Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Francis Bacon as Shakespeare

So, after dismissing the Earl of Oxford as a contender, moving on to Francis Bacon:

Book by Ross Jackson 

This book was written to accompany a novel purporting to depict the career of another Shakespearean candidate, Francis Bacon.  The introduction states that it may be read independently.  Not really - I was lost as to the details of what was in the novel, but I persevered.

Francis Bacon was, according to this theory,  the son of Queen Elizabeth I, by Robert Dudley, her lifelong love and court favourite.  (To re-cap, The Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere, is portrayed by  adherents as both the son, AND the lover, of Queen Elizabeth). 

In this version, Elizabeth and Dudley were secretly married in 1561. Thus Bacon was not an illegitimate son.  He was the heir to the throne, and one of two, the other being Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.  The latter was factually executed on the Queen's orders very near the end of her reign. Why would she kill her own son?  As it happens, she is on record as stating that the children of the monarch seek to kill their regal parent, in order to accede.  There is no explanation as to why Bacon was neither acknowledged or executed.

One quoted contemporary source alleges that Dudley actually fathered five children on the Queen "and she never goes on progress but to be delivered...."    The thought of all that secret sex with "The Gypsy" is quite exhilarating.  However, there is no mention of the other three offspring in this book.

Francis, according to this theory, was brought up as a "ward" in the family of the Queen's second-most important official, Sir Nicholas Bacon.  He became a lawyer and polymath. This is a major argument for the attribution of Shakespeare's plays which display wide learning and detailed knowledge of the law.  Another plank in the argument is that Francis wrote a prose history of the life of Henry VII.  This is seen as filling the gap left by Shakespeare, who wrote a continuous sequence of history plays starting with Richard II and ending with Henry VIII.  Continuous, except for the omission of Henry VII.  The fact that Bacon wrote this in prose, not as a drama, is not addressed.

Bacon's notebooks are leaned on heavily as direct evidence of the fact that Bacon wrote Shakespeare's plays, and comparisons are quoted extensively.   Bacon's editor, however, in this book gives a detailed explanation of the common quotations.  Bacon was an exponent of the "Notebook Culture" of the time, and listed over 1,600 items as a mental exercise.  Of these, many were already common, including "255 from Erasmus, 110 from Virgil, 107 from the Bible, 46 from Ovid, a huge collection (443) of proverbs in Latin, French, Spanish, and Italian ...."   So they could equally well have been drawn upon by a different man, a playwright.

Most of the rest of the book draws on sources found here, where conspiracy theorists can have a field day.

As with the Earl of Oxford's case, however, one only has to go to the writings to destroy all the falsely alluring half-truths and allusions spread throughout this website  and the book pictured above.

Bacon's prose covers many different subjects and sprinkles aphorisms and nuggets of wisdom throughout his essays - such as the following:

 "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested."  (From the essay, "Of Studies").

Quite a nice metaphor.   However, just to make sure that all is understood, Bacon then immediately repeats the whole in clearer terms:

"That is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but cursorily; and some few to be read wholly and with diligence and attention." 

Shakespeare didn't see any need to explain his metaphors. Even in the character of Polonius, who was the epitome of a plodding old bore and lecturer, the instructions to his son fly:

"Yet here, Laertes? Aboard, aboard, for shame!
The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,
And you are stay'd for. There- my blessing with thee!
And these few precepts in thy memory
Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportion'd thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar:
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch'd, unfledg'd comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel; but being in,
Bear't that th' opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are most select and generous, chief in that.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all- to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell. My blessing season this in thee."

Bacon's essay advising young men on how to profit from travel, states that it is most important to seek "acquaintance with the secretaries and employed men of ambassadors, for in so travelling in one country he shall suck the experience of many."

Bacon's essay "Of Honour and Reputation" begins thus:
"The winning of Honour is but the revealing of a man's virtue and worth without disadvantage."

Shakespeare says on the subject:

"Can honour set to a leg? no: or
an arm? no: or take away the grief of a wound? no.
Honour hath no skill in surgery, then? no. What is
honour? a word. What is in that word honour? what
is that honour? air. A trim reckoning! Who hath it?
he that died o' Wednesday. Doth he feel it? no.
Doth he hear it? no. 'Tis insensible, then. Yea,
to the dead. But will it not live with the living?
no. Why? detraction will not suffer it. Therefore
I'll none of it. Honour is a mere scutcheon: and so
ends my catechism." 

It's witty, ironic, subversive, and employs multiple metaphors.  This is the fat rogue Falstaff talking, of course, so you have to take it as tongue in cheek, but there is a truth under the jovial surface.  Falstaff, the drunken coward, survives the battle-field to die in bed. 

Harry Hotspur, on the other hand, declares:

"By heaven, methinks it were an easy leap,
To pluck bright honour from the pale-faced moon,
Or dive into the bottom of the deep,
Where fathom-line could never touch the ground,
And pluck up drowned honour by the locks .... "

Hotspur's language, more noble, more high-flown, puts active honour high in his priorities, and imagines himself doing fine deeds.  This character dies in battle.

So, to take two random Bacon essays and look into the language, and compare with that of Shakespeare, whoever he was, gives a clear contrast. 

Fascinating though it is, to follow these meticulously worked out conspiracy theories, I am totally unconvinced.


