W.S. Melsome, MA., M.D.

author of

The Bacon- Shakespeare Anatomy (London: George Lapworth, 1947)

this article was printed in Baconiana 1943


In all these things, which have only been touched upon, most of the quotations from Bacon come from his History of Henry VII (1622); his De Augmentis of 1623, and his Sylva Sylvarum of 1626; and before all these dates the reputed authors of the plays except Bacon were dead, and could not have seen any of them; and yet we see how much greater help Bacon is to the understanding of Shakespeare than Shakespeare is to the understanding of Bacon. Certain it is that all men who have studied Bacon's works can appreciate the plays to a far greater extent than those who have not. In short, Bacon is the best commentator on " Shakespeare."

If ten men were to write about Bacon, Shakespeare and war, no two of them would write alike, but they would all be forced to admit that whatever Bacon thought of war Shakespeare thought the same; that they both argued for and against war; that they both disliked civil war, but were not averse from a foreign war to prevent mutinies at home. They both thought that civil wars were caused by "griefs and discontentments," and Bacon says our word "discontentment" comes from the Latin words "invidia," which means "envy" and that "Envy....... is a disease in a state like to infection." (Essay 9)

It is like the "envious FEVER" in Troilus and Cressida, by which "many are infect." (Troilus, I, 1, 133 and 187).
Note the distance between "envious fever" and "many are infect"(54 lines), as if the author wished to hide his identity, by not letting us know too easily that he thought exactly as Bacon did; namely, that "A civil war indeed is like the heat of a FEVER." (Works, VI, p.450)
But, Francis Bacon, although you can fool most men all the time, yet you cannot fool all men all the time. You could not fool that band of eminent Latin or Greek scholars in Oxford University who in the sixties of last century determined to ferret you out, and who unanimously concluded that you were the culprit.
Bacon says the Greeks were "full of divisions amongst themselves" (Life, III, p. 97), and it was these divisions, these civil wars, which Shakespeare calls ENVIOUS FEVERS, that were the cause of their WEAKNESS; and that is why he makes Ulysses say,

"And 'tis this FEVER that keeps Troy of foot,
Not her own sinews.....
Troy in our WEAKNESS stands, not in her strength." (Troilus,I, 3, 135)

"Wisely hath Ulysses here discover'd
The Fever whereof all our power is sick." (Ibid. I, 3, 135).

In 2 Henry IV Shakespeare calls it a burning FEVER:

" We are all diseased,
And with our surfeiting and wanton hours
Have brought ourselves into a burning FEVER,
And we must bleed for it; of which disease
Our late King, Richard, being INFECTED, died." (IV, 1. 54).

Thus we se , as Bacon says, that "ENVY...... is a disease in a state like to INFECTION" and this ENVY is caused by "griefs or discontents"; for

"When we are wrong'd and would unfold our griefs,
We are denied access unto his person." (Ibid., IV. 1, 77)

Writing of the "seditions and troubles" in the reign of Henry VII, Bacon says, "When the King was advertised of this new insurrection, being almost a FEVER taht took him every year." (Works, VI, p. 89).
When these envious fevers become a danger to the State Bacon and Shakespeare thought that the best physic was an HONOURABLE foreign war.

Bacon : Arguing against war Bacon says " The merit of war is too outwardly glorious to be inwardly grateful." (Life, I, p. 383)
Shakespeare : Princes have but their titles for their glory,
An outward honour for an inward toil." ( Richard III, I, 4, 78)

Bacon : " Princes are like to heavenly bodies which cause good or evil times" (as when the planets in evil mixture to disorder wander" (Troilus I, 3, 94) and which have much veneration but no rest." (Essay 19)
Again :
Bacon : " In this manner the aforesaid instructors set before the king the example of the celestial bodies, the sun, the moon and the rest, which have great glory and veneration but no intermission or rest." ( Life, III. p.90)

Again, in his Exempla Antithetorum :
Bacon : "Princes, like celestial bodies, have much veneration but no rest." (De Augmentis., VI, III)

Shakespeare :

" And for unfelt imaginations,
They often feel a world of restless cares." ( Richard III, 4, 80)

"Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown." (2Henry IV, III. 1. 31)

Bacon : 

But "this (Richmond) is the lad that shall possess quietly that, that we now strife for." (History Henry VII).

