Bacon and Shakespeare Cyphers


By Virginia Fellows

In 1984 a Professor of Dramatic Literature at Vassar College, Dr. Donald Foster, rummaging around in Oxford libraries, discovered a long poem which he assigned for apparently valid reasons to the authorship of William Shakespeare. The poem, A Funeral Elegy is signed by the initials "W S". A year later, in 1985, another American scholar by the name of Gary Taylor unearthed, in the Bodleian at Oxford, another poem which was attributed by the copyist to William Shakespeare - "Shall I die? Shall I fly?" Both of these discoveries have created great debate among Shakespearian authorities. Did he or didn't he? Are they or aren't they? Some experts accept both poems for Shakespeare, others reject one or the other or both. A Funeral Elegy has somewhat of an edge in scholarly sanction.

While not claiming to be a professional, I do claim the term "literary technician", to use Taylor's self-description, and I have found very demonstrable reasons for thinking that both poems were written by the same man, and that that same man wrote the famous 'Shakespearian Plays". But his name was not William Shakespeare. That name was only a cover name used to disguise the identity of someone else. The secret is given away indisputably in the first twelve lines of the Elegy - not once but twice. The name of the real author is clearly visible for all who know the secret.

It is necessary to go back a few hundred years to 1506 when an Abbot Trithemius of Sondheim published a treatise on cipher-writing known as Polygraphia. This system was given publicity again in 1586 by a Frenchman, Blaise de Vigenere, in Traite des Chiffres, and again in 1624 in a famous manual on cryptography by one "Gustavus Selenus", generally considered to be a pseudonym for Duke Augustus of Luneberg.

The basis of the Trithemius system is a twenty-two letter alphabet in which the letters J, I, and Y are interchangeable, as are U, V and W. The method calls for the letters of the plain-text to be transposed so many letters to the right or to the left substituting: the correct letters of the cipher-text. Placing them in a circle in clock formation simplifies the counting. For instance an A moved five places to the right on the twenty-two letter alphabet, or 5R, would yield an F. Five places to the left, or 5L, would be S. Then 6R would be G , 6L = R - and so on.

In Elizabethan poetry or dramas, initial letters were often used to form anagrams hinting at the author's name or the name of the honoree to whom it was dedicated, or any other name the author's fancy dictated. As an example we have in Ben Jonson's Volpone initial letters spelling out V O L P O N E. Also in Jonson's The Alchemist, the capital initial letters easily and purposely spell out the name of the play. There are many others.

A mathematics professor and cipher expert from Holland, Dr. Speckman, using the Trithemius cipher and looking for a possible signature at the end of the famous Fama Fraternitas, figured out that the capital initials of the final line SUB UMBRA ALARUM TUARUM JEHOVAH transposed five places to the right yielded A C F B 0, easily anagrammed into F.BACO,the Latin name for Francis Bacon .The phrase was found in Bacon's own handwriting: in a manuscript in the British Museum. JEHOVAH was used in the place of the original DEUS, apparently to provide the necessary J.

If one takes the initial letters S V A T and transposes them five places to the right, AC B F is obtained.Transposed six places to the left yield M O R N. Taken together there is not much that can be anagrammed other than M (agister) FR BACON -the true author of the mysterious Fama.

In the Shakespeare Folio this combination is found with unnatural frequency. Take the famous couplet:

This Figure that thou heere see 'st put
I T W A S for gentle Shakespeare cut.

A little imagination will show SVATI - the same initials in the Fama - "Put F BACO for gentle Shakespeare"

Then look at the initial letters from the dedication to the 1609 edition of Shake-Speare's Sonnets, those confusing words that have caused so much consternation about the mysterious MR W. H. The initials of THESE INSUING .SONNETS MR.W.H . ALL - g:ive T I S MWH A.Transposed five places to the right we have B O.A R.C.N.F or FR. BACON .It seems "MR. W.H " was not William Harvey or William Herbert or William Himself after all. He was just a little trick to fill out an important anagram!

