Sunday, June 19, 2011

James Spedding - 2 of 2

Nigel Cockburn – on Spedding,  2 of 2

Spedding's false premise coloured all his thinking about Bacon as a poet, and gave him a blind spot. In his reply to Judge Holmes he made a number of points and I discuss (and reject) them all in the ensuing chapters, with or without reference to Spedding's name. But I will cite two at once: (1) In his letter to Holmes he gave as one of his reasons for rejecting the Baconian theory that Bacon "was never suspected [by his contemporaries] of wasting time in writing poetry". And in writing in the Works of Bacon's acknowledged poem The World's a Bubble and another poem ascribed to him, he described them as "the only verses certainly of Bacon's making that have come down to us, and probably, with one or two slight exceptions, the only verses he ever attempted". But quite apart from the intrinsic probability that Bacon wrote a good deal of verse, did Spedding not know of the evidence of Edmund Howes, Edmund Waller and John Aubrey?  

(2)  In a footnote Spedding writes of some comments by Bacon in his De Augmentis on the public Theatre: "It is a curious fact that these remarks on the character of modern drama were probably written and were certainly first published in the same year which saw the first collection of Shakepeare's plays; of which, though they had been filling the theatre for the last 30 years, I very much doubt whether Bacon had ever heard". An astonishing suggestion! Assuming that Bacon was not himself Shake-Speare, it is inconceivable that he had never heard of the playwright and his plays. Shake-Speare certainly meant far less to his contemporaries than to us. But in the next chapter we shall see Bacon's interest in the Theatre, public and private.

At least one of the Shake-Speare plays, The Comedy Of Errors, was performed at Gray's Inn, Bacon's Inn, and as part of Christmas Revels for which Bacon himself, as Spedding agrees, did at least part of the writing. At least one play, Twelfth Night, was performed at the Middle Temple. Many were performed at Court, where Bacon was a courtier; others in great private houses owned by his friends, some of whom owned or patronised theatre companies. One Shake-Speare play, Richard II, Bacon certainly knew of. On the eve of the abortive Essex rebellion in 1601 some of the conspirators persuaded Shake-Speare's company to put on a performance of that play in the hope that its theme of the deposition of a King would incite the mob to join the rebellion. Afterwards, it fell to Bacon to draft a report on the trial for treason of Essex and his confederates. And in his report he mentioned the performance of the play. It had been published under Shakespeare's name in 1598 and its author must have been much in mind after the rebellion in case he got into trouble over it. Bacon also mentioned the play years later in his charge against Oliver St. John.

One can find partial excuse for Spedding's blindness in the circumstance that much of the evidence on which modern Baconians rely had not been unearthed or assessed in Spedding's day. For example, the significance of the Hall and Marston satires was not perceived till 1903. But the evidence known to Spedding was more than sufficient to put a reasonable person on enquiry as to the possibility of Bacon's authorship of the Shake-Speare works.

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