From Baconiana 1997
Review by Francis Carr
With the publication of this lethal book, I do not see how anyone can now sit down and write a new biography of William Shakespeare, the actor from Stratford. John Michell has leant over backwards to be fair to the Shakespeare academics and all other folk who follow them. He has pulled all the tatty rugs that still remain under their quaking feet. Anthony Holden has revealed that he is now attempting to produce such a book. He would be better employed writing a biography of someone who has led a more interesting, entertaining life. One could suggest Homer, Prester John or Moses.
This book was published in April 1997, eight months ago. Since then no academic, no writer, has been able to come up with any serious refutation, any real defence of William Shaksper. The whole Stratfordon-Avon edifice resembles a vast, shambling, battered fortress. At a distance it looks impressive and impregnable. But anyone can attack it with impunity, as none of the defenders has a single round of ammunition not even a catapult. The new Globe Theatre on Bankside is run by a Baconian, Mark Rylance, and the new director of the Barbican Centre, John Tusa, has shown in the recent BBC television programme on the Shakespeare authorship controversy, in 1994, that he has no confidence in the old Shakespeare myth. Doubt is contagious, Shaksper, the man with feet, legs and trunk of clay, will soon fall to the ground. When the history of his fall is written, John Michell will be recorded as one of his chief destroyers.
1997 has been an excellent year for Baconians. In April Neaves Mathews came out with her biography of Francis Bacon. By making it clear that she did not think that Bacon wrote the Shakespeare plays, she gave the Shakespeare establishment no grounds for dismissing this unanswerable demonstration of Bacon's integrity as a politician and statesman. Then came John Michell's book-- and A. M. Challinor's Alternative Shakespeare-- which together demolished the orthodox belief in Shaksper. Both authors make it clear that Marlowe, Lord Oxford -- and Shaksper -- have a case, and this again gives the Shakespeare establishment no grounds for dismissing either book as simply Baconian nonsense. A biography of Bacon, or a full demonstration of the Baconian case for authorship by a Baconian, would allow the academic world to write off either work as being biased or way-out. The time is soon coming when the public generally will see Stanley Wells, Peter Levi, Ian Wilson and A. L. Rowse as being biased, way-out and ridiculous.
That an author can write a book of 260 pages, each one packed with damaging facts, on this subject is immediate proof that the old Shaksper belief is riddled with errors, suppositions and fatuities. If a thousand biographies of different famous men and women were fed into a computer, programmed to register the amount of 'perhaps's, possibly's, and 'no doubt's employed, it is obvious that the Shakespeare biographies would be way out in front of all the others.
John Michell can only be criticised for a handful of minor errors and omissions. As for these omissions, Michell could understandably defend himself by saying that if he had written any more about the case for Bacon, critics could say that he was being too Baconian. As it is, he makes it quite clear that Bacon emerges as the strongest claimant. Oxford and Marlowe are several laps behind, and Shakespeare shows up on the track so spasmodically that one is left wondering how he has managed to fool so many historians.
On page 62 Michell tells us that over a million tourists visit Stratford annually. This lie has been put out by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. In fact the figures are about half this amount. What Stratford has done in some of their leaflets is to add the visitors to the Birthplace to those who visited Anne Hathaway's Cottage, making the total over a million. The figures for 1994 were 591,205 to the Birthplace, and 326,792 to the Cottage. It is incorrect to say that the texts in the 1623 Folio are muddled and full of errors. There is some mispagination, but that might be deliberate. The important fact about the First Folio is that there are many lines and speeches that were not in the earlier printed Quartos. Who added these lines? No-one can detect any falling-off in quality in these added passages. Bacon, but not Shaksper, Oxford or Marlowe, was alive in 1623.
Michell is certainly wrong in saying that the truth about Shakespeare will only emerge when new evidence is discovered. The truth about Shakespeare will emerge when the press and publishers reveal the reasons the documentary evidence for the Baconians certainty that Bacon is the author. Michell has let a lot of cats out of the bag, but there are more still to be released.
The last time I was asked by a paper to write an article on this subject was in 1968 when the Birmingham Post deigned to allow me to state the case for Bacon. In the short article that they printed, on April 20th of that year, I let the Northumberland Manuscript and the Promus cats out of the bag. When is an editor going to ask Mark Rylance to give his reasons for rejecting Shaksper?
Michell could have told his readers that one of the obituary poems in the Manes Verulamiani praises Bacon for his comedies and tragedies, in Poem no. 4. In this collection of poems by different authors, as Michell points out on page 96, Bacon is praised, as Shakespeare is praised on his monument in the Stratford church, by comparing him to Nestor, Socrates and Virgil. He could have added that, while Bacon in the Manes is praised for his plays, Shakespeare on his monument is called a judge 'A Nestor in Judgement.' While we read on the monument 'Stay Passenger, why goest thou by so fast, in one of the Manes poems we read 'Your fame adheres not to sculptured columns, nor is read on the tomb, 'Stay, passenger, your steps', in Poem no. 7. This collection of obituary poems is not mentioned in a single biography of Shakespeare.
