by A. Phoenix
The philosophical, political and legal DNA of Francis Bacon runs through the very veins and arteries of the Shakespeare poems and plays. As the son of Sir Nicholas Bacon, the Elizabethan Lord Keeper and de facto Lord Chancellor of England from a very early age he drank in, assimilated and internalised, the inner workings of the law, the superstructure of its legal machinery, and all its procedures, practices and operations. Under the guidance of his father Bacon was admitted to Gray’s Inn where with his extraordinary intellectual gifts and masterful comprehension of the law he enjoyed a stellar rise that eventually led to him occupying all the major legal offices of state, solicitor-general, attorney-general, Lord Keeper and Lord Chancellor of England.
During his time at Gray’s Inn Bacon was de facto Master of the Revels writing and producing several masques, entertainments and plays, several of which have survived. Most importantly, Bacon wrote a play entitled The Misfortunes of Arthur (a political allegory about Queen Elizabeth and Mary, Queen of Scots) which was performed by members of Gray’s Inn before Queen Elizabeth at Greenwich on 28 February 1588, a date notable for the very singular fact that it marked the beginning of what is known as the Shakespearean era. Its themes and language find expression and are demonstrably echoed in a significant number of his early Shakespeare plays including the first tetralogy of I Henry VI, 2 Henry VI, 3 Henry VI and Richard III, written around the same time or shortly after the Misfortunes, and from the same early period Titus Andronicus, King John, Richard II and The Comedy of Errors.
These plays display an intimate familiarity with the principles and practices of all the major branches of the law: common law, civil law, statute law, and the maxims of English law, as well as its principles, complex technicalities, customs and jurisprudence. Their legal language and phrases readily flow from his pen and in the plays his characters talk in a language of the law straight out of Bacon’s Legal Tracts: from Slade‘s Case, The Maxims of the Law, The Postnati Case, The Charge of Francis Bacon Touching Duels, The Elements of the Common Laws of England, etc, none of which were published in his lifetime.
Several of these plays also reflect some of his other political-legal tracts (also not published during his lifetime), most notably Certain Observations Upon a Libel (c. 1592) commissioned by and written in defence of his uncle Sir William Cecil, Lord Burghley (married to Lady Mildred Cooke Cecil, elder sister of his mother Lady Anne Cooke Bacon) aspects of which are reflected in 2 Henry VI wherein the Duke of Gloucester is modelled on Cecil and Dame Eleanor points to his wife Lady Mildred Cecil. Their son Sir Robert Cecil, with whom Bacon grew up, he painted in the titular character of Richard III and in his essay Of Deformity.
In the less well-known The Troublesome Reign of King John Bacon explores the law of bastardy, in particular the law surrounding royal bastardy, through the most important and largest role in the play, the royal bastard Sir Philip Faulconbridge, universally regarded as the hero of the play. It is revealed here for the first time that the character of the royal bastard is a disguised dramatization of its author Bacon, the secret concealed royal son of Queen Elizabeth and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.
For the best part of a year Bacon organised and directed the magnificent Gray’s Inn Christmas Revels (1594-5) which witnessed the premier of his legal play The Comedy of Errors in which a programme of legal reforms began by Sir Nicholas Bacon and continued by Francis Bacon found dramatic expression. On the last of its Grand Nights which took place on 3 January 1595 Bacon wrote six speeches on the Exercise of War, the Study of Philosophy, the Eternizement and Fame by Buildings and Foundations, the Absoluteness of State and Treasure, Virtue and a gracious Government, and Persuading Pastimes and Sports, in the fifth of which, he sets forth arguments for the extensive reform of the machinery of the law, the courts of law and justice, and its delays and abuses, necessary for the peace and security of the kingdom, completing the cycle of his early Baconian-Shakespearean legal plays.