Shakespeare : 
" This pretty lad (Richmond) will prove our country's bliss,
His looks are full of peaceful majesty,
His head by nature framed to wear a crown,
His hand to wield a sceptre, and himself
Likely in time to bless a regal throne." ( 3HenryVI, IV, 6, 70)


Bacon : "Come out (man of war) you must be ever in noise." ( Life, I. p. 384)
Bacon : "The humour of war is raving." (Ibid, p. 381)
Bacon : "Wars with their noise offright us; when they cease,
We are worse in peace." (Works,
VII. p. 272)

Shakespeare :

" What would you have, you curs,
That like nor peace nor war? The one affrights you,
The other makes you proud." ( Coriolanus, I, i , 172)

Peace is a very apoplexy." (Coriolanus, IV, 5, 238)


"This apoplexy is, as I take it, a kind of lethargy." (2 Henry IV, I, 2, 126)

Bacon : " For men's minds are enervated and their manners corrupted by sluggish and inactive peace." (De Augmentis, VIII, III)
Shakespeare : " The cankers of a calm world and a long peace." ( I Henry IV, 2, 32)
Bacon : " In a slothful peace both courage will effeminate and manners corrupt." (Essay 29)
Shakespeare : " Plenty and peace breeds cowards." (Cymbeline, III. 6, 21)
Shakespeare : " Ay, and it makes men hate on another." ( Coriolanus. IV, 5, 246)
Shakespeare :
"You cry against the noble senate, who,
Under the god, keep you in awe, which else
Would feed on one another." (Ibid, I, 1 191)

Bacon : " One man simply a wolf to another." (De Augmentis VIII, II, parabola 25)

Now is the time for an HONOURABLE foreign war :

Bacon : " If it please God to change the inward troubles and seditions, wherewith he hath been hitherto exercised, into and HONOURABLE foreign war." ( Works, VI, p. 78)

Bacon : " My people and I know one another, which breeds confidence, and if there should be any bad blood left in the Kingdom, an HONORABLE foreign war will VENT it or purify it." (Works, VI, p. 119)
Shakespeare : "The news is, sir, the Volsces are in arms."
"I'm glad on't : then we shall ha' means
To VENT our musty superfluity." (Coriolanus, I. I. 228)

There was not enough bread for the people, and Coriolanus apparently thinks it well to get rid of the excess of people (our musty superfluity), by making them fight the Volscians, and so to end the mutiny at home.
Shakespeare writes of an HONOURABLE war in King John (II, 573 and 585) where " tickling commodity" draws the French King "from a resolved and HONOURABLE war." But Bacon also speaks of "a JUST and HONOURABLE war." (Essay 29) and so does Shakespeare.z
Henry IV knew there was bad blood in the kingdom caused by his unsurpation of the crown and the subsequent murder of Richard II; and that is why he advised his son (Henry V) to follow Bacon's advice; which was, "an energetic foreign policy calculated to distract the people from internal politics." (Bacon's Commentarius solutus)
Shakespeare :

"Therefore, my Harry,
Be it thy course to busy giddy minds
With foreign quarrels; that action, hence borne out,
May waste the memory of former days." (2Henry IV, IV,5, 214)

Moreover Shakespeare makes Henry V go, disguised, among his soldiers by night, and speaking of himself in the third person, he says,

" His cause being JUST, and his quarrel
HONOURABLE." (Henry V, IV, 1, 132)

It is well known that Bacon in his Essex Device, puts up a man to argue in favour of war and another to argue against it; and in Troilus and Cressida Shakespeare makes Hector argue against and Troilus in favour of war, and in Hector's speech there are six and a half lines which contain six reminders of Bacon. The lines are :

"There is no lady of more softer bowels,
More spongy to SUCK IN the sense of fear,
More ready to cry out ' who knows what follows?'
Than Hector is; the wound of peace is surety,
Surety secure; but modest doubt is call'd
The beacon of the wise, the tent that searches
To the bottom of the worst. " (Troilus and Cressida , II, 2, 11)

"There is no lady of more SOFTER bowels." (Hector's speech) Hector was a young man, and
"A young man's bowels are SOFT and SUCCULENT." 

Bacon : "Juveni viscera mollia et succulenta" Works, II. p. 210).
Bacon : And "the bowels are expressive of charity." ( Bacon's Prometheus)

Therefore, there is no lady more charitable than Hector. (see later)
But a young man's bowels are also succulent; and "succulenta" comes from succus and sugere to suck.
Therefore, there is no lady whose bowels are "more SPONGY to SUCK IN the sense of fear."

