It is conceded by all that the author of the "Shake-speare"1 Plays was the greatest genius of his age, perhaps of any age, and, with nearly equal unanimity, that he was a man of broad and varied scholarship.


I. He was a linguist, many of the Plays being based on Latin, Greek, Spanish, and Italian productions, some of which had not then been translated into English. Latin and French were especially very familiar to him. It is thus apparent that not less than five foreign languages, living and dead, were included in his repertory.


1 Wherever personal reference is made in this work to William Shakspere of Stratford, the name is so spelled, William Shakspere; but whenever the reference is to the author of the plays, as such, we treat the name as a pseudonym, spelling it as it was printed on many of the title-pages of the early quartos, WILLIAM SHAKE-SPEARE. In all cases of quotation, however, we follow the originals.




LATIN.--The 'Comedy of Errors' was founded upon the Menaechmi of Plautus, a comic poet who wrote about 200 B.C. The first translation of the Latin work into English, so far as known, was made in 1595, and without any resemblance to it "in any peculiarity of language, of names, or of any other matter, however slight."--Verplanck.

"His frequent use of Latin derivatives in their radical sense shows a somewhat thoughtful and observant study of that language."--Richard Grant White's Memoirs of William Shakespeare, p. xvi.

"He showed his fundamental knowledge of that language, by using its words in their genuine, original meaning, which they have lost with their adoption into English."--Gervinus' Shakespeare Commentaries,1 p. 26.

"After the proofs I have given, it will hardly, I think, be denied that he was quite capable of studying the celebrated story [of 'Venus and Adonis'] in the original sources, and that he certainly did so in relation to Ovid's version of it."--Prof. T. S. Baynes2 in Fraser's Mag. 1880.

"He knew Latin, we need not doubt, as well as any other man of his time."--Stapfer's Shakespeare and Classical Antiquity, p. 100.

"He makes some of his characters [in 'Love's Labor's Lost'] use false Latin, that he may show his learning in correcting it."--T. W. White's 'Our English Homer,' p. 195.


GREEK.--'Timon of Athens' was drawn partly from Plutarch and partly from Lucian, the latter author not having been translated into English earlier than 1638 (White), fifteen years after the publication of the play.

Helena's pathetic lament over a lost friendship in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' (III. 2) had its prototype in a Greek poem by St. Gregory of Nazianzus, published at Venice in 1504.--Gibbon's Decline and Fall, chap. xxvii.

"The Likeness between the Clytemnestra of Aeschylus and the Lady Macbeth is too remarkable to escape notice; that between the two poets in their choice of epithets is as great, though more difficult of proof. Yet I think an attentive student of Shakespeare cannot fail to be reminded of something familiar to him in such phrases as 'flame-eyed fire,' 'flax-winged ships,' and 'star-neighboring peaks.'


1 "A German professor, Gervinus, is the author of the greatest book ever written on Shakespeare."--Stapfer.

2 Editor Encyclopædia Britannica, ninth edition.





"In the 'Electra' of Sophocles, which is almost identical in its leading motive with 'Hamlet,' the Chorus consoles Electra for the supposed death of Orestes in the same commonplace way which Hamlet's uncle tries with him. Shakespeare expatiates somewhat more largely, but the sentiment in both cases is almost verbally identical."1--Lowell's Among My Books, p. 191.

A passage in 'Troilus and Cressida' is "inexplicable except on the supposition that Shakespeare was acquainted with what Plato wrote."--Richard Grant White.

Among the presages of death, given by a Greek writer, 400 B.C., and repeated in 'Henry V." "Shake-speare" mentions one which is peculiar to the people of Greece, and which no translation of the original work, even into Latin, had brought out.


ITALIAN.--An Italian novel, written by Giraldi Cinthio and first printed in 1565, furnished the incidents for the story of 'Othello.' The author of the play "read it probably in the original, for no English translation of his time is known."--Gervinus' Shak. Com. p. 505.


