speaking of self-advantage generally). In another letter to the Queen in 1599 he referred to "the contempt of the contemptible that measure a man by his estate". In his History of Henry VII he wrote of Henry: "Of nature assuredly he coveted to accumulate treasure; and was a little poor in admiring riches". In his Of the true Greatness of the Kingdom of Britain he referred to "the idolatry that is generally committed in these degenerate times to money, as it would do all things public and private". In the days of  his affluence he was often recklessly extravagant and over-generous. James Howell in a letter to Dr. Prichard of 1626, published in Howell's Epistolae Ho-Elianae (1645), related that once, when the King sent Bacon a stag, the latter sent for the underkeeper and, having drunk the King's health to him in a great silver gilt bowl, gave it to him for his fee.

As to usury, Bacon regarded it as a necessary evil. In his Essay on Riches he wrote: "Usury is the certainest means of gain, though one of the worst". In his History of Henry VII he described it as "the bastard use of money". In his Essay on Seditions and Troubles he opined: "Money is like muck, not good, except it be spread". Will Shakspere, on the other hand, thought it best heaped.

No comments:

Post a Comment