BACON ON THE STAGE
by

Alicia Amy Leith

July 1909 Baconiana

pp.150-162

 


 

"One standing in the wings is in a position to assess the action on the stage better than those on the stage." Francis Bacon

Stratfordians contend that Bacon had little sympathy with and no knowledge of the stage, or of stage-craft. To prove that there is no foundation in fact for the statements I proffer the following quotations from his prose works, letters, speeches, etc. The truth is that he was so keenly in touch with the best aims of the theatre and its operations that he continually turned to the stage and stage craft for the expressions of his ideas in speaking and writing on very different matters.

Allusions to Shake-Speare's Plays

Sir Francis Bacon's "Apology concerning Essex addressed to the Earl of Devonshire," contains extraordinary admissions (Vol. I Bacon's Works, p. 436, Published by William Ball)

"I remember an answer of mine in a matter which had some affinity with my Lord's (Essex) cause, which though it grew from me went about in other's names. For her Majesty being mightily incensed with that book which was dedicated to my Lord of Essex being a Story of the first years of King Henry IV, thinking it seditious prelude, to put into the people's heads boldness and faction, said she had an opinion that there was treason in it......The Queen would not be persuaded that it was his writing whose name was to it, but that it had some mischievous author."

The next passage proves that "the matter" alluded to was the"Book of Henry IV, and also that Bacon wrote it:--

"The next news that I heard was ....it was allotted to me that I should set forth some undutiful carriage of my Lord in giving occasion and countenance to a seditious pamphlet, as it was termed, which was the Book, before mentioned, of King Henry IV. Whereupon I replied to that allotment....that it was an old matter, and had no manner of coherence with the rest of the Charge....and therefore that I having been wronged by bruits before, this would expose me to them more; and it would be said I gave in evidence mine own tales."

To prove that it was a play of Shake-speare which is here alluded to I quote from "A Declaration of the Practices and Treasons Committed by Robert, late Earl of Essex."

" To prove him privy to the plot it was given in evidence....that the afternoon before the rebellion, Merick, with a great company of others that afterwards were all in the action, had procured to be played before them the Play of Deposition of King Richard the Second. Neither was it casual, but a Play bespoken by Merick. And not so only, but when he was told by one of the Players, that the Play was old{Bacon had said in a former paragraph,"It was an old matter."} and they should have lost in playing it, because few would come to it; there were forty shillings extraordinary given to play it, and so thereupon played it was. So earnest he was to satisfy his eyes with the sight of that Tragedy, which he thought soon after his Lordship should bring from the Stage to the State, but that God turned it upon their own heads."
In The Proceedings of the Earl of Essex we find :

"About that time there did fly about in London streets and Theatres divers seditious libels ect

In Apophthegm 21 the subject is again treated of :
"The book of Deposing King Richard II and the Coming in of Henry IV, suppposed to be written by D. Hayward, who was committed to the Tower for it, had much incensed Queen Elizabeth and she asked Mr. Bacon, being her counsel learned, whether there were any treason contained in it?"

Again in James' reign Bacon alludes to the Shakespeare play in his "Charge against Mr. Oliver St. John."

"This gentleman, not suddenly by his pen.... not privately....but publickly as it were,.....slandered and traduced the King...Intending, as it seems, to play prizes....would bring his papers upon the stage.
In this writing is a wicked and seditious slander; setting him (the King) forth for....Richard the Second.....Now Mr. I. S.... for your comparison with Richard II, I see you follow the example of them that brought him upon the Stage and into print in Queen Elizabeth's time."(Works, Vol 1, pp. 689,691,692).

When Lambard, Keeper of the Records, waited upon her at the Palace,, she exclaimed to him, "I am Richard, know you not that?" (Story of Lord Bacon's Life. by Hepworth Dixon, p. 156)

Doubtful Allusions
"I shall not promise you weight for weight but Measure for Measure " (Letter to Tobie Mathew).
"In some Comedies of Errors....the Mistress and the Maid change habits"(Advancement of Learning).
"So well sorted with a Play of Errors" ( Grays Inn Masque)
"More willing to hear Julius Caesar than Queen Elizabeth commended" (To Tobie Mathew)
"We see Brutus and Cassiuis invited to a supper certain whose opinion they meant to feel"(Adv. of Learning)
"All is well that endes well" (Promus, 949)
With Regard to the Stage

In the charges by His Majesty's Attorney General against the Earl of Countess of Somerset concerning Sir Thomas Overbury, Sir Francis Bacon speaks like a stage manager :

