Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Bacon and Shakespeare - Sense of Humor 2

Opinions, attitudes and interests of Shake-Speare and Bacon.

Sense of Humor   Part 2 of 2

There is one aspect of Shake-Speare's humor which many find  difficult to reconcile with Bacon's authorship - his bawdy. Would not the great philosopher have spurned bawdy? The answer - for better or for worse - is that Bacon enjoyed dirty jokes. One example was posted earlier in a parallel regarding Spanish women. Again, in Bacon's History of Henry VII he records: "There is a tradition of a dilemma that Bishop Morton (the Chancellor) used, to raise up Benevolences [taxes] to higher rates; and some called it his fork and some his crotch". In 1624 in notes of a speech he was to make in Parliament about a possible war with Spain, he jots down: "[There is a belief] that the Spaniard, where he once gets in, will seldom or never be got out again (and they give it an ill-favored simile which you will not name)".

 In his Promus we find Bacon himself devising several bawdy puns (as will be posted as a later time). Bawdy was a convention of both classical and Elizabethan drama. And it lends itself ideally to word play, the double entendre being to this day a traditional and effective comic device which only hints at the obscene. Where Shake-Speare inherits bawdy in plot or characterization from his source, he sometimes tones it down as he does in The Comedy of Errors. Individual pieces of bawdy may have been interpolated by Will Shakspere or others. For example, the clown Will Kempe is known to have put in his own jokes. A possible instance of interpolation is in Hamlet 4.7.165-174, where the Queen breaks the news of Ophelia's death to Laertes:

    There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
    That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream.
    There with fantastic garlands did she come
    Of crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples,
    That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
    But our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them.
    There on the pendant boughs her coronet weeds
    Clamb'ring to hang, an envious sliver brook,

To stress that long purples had a ruder name was unseemly in the context and out of character for the Queen, and may well have been interpolated by someone intent on getting a laugh from the groundlings at any price. But I am not entirely sure that Bacon could not have written the line despite its intrusiveness. As an ardent naturalist he would have been interested in alternative names - especially perhaps if there was a genital connotation In his Parasceve he writes: "The power of exciting Venus is ascribed to the herb Satyrion because its root takes the shape of testicles". Satyrion was a type of orchis and "long purples" are thought to have been another type. Most members of that family have testicle-like tubers.

Quite apart from bawdy, a wider doubt sometimes expressed is whether Bacon could have created Shake-Speare's low comedy characters. But why not? their humor is largely dependent on word play anyway. But here too there is likely to have been some interpolation with the aim of improving the original.

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