How the Shakespeare Plays

Fit Bacon's Life-Story

Chapter XIV


from the book

Enter Francis Bacon

Bertram Theobald

Loves Labour's Lost
Merry Wives of Windsor
Merchant of Venice
Measure For Measure
Richard III
Troilus and Cressida

King John
King Henry VI
King Lear


"Love's Labour's Lost"


By common consent, this play is ranked as one of the earliest of the Shakespeare dramas, being usually assingned to the year 1589, or thereabouts. The scene is laid at the Court of Navarre and in precisely those regions of France which Francis Bacon had visited during his residence abroad from 1576 to 1579. Not only so, but his brother Anthony, with whom he maintained a close correspondence, resided at the Court of Navarre between 1585 and 1590.

Professor Abel Lefranc, though not arguing for the authorship of Francis Bacon, has made a very special study of this play, and, as a Frenchman, is entitled to be heard where there are questions of detailed knowledge of French history, besides minute topographical descriptions indicating personal experience on the part of the author. After quoting Monte'gut, a French critic of great learning, who remarks how extraordinarily faithful the author is, even in the smallest details, to historical truth and to local colour, Professor Lefranc says :

That the author of Love's Labours Lost knew and had visited the Court of Navarre is apparent, if only we can agree to study the play without any preconceived hypothesis and try to learn something about the history of this little kingdom of Ne'rac....All the explanations that have been given of this order to justify the theory of its composition by Shakespeare the player at the outset of his dramatic career, as also every element of the comedy itself, and every incident in the life of the Stratford player, prove the impossibility of his being the author os such a work. (Sous le Masque de William Shakespeare by Prof. Abel Lefranc. Paris :Payot et Cie; translation from Vol. II, pp. 33-34.)

He also that many of the allusions cannot be fully understood unless the reader is acquainted with the memoirs of Marguerite de Valois, the "Princess of France." The journey which she is represented as having taken to Ne'rac, in order to discuss, among other matters, her dowry, really took place. This is extremely important, not only as proving the thorough acquaintance of the Author with the inner history of the Court of Navarre, but because it confirms secret revelations by Francis Bacon that he fell desperately in love with Marguerite. He would therefore be likely to learn such intimate details of her life.

Love's Labours Lost is clearly the work of a young author who is saturated with classical knowledge and makes a somewhat ostentatious display of his learning. At the same time it is certaintly a caricature of the affected pedantry in vogue at the time among many of the courtiers and men of fashion. An interesting point is that Mr. George James of Birmingham has identified the character of Armado with Antonio Perez, at one time an intimate friend of the Bacons. He was a Spaniard who gained favour at the English Court for a while, but afterwards fell into disfavour owing to his affectations. In general, the play is utilised by Bacon to have a tilt at the Aristotelian philosophy which, while still at College, he censured as being barren of results for the good of men.

Measure for Measure

Mr. E. J. Castle, Q.C., considered this play to be one of those which display most legal knowledge. It turns on the technicalities of pre-contract.

"Throughout the whole play we find traces of its being the work of one thoroughly acquainted with legal proceedings." ( Shakespeare, Bacon, Jonson and Greene London : Sampson Low, 1897, p.41)

Speaking of Act II, Scene i., he says :

"If any lawyer reads this scene, every line of which requires, I think, careful study, he must admit it has been written either by one who has drawn the scene from life, or has been assisted by one well versed in the everyday life of the English law courts." (Ibid p.50)

And again, when speaking of what he calls " the legal plays" he says :

" in Shakespeare's works we have not only the mere legal acquirements...... but we have pictures drawn of the different members of the legal profession. We have, as a photographer would say, in 'Measure for Measure' the English judge taken in four positions; the stern hanging judge, the kindly humane Escalus, inclined to trifle a bit on the bench, yet doing justice after all. We have Escalus, prejudiced and misled, doing injustice on the bench, and we have him shamed and repentant. We have the argumentatative barrister in the Temple, a sketch of life in Parliament, and a knowledge of its procedures........"

This testimony from a practising barrister, a member of the Inner Temple, is extemely valuable, because it gives us the considered opinion of a professional lawyer, not merely that these Shakespeare plays contain an abundance of legal knowledge--which is always admitted--but that they also contain

" pictures drawn of the different members of hte legal profession."

In other words, these plays could by no possiblilty have been written by any layman, however giffted. They give as studies taken from the life of a practising lawyer. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of this fact in its bearing on our problem. Taken in conjunction with all the evidence from other sides of the question, it virtually fixes the authorship on Francis Bacon, and on no one else.