"The great frame of justice, my Lords, in this present action, hath a Vault, and hath a Stage: a Vault, wherein these works of darkness were contrived, and a Stage with steps by which it was brought to light." (Works, Vol I. p.702)

" I will... hold myself to that which I called the Stage, or Theatre, whereunto indeed it may be fitly compared: for that things were first contained within the invisible judgments of God, as within a Curtain {Name of the first Play House, The Curtain} and after came forth and were acted most worthily by the king, and right well by his ministers."(Works,Vol 1.p703)
"Things stood by the space almost of two years during which time God....did bind and nail...fast the Actors and instruments... as neither the one looked about them nor the other stirred or fled." (Ibid, 703)
"Then follow the proceedings of Justice against the other offenders...all these being but the organs and instruments of this fact, the Actors and not the Authors....But, my lords, where I speak of a Stage, I doubt I hold you upon the Stage too long. (Ibid, p. 704)
"Certainly, my Lords, the Tragical misery of that poor gentleman, Overbury, ought somewhat to obliterate his faults." (Ibid p. 706)
"Weston was the Actor or Mechanical party in this imposionment."
"Weston....was the principal Actor in the impoisonment."
"Thus when they heard this poor gentleman in the Tower... then was the time to execute the last Act of this Tragedy."
(To Somerset) : " You were the principal Actor and had your hand in all those Acts."
"Because there must be a time for the Tragedy to be acted....Overbury must be held in the Tower."

"The Charge of the King's Attorney General against Mr. Lumsden"

"For this His Majesty's virtue of justice God hath of late raised an occasion and erected as it were a Stage or Theatre much to his honour, for him to shew it and act it in the pursuit of the untimely death of Sir Thomas Overbury."
"No inglorious exit from the Stage" (Felicities of Queen Elizabeth, latin ed., pub by Rawley, 1608)
"Allen that was the Player....I like well that Allen playeth the last Act of his life so well"(letter to Buckingham)
"The Scene of the Tragedy is changed, and it is a new Act to begin" (War with Spain)
"All would be but a play upon the Stage, if Justice went not on in the right course"(Letter to Buckingham)
"Where a man cannot fitly play his own Part if he hath not a friend, he may quit the Stage"(Essay of Friendship)
"Borrow a horse and armour for some Public Show" (Letter to Salisbury)
"The colours that show best by candlelight are white, carnation, and a kind of sea water green, and ounches and spangs) (Essay of Masques).
"Naked and open daylight....doth not show the Masques and Mummeries half stately and daintily as candle lights." (Essay of Truth).
"He thought after the manner of Stage Plays and Masques to show......afar off, and therefore....sailed into Ireland." (Henry VII)
"One of the aptest particulars that hath come or can come upon the Stage." (letter to Essex).
"Those that dance too long Galliards...take them off, and bring others on"(Essay on Discourse).
"A good Cross Point but worst Cinq-a-pace"(Promus).
"The foolish bird playeth the ape in gesture"(Natural History)
"Moving the head or hand too much....sheweth a fantastical, light, and fickle operation of the spirit, Consequently like mind as gesture....use a modest action in either" (Short Notes).
"When.....business comes upon the Stage I carry it with strength and resolution"(Letter to Buckingham).
"Stories invented for the Stage are neater, more elegant, and more agreeable to the taste than...true stories."(Novum Organum)
"An AEdilio; one that should have set forth some magnificient Shows or Plays" (Advancement of Learning Book II).
" An action which seldom cometh upon the Stage"(Advancement of Learning, Book II)
"It was one of the longest Plays of that kind that hath been in memory" (Henry VII).
"Neither do I judge of the Play by the First Act" (Letter to Essex).
"Inconstancy of Fortune with inconstancy of mind makes a dark Scene" (De Aug.,Book VI.).
"These things should not be Staged" (Letter to Buckingham ).
"Momus seeing in the frame of Man's heart such angles and recesses, found fault there was not a window to look into it. This window we can obtain"(De Augmentis).
"Like to reflexions in Looking Glasses" (Natural History).
"The curious window into hearts of which the Ancients speak"( Device of the Indian Prince).
"Give me leave to set before you two glasses, such as never met in one age, the Glass of France, and the Glass of England" (Attorney General's Speech).
"It is more than time that there was an end and surcease made....whereby matters of religion is handled in the style of the Stage"(Of the Church)
"The Stage is more beholding to Love than the life of man" (Essay of Love).
"As the tongue speaketh to the ear so the Gesture to the eye."
"He played as if he had been upon the Stage" (Adv. Learning)
"A virtuous man will be virtuous in solitudine in a desert, and not only in Theatro upon the Stage" (Colours of Good and Evil).
"One and one other are sufficient for the largest Stage (Promus).
"A perfect Palace... I would have only one goodly room above stairs, of fifty feet at least high. And under it a room of the same length and width, for a Dressing or Preparing place at Feasts, Plays and such Magnificiencies, and to receive conveniently the Actors while dressing and preparing" (Essay of Building, Post humous edition).
"I do not desire to Stage myself, nor my pretensions, but for the comfort of a private life" (Letter to Buckingham).
"Wherein he hath already so well profited...this entrance upon the Stage" (Letter to the King).
"In this entrance upon the Stage....he (Villiers) hath not commited any manifest error"(Letter to King James,clvii).
"Who would not be offended at one that cometh into the pulpit, as if he came upon the Stage to play parts?" (Of the Church, Touching a preaching Ministry).
"What can be more disagreeable than in common life to copy the Stage?" (De Augmentis, Book VI.).
"Let Anti-Masques not be too long; they have been commonly of fools, satyrs, baboons, wild men, antics, beasts, spirits, witches, Ethiopes, pigmies, turquets, nymphs,rustics, Cupids, statues moving, and the like" (Essay of Masques).
"Let the suit of the Maskers be graceful, and such as become the person when the vizards are off.....let the music...be recreative. Double Masques, one of men another of ladies addeth state and variety" (Ibid).
"Will be ready to furnish a Masque" (Letter to Burleigh).
"Many other Plays of the same kind might be put together and harmonised" (Novum Organum).
"The alteration of Scenes, so it be quickly and without noise are things of great beauty and pleasure" (Essay of Masques).
"Acting in song, especially in Dialogues, hath an extreme good grace, Acting, not dancing, for that is a mean and vulgar thing" (Ibid).
"Arts....are judged by Acts and Master-Pieces as I may term them"(Adv of Learning).
"