Monday, 11 April 2016

Shaxberd - who was he?

Shaxberd - from the Office of the Master of the Revels, 1605
Unfortunately my pictures are very weak.  I realise that some blogs win awards on the strength of their superb photographs, and I do wish I could be better at it;  my only defence is that usually I am so excited about what I am seeing that my hand shakes. 

Here is part of the displayed copy of the exhibition I referred to in my previous post.

Revels Office records 1604 to 1605

The listing in the margin on the right-hand page gives the names of the players. The King's Players, as Shakespeare's company was called, after their patron King James VI and I, from his accession in 1603, were very active.  Off the page (apologies), appear the names of the plays, the dates and the authors.

"Shakespeare," in the spelling variation "Shaxberd", (see top picture), is shown as the author of plays we now recognize to be his.  Documentary evidence, you might think, from contemporary sources.

Nevertheless, a substantial number of people, including Sigmund Freud and Mark Rylance, (described here by the Guardian as a bit of a fruit loop), believe that Shakespeare could not have been the author of these plays.  Someone else was, and used the name "Shakespeare" as a front.  The glover's son from Stratford-upon-Avon could not possibly have had the breadth of knowledge, nor the poetic, classical, and legal education to write the plays and the poems attributed to William Shakespeare.

Well, now that Richard III has been exhumed,  revealed to have suffered from scoliosis, (which some scholars insisted on for centuries, while others denied it), and laid to rest in peace, it was time for me to find a new conspiracy theory.

Some believe that Shakespeare was Marlowe.

Others, that he was the Earl of Oxford, and the film "Anonymous" takes this story to the limit, including the theory that Elizabeth I was actually Oxford/Shakespeare's mother.

Some champion Francis Bacon, and the latest theory I have come across is that Shakespeare was a woman

The thing is, that when I read the theories, much of it sounds quite plausible.  I'm currently reading Shakespeare's Lost Kingdom on my Kindle, and did not feel the urge to shout out "This is complete rubbish" until some way in.  I did, though.

Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford,  leading man of "Lost Kingdom", sounds like a reasonably viable candidate for authorship, until you pick up an actual piece of verse written by the Earl.

See below, from:  The Penguin Book of Elizabethan Verse:

"The Lively Lark Stretched Forth Her Wing" (first and second stanzas)

The lively lark stretched forth her wing,
The messenger of morning bright,
And with her cheerful voice did sing
The day's approach, discharging night
When that Aurora, blushing red,
Descried the guilt of Thetis' bed,

I went abroad to take the air,
And in the meads I met a knight
Clad in carnation colour fair:
I did salute this gentle wight,
Of him I did his name enquire,
He sighed, and said it was Desire."

Here, by comparison is part of one of Shakespeare's sonnets:

"Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy"

Or this, from "Romeo and Juliet"

"But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
That thou her maid art far more fair than she"

So, I could not be convinced.  Enjoyable though it is to read the long lists of Shakespearean characters who are "modelled" on Queen Elizabeth I and her courtiers.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Shakespeare 400

As a card-carrying literature enthusiast, I cannot let the month of April pass without writing a post about William Shakespeare.

2014 celebrated the 450th anniversary of William Shakespeare's birth, April 1564. Now we approach the 400th anniversary of his death,  April 1616.

Already I have binged on Shakespeare, having been privileged to watch the Cycle of Kings presented at the Barbican before it left for a world-wide tour.  I've seen Cymbeline and The Winter's Tale at the indoor Globe, otherwise known as the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.  I've attended a Shakespeare exhibition at Somerset House.  This presents an opportunity to see Shakespeare's own signature as it appears in his actual will, deposited in the National Archives. This is not a facsimile, but the original, albeit under a glass case,  the real thing. 

The British Library has an exhibition opening soon, which I hope to visit, but even if I can't, the online site is so very informative and fascinating, so generous in its sharing of digital texts, that it alone is worth spending much time on, and it is all free.

Other online portals abound.  The Royal Society of Literature has an audio recording of ten modern poets, who each choose one of Shakespeare's sonnets, and then read one of their own poems, inspired by the sonnet.

Here is a very special corner of the internet.  A manuscript copy of a play called "Sir Thomas More".  It's special because, it is claimed,  this is the only surviving example of a script of any play in Shakespeare's handwriting.  That alone is worthy of attention, but other things call out across the centuries.  The play was censured, because it contains a scene of rioting.  Any challenge to authority was seen as treason in late Elizabethan England.  It was a group effort, various playwrights being credited, and it is thought that Shakespeare was brought in to write scenes that would make it more acceptable to the censor.   

The scene highlighted is about the plight of refugees - the citizens of London are angry and rioting because they think that the incoming migrants are taking their jobs and their homes. The Londoners want them to be sent back home.  The character of Thomas More, as depicted here, tells these hard-hearted citizens to imagine how they would feel, if they were exiled to a foreign land, and treated in like manner by the inhabitants. It's strong, stirring stuff.

I found it difficult to understand the printed extract, the language and sentence construction are archaic.  However, help is at hand.

Sir Ian McKellen reads the whole speech here.  Awesome, majestic, wonderful. I listened to it twice.  It's so clear, so emotional.  How wonderful is the internet!