Monday, December 23, 2013

Bacon's Signature Ciphers in Shakespeare -84- Achilles Speare Part 1


50)  Signature moments (Part 1 of 2)
Another interesting coincidence concerns a book by a Shakespeare scholar, a Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature, where we find an argument that Shakespeare, the author, used images to suggest “signature moments”. This discussion is found in Shakespeare's Literary Authorship, Patrick Cheney, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2008. Here is what one reviewer wrote of one of his many arguments, and the one I’m focusing on:
“For example, in Chapter One, easily the most controversial of the book's eight chapters, Cheney claims that Shakespeare's authorship isn't simply "counter-laureate" but is also "self-concealing." He argues that the Achilles stanza in the Rape of Lucrece, which describes a picture of the hero's spear but not of his actual person, constitutes a "displaced, mythologized version of self-representation" that "specifies the precise character of [Shakespearean] authorship". In harking back to and pushing against Ovid, Dante, Petrarch, Chaucer, and Spenser, all of whom refer to Achilles' spear as a marker of authorship, the stanza operates as an authorial signature. In other words, Cheney sees the stanza's representation of invisible authorship--epic authorship in particular--as pointing to, even standing in for, Shakespeare's own invisible authorship.” 
Now, Cheney thinks that the idea that the man from Stratford was not the author Shakespeare is “lunacy”.  However, when I look at his arguments I see again, as I have many times before, that he doesn’t even seem aware of the anti-Stratfordian evidence. He just mentions very simplistic arguments that are often tossed out as the arguments of non-orthodox believers. Next is shown the Lucrece passage as it appears in the 1594 printing:
For much imaginarie worke was there,
Conceipt deceitfull, so compact so kinde,
That for ACHILLES image stood his speare,
Grip’t in an Armed hand, himselfe behind
VVas left unseene, save to the eye of mind,
      A hand, a foote, a face, a leg, a head
      Stood for the whole to be imagined.
Cheney says on p. 38 “Most surprisingly, editors turn up little information on the crucial image of Achilles’ spear, and all neglect its authorial resonance.”  He even suggests that Shakespeare essentially signed his name to that of Achilles in this stanza.


  1. I agree the Shakespeare author left his mark when describing the half-hidden Achilles about to take revenge for the death of Patrocles. Guilio Romano's painting "The Struggle Over the Armor of Patrocles" is the model for the Rape of Lucrece passage so positive as an autobiographical analogue. The important point is that the Shakespeare author could only have seen this painting in Italy, and Gulielmus Shakspere, the Stratford businessman, did not travel there. But Edward de Vere did, and it was he who was acclaimed with the words, "Thy countenance shakes a speare at Ignorance," Harvey's encomium in1578 when he tried to convince de Vere to abandon the triviality of theater and take command as a leader of the realm. de Vere had written an important essay on the army, recommending a permanent trained army, rather than the conscripted population, whose families, harvests, and communities suffered catastrophically during war. But evidently de Vere took up the spear that is propelled into future time. It is indeed a pity that professional scholarship ignores the history and biography that would inform us about the true Shakespeare. I recommend the following essay for more detail about the intrinsic relationship between de Vere, his trip to Mantua where Romano worked, and the passage quoted above:

  2. Let's hope that professional scholarship begins to be more professional! I am already familiar with the article on De Vere's Lucrece and Roman's Sala di Troia. And I agree that De Vere, based on Harvey's statement, justifies him, like Bacon, as being a 'speare shaker'. However, I'm pretty sure that Romano's painting didn't inspire the particular Lucrece passage of Achilles' image hidden behind and left unseen. In the article under the Closeup of the scene in question, it says "Speare in hand, his figure is half-hidden by the figure of Menelaus while his face is hidden by his raised arm". But the face of the man holding up the speare is clearly seen beneath his arm. He has a white beard and a white helmet. And what appears as someone's hair above the arm supposedly hiding a face, is actually just the plume of the man's helmet, so no face is being hidden. And unlike the Lucrece stanza, the painting of the gripped spear is NOT "in an armed hand". So the painting may have contributed to the poem but that particular image does not match the Lucrece stanza. Also, De Vere may have seen the painting personally, but so might have Francis Bacon who is thought to have visited Mantua, but also his brother Anthony, a painter and collector of fine paintings, who had at least visited cities around Mantua and so most likely would have visited this Ducal Palace as he had visited others in Italy.