Bacon : And " Doubts are as so many SUCKERS or SPONGES to draw use of knowledge." (Advancement of Learning II, 8, 5)
Bacon : "The king himself, whose continual vigilancy did SUCK IN sometimes causeless suspicions." (History Henry VII Works VI, p. 57)
"SUCK IN  the sense of fear." (Hector's speech).
And "there is no lady more ready to cry out, 'who knows what follows?' than Hector is." (Not even Cassandra)
Bacon :  "Distrust is the sinew of wisdom." (De Aug. Vi III)


Shakespeare :" Modest doubt is call'd the beacon of the wise." (Hector's speech)
Compare " Modest doubt" and "spongy to SUCK IN" with
"Doubts are so many SUCKERS or SPONGES to draw."
Hector was a young man, and
Bacon : " A young man is full of bounty and mercy."
(Juveni benignitas et misericordia"
Works II p. 212)
And this "misericordia" (pity, which is the mother of mercy) is Hector's prevailing vice :

Troilus : "Brother, you have that vice of mercy in you."
Hector : "What vice is that, good Troilus?"
Troilus : "When many times the captive Grecian falls,
Even in the fan and wind of your fair sword,
You bid him rise, and live."
Hector : "O, 'tis fair play." (Troilus, V, 3, 37)

But why is this kind of mercy a vice? Because, says Bacon,

" He who shows mercy to his enemy denies it to himself." ( De Augmentis VI, III)

Therefore, says Troilus to Hector,
"For the love of all the gods,
Let's leave the hermit pity with our mothers." (Ibid, V, 3, 44)

Compare Richard II :

"Forget to pity him lest thy pity prove
A serpent that will sting thee to the heart." (V, 3, 57)

Judge now whether " there is no lady of more softer bowels"  (more charitable) "than Hector."


Shakespeare : "Consider, sir, the chance of war." (Cymbeline, V, 5, 75)
Bacon : " Respice res bello varias." (Consider the varying chances of war."Promus, 1101)
Shakespeare : "The wound of peace is surety, surety secure"; (Hector's speech)
Bacon : and " Whoever undertakes a war with prudence , generally falls upon the enemy unprepared, and nearby, and nearly in a state of security." (De Augmentis. II, XIII)
Shakespeare : "This happy night the Frenchmen are secure,*
Embrace we then this opportunity." (I HenryVI II, 1, 11)

* (The King (Henry VII) "was never cruel when he was secure" (sine cura, without care, i.e. without fear for himself. Works, VI, p.193) "Assailed the enemies ' camp, negligently guarded, as being out of fear." Works, V. p 100)

Shakespeare : "And you all know security
Is mortals' chiefest enemy." (Macbeth, III. 5, 32)

Bacon : A subject well deserving to lie continually before princes, for their diligent meditation; lest by over-rating their own strength, they should rashly engage in too difficult and vain enterprises." (De Augmentis., VIII, III)
Shakespeare: And "who knows what follows ? (Hector's speech);
Shakespeare : for "the end of war's uncertain." (Coriolanus. V, 3, 141)
Shakespeare : And " the end of it unknown to the beginning." (ibid, III, 329)
"The tent that searches to the BOTTOM of the worst." (Hector's speech)

A tent, or probe, is an intstrument used by surgeons to search to the bottom of a wound, for a foreign body, or a piece of dead bone.

Shakespeare : "Now to the BOTTOM dost thou search my wound." (Titus, II, 3, 262)

But Bacon and Shakespeare were equally fond of using men as instruments. The Earl of Lincoln (killed at Stoke-field) would have been such an instrument in the hands of Henry VII, who "was sorry for the earl's death, because, by him, he might have known the BOTTOM of his danger." (History Henry VII Works, VI, p. 47).

Henry would have probed the earl " to discover to the BOTTOM of his intentions. (Again, on page 194To learn out the BOTTOM of the conspiracy." Compare Shakespeare"Try it out."  Henry V, IV 1, 169)

Bacon : "When my Lord President of the Council came first to be Lord Treasurer, he complained to my Lord Chancellor of the troublesomeness of his PLACE; for that the exchequer was so empty. The Lord Treasurer answered, " My Lord, be of good cheer, for now you shall see the BOTTOM of your business at the first. " (Works, VII, p. 170)
Shakespeare : "It concerns me to look into the BOTTOM of my PLACE."
Shakespeare : "Is there no pity sitting in the clouds
That sees into the bottom of my grief?" (Romeo & Juliet III, 5, 198)
Bacon : " The king had gotten for his purpose two INSTRUMENTS, Emposom and Dudley." (Works, VI, p. 217)
Shakespeare: "INSTRUMENTS of some more mightier member that sets them on." (Measure for Measure, V, 1, 237)
"Call them what INSTRUMENT you will." ( Hamlet., III, 2, 387).
"What poor an INSTRUMENT may do a noble deed." (Antony& Cleopatra, V,2, 236)
So much then for " the tent that searches to the BOTTOM of the worst."