REMARKS ABOUT STAGE-PLAYERS OR ACTORS

"Stage-Players.....by this faculty of Playing" (Adv of Learning).
"Such who themselves have been Actors on the Stage" (Essay of Counsels).
"A good Comediante" (Promus)
"First appearance upon the Stage in..... new character" ( Henry VII).
"A Player, who, if he were left out of his auditory and their applause he would straight be out of heart and countenace" (Colours of Good and Evil ).
"Action.....that part of an orator which is but superficial, and rather the virtue of a Player" (Essay of Boldness).
"Acting the part of a prince handsomely" (Henry VII ).
"Advise you whether you will play the Honest Man or no" (Letter to Kempe).
"They would make you a King in a Play" (Henry VII).
"The Actor or Mechanical party" (Resuscitatio).
"Tragedian's Buskin" (Promus).
"There be Mountebanks, as well in the civil body as in the natural" (Memorial of Access, 1622).
"A Bushkin that will serve both legs" (Promus).
"Stage-Playing accustoms young men to bear being looked at" (De Augmentis).
"Insinuating his purpose to be an Actor" (A Report).
" Augustus Caessar.... when he died desired his friends about him to give him a Plaudite ais he were conscient to himself that he had played his part well upon the Stage" (Adv of Learning, Book II).
"The Epicureans pronounce of the stoical felicity placed in virtue that it is a felicity of a Player.... they in ridicule call virtue a Theatrical good" (De Augmentis Book VI).
"Such a Mercurial as the like had seldom been known, and could make his own Part if at any time he chanced to be out" (Ibid).
"Use this lad to counterfeit and personate....frame him and instruct him in the Part" (Henry VII).
"Playing the Prince" (Ibid).
"A serious Part" (Ibid)
"It is easier to retain the image of a Player acting his Part, then the corresponding notions of Invention and Action" (De Augmentis, Book VI).
"Buffoons do draw all things to conceit ridiculous" (Adv of Learning).
"Nothing more variable than voices.... a Buffoon or Pantomimi will express so many as pleaseth" ( Ibid).
"There be certain Pantomimi that will represent the voices of Players of Interludes so to the life as if you see them not you would think they were those Players themselves, and the voices of other men that they hear" ( Natural History).
"Could counterfeit the distance of voices.... in such sort as when.... fast by you you would think, the speech came from afar off, in a fearful manner.... I see... use for it in counterfeiting ghosts or spirits" (ibid).
"I thought it not impossible but that I as a looker on might cast mine eyes upon some things which the Actors themselves.... did not, or would not see" ( Of the Church).
"A looker on often sees more than a Player" (Adv of Learning).
"Did set foot on the Stage, and acted new fables neither much applauded or of any elegant argument or subject." (Experimental History).
"An Actful, sprightful man" (Letter to Villiers).
"Who, when one would think he standeth in great Majesty and felicity, he is troubling to say his Part" (Gray's Inn Masque).
"Bashfulness is a great hindrance to a man....of uttering his conceit" (Short Notes).
"Had you....acted your Parts to the best and yet matters should...have gone backward there would be no hopes of amendment, but as it has happened principally through your own errors, if these are corrected all may be recovered" (De Augmentis, Book VI).
"Knowing myself by inward calling to be fitter to hold a Book than Play a Part" (Letter to Bodley).
"None could hold the Book so well to prompt and instruct...Stage Play as she could" (Henry VII.).
"Your life is nothing but a continual acting upon a Stage" (Queen's Device).
"There be some whose lives are as if they perpetually played upon the Stage, disguised to all others, open only to themselves" (Harleian MS).