1 Gibbon and Lowell were unfortunately restrained by certain supposed exigencies from acknowledging that the author of the plays must have been familiar with the Greek language. Mr. Lowell, however, feels compelled to ask, rather helplessly, not to say absurdly,--"Is it incredible that he may have laid hold of an edition of the Greek tragedies, Graecè et Latinè, and then, with such poor wits as he was master of, contrived to worry some considerable meaning out of them?"

This state of mind on the part of so distinguished a critic illustrates very forcibly one of the chief causes of the poverty of Shake-spearean criticism. Mr. Steevens, for instance, suffered himself to be driven to the preposterous conclusion that the play of 'Troilus and Cressida' is not wholly "Shake-speare's," because of certain Grecisms in it, of which, he assumed, "Shake-speare" could have had no knowledge.





"He was, without doubt, quite able to read Italian."--Richard Grant White.

"When Iago, distilling his poison into Othello's ears, utters the oft quoted lines:--

'Who Steals my purse, steals trash; 't is something, nothing;
'T was mine, 't is his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed,'--

he but repeats with little variation a stanza of Berni's 'Orlando Innamorato,' of which poem, to this day, there is no English version."--Ibid.: Memoirs of William Shakespeare, XXIII.

"The great majority of the dramatis personæ in his comedies, as well as in some of the tragedies, have Italian names, and many of them are as Italian in nature as in name. The moonlight scene in 'The Merchant of Venice' is southern in every detail and incident. 'Romeo and Juliet' is Italian throughout, alike in coloring, incident, and passion. In the person of Hamlet, the author appears even as a critic of Italian style."--Prof. Baynes in Encyc. Brit. XXI. 758.

FRENCH.--One entire scene and parts of others in 'Henry V.' are in French.

Plowden's French 'Commentaries,' containing the celebrated case of Hales vs. Petit, which was satirized by the gravediggers in 'Hamlet,' were translated into English for the first time more than half a century after the play was written.

"The author shows his knowledge of even the most delicate peculiarities of the French tongue."--Richard Grant White's Shakespeare's Works, II. 206.

"A brilliant proof that the author of the plays was familiar with the French language is the masterly way in which he makes Dr. Caius, in 'The Merry Wives of Windsor,' murder the Queen's English. Those who have ever heard a Frenchman utter this jargon will not hesitate to admit that the poet has grasped and reproduced it with inimitable truth and in the wittiest manner."--Elze's William Shakespeare, p. 382.



 "The evidence of his knowledge of French is more abundant and decisive, so much so as hardly to need express illustration."--Prof. Baynes in Encyc. Brit. art. "Shakespeare."
SPANISH.--The poet drew some of his materials for the 'Two Gentlemen of Verona' from the Spanish romance of Montemayor, entitled the 'Diana,' which was translated into English in 1582, the translation, however, not being printed till 1598. "The resemblances are too minute to be accidental." [Halliwell-Phillipps.]

"Could there be anything more to the point than the description he gives in 'Love's Labor's Lost' of the Spanish language? Can one who describes the character of a language with such clearness and insight be unacquainted with it?"--Elze's Shakespeare, p. 385.

Gervinus calls attention to two of the Comedies in which Latin, French, Spanish, and Italian words and sentences abound, and ventures to suggest a desire, on the part of the author, to exhibit in them his knowledge of foreign languages.


II. He had intimate acquaintance with ancient and modern literature, numerous authors, from the age of Homer down to his own, being drawn upon for illustration and imagery in the composition of these works.


"The writer was a classical scholar. Rowe found traces in him of the 'Electra' of Sophocles; Colman, of Ovid; Pope, of Dares Phrygius and other Greek authors; Farmer, of Horace and Virgil; Malone, of Lucretius, Statius, Catullus, Seneca, Sophocles, and Euripides; Steevens, of Plautus; Knight, of the 'Antigone' of Sophocles; White, of the 'Alcestis' of Euripides."--Nathaniel Holmes' Authorship of Shakespeare, p. 57.