Bacon : " I know not how but martial men are given to love." (Essay 10) and " this passion hath his floods in the very times of weakness, which are, great prosperity and great adversity." (Ibid)
Shakespeare : " Prosperity's the very bond of love. " (Winter's Tale, IV. 4, 583)

After his war with France, Henry V was at the very height of prosperity, and it was then that he made love to Katherine. He purposed to have her for his comfort and consort, just as Anthony Bacon was "comfort and consort" to his brother Francis (Northumberland MS.). But he also wanted that other kind of consort which Bacon speaks of in his Sylva Sylvarum (278) and which we now spell "concert" (orchestral music); he wanted to hear Katherine's broken music :

Bacon : " In that music which we call BROKEN music, or CONSORT music, some consorts of instruments are sweeter than others...... organs and the voice agree well." (Sylva Sylvarum, 278)

Nashe : " He speaks nothing but BROKEN English like a French doctor." (Vol III, p. 240)
But if it's a she "her voice is music," as in Edward III, II, 1, 106, and Love's Labour's Lost, IV, 2, 119 and 20.

Then she speaks BROKEN music and BROKEN English like a French princess :

Shakespeare : "Come, your answer in BROKEN music; for thy voice is music, and thy English BROKEN; therefore, queen of all, Katherine, break your mind to me in BROKEN English; wilt thou have me?" (Henry V, 2, 293)

Again in his 37th essay :

Bacon : " I understand that the song be in quire placed aloft, and accompanied with some BROKEN music."
Shakespeare : "What music is this? I do but partly know sir; it is music in parts.... Here is good BROKEN music." (Troilus and Cressida, III, 1, 17 and 52)

Turn now to Romeo and Juliet (III, 1, 47) and observe that the author takes a similar interest in these two kinds of CONSORT :

Shakespeare : " Mercutio, thou CONSORT'ST with Romeo."
CONSORT! what , dost thou make us minstrels? an thou make minstrels of us, look to hear nothing but discords."
Bacon : "The sens of hearing and the kinds of music hve most operation on manners; as to encourage men and make them warlike; to make them soft and effeminate; to make them grave; to make them light; and to make them gentle and inclined to pity." (Sylva Sylvarum 114)
Shakespeare :  Music oft hath a charm,
To make bad good, and good provoke to harm." (Measure for Measure IV 1, 15)

All nations have music to encourage men and make them warlike and where did you hear anything more simple or more beautiful than our massed military bands playing, " Onward Christian Soldiers" in York Minster, as many of us did during the last great war?

Shakespeare : Such music takes away fear; and " Of all base passions fear is the most accurst." (1HenryVI, V, 2F.F.)
Bacon : "Fear causeth paleness, trembling, the standing of the hair upright, STARTING and scriching." (Sylva SylvarumWorks, II, p. 567)
Bacon : " Fear and shame are likewise infective; for we see that the STARTING of one will make another ready to START." (Ibid, p.653)
Shakespeare : "Tremble and START at wagging of a straw." (Richard III, 5, 7)
"Yet, in reason, no man should possess him with any appearance of fear,lest he, by showing it, dishearten his army." (Henry V, IV, 1, 114)

As regards shame :

Bacon : "When one man is out of countenance in a company, others do likewise BLUSH in his behalf." (Sylva Sylvarum. Works, II, p. 567)

A good example of this comes in Measure for Measure :

Bacon : " Let there be, besides penalty, a note of infamy by way of admonishing others, and chastising delinquents, as it were, by putting them to the BLUSH with shame." ( De Augmentis, VIII, III, 40)

Claudio : " Fellow, why doest thou show me thus to the world?" (Measure for Measure, I, 2, 120)
Provost : " I do it not in evil disposition,
But from Lord Angelo by special charge."

Claudio has already been censured and condemned to death, so that this exposure to the world on his way to prison is something over and above the penalty, and appears to represent that " note of infamy by way of admonishing others putting them to the BLUSH with shame."
And when Angelo is exposed to the world for a similar offence, we can almost see his colleague, Escalus, blushing in his behalf, where he says,

" I am sorry, one so learned and so wise
As you, Lord Angelo, have still appear'd,
Should slip so grossly." (Measure for Measure , V, 1, 475).

In all these things, which have only been touched upon, most of the quotations from Bacon come from his History of Henry VII (1622); his De Augmentis of 1623, and his Sylva Sylvarum of 1626; and before all these dates the reputed authors of the plays except Bacon were dead, and could not have seen any of them; and yet we see how much greater help Bacon is to the understanding of Shakespeare than Shakespeare is to the understanding of Bacon. Certain it is that all men who have studied Bacon's works can appreciate the plays to a far greater extent than those who have not. In short, Bacon is the best commentator on " Shakespeare."







 - Sir Francis Bacon's New Advancement of Learning