OF THE THEATRE

Theatres and the like are honorable things" (Offer to King James of a digest of laws, p. 671, Vol Il.,Works).
"Dramatic poetry, which has the Theatre for its world, would be of excellent use if it were sound, for the discipline and corruption of the Theatre is of very great consequence......The action of the Theatre, though modern states esteem it but ludicrous unless it be satirical and biting, was carefully watched by the ancients that it might improve mankind in virtue; and indeed many wise men and great philosophers have thought it to the mind as the bow to the fiddle; and certain it is, though a great secret in nature, that the minds of men in company are more open to affections and impressions than when alone" (De Augmentis, chap. xiii. p. 97, Edited by Joseph Devey).
"The justest division of poetry.....(1) Into Narrative. (2) Dramatic. (3) Allegorical....Dramatic poetry is a kind of visible History , giving the images of things as if they were present, whilst History represents them as past" (Ibid, p. 96)
"Beholding this noble Action.....as in a Theatre, with great admiration"(Retreat of Gaunt, A War with Spain).
"Stood all as in a Theatre" ( New Atlantis).
"In this Theatre of Men's lives, it is reserved for God and the Angels to be lookers on" (Adv of Learning).
"Life....sends Men headlong into this wretched Theatre, where being arrived, their first language is that or mourning"(An Essay on Death, Vol I., Works,ect,William Bell).
"Pedant's hath been scorned upon Theatres, as the ape of tyranny" (Adv of Learning).
"By the help and ministry of man....another Theatre comes into view"(Parasceve and Hist. Nat.).
"The Theatre of the Poets" (Novum Organum).
"Partakers of God's Theatre shall likewise be partaker of God's rest"(Essay of Great Place).

TRAGEDY AND COMEDY

"The deformity of Flattery is Comedy, but the injury Tragedy"(De Aug.,Book VI).
"The things to be seen and observed....Comedies, such whereunto the better sort of persons do resort" (Essay of Travel).
"Be pleased benignly to bow your ears to hear the Tragedy of a young manthat by right ought to hold in his hand the ball of a Kingdom" (Henry VII).
"The Tragedies and Comedies are made of one alphabet"(Promus).
"The Tragedies likewise from them (King's children) have been many" (Essays of Empire, 1625).
"A false or factious Factor, might oftentimes make great Tragedies upon no great ground" (A Report, Reuscitatio).
"The Poets in Tragedies do make the most passionate lamentations"(Colours of Good and Evil).
"Fortune doth not commonly bring in a Comedy after a Tragedy" (Henry VIII).
"To a good man cruelty means Tragical fiction"(De Aug. Book VI).
"To turn religion into a Comedy is a thing far from the devout reverence of a Christian"(Of the Church).
"As to the Stage love is ever matter of Comedies and now and then of Tragedies, but in life it doth much mischief" (Essay of Love, British Museum Copy).
"In a lively Tragedy" (Queen's Device).
"Tragedy of calamities.... Comedies of ridiculous frustrations, and Disappointments" (Grays Inn Masque).
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I conclude with an application of a line from St. Luke :

"Of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh."

-Alicia Amy Leith

***

See Francis Bacon and the Stage by R. J. W. Gentry