Saturday, February 21, 2009
There are so many reasons why I am sure Francis Bacon did NOT write Shakespeare, that to explain them all would exceed the limits of this article.
I shall leave aside, for the moment, the various clues in the texts of the First Folio, showing the undying resentment that Marlowe nursed against Bacon for his betrayal of the Earl of Essex - a betrayal that resulted in Essex’s death and, indirectly, in Marlowe’s dying in exile. Instead, I will focus on the strictly objective reasons provided by Bacon’s own work, and I shall attempt to prove that nothing in his highly talented, persnickety, sour, misogynist mind could be mistaken for the depth of understanding and compassion that is the essence of the Great Bard.
In the following poem, Bacon displays his un-Shakespearean banality, both in content and style.
Yet since with sorrow here we live oppressed,
What life is best?
Courts are but only superficial schools,
To dandle fools.
The rural parts are turned into a den,
Of savage men.
And where's a city from all vice so free,
But may be termed the worst of all the three?
Domestic cares afflict the husband's bed,
Or pains his head.
Those that live single take it for a curse,
Or do things worse.
Some would have children; those that have them none,
Or wish them gone.
What is it then to have or have no wife,
But single thraldom or a double strife.
Our own affections still at home to please,
Is a disease.
To cross the sea to any foreign soil,
Perils and toil.
Wars with their noise affright us; when they cease,
Wars worse in peace.
What then remains, but that we still should cry:
Not to be born, or being born to die?.1
Does this sound like Shakespeare? I don’t think so. The sour misogyny and querulous tone of the poem would have given Shakespeare the creeps. And what does he mean by: Those that live single take it for a curse, / Or do things worse?
Bacon’s homosexuality would be nobody’s business but his own, except for the misery that he seems to have felt on its account. Unlike other notorious homosexuals of his time, such as his brother Anthony and King James, whose licentiousness permeated the entire fabric of the Court, Francis Bacon’s writings distill barrels of bitterness against women for being women, and against himself for loathing them.
But before I move on, I would like to know in what way could the poem above quoted, published under Bacon’s own name, be less indiscreet, or dangerous in any way, than the various Shakespeare poems. What fearful secrets, not yet revealed after 500 years, are encoded in the 154 Shakespeare Sonnets, that made it necessary for Bacon to use an alias and to waive forever all the glory and profit that he might have derived from them? For a man that was endemically short of cash, this is difficult to understand. Nor could social status be the reason; the Oxford Book of Sixteenth Century Verse contains poems from two monarchs and a number of aristocrats, including the Earls of Essex and Oxford, Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Philip Sidney, to name only a few.
Now let’s look at Bacon’s Essays.2 They are not as interesting as Montaigne’s, but they are curious and well written. One cannot fail to admire the precise mind that produced them, even though most of what they say is by now irrelevant. And this is another major difference with the Shakespearean output, all of which is as relevant today as it was 500 years ago.
Bacon writes about down-to-earth reality such as he sees it, with a sententious, precise language worthy of better causes. He discourses on nearly all matters, divine and human, without room for a single smile, or a single flight of fancy. Here and there, we get a glimpse of the author’s bitterness, trying to explain himself to himself. As in, for example: Ambition is like Choler, Which is an Humour, that maketh Men Active, Earnest, Full of Alacritie, and Stirring, if it be not stopped. But if it be stopped, and cannot haue his Way, it becommeth Adust, and thereby Maligne and Venomous.3
And the Essays provide much information about his view of women. In his Essay: On Beauty, Bacon starts by stating that Vertue is like a rich stone, best set plaine; And surely Vertