Fun with Baconian Ciphers ©
Clayton Buerkle, Ph.D. 2013
This paper presents major breakthrough discoveries for the Shakespeare Authorship question. This research started out as what was going to be “fun” material for my Shakespeare authorship blog. I had avoided delving into possible cipher evidence for Bacon’s involvement in the authorship mystery for several reasons. For one, there was already plenty of evidence connecting Francis Bacon to the Shakespeare works outside of any possible ciphers. Some of this evidence, based on its multifaceted uniqueness to Shakespeare and Bacon, has even been offered as proof of his authorship. Second, many early Baconians got into a cipher mania and were seeing ciphers pretty much everywhere they looked. It took the development of the science of cryptology, especially in the work of William and Elizebeth Friedman, specialists in the field, to take a disciplined look at these Baconian ciphers and provide expert analysis resulting in their rejection of them. That was back in the 1950s and was a major blow to the Baconian movement. However, this setback was mainly in the public’s mind. Many officers of the Bacon Society didn’t endorse some of the most popular ciphers, as the Friedmans pointed out. And a couple Baconians, one a mathematics professor at Cambridge University, reported that they discussed the topic with William Friedman later and reviewed some more of the evidence, and according to them, he regretted taking the hard stance that he did. Unfortunately, they never revised their book so we’ll never know their final thoughts on the subject.
The Baconian Authorship movement still existed and continued its research. Peter Dawkins has been one of the mainstays of the movement and has done extensive research on Bacon’s connection to the Shakespeare works along with their connections to what are considered esoteric literature and groups, notably Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism. He wrote The Shakespeare Enigma, 2004. Retired barrister Nigel Cockburn’s spent some 20 years writing what is considered a scholarly tome on the authorship topic—The Bacon Shakespeare Question, 1998. And Baconian researcher Barry Clarke has significantly extended this evidence for the academic market and has written The Shakespeare Puzzle: A Non-Esoteric Baconian Theory, 2007. Dawkins and Clarke had previously examined and contributed to the Baconian cipher literature.
Over the years I’ve come across several Baconian ciphers that I thought were especially interesting and so I tried to keep tabs in the back of my mind about this angle. And then I came across a couple more that seemed too unlikely to be by chance. So I started to review the matter, including reading the Friedman’s published work The Shakespeare Ciphers Examined, 1958.
In the course of my review I found some more of the early offered ciphers for Bacon’s authorship that stood out from the rest, at least to me. And when I looked to see what the Friedmans had said about them I found that, for the most part, they never discussed them at all. And for a group of them they just dismissed them on what I thought were unsatisfactory grounds. I think they did an excellent job, generally, in their analysis. But they admitted they only reviewed a relatively small sample of the extant proposed ciphers around, though they were the ones they thought were most popular. And they didn’t dismiss the possibility that there might be genuine ciphers in the Shakespeare works. They also didn’t take a stand on who the true author may indeed have been. Nor did they look for any possible ciphers or codes themselves in the Shakespeare works. They acknowledged that “… some anti-Stratfordians have been learned and distinguished.” And that “ … it [the authorship question] cannot be simply dismissed without examination”.