The Writer's Finger Prints

Francis Carr explores the legal link between Quixote and Shakespeare

by Francis Carr

What evidence is there that Miguel de Cervantes wrote Don Quixote? There is no manuscript, no letter, no diary, no will, no portrait, no marked grave, no record of any payment, although the book became popular during his lifetime. What do we know about Thomas Shelton, whose translation has won the praise of literary historians ever since it appeared in England in 1612? What do we know of Cid Hamet Benengeli, the Arab historian who, we are told, by Cervantes, is the real author? No proper attempt has been made to place Don Quixote in the wider context of the great plays of this period of European literature, the plays of Shakespeare. And no-one has paid enough attention to the Shelton text which is seldom read today.

With this absence of evidence of authorship we are on familiar ground. There is no manuscript, no letter, no diary, no authenticated portrait, no marked grave, no record of any payment which constitutes proof that William Shakespeare wrote the plays attributed to him. This vacuum is not the only element which Don Quixote shares with the Shakespeare plays. The novel and the plays show a remarkable display of legal knowledge. Both Quixote and Sancho Panza amaze their compatriots with judicial sagacity, and, as Daniel Kornstein says in Kill All the Lawyers, published recently by the Princeton University Press, "Shakespeare is the greatest law school of them all." In Measure for Measure, we have a play, he tells us, "guaranteed to wake judges from complacency and set them worrying about the fallible nature of human judgement."

Strangely enough, there is no evidence that either Cervantes or Shakespeare had any legal training. If they had been to a law school or had worked as a lawyer for even a brief period, some record of such attendance or membership would have been written down. Even if Shakespeare had been merely a lawyer's clerk, which some Shakespeareans hazardously suggest, we could at least expect that someone would have recorded that the great playwright was once employed in a certain lawyer's chamber. The records have been examined for such evidence, but nothing has been found. Spanish historians have met with similar lack of success in finding anything to suggest that Cervantes once worked in any law office. He was twice imprisoned for commandeering wheat from land owned by the Church and for discrepancies in his accounts as a government fodder collector. But such contact with the law is surely insufficient for any serious law student. A further brush with the law occurred in 1605, five months after the publication of Don Quixote when he found himself in gaol for a couple of days, accused of complicity in the death of a young nobleman outside Cervantes's house in Valladolid. As Miguel was perhaps using his house as a brothel at the time, the police thought, without sufficient evidence, that he may have been the murderer.

Those who believe that Shakespeare wrote the Shakespeare plays have to accept that, as Ben Jonson stated, he "had small Latin and less Greek." This is as hard to swallow as a claim that the portrait of the Mona Lisa was the work of a boy of ten. Non-believers in the Stratford claim are convinced that the author of all those plays was a legal expert of the first order. Here the Baconians have a strong card, one not possessed by Marlowe, Lord Oxford -- or William Shakespeare. If Cervantes was not the author of Don Quixote -- a work unlike all the other works attributed to him, as they lack this legal dimension -- who was the real author? There was only one man at this time, 1605, in the whole of Europe who stands out as a legal wizard, a polymath, for whom a case can be made for authorship of works with another name on the title page -- Francis Bacon. Could he have written both Don Quixote and the Shakespeare plays?

As many as ninety quotations from the Shelton version of Don Quixote have been found in the Shakespeare plays, or the works of Bacon -- or both. Words are the writer's finger-prints. When a work of genius appears in one part of Europe at the same time as plays of equal stature in another part, a careful, unbiased literary detective surely wonders if the same hand is responsible for both creations. Geniuses are such rare birds on this planet, and they seldom appear simultaneously.

Lawyers have pointed out the many Bacon-Shakespeare connections in the plays. Mr. Justice Barton in his book, Links between Shakespeare and the Law (1929), has told us of the proceedings that took place in the Star Chamber involving two members of Gray's Inn just before Twelfth Night was put on in Middle Temple Hall in 1602. This, he considered, inspired the noisy scene in which Sir Toby Belch and his friends cavort in Olivia's house, making fun of Malvolio, the puritan. In the Star Chamber at the time Sir Posthumus Hoby, the puritan, accused William Eure of disturbing the peace in Lady Hoby's house, by playing cards and carousing. Barton also found connections in the Shakespeare plays to cases Bacon would have known about, such as Shelley's Case, Taltarum's Case and Chudleigh's Case. In this last case Bacon was briefed on the second argument.

In Mark Edwin Andrew's monograph, written in 1935 and published thirty years later by the Colorado University Press, we can read many pertinent comments on the similarity between Shakespeare's and Bacon's views on equity. The author, Assistant Secretary of the United States Navy, quotes the appointment of Bacon, then Attorney-General, by James I to head a Commission to advise on the Chancellor's powers in the matter of equity. Both Bacon's advice and Shakespeare's views as expressed in The Merchant of Venice coincide in giving the arguments of equity the victory in its conflicts with common law. Shakespeare's views harmonized perfectly with recognized court procedure of the time.

It is pertinent at this point to remind readers that on the Shakespeare monument in Stratford-on-Avon church is carved IUDICIO PLYLIUM, meaning "A Nestor in Judgement", referring to Nestor, King and Judge of Pylus, in ancient Greece. Noting that the playwright is here called a judge, it is interesting that, in one of the obituary poems Written on the death of Bacon, this legal authority is praised for his comedies and tragedies (Poem 4 in Manes Verulamiani). In Poem 27, Bacon is also compared to Nestor.

A perfect example of judicial verdicts, in which natural justice is upheld although in conflict with the law of the state, is found in Chapter 22 of the first part of Don Quixote, in which our hero finds a dozen men "strung by the neck like beads on a great iron chain, and all manacled, a chain of galley-slaves."

"This is a case," says Quixote, "for the exercise of my profession, for the redressing of outrages and the succouring and reliefing of the wretched."

From NEW LAW JOURNAL January 3l, 1997