It is worth noting that this play was first performed before the King and his Court at Wilton, the residence of Bacon's life-long friend, the Earl of Pembroke. At this time, Raleigh and others were being tried at Winchester, and it has been suggested, with some show of reason, that the speech on mercy, put into the mouth of Isabella, may have been purposely contrived in order to incline the King towards leniency with Raleigh and his associates. Another and a stronger point is that this play emphasizes the line of argument in Bacon's speech on the enforcement of obsolete laws, and likewise in his Essay Of Judicature.

I have only room for one more piece of evidence in relation to this play of Measure for Measure a curious little fact which has often been quoted before. There is a letter extant from Sir Tobie Mathew to Francis Bacon, the date on which has been erased, acknowledging receipt of some work which is un-named. In this letter Mathew writes :

"I will return you weight for weight but measure for measure."

Knowing as we do that Bacon frequently submitted his works in manuscript to Mathew before publication, these words have a significance which they would not otherwise possess, and if they do not indicate that he was sending back the manuscript of this play to its author, I find it difficult to think of any other reasonable interpretation.

King John

Many years ago, (see article in Baconiana, Nov. 1894) Professor Bengough made a detailed analysis and comparison of the play of King John and Bacon's History of Henry VII, with results which convinced him that the same mind was responsible for both works. I quote a few sentences from his article in Baconiana

"parallel use of quaint words strikes one as peculiar---e.g. tickling, coop, brag, copy (noun), gall, prate, parley, cincture, under-prop." To quote every such instance we need to transcribe a large portion of the tragedy. Henry VII contains a dozen such words, of which the quaint use receives perfect illustration from as many lines scattered over the tragedy. Reversing the process of comparison, it would be difficult to hit upon any single volume containing illustrations of those twelve passages from the Play so apposite as those which we could quote from a single page of Bacon. And this is but one of fifty different items of evidence. Let us briefly sum up the details...

The twenty-two metaphors cited from both works are..... At least twelve of these metaphors are rather unusual, some very much so ; and that any short works by different authors should contain them all is beyond the doctrine of chances.... Instances are to be met with, no doubt, of popular authors with favourite words and mannerisms being imitated in a slavish way, but Francis Bacon was not just the man to do this. To any one reads the Play and History together, the supposition of conscious imitation is too absurd... but we challenge any scholar who rejects the Baconian theory to cite an example of unintentional literary coincidence in two works of equal length which shall approximate in number and exactitude to the parallelisms adduced from a single play and from one only of Bacon's works."


In connection with the publication of Othello and Richard III we have one of the strongest pieces of evidence that Shakespeare could not possibly have been the true author .

It is very probable that Othello was virtually the same play as The Moor of Venice , produced on 1st November, 1604, before the Court, and played again as part of the marriage festivities of the Princess Elizabeth in 1613. That play was also given on the public stage. But no printed version is known prior to the quarto of 1622. This was not a pirated edition, since the publisher states that he obtained his copy from the Master of the Revels. Accordingly, this quarto is authentic, though it may have differed from the acting version. But the real difficulty is that only one year afterwards the Folio of 1623 appeared, and Othello is seen to contain some 160 new lines, besides extensive emendations, admittedly by the hand of the author. Yet the presumed author died in 1616. How is it possible to reconcile these facts with the orthodox theory? It could only be done by conjecturing, for example, that although Shakspere mentioned neither books nor manuscripts in his otherwise detailed will, this revised copy did not exist prior to 1616, and, after lying in some place of concealment for seven years after his death, was discovered by Heming or Condell or Ben Jonson and utilised for the 1623 Folio. But if Shakspere took the trouble to make all these alterations and additons to the play, why did he not also take the obvious step of either seeing that these emendations were incorporated in the play when printed, or leaving the revised copy to his executor and residuary legatee, his son-in-law, Dr. John Hall? Should it be argued that he had sold his copyright out and out and had no further legal rights in it, then why bother to make any emendations at all? It is evident that whatever conjectures of this nature are made, no reasonable story can be built up which will give a satisfactory explanation of the facts and also support the orthodox theory.

Richard III

The case of Richard III is still more remarkable. This play, first printed in 1597, ran through six editions, Quarto 6, which did not differ materially form its predecessors, only appearing in 1622.Yet in the very next year we find the Folio version giving no less than 193 fresh lines, besides some 2,000 minor emendations of text! Here, again, it is admittted that the revision was by the hand of the author, since the Cambridge editors say :

"the passages which in the Quarto are complete and consecutive, are amplified in the Folio, the expanded text being quite in the manner of Shakespeare. The Folio, too, contains passages not in the Quarto, which though not necessary to the sense, yet harmonize so well, in the sense and tone, with the context, that we can have no hesitation in attributing them to the author himself."

