by A. Phoenix
Following his return to England in February 1592 after a twelve absence abroad working closely with spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham for the English Secret Service, Anthony Bacon went to live with his brother Francis Bacon who was then already heavily in debt at Gray’s Inn. From the moment Anthony returned to England he immediately became involved in supporting and assisting his brother Francis with his money troubles and considerable debts. Francis and Anthony set up a literary workshop with connections to printers and publishers employing writers, translators, scribes and copyists for the distribution of private manuscripts, books, plays, masques and other entertainments. The enormous crippling costs of running and financially supporting this literary workshop resulted in Francis and Anthony further entering into a never ending cycle of debt incurred by having to raise large loans from money-lenders through bonds (legal agreements for loans) and other legal instruments.
The Bacon brothers were still dealing with various loans and mounting debts when in Trinity Term 1597 a goldsmith named Sympson of Lombard Street who held a bond for £300 principal, sued Francis for repayment but agreed to respite the satisfaction of it until the beginning of the following term. However without any warning a fortnight before Michaelmas Term commenced, Bacon was walking from the Tower of London when at the instigation of the moneylender Sympson he was served with an execution and arrested with a view to confining him to the Fleet prison. The events were to inform and colour the most famous legal play in the history of English drama, The Merchant of Venice, whose titular character is named Antonio, the Italianate form of Anthony named after and modelled upon Anthony Bacon. It was entered as a new play on the Stationers’ Register on 22 July 1598 and was first published in 1600 as The Most excellent Historie of the Merchant of Venice.
In the modern Arden edition of the play Professor Drakakis makes the obvious but very important observation ‘The central drama of The Merchant of Venice revolves around the relationship between the merchant Antonio and the Venetian Lord Bassanio.’ The character of Bassanio is modelled upon its author Francis Bacon. In The Merchant of Venice the two characters Antonio and Bassanio mirror the complex relationship and circumstances of Francis and Anthony Bacon before and during the time the play was written, revised and performed.
Apart from Bassanio, the spectral presence of Bacon is dispersed through several other characters in the play. Professor Lamb voices that not only does Bassanio resemble Bacon but so too its heroine Portia. Then there is the character of Dr Bellario who as pointed out by the orthodox scholar Mark Edwin Andrews also represented Bacon which is further substantiated by the videos and lectures of Simon Miles and Christina G. Waldman the first to publish a full-length work on the subject entitled Francis Bacon’s Hidden Hand in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (2018). In his work Law Versus Equity in The Merchant of Venice as its title indicates Mark Edwin Andrews reads the play as an allegory of the conflict between law and equity which constitutes the consensus among modern scholars that the trial scene dramatizes the struggle between the common law courts and the equitable Court of Chancery. From the outset of the trial Andrews juxtaposes a prose version alongside the text of the play in which he substitutes Bacon for Dr Bellario.
The Merchant of Venice is about love and friendship particularly focused on the characters of Antonio (Anthony Bacon) and Bassanio (Bacon); about usury (a subject on which Bacon composed an essay and legal paper); money-lending mirroring the real lives of the Bacon brothers; and a bond between Antonio and Shylock similar to the bond between Bacon and Sympson. It’s also partly an allegory about the issue of debt and assumpsit that was finally decided in Slade’s Case (Slade v Morley), in which Bacon appeared for the defendant Morley, whose first substantive arguments made before the Justices of the Exchequer occurred in the Michaelmas Term of 1597 and 1598, at the very time Bacon was planning, writing and revising The Merchant of Venice, the most dramatic legal play in all world literature.
See the Video:
Francis Bacon (Bassanio/Bellario) and Anthony Bacon (its titular character Antonio) and The Merchant Of Venice by A. Phoenix