"The early plays exhibit the poet not far removed from school and its pursuits; in none of his later dramas does he plunge so deeply into the remembrances of antiquity, his head overflowing with its images, legends, and characters. The 'Taming of the Shrew,' especially, may be compared with the 'First Part of Henry VI.' 'in the manifold ostentation of book-learning.'"--Gervinus' Shak. Com. p. 145.


 "A mind fresh from academic studies."--R. G. White's Essay on Shakespeare's Genius, p. ccxxiv.

"In that play, so marvellously full of thought, 'Troilus and Cressida,' Ulysses rises to the full height of our idea of the wandering Ithacan. Whence came this Ulysses? Not from Homer's brain; for, although Homer tells us that the King of Ithaca was 'divine,' and 'spear-renowned,' and 'well skilled in various enterprise and counsel,' the deeds and words of the hero, as represented by the Greek poet, hardly justify these epithets. Here we see that Shakespeare was even wiser than the Homeric ideal of human wisdom. He made our Ulysses.'--Ibid.

"The early plays mark the productions of a fresh collegian. His familiar acquaintance with college terms and usages makes for the conclusion that he enjoyed the privileges of a university education."--Charles and Mary Cowden Clarke.

"The very earliest writings of Shakespeare are imbued with a spirit of classical antiquity."--Charles Knight.

"His habits had been scholastic and those of a student. A young author's first work almost always bespeaks his recent pursuits."--Coleridge's Lectures on Shakespeare, p. 287.

"The immaturity [of his mind in the early plays] is seen in the extent to which the smell of the lamp mingles with the freshness and vigor of poetic feeling. The wide circle of references to Greek fable and Roman story suggests that the writer had come recently from his books, and was not unwilling to display his acquaintance with them."--Prof. Baynes in Fraser's Mag. 1880.

"Love's Labor's Lost,' one of the earliest of the plays, is so learned, so academic, so scholastic in expression and allusion, that it is unfit for popular representation."--O'Connor's Hamlet's Note-Book.

Stapfer,1 a distinguished French critic, intimates that in his judgment some of the plays are "over-cumbered with learning, not to say pedantic."




1 It may be well to remark that Stapfer, Baynes, and White are unfriendly witnesses, and that Gervinus and Verplanck wrote beforejudgment some of the plays are "over-cumbered with learning, not to say pedantic."



 III. He was a jurist, and his fondness for legal phrases is remarkable.


He had "a deep technical knowledge of the law," and an easy familiarity with "some of the most abstruse proceedings in English jurisprudence."--Lord Chief Justice Campbell.

"Whenever he indulges this propensity, he uniformly lays down good law."--Ibid.

One of the sonnets [46] is so intensely technical in its phraseology that "without a considerable knowledge of English forensic procedure, it cannot be fully understood."1--Ibid.

"In an age when it was the common practice for young lawyers to write plays, one playwright left upon his works a stronger, sharper legal stamp than appears upon those of any of his contemporaries; and the characters of this stamp are those of the complicated law of real property."--Richard Grant White's Memoirs of William Shakespeare, p. xivii.


this controversy began. Judge Holmes is our senior counsel, but we claim the right at this hearing to put him on the witness stand. His work on the 'Authorship of Shakespeare' is as temperate in its judgments as it is philosophical and profound in its general treatment of the subject.

1 "Mine eye and heart are at a mortal war,
How to divide the conquest of thy sight;
Mine eye my heart thy picture's sight would bar,
My heart mine eye the freedom of that right.
My heart doth plead that thou in him dost lie,--
A closet never pierced with crystal eyes,--
But the defendant doth that plea deny,
And says in him thy fair appearance lies.
To 'cide this title is impanneléd
A quest of thoughts, all tenants to the heart;
And by their verdict is determined
The clear eye's moiety and the dear heart's part:
As thus,--mine eye's due is thy outward part,
And my heart's right thy inward love of heart."