Not only so, but for some unexplained reason twelve printer's errors are identified, as having been taken over bodily from the Quarto into the Folio! Thus it is virtually demonstrated that in preparing the Folio edition, the author worked from this 1622 Quarto and no other. But in 1622 the reputed author had been six years in his grave! Once more we ask how it is possible to square such facts as these with the accepted theory. If it be urged that in spite of the deadly evidence of these twelve printer's errors, the Folio version was produced, not from the 1622 Quarto but from an independant manuscript, there is still no better explanation as to where this came from than in the case of the Othello manuscript. And we have already seen that in the prefatory matter to the Folio, Ben Jonson only darkens counsel. His account is confused and contradictory if applied to Shakspere, but natural and intelligible if he were deliberately shielding Francis Bacon as the writer.

Should the reader now object that, even if these facts put Shakspere out of court, they do not prove Bacon's authorship, I can only reply that to exclude the former is to include the latter, since no other claimant satisfies all the required conditions.


King Henry VI


Parts 1 and 2 of this play existed as early as 1587, that is to say just about when young Shakspere was trudging up to London to seek a living. This will be no difficulty to those editors who can tell us that he may have brought Venus and Adonis with him in his pocket! But most of us do not possess such a robust credulity. The modern way out of this dilemma is to throw Shakspere overboard altogether and assign the authorship to Marlowe instead. This at any rate gives commentators a year or so further margin, and it provides them with a man of University education as author insteadof the Stratford peasant.

But so far as I myself am concerned--and probably most Baconians would agree---Marlowe was only another of Bacon's masks. Indeed Bacon himself says, in cipher, that Marlowe, Greene and Peele served him in this capacity also. So that from our point of view commentators have only escaped Scylla to be wrecked on Charybdis.
For if there judgment is sound, they have contributed not a little to the Baconian theory. In this connection, however, we must remember that those lines in the indictiment of Lord Say which are a parallel to Bacon's case did not appear in quarto, but only in the 1623 Folio. This excludes both Shakspere and Marlowe as the writer of those particular lines, and points very strongly to Bacon. Moreover, the whole play of Henry VI has thirty scenes in London, twenty in France, in the very provinces visited by Bacon ; three at St. Albans, his ancestral home ; one at the Temple, familiar to him as a lawyer ; and one in Parliament, also familiar to him from the year 1584 onwards. How does this fit Shakespere? or Marlowe?

Mr. Edwin Reed points out a very remarkable fact with regard to 1 Henry VI. (Francis Bacon Our Shakespeare London Gay and Bird 1902; pp.31-5) In Act III, Scene iii, occurs an extraodinary interview in the open field betweeen Joan of Arc and the Duke of Burgundy in which the eloquent pleading of the Maid overcomes all resistance on the part of the Duke. Historically, no such interview ever took place. By no means, says Mr. Reed, and he tells us that

" in 1780, according to the well known historian of the House of Burgundy, M. Brugiere de Barante, some one in France for the first time put in print a letter dated July 17, 1429, addressed to the then reigning duke, and written by Joan of Arc. It contains a passionate appeal to the duke to take precisely the same course which is urged upon him in the play."

Mr. Reed continues :

" It is safe to say the existence of this letter was unkown in England in the time of Shakespeare. Neither Hall, nor Holinshed nor any other English chronicler mentions it. It appears to have been unknown also in France, for it remained in manuscript.... for a period of of three hundred and fifty years......And yet this identical letter opened the series of negotiations that finally resulted in the treaty of peace in 1435, as represented in the play. The dramatist simply changed its form, preferring a spoken address in the open field as better suited to stage effects. Even for this he had an historic basis...."

No commentator has ever urged that Shakspere even left the shores of England, whereas Francis Bacon visited the scenes of these campaigns, and evidently gathered much of his material from the archives of France and Burgundy.

Like so many of the Shakespeare plays, Henry VI is replete with legal technicalities, which no amateur could have introduced without betraying his lack of professional knowledge. Mr. E. J. Castle, Q. C., (Shakespeare, Bacon, Jonson and Greene: London, Sampson Low, 1897; p. 69.) analyses many of these in detail, but I can only give one small instance here. After pointing out that the author correctly makes one of his characters speak of a lawyer's "chambers," instead of "rooms," or "lodgings," or any other word, Mr. Castle gives as his final example the closing lines of the scene in the Temple Gardens, where Plantagenet, Warwick, Vernon and the other lawyer being left together, Plantagenet, after thanking him for plucking a white rose with him, says:

Thanks, gentle sir.

