Sunday, June 5, 2011

How could Bacon have time to write the Shakespeare plays?

How could Bacon have the time to write the Shakespeare works??

This is a summary of the chapter on Bacon's spare time by N.B. Cockburn's The Bacon Shakespeare Question (1998).

The period of Shake-Speare's output was from about 1589 to about 1613.

Bacon returned from France in 1579 and took up residence in Chambers in Gray's Inn to start legal studies. In 1586 he became a Bencher and then a Reader, which was a one term appointment for him to lecture for two weeks, later reduced to one week. His first reading was in 1588. His second was in 1600. Around 1590 he became a Queen's Counsel Extraordinary with duties that weren't clearly defined. Sometimes he would exam prisoners and draw up official reports. He seems not to have received any Court  brief until Jan 1594, nearly 12 years after his call to the Bar.

     In 1607 he became Solicitor-General though this office "was not a very onerous one in those days." John Lord Campbell, a Victorian Lord Chancellor, in his book The Lives of the Lord Chancellors (1845) wrote that Bacon "never appears to have had much practice at the Bar", and had "abundant leisure" in his earlier years. Law vacations were for no less than 35 weeks each year.

      But he did play a full part in the administrative life of Gray's Inn. He was also a Member of Parliament from 1581 until he became Lord Keeper in 1617. But Parliament was seldom in session. It was summoned only 5 times from 1584-1597. From 1607-1613 Parliament seems to have sat for a total of only about 6 months. Nor was Bacon called upon to advise his King James until after the death of Robert Cecil in 1612.

    So, Bacon was never very busy publicly or professionally until Oct 1613 when he was appointed Attorney-General. When he became Lord Keeper in 1617 he was then overburdened.

     During the period of the Shakespeare works Bacon's prose writing was limited  with only two substantial works--The Advancement of Learning and the second  edition of his essays. Most of his works were composed in the last 5 years of his life. Shakespeare's works span about 24 years, the plays averaging less than two a year. By contrast Thomas Heywood had written or been involved in 220 plays. Bacon was known as a fast writer. His History of King Henry VII (248 pages) seems to have been completed in about 4 months, for which he spent most of the time during historical research.

    The better question is--how did Bacon spend his generous leisure time? He was an avid reader obviously, having taken "all knowledge" as his province.  The study of law was so boring that many students would abandon it for the delights of poetry. Law was not a favorite study of Bacon and he is not thought  to have ever acquired great legal learning of case precedents. However, he was said to have been unexcelled in the science and principles of Law.

   In 1607 when Bacon became busier as Solicitor-General the output of Shakespeare plays dropped to about one per year. When he became Attorney-General  in 1613, this is about when the plays ended.

     Cockburn's analysis suggests that as an actor Will Shaksper probably had less time for play writing, especially in his earlier years. The actor's life was hectic and time-consuming, with each play's run very short, thus requiring them to be often in rehearsal. Plus, Shakespeare's company is known to have at least toured in the provinces in 1597, 1600, 1603, 1604, 1605, 1606, 1608, 1609, 1610, and 1612.

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