Sonnet XLVL





"His knowledge of legal terms is not merely such as might be acquired by the casual observation of even his all-comprehending mind; it has the appearance of technical skill."--Edmund Malone.

"The marvellous intimacy which he displays with legal terms, his frequent adoption of them in illustration, and his curiously technical knowledge of their form and force."--Charles and Mary Cowden Clarke.

"In one scene the lover, wishing a kiss, prays for a grant of pasture on his mistress' lips. This suggests the law of pasture; and she replies that her lips are "no common." This again suggests the distinction between tenancy in common and tenancy in severalty, and she adds, "though several they be.'"--Davis' Law in Shakespeare.

"Among these [legal terms], there are some which few but a lawyer would, and some even which none but a lawyer could, have written."--Franklin Fiske Heard's Shakespeare as a Lawyer.

"In the 'Second Part of Henry IV. [V. 5], Pistol uses the term, absque hoc, which is technical in the last degree. This was a species of traverse, used by special pleaders when the record was in Latin, known by the denomination of a special traverse. The subtlety of its texture, and the total dearth of explanation in all the reports and treatises extant in the time of Shakespeare with respect to its principle, seem to justify the conclusion that he must have obtained a knowledge of it from actual practice.1--Ibid.

1 Italics our own.  


IV. He was a philosopher.


"In the constructing of Shakespeare's Dramas there is an understanding manifested, equal to that in Bacon's Novum Organum."--Carlyle.

"He is inconceivably wise; the others, conceivably."--Emerson.






"From his works may be collected a system of civil and economical prudence."--Dr. Johnson.

"He was not only a great poet, but a great philosopher."--Coleridge.

"In some of his [Falstaff's] reflections we have a clear, though brief, view of the profound philosopher underlying the profligate humorist and makesport; for he there discovers a breadth and sharpness of observation and a depth of practical sagacity such as might have placed him in the front rank of statesmen and sages."--Hudson's Shakespeare. His Art and Life, II. 94.


Thus was the author's mind not only a fountain of inspiration from its own illimitable depths, but enriched in large measure with the stores of knowledge which the world had then accumulated.


"There is the clearest evidence that his mind was richly stored with knowledge of all kinds."--Prof. Baynes in Fraser's Mag., 1880.

"The range and accuracy of his knowledge were beyond precedent or later parallel."--Lowell's Among My Books, p. 167.

"An amazing genius, which could pervade all nature at a glance, and to whom nothing within the limits of the universe appeared to be unknown."--Whalley.

"Shakespeare had in his time few equals in the range of his manifold knowledge."--Gervinus' Commentaries, p. 25.

"It is childish to discuss the amount of learning possessed by an author who has taught the whole world."--Stapfer's Shakespeare and Classical Antiquity, p. 106.

"The great master who knew everything."--Charles Dickens.

"Let it be accepted as a truth past all debate, that among the great ones of the earth Shakespeare stands alone, in unapproachable majesty. What was the secret of his power; from whence derived this marvellous insight into human nature under all circumstances, ages, and climes, this accurate knowledge of sciences, arts, governments, morals, manners, philosophies,




and codes, this exquisite command of language, never wielded with such skill before or since, by which each character, event, or thought is drawn in lines of living light? This, the greatest of all human mysteries which we have received from our fathers, we must transmit, deepened and heightened rather than lessened by our labors, to our children."--Allibone's Dictionary of Authors, II. 2050.


NOTE.--The Authorities cited in this chapter give us the best and ripest results of modern scholarship. Nearly all of them are of the latter half of the current century.


Return to Table of Contents of Bacon vs.Shakspere



II. WILLIAM SHAKSPERE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11

III. FRANCIS BACON . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44

IV. OBJECTIONS CONSIDERED . . . . . . . . . . . . . 118

V. COINCIDENCES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 184

VI. DISILLUSION, A GAIN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 264


VIII. SUMMARY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 280

INDEX . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 283




  - Sir Francis Bacon's New Advancement of Learning