Last review of Shakespeare Beyond Doubt (the one edited by Edmondson and Wells)
I said that I would answer this early chapter after finishing with the others. So here’s my response to it.
Chapter 2 ‘The case for Bacon’ By Alan Stewart
The author introduces this subject by mentioning Bacon’s primary biographer, James Spedding, who was a modern scholar who published the works of Francis Bacon’s in the latter half of the 19th century. Spedding had actually met Delia Bacon in 1853. Though he didn’t think that Francis Bacon wrote the Shakespeare works, he did believe and say that Bacon had written more than just the works that bore his name. Stewart says that the essential Baconian arguments were in place within thirty years of Spedding’s meeting with Delia Bacon. He says that these arguments were that: Bacon had written the works attributed to Shakespeare, and the evidence for it was contained in a cipher, and obliquely hinted at in some letters; there were multiple ‘parallelisms’ between the writings of Bacon and the writings of Shakespeare; and further proof could be found in two manuscripts – Bacon’s notebook and the scribbled cover of a miscellany.
Here are the points Stewart says represent the evidence for Bacon and his refutations along with my responses:
1) There was a letter to Bacon from his closest friend Tobie Mathew that included the postscript: “The most prodigious wit that ever I knew of my nation, and of this side of the sea, is of your lordship’s name, though he be known by another”. So the basic Baconian argument is basically that Mathew was still on the continent and in his letter [undated but it’s most likely date would be 1619] to Bacon was acknowledging that he had written some great work of wit but used another person’s name on it in place of his own. Since Bacon put his own name on his philosophical and legal works and his Essays, and since he had been a prominent Shakespeare authorship candidate when the letter was later being discussed, it’s assumed that he was referring to him authoring the Shakespeare works.
Stewart’s refutation is that “In truth, the meaning is quite clear. Mathew, an English Catholic convert living on the Continent, was referring to another English member of his faith (‘of my nation’) also living abroad (‘of this side of the sea’) born as a Bacon (‘of your lordship’s name’), but living under an alias. The obvious candidate is Nathaniel Bacon, an expatriate Catholic who was highly learned (‘most prodigious wit’) and who went by the name of Nathaniel Southwell.
Response. Unfortunately, Stewart is not very familiar with Baconian evidence at all. I’ll very briefly summarize just a few points from the chapter on this question in N.B. Cockburn’s (pronounced ‘Coburn’) book The Bacon Shakespeare Question, 1998. 1. If Bacon used an alias, it can only have been for literary works. And there is no reason to think that he used any other pen name than “Shakespeare”. Mathew, as Bacon’s intimate friend and literary confidant, could not have been mistaken [in whatever it was he was referring to]. 2. Mathew’s letter to Bacon was “a paean of gratitude and reverence”. Cockburn says “This was hardly the occasion to praise another man’s (Thomas Bacon) wit in the Postcript. For instance, Mathew had written a couple years earlier to Bacon “You shall never be able to live four hours out of my memory, when I shall be awake, though you should live four score years out of my sight”. And one year after that, in 1619, Matthew wrote a much greater paean of reverence for Bacon’s writing and character. (And which has been posted here previously). Mathew would not have taken the risk of putting his idol’s nose out of joint by hinting that Francis was an inferior writer to Thomas Bacon. 3. Mathew’s letter is for the purpose of thanking Bacon for a ‘great and noble token’ that is unnamed. So then mentioning Bacon’s “prodigious wit” would be fitting if this token were a great work of literature. 4. Why would Mathew be cryptic in a hint to this Thomas Bacon (and there’s no record in all of Mathew’s letters that he ever met or mentioned him) when he could have said something like “I have met Thomas Bacon and he is the most prodigious wit” etc. 5. Whether the Postscript refers to Thomas Bacon or to Francis Bacon, there was no need to mention the fact of an alias – unless it has the significance the Baconians claim.
2) Stewart next provides a refutation to the argument by some Baconians (apparently originated with Delia Bacon possibly after receiving a letter about this from Samuel Morse, the inventor of the telegraph), that since Francis Bacon was familiar with ciphers, having written and developed them, that these would be found in the Shakespeare works. The most popular kind later proposed was his bi-literal cipher. Later in the chapter Stewart mentions how William and Elizebeth Friedman, cryptology experts, demonstrated the unlikelihood of the proposed ciphers in their book The Shakespeare Ciphers Examined, 1957.
Response. The Friedman’s book did show how unreliable were the many proposed ciphers, and there were a great many proposed. But they also did not rule them out since they were so very common back in Elizabethan times. And there are still some ciphers, not just by Baconians, but some other authorship candidate supporters, that have been proposed and are still being sought.
3) The third piece of evidence Stewart deals with is The Northumberland Manuscript. This is a cover sheet of what was a folded bundle of some 22 sheets of writings. It was once in Bacon’s ownership and possession. On it are Bacon’s name and the titles of some of his writings along with a great amount of other miscellany. The penmanship is not Bacon’s but one or more of his scribes. The most interesting parts are those relating to Shakespeare. There are named ‘Rychard the second’, ‘Rychard the third’, ‘Revealing day through every cranie peeps and’ (Rape of Lucrece), ‘honorificabilitudino’ (Love’s Labour’s Lost), the word ‘plaies’, the word ‘printed’, as well as the full name and partial parts of the name of ‘William Shakespeare’.
Stewart’s refutation is that these may indeed be references to the Shakespeare works. However, he says that the plays were all available in printed quartos by 1598. (Venus and Adonis was printed in 1593, and Rape of Lucrece in 1594). So he says there was no guarantee that the Shakespeare plays and the MS had a close relationship of time period. He says the name of Shakespeare is spelt the same as in had appeared in print in 1593 and 1594. And the long word was not new since both Dante and Erasmus used a version of it. Therefore, he says it’s most likely that the references just happen to be due to the fact that Shakespeare was relatively well known in the late 1590s.
Response. Stewart doesn’t actually present any logical argument here for his conclusion. First, he seems to imply that the three Shakespeare plays were too much separated in time from the MS entries to be connected. But the first printing of all three plays are dated to the period of 1597-1598 which is also the approximate end date of the MS. So, that the play manuscripts were NOT found in the bundle, along with the finding of the word ‘printed’ and the close proximity of the time period of the printing of the plays lends credence to the idea that the play manuscripts were removed from the bundle and then printed. Second, he seems to suggest that since the name of ‘Shakespeare’ in the MS is identical to that used on the 1593-1594 poems, that this somehow supports that they were written by a different person, named William Shakespeare, than by someone using a pseudonym. However, this spelling of ‘Shakespeare’ is different than the spelling of the Stratfordian family, which quite consistently spelled their name ‘Shakspere’. [See Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? Chapter 1]. Also, the first printing of the two ‘Rychard’ plays did not have any author’s name attached to them. And in the second printings in 1598 the last name used a dash, spelling it ‘Shake-speare’. Even in this period was this thought of as a pseudonym since Thomas Vicars wrote in the third edition of his manual of rhetoric (in 1628) that “To these [poet names] I believe should be added that famous poet who takes his name from ‘Shaking’ and ‘Spear’. [See page 198 of Shakespeare Beyond Doubt?, edited by Shahan and Waugh. Third, though the long word ‘honorificabilitudino’ had variations used before that in the MS or in the play Love’s Labour’s Lost, it appears that either Bacon or Shakespeare were the first to use a version of it in Elizabethan England. This argues against Stewart’s suggestion that it was commonly used in England before then. In fact, the coincidence should be suspicious. Fourth, Stewart conveniently leaves out the observation that the name in the MS ‘William Shakespeare’ has, twice, the word ‘Your’ written before it, which would also support the hypothesis of it being used as a pseudonym. Again Stewart completely strikes out on the evidence.
4) Regarding Bacon’s notebook we call ‘The Promus’, which Stewart quotes one reviewer as saying “that there is a very considerable similarity of phrase and thought between these two great authors [Shakespeare and Bacon], he simply argues that these phrases are all ‘commonplaces’ and can be found between many authors of the period.
Response. Again, Stewart shows near total ignorance of the evidence. Referring back to Cockburn’s book which presents the most thorough analysis, he estimates there are about 1100 good parallels of phrase and thought between the two authors. And that ONLY about 600 of these would come from The Promus. Another 500 significant parallels come from non-Promus sources of Bacon’s writings. In his book he discussed 100 of the best non-Promus parallels, then a selection of what he thought were the most significant Promus parallels. Most, or all, of this latter category have previously been posted on this site in the forum “Did Bacon write Romeo and Juliet”? His analysis ruled out the hypotheses of the best parallels being either commonplaces or of them caused by mutual borrowing of one author by the other. Neither Stewart nor any other Stratfordian has attempted a reply to his evidence and arguments.
So, in all, the Stratfordian expert on Bacon has zero evidence against him as an authorship candidate. The legal evidence by itself should disprove Stratfordian theory, especially since the primary support for it on this particular question, the book The Law of Property in Shakespeare and the Elizabethan Drama (1948 and 1968) has been shown to be ‘fatally flawed’.
I realize that the idea of William of Stratford not being the true author is difficult for many to grasp. But all the evidence provided by those that have looked most closely at this evidence suggests that the true author deliberately hid his (or her) name by disguise, and that this misrepresentation took on a life of its own and has not been questioned by the academic establishment, for whatever the appearances seen and whatever the assumptions and motivations they’ve had. The argument purely of authority opinion just doesn’t cut it anymore when the abundance of evidence clearly contradicts it.