In Shakespeare's Sonnet #76, we have:

W hy is my verse so barren of new pride,
S o far from variation or quick change?
W hy with the time do I not glance aside
T o new-found methods and to compounds strange?
W hy write I still all one, ever the same,
A nd keep invention in a noted weed,
T hat everyword doth almost tell my name,
S howing their birth and where they did proceed?
O, know, sweet love, I always write of you,
A nd you and love are still my argument;
S o all my best is dressing old words new,
Spending again what is already spent:
For as the sun is daily new and old,
So is my love still telling what is old.

Here we have O indicating a cipher - then W.S. for Will Sh. Then W T W A T S A S- two times the anagram SWAT.

Poor anonymous Bacon, he is getting tired of writing his message over and over hoping someone will notice.

Also in Sonnets numbers: 15 - 17 - 23 "O learn to read what silent love hath writ; To hear with eyes belongs to love's fine wit". See Sonnets 36 - 37 - 48 - 53 - 82 - 99 - 126 - 143 - 138 -144 and possibly others for the same message. Mere chance two or three times, perhaps-but fourteen times? I believe the marriage sonnets were by Francis Bacon imploring his true parents, Elizabeth and Leicester, to acknowledge him- " dear my love you know: You had a father; let your son say so."

I believe most of the other sonnets were written, like Dante's, with double meaning. The "lovely youth" was his own Muse or inner Self - his only consolation during his painful rejection. Also the Dark Lady sonnets are easily explained as his own only true love for the lovely Marguerite of Navarre (his real-life Juliet who betrayed him while he was still in his teens in Paris, but whose lovely image he never forgot).It takes too much explanation to go further into it now.

Frankly I don't see that accepting Bacon as the author changes in any way the analysis of the text and the comparison with other Elizabethan writings except that it would add Bacon's works to be analyzed - which could be very revealing. The wording of Bacon's formal works, of course, are purposely more scholarly than that of the plays he has given to demonstrate his psychological/social ideas in a visible way via the stage. They may not collate well because of the purposeful difference in style. It has been said that Bacon could write in any style he chose. His beliefs and ideas, though, are obviously the same in both cases.

Another interesting use of the Trithemius alphabet is found in the vital year of 1623. If the alphabet is 'doubled' according to Francis Bacon's directions in The Advancement of Learning, and numbered:


































the letters under 1 6 2 3 give A M F R B N C O or M. FR BACON.

Francis Bacon was often called the Second Trithemius because of his expertise in ciphers. A new edition of Traite des Chiffres appeared a year after the Folio - 1624 - as though someone wanted to be sure the method was not overlooked.

Returning to A Funeral Elegy, we find in the first verse:

S ince Time, and his predestinated end,
A bridg'd the circuit of his hopeful days,
W hiles both his Youth and Virtue did intend
T he good endeavors of deserving praise, .etc.

What do we have here other than - S W A T or M. FR BACON?

There are numerous other places where the letters can be identified in Shakespeare's works, always used as initials in passages that give a little hint in the text such as in the fifteenth stanza of Lucrece:

B ut she that never copt with stranger eyes.
C ould pick no meaning from their parling looks
N or read the subtle shining secrecies
W rit in the glassy margents of such books,
S he toucht no unknown baits, nor feared no hooks,
N or could she moralize his wanton sight,
M ore than his eyes were opened to the light.

These initials B C N W S N M need only vowels in the Hebrew gematria style to let us read BA C O N W(illiam) S(hakespeare) N A M E .Which brings us again to the the first twelve lines of the Elegy.

B ut his own worth , wherein his life was grac'd -
S ith as [that] ever he maintain'd the same?
O blivion in the darkest day to come,
W hen sin shall tread on merit in the dust,
CAN not rase out the lamentable tomb etc.

There are many instances of these letters appearing in the Plays:

Cymbeline Act V, sc.5
A nd at first meeting lov'd,
CON tinued so until we thought he dyed.
B y the Queenes Dramme she swallow'd


Julius Caesar Act I, sc. 1
B ut what trade art thou? Answer me direct1y.
A trade, sir, that that I hope I may use, with a safe
CON science, which is indeed, sir, a mender of bad soules.

Henry the Sixth, Second Part
F irst let my words stab him, as he hath me.
B arse slave,thy words are blunt and so art thou
CON vey him hence.

