The Good, The Bard & The
Does it Matter? : The Authorship Debate :
In 1999 Shakespeare was named in a poll as Person of the Millennium yet there is so little we know about him. Its a bit like the car that you drive, you know where the gas goes when it gets empty, but after that, not everyone wants to get a little dirty and look underneath the hood.
The question that inevitably follows whenever anyone brings up the upsetting idea of who wrote the Shakespeare works is 'Does it matter?', or 'Is it still relevant?', or "Who Cares?', and my favorite: 'we have the Plays isn't that enough?'
I think of what Jerry Garcia once said when asked about why his fans liked Grateful Dead music so much. Garcia compared his music to licorice, that it was an acquired taste, not for everyone but for those who are really into licorice, their appetite for it becomes insatiable. Well, the Shakespeare authorship question, while not for everyone, is going through a new cycle of popularity. With the advent of Internet websites dedicated to the issue, the Shakespeare in Love movie and major articles appearing in Time magazine, Harper's, N.Y.Times, we are in the midst of a refueling of the 400 year old whodunnit. A new generation of young people are getting the authorship bug and folks are just as confused as ever.
Yes, some say its important to know the truth about who wrote Shakespeare because we can appreciate the works more and understand the jokes better. Some like to act like Perry Mason and treat the question with an illuminated inquiry into truth, separating the facts from the myth, while exposing this historical deficiency of learning in our culture. In fact, many lawyers have relished this topic for debate as a good training case. There's even a solid basis of evidence that the author of Shakespeare not only knew law but was very knowledgeable about it and must have been a lawyer himself.
During the early 1900's there was a great craze to know more about who the Bard was and many writers started coming forth with books on the subject. Mark Twain, for example, had a life-long interest that culminated with his shattering viewpoint published in his 1909 book, "Is Shakespeare Dead?" Twain kept tabs on the latest authorship books that were coming out and was once asked by his friend Helen Keller for his advice on the matter. He advised her to avoid the issue, find another hobby and head for the hills, because he knew that it could potentially get under your skin and lead to an obsession with the topic.
Why is that?
Well for starters, the Shakespeare works themselves have been around for 400 years. It's been taught, caught, translated, trans-culturally performed and appreciated throughout all corners of the globe today. It's universal appeal and value can still reach into the hearts and minds of any contemporary audience that wants to gain some insight, or laugh at itself and the human condition. What other artist has held up such an enduring mirror to the human condition while presenting a dramatic group therapy sesson on the ancient themes of jealousy, narcissism, murder, madness, delusion, indecision, loyalty, infidelity, mercy, love, war, flattery, unbridled ambition, virtue, compassion, emotion, advice, self-esteem, demons, angels and magic? Basically the plays incorporate the whole shebang of human experience unleashed through an archetypal alchemy within various characters and circumstances. Whoever Shakespeare was, he had an unceasing thirst for knowledge and understanding with an uncanny eye to perceive and reveal into all that was human for all the ages. Shakespeare is disguised enlightenment in Western Hermetic form exported for the world's stage. Shakespeare is like a favorite uncle. He is passed down to family book shelves, heard on every school stage, and remains to this day the all-time leading writer in films and television.
Having to face the dethroning of a popular idol such as Shakespeare can certainly unsurp the seat of judgement, and knocking him off his virtual pedestal is an upsetting notion to many. However, it is indeed a difficult challenge to match the resoundingly ordinary man William Shakespeare and his life to the extraordinary writing and wit observed in the plays.
How do you reconcile a statement (from the 2nd part of King Henry VIth, Act 4, Scene 7) such as: "And seeing ignorance is the curse of God, Knowledge the wing wherewith we fly to heaven," with the fact that we only have record of six sloppily-written signatures (see: http://home.att.net/~tleary/sigs.htm) by the poorly-educated historical character from Stratford-upon-Avon and that his last name was never actually spelled 'Shakespeare' in any of them? In addition, he did not appear to have had a library (let alone a single book), no letters were ever found written by him and one of his daughter signed an X on her marriage certificate indicating her illiteracy! When he died in 1616, it was before nineteen of the plays were even written or printed and no public eulogy was held befitting a great writer at the time of his demise. It would not be until 1769, over 150 years after his death, that a fictionalized 'William Shakespeare' was created (in Stratford-upon-Avon) to become the famous literary icon. So you can see why the great Shakespeare whodunnit tops the cake for being the greatest of all literary mysteries and hence warrants further investigation.