Michell devotes a page and a half to the Venus and Adonis Mural in the White Hart Inn at St. Albans, and includes the absurd response from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, quoting from a letter from Marion Pringle. "Paintings like this", she wrote, "are relatively common'', failing to mention a single contemporary painting of this subject found anywhere else in the country. When I examined this mural, when it was discovered in 1985, the manager of the White Hart Inn readily unlocked the door containing the large painting of this subject "found anywhere else in the country." When I examined this mural, when it was discovered in 1985, the manager of the White Hart Inn readily unlocked the door containing the large painting, and allowed me to take photographs. Now no-one can see it, as the room is permanently closed, and not even the manager has the key. Not a single book on Shakespeare published since 1985 has mentioned this important and unique mural.
It would have made the significance of the painting even clearer, if Michell could have mentioned that the Rose, which grew, in ancient legend and Rosicrucian doctrine, from the slain Adonis, beame the re-born man, with a new personality or name. Bacon's new name was Shakespeare. In the painting, the red colour of the rose is still visible, and it is held in the mouth of one of the horses.
I do not understand why Michell, in the three-pages-long explanation of the very important Northumberland Manuscript, omitted to point out that in front of the words "William Shakespeare", written above "Rychard the second" and "Rychard the third'', are the words "By Mr ffrauncis'' - making the whole phrase "by Mr ffrauncis William Shakespeare." He should also have told his readers that under "ffrauncis" is written, upside down, "your sovereign." On page 156 Michell thinks that a few phrases found in Bacon's Promus, which are also found in other playwrights of the time, Marlowe, Tourneur' Webster and others, rule out the significance of this notebook. What he does not tell us is the fact that at least 70 phrases and sentences in this notebook are found in the Shakespeare plays. Shakespeare biographers all prefer to omit any reference to this unique collection of 1,600 jottings. They were put there by Bacon, and many appear in the Shakespeare plays. There is no Marlowe notebook, or any other notebook written by any other dramatist of the period.
One of the most damning facts in the orthodox theory of Shakespeare emerges when a performance of a Shakespeare play, Richard II, was put on at the Globe just prior to the Essex Rebellion. Augustine Phillips, the manager of the Globe, was questioned and released. But Shakespeare, the supposed author, was not. One can imagine the scene today. If a seditious, or libellous play about the House of Windsor by Harold Pinter or Howard Barker, was performed, would they be left alone, with only the theatre manager brought in for questioning? Michell is wrong in saying that Bacon, in Essex's trial "made much of the treasonable playing of this drama." He omitted all reference to it in the prosecution.
What readers will take note of in Michell's book is that, in his round-up of the reasons for Shakespeare, Bacon, Marlowe, Oxford or any other claimant, his chapter on Bacon takes up 47 pages, while the case for Shakespeare is given 27 pages, for Oxford 28, and for Marlowe 27. In addition, in two chapters, entitled 'The Mind behind the Works' and 'Doubts and Questions', 66 pages in all, the reader is given a wealth of facts and pointers which erode belief in the man from Stratford and confirm Bacon as the author. Every playwright can make use of his friends, when writing a play, to add to the richness of the text. Bacon, like Goethe, Racine and Shaw, lived in the capital city of his country, and could easily incorporate an idea, a phrase or even a speech, if he wanted to, written by a like-minded colleague. Michell thinks the use of a pen-name all the more understandable, if the principal author wishes to remain anonymous and use a name which allows the possibility of collaboration.
One important dimension in the authorship question is the Masonic, Rosicrucian and Neoplatonic philosophy found in the Shakespeare plays. There is plenty of evidence that Bacon was fully at home in this area of knowledge, and elements of these philosophies are found in The New Atlantis, As You Like It, Loves Labour Lost, Venus and Adonis and The Sonnets. As far as we know, Marlowe, Oxford and Shaksper expressed no interest in these matters. Michell could have touched on this, but found he had enough material as it was, without adding to the already dominating amount of facts about Bacon.
Michell's concluding chapter, 'A Last Look Round', is full of riches. No Baconian could have written a better description of Bacon's central role and dramatic Elizabethan cultural revolution in which Bacon was immersed. He writes:
There was one man at the time with the learning, imagination, cunning and position in affairs to create the state myth and organise cultural support for it. Francis Bacon was theatrically inclined and dwelt among mysteries. His divine mission was to create and establish an all-inclusive code of knowledge and wisdom as the guiding standard for an enlightened order of society . . . Few people are transformed by reason, but everyone is susceptible to feelings and emotions. It is not through lectures from great thinkers that feelings are changed, but through music, drama and popular entertainment.