Taming of the Shrew:
B ut twenty times so much upon my
A hundred then,
CON tent

There are many others that could be given as examples: The Tempest, Act II, sc.1, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act V, sc 1, Comedy of Errors, Act I, sc.1, Measure for Measure, Act II, sc 1, etc.

Bacon was the unacknowledged son of Queen Elizabeth and wanted to tell his tale without rousing the anger of his mother. This was his method of doing it. He has said in cipher that he has left his signature in everything in which he had a hand. Although the Elegy is obviously written on the death of a friend, it still was used to tell a part of Bacon's own tragic story for the public with eyes to see. Lines 90 to 100 have two of his signatures. Also there are certain keywords within the text such as REPUTATION, TIME, FORTUNE that would show the parts to be used for his personal story. I haven't taken the time to figure them out yet but I can tell they're there. From line 135 and on a ways,he is speaking: of the pain of the bitter disgrace of his impeachment as Lord Chancellor. He obviously hopes that future generations will" one day lay open malice which hath cross'd it". In other words, know the truth of his" country's thankless misconstruction cast upon his name and credit". His disgraced or"wounded" name was a painful burden to him.

Also in lines 90 to 100 in The Funeral Elegy one can see two more of his initial anagrams (the number 100 is often a cue to a message from Bacon as in the twenty-four letter of the Elizabethan gematriac alphabet, FRANCIS BACON, comes to 100.)

N ot in the outside of disgraced folly,
C ourting opinion with unfit disguise,
A fecting fashions, nor addicted wholly
To unbeseeming blushless vanities, (T=an allowable null)
B ut suiting to his habit and desire
A s that his Virtue was his best Attire
N ot in the waste of many idle words,
C ar'd he to be heard talk, nor in the float
O f fond conceit, such as this age affords,
B y vain discourse upon himself to dote

Speaking of Bacon's use of his numerical gematria signatures, in the "K cipher" his number is 111. This leads to an interesting interpretation of the confusing W I L L in Sonnets 135 and 136 - "for my name is WILL". When W is printed as V V as it was in the original edition it can be read numerically V = 5; VI = 6; L and L each equal 50 or C. Add 5, 6 and 50+ 50 to get 111 or the K-cipher count of BACON. One other interesting use of L L can be found in Loves Labour's Lost (note that only the first two L's were capitalized in the Folio).The silly puzzle of O "sorell" takes on meaning by giving numerical count to the letters: "Of one sore I an hundred make/by adding one more L." L plus L = C

As for Shall I die? , that is a different matter. I find no cipher in that.It sounds to me very much like the rhythm of the only poem Bacon ever admitted writing: Life is a Bubble. A bit awkward, perhaps. He was always experimenting with different poetic patterns. It may have been written before he started using hidden cipher clues.One must remember that Bacon wrote to John Davies: " Although I do not Profess to be a poet" he had written a sonnet to the Queen. It was not safe for him to admit to writing poetry with the Queen's eye constantly on him so he had to deny his genius. Although she wouldn't acknowledge him she wouldn't permit him free to live like other young men (see Prince Hal). We shouldn't forget that Spedding said Bacon had the "fine frenzy of a poet" or words to that effect. and Shelley said: "Lord Bacon was a poet," and went on to discuss the beauty of his language and rhythms.

As a youth Bacon was very much disturbed by his queen mother's rejection of him and,like Hamlet, often considered suicide - "to be or not to be" "Shall I fly? Shall I die?" And his comfort was always that his works "would be his monument, not for this age but for ages yet to come."

There is so much more that can be said on this subject in spite of the fact that the Friedmans could not find a cipher in Shakespeare. Bacon was not obligated to design his cipher to suit their rules.--he just was trying to tell his secret in anyway he could manage-- " To conceal the truth at the same time as to reveal it" --a difficult assignment.

I thank Professor Foster and Dr. Taylor for making these interesting poems available to the public.


Virginia Fellows
G 3100 Miller Rd. Apt 18D
Flint, MI 48507

Virginia has been a long time enthusiast of Francis Bacon and is the author of the soon to be published The Shakespeare Code and has an article Unlocking the Shakespeare Riddle which can be read in pdf format in the November '99 online issue of Atlantis Rising Magazine.

 - Sir Francis Bacon's New Advancement of Learning