But you say that well, his name is on the
plays..... so he must have been the author. Ah, time to trot out the
Betty Crocker analogy. On every box of cake mix there is a picture
along the top of the box with the name Betty Crocker. Does it mean
that she made the ingredients? Of course not, she's just a figurehead
montage of five ladies that the company blended together in the
1920's in order to better identify the product and promote the
product to its intended market.
When the first plays were originally published, they were called quartos which were single releases of a play and on some title page you can read: "by W. Shake-Speare". Sometimes the credit appears without the 'W', without the 'e' on the end or with the hyphen between Shake and Spear indicating this may have been a name brand or a moniker. But what's in a name?
Some researchers have pointed out that the name 'William' is derived from the German name 'Wilhelm' which means "the helmet of". They also postulate that the word 'shakespeare' was the reversed nickname of the Goddess Pallas Athena, known as the 'spearshaker', who wears a helmet of invisibility on her head while shaking a spear with her hand to overcome ignorance and tryanny. William Shakespeare, they claim, was a code name meaning 'the helmet of the Spearshaker'. The author of Shakespeare was a greater genius than we have commonly ascribed to the nature of genius and he had to have had a great plan in place to carry out his intention while cloaking his identity behind a pen name. Many believe the plays impart a higher wisdom and this would fit well with Athena's cosmic role.
Stratfordians, (those who believe that William Shakespeare was the author) have quite a defensive posture toward any authorship inquiry and have depended on a failing strategy of ridiculing, trivializing and ignoring any hint that a problem even exists. The primary reason that this controversy has persisted for so long is that the Stratfordians cannot come up with any collaborative and convincing evidence to silence their critics. They have NOTHING in the way of facts to support their claim, so tradition, assumption, and speculation are all that's left as a substitute for evidence. Accordingly, we have to discount their viewpoint as an opinion and a theory. The modus operandi of the typical Stratfordian's thinking toward opening their minds could be summed up this way, 'I wouldn't believe it even if you proved it to me.'
So if it wasn't William Shakespeare who wrote the
plays, then who? To investigate deeper into the mystery of the
Shakespeare authorship is to follow an enormous trail of hundreds of
books, opinions and quack theories.
Christopher Marlowe's name comes up, but he died in 1593, far too early in the game to be a contender since many of the plays had not been written and not published until 1623.
How about the theory of Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford as the plays' author? Again, he also died too early, (1604) before several of Shakespeare's greatest plays were written as demonstrated by the fact that some of these plays contain historical references to events that happened after 1616. Besides this, de Vere whose life consisted of arrogance and extravagance left to posterity limited writings that are without the universal scope found in the plays while his personal flaws and lack of educational commitment would have prevented him from pulling it off. Today his followers have gone to great lengths to mislead a naive public and have deceived themselves as well as seen by the results of their "research."
So who's left ? Only one man in the history of the English language had the command of a 20,000 word vocabulary and a magnitude of learning with literary capability equal to the Shakespeare canon and that man was the gifted polymath, Sir Francis Bacon. The poet Shelley said of Bacon that he was "the first poet-philosopher since Plato." In a famous letter he wrote to his uncle Lord Burghley expressing that "he took all knowledge to be his province," Bacon forecasted how the English Renaissance would flow like a mighty river through his mind. When he was 18, while sitting for a portrait, the court painter, Hilyard, was inspired to write, "If I could only paint his mind." Ben Jonson a contemporary poet who later befriended Bacon calling him "the chief", as they pursued literary projects together acclaimed,
"One, though he be excellent and the chief, is not to be imitated alone; for never no imitator ever grew up to his author......"
and writing after Bacon's death Jonson wrote :
"My conceit of his person was never increased toward him by his place, or honors: but I have and do reverence him, for the greatness that was only proper to himself, in that he seemed to me ever, by his work, one of the greatest men, and most worthy of admiration, that had been in many ages."
"He who have filled up all numbers and performed that in our tongue which may be compared or preferred either to insolent Greece or haughty Rome...In short, within his view, and about his times, were all the wits born that could honor a language or help study. Now things daily fall; wits grow downward and eloquence grows backward, so that he may be named and stand as the mark and acme of our language. "
Many other testimonials have been recorded (a book was published in 1626 Manes Verulamiani) praising him as an author who "united drama with poetry," demonstrating that Bacon's peers were quite aware of his brilliant poetic and playwriting abilities. Bacon in a letter to his great friend John Davies concluded with this request :
"So desiring you to be good to concealed poets, I continue
Your very assured Francis Bacon."
Bacon's seminal thought, as expressed in his attributed writings on philosophy, law, politics, science and religion matters, can be found throughout the Shakespeare Plays. He also left to posterity his Shakespeare diary-notebook (published 1883) which he called The Promus (meaning a storehouse) where he jotted down in his own hand (between 1594-6) hundreds of varied expressions that appear in and precede the publication of the plays. All the other candidates are without this extraordinary level of parallels and expertise. In the play Macbeth we find the following lines that match closely certain notes found in The Promus:
LADY MACBETH - "What's DONE CANNOT BE UNDONE."
BACON: "THINGS DONE CANNOT BE UNDONE." Promus, 1594-96
PORTER: "I'll DEVIL PORTER it no further."
BACON: "He is the DEVIL'S PORTER who does more than what is required of him."-Promus, 1594-6
And some parallels from his other writings :
MACBETH: "Canst thou MINISTER to a mind diseased?"
BACON: "learning doth MINISTER to all the diseases of the mind." -- Advancement of Learning, 1605
MACBETH: "TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW. . ."
BACON: "TO-MORROW, TOMORROW; AND WHEN TO-MORROW comes, TO-MORROW."-- Religious Meditations, 1597.
MACBETH: "It is a tale Told by an idiot, FULL OF SOUND AND FURY, SIGNIFYING NOTHING.
"BACON letter to King James I: "It is nothing else but words, WHICH RATHER SOUND THAN SIGNIFY ANYTHING."
Promus (I594-96) "To drive out a nail with a nail.''
Coriolanus, Act 4 Sc. 7 (1623) ''One fire drives out one fire; one nail, one nail."
"One nail by strength drives out another."
Promus (1594-96) "Conscience is worth a thousand witnesses."
Richard III, Act 5, ''Every man's conscience is a thousand swords." Sc. 2 (1597)
Promus (1594-96) "A Fool's bolt is soon shot."
Henry V, Act 3, Sc.7(1623) "A Fool's bolt is soon shot."
Promus (1594-96) "Good wine needs no bush."
As You Like It, Epilogue (1623) "Good wine needs no bush."
Promus (1594-96) "To slay with a leaden sword."
Love's Labour's Lost, Act 5, Sc. 2 (1598) "Wounds like a leaden sword."
Promus (1594-96) ''Diluculo surgere saluberrimum est.''
Twelfth Night (Act 2,Sc,2) (1623) "Diluculo surgere, thou knowest.''
Promus (1594-96) "To stumble at the threshold."
3 Henry VI, Act 4, Sc. 7 (1623) "Many men that stumble at the threshold.''
Promus (1594-96) "Happy man, happy dole."
Merry Wives of Windsor Act 3, Sc. 4(1623) "Happy man be his dole."
Henry IV, Act 2,Sc. 2 (1598) "Happy man be his dole."
The Taming of the Shrew Act I, Sc. I (1623) "Happy man be his dole."
The Winter's Tale, Act 1, Sc. 2 (1623) "Happy man be his dole."
Promus (1594-96) "Seldom cometh the better."
Richard III, Act 2,Sc. 3(1597)''Seldom comes the better."
Promus (1594-96) "An ill wind that bloweth no man to good."
2 Henry IV, Act 5, "The ill wind which blows no man to good."
For more exceptional parallels on Bacon's Shakespeare notebook visit www.sirbacon.org/links/notebook.html
Hence, as one noted author on the authorship issue, wrote,
"Either Francis Bacon and William Shakespeare were the same man, at least so far as the writings are concerned, or else for once in the history of mankind, two men absolutely dissimilar in birth, in education and in bringing up, had the same thoughts, used the same words, piled up the same ideas, wrote upon the same subjects, and thought, wrote, talked and dreamed absolutely alike." - Orville Owen
The wisdom of the Shakespeare plays are an exquisite treasure for us all to enjoy and so is the truth about the extraordinary mind that authored them. In a letter written in 1623, Bacon's confidant Sir Tobie Mathew, who he once described as his "alter ego," writing from the Continent stated :
"The most prodigious wit that I knew of my nation, and of this side of the sea, is of your Lordship's name, though he be known by another."
comments for Lawrence Gerald
visit Sir Francis Bacon's New Advancement of Learning www.sirbacon.org