Come, let us four to dinner ; I daresay,
This quarrel will drink blood another day.

and he points out that it is an ancient custom among members of the Inner Temple that they always dine together in messes of four. Who but a professional lawyer would be likely to possess an out-of-the-way piece of information such as this? And Mr. Castle further says, with reference to the passage where the dispuiting parties adjourn to the cool of the gardens :

"This reference to the Temple Gardens, not saying whether the Inner Temple or the Middle Temple is meant,curiosly enough points to the writer being a member of Grays Inner or a Middle Temple man would have given his Inn its proper title." (Footnote, p.65)

Merry Wives

I am indebted to Mr. Edwin Reed forth following striking identification of the character of Dr. Caius in this play. Says Mr. Reed :

"It may astonish some of our readers to learn that this ridiculous character in the play was drawn from life. The prototype was Dr. John Caius of Cambridge University, a physician, the re-founder of Gonville Hall (which still in part bears his name), and in his relations with the students an exceedingly choleric and revengeful instructor. His true name was Kaye, but as he had been educated abroad, and was inclined to ape foreign manners, he changed his English cognomen into its Latin form, Caius, by which he was then and is now generally known."

Mr. Reed then quotes some particulars from the Dictionary of National Biography , and continues :

"To complete the likeness between the two characters, dramatic and historical, we find that Caius had an especial antipathy to Welshmen, for in the ordinances of the college founded by him, Welshmen are expressly excluded from the privileges of fellowship. It appears then--
1. That both were physicians.
2. That both came from abroad.
3. That both were phenomenally quarellsome, even to the extent of inflicting chastisement upon others with their own hands.
4. That both hated Welshmen.

Now how did William Shakspere of Stratford become acquanited with these idiosyncrasies of a Cambridge professor...? Dr. Caius died in July, 1573, at which time the reputed poet was living at Stratford, nine years old. The controversy, as it raged in Cambridge and as it is reflected in the play, was a personal one, and in the absence of newspapers or equivalent means of disseminating general information, could hardly have been beyond university circles. Francis Bacon....entered the university in April 1573, three months before Dr. Caius' death and in the height of the prevailing excitement."

In my judgement, this is another powerful piece of circumstantial evidence supporting the Baconian theory.

It is worth quoting, in addition, that curious anecdote told of Sir Nicholas Bacon, and obviously referred to in this play. A malefactor was being tried by Sir Nicholas and was about to be sentenced to death, when he appealed for mercy on the ground that Sir Nicholas and he were kindred.

"Indeed?" said the Judge, "how can that be?"
"Why, if it please your Honour, my name is Hogg and yours is Bacon.".....
"Nay," replied Sir Nicholas, "but hog cannot be bacon until it be well hanged."

In Act IV, Scene i, of Merry Wives, occurs the scene between Mistress Page, Quickly, and Evans, in which after some absurd colloquy, Quickly comes out with the remark,

"Hang-hog is latten for Bacon, I warrant you."

It is likely that this family joke among the Bacons should have been known to the Stratford actor? It might have been the rounds of legal circles, but not likely in theatres. Notice that this scene does not occur in the quarto of 1602, and there was no further reprint until 1619, after Shaksper's death, and then in the 1623 Folio. This is not actual proof that the scene did not appear in the original manuscript,since the 1602 quarto is very imperfect ; but it points strongly in that direction. It would almost seem that the scene was introduced by Bacon for the purpose of dragging in this reference to the Hang-hog anecdote.

Troilus and Cressida

This remarkable play contains a number of the most striking resemblances in thought to the teachings of Francis Bacon. So much so, that Judge Webb considered it to be a complete picture of his opinions on every kind of subject. I am aware that in 1599 Henslowe's diary contains an entry importing that a play of this name had been bought by him from Dekker and Chettle. But even so, and though the play bears signs of being the work of more than one hand, the fact of its inclusion in the 1623 Folio proves, to my mind, that the original must have been so transformed by "Shakespeare" as to give him the right to call it his own.

King Lear

It is affirmed by Mr. E. J. Castle, Q. C., that in this play, as in so many others, we find, "the same legal information introduced in season and out of season." Mr. Castle says :

"Yet the legal author cannot be kept quiet ; his law, like Charles' head, is bound to come in ; and the king in his madness twice thinks himself in a court of justice. In the first, he refers to the distinction between law and equity, a distinction which, as lawyers say, did not obtain in our courts till centuries after."
The Merchant of Venice & The Name Anthony

It is not a little remarkable that the name Anthony occurs in no less than eight of the plays, including The Tempest, which is one of the two plays considered to be autobiographical. In The Merchant of Venice Antonio figures as the generous brother singularly devoted to each other, but on one occasion, in 1598, when Francis was in financial difficulties, and was actually seized and imprisoned at the instance of a Jewish creditor, Anthony Bacon came to his assistance and did everything in his power to help. This occurred shortly before the date usually assigned for the writing of this play.

In general, the plays appeared frequently during the period of Bacon's leisure,and almost ceased when he was appointed Solicitor-General in 1607. Almost directly after his political fall in 1621, they were all revised, and the great Folio was published in 1623.