Sunday, June 5, 2011

Shakespeare's Imagery - Spurgeon 1 of 10

The book by Caroline Spurgeon, Shakespeare's Imagery, and what it tells us, (1935), is sometimes used to “prove” that Bacon could never have been Shakespeare. You can see an example of this assertion in Wikipedia here:

What the people who say this never do, of course, is to bother to ask for and present any Baconian response to her research and conclusions. So here is an article addressing this topic. For posting it here I’ll call it “Dr. Spurgeon’s flawed research on Shakespeare and Bacon Images”. Part 1 begins below. If Dr. Spurgeon’s research methodology was flawed, and it was, then the statistical analysis based on her method’s data is worthless.

The following is from a Baconian publication.

PROFESSOR SPURGEON AND HER IMAGES, by F.E.C.H. and W.S. M., from Baconiana, September 1969

"Shakespeare's Imagery and what it tells us," by Caroline F. E. Spurgeon, D.Lit., London; Doc. Univ. Paris; Hon. LiK.D. (Michigan, U.S.A.); Emeritus Professor of English in the University of London, is an impressive work. Its publishers (Cambridge University Press) describe it as:

"not just another set of essays upon Shakespeare, but a study of the poet from an entirely new angle, based on entirely new evidence which is drawn from the whole of Shakespeare's images now for the first time collected, sorted and examined."

It is not our purpose to criticize this book as a study of the whole of Shakespeare’s images, a term which the authoress employs to include every kind of simile and metaphor, connoting any and every imaginative picture, or her method of counting these images, placing them in categories of analogy and deducing therefrom the characteristics of the poet's personality, temperament and thought. We think there are very strong objections indeed both to the validity of the method itself and the conclusions reached as a result of its application, but we shall, for the present, limit what we have to say of this book to consideration of a part of its second chapter, in which Shakespeare's imagery is compared with that of Bacon and join issue with the writer's conclusions (from her premises which we think entirely false that "between these two sets of writings we have not one mind only but two highly individual and entirely different minds.”

Dr. Spurgeon, for the purposes of her comparison, has analysed only Bacon's Essays, the Advancement of Learning (we are not told whether the Latin or English version was used), Henry Vll and the first part of the New Atlantis. In the comparative anatomy of two brains, she might just as well have ignored a lobe of one of them, or, having carefully dissected Shakespeare’s body, removed from Bacon’s only the skin, crying “The poor man was without bones!”.

It is difficult indeed to understand how, when writing of nature images and telling us those of Bacon and Shakespeare are of a very different character, Dr. Spurgeon could have dispensed with the light an analysis of those in Bacon's Natural History would have afforded her; she dispenses, however, not only with this light, but with a great many others, and, as we shall see, it is not surprising that thus partially blinding herself she misleads her readers.


  1. A more apt analogy would be that, in selecting from an incomplete representation of his works, she had used a cross-section, and not merely his skin. Many of a writer's habits manifest to some degree in anything he or she writes. She may have missed the feet, head, and armpits, but caught his ear and his heart, for example. But to wield knife, even if expertly and deliberately, to end up with nothing but "skin," and to succeed, is unlikely. It's impossible.

  2. Perhaps you could point me to a work of Bacon's that sounds to you like Shakespeare? That demonstrates the habits of figurative language, compression of meaning, layers of significance, and attitudes we associate with the writer we call Shakespeare?

    You're right that if the author of "Shakespeare" was Bacon, there's nothing more than skin-deep in his Essays. Point me in the right direction. Spurgeon is interesting only because her data-gathering tends to quantify and support what a Shakespeare fan's ear tells him.

    1. It looks like I overlooked this for a while. We can't compare Shakespeare's drama with Bacon's since Bacon doesn't have any under his name. Nor does he have any poetry in the same genre or time period as the Sonnets or the two long poems. So the bulk of evidence comes from the many categories as shown on this blog, which represents only a portion of a much vaster amount of evidence. Still there is some Shakespeare Prose that has been compared to Bacon's. The longest piece is from Henry V 4.1 lines 200-240, which Baconian expert N.B. Cockburn says it's "philosophising and careful balancing of thought and clauses, seem largely indistinguishable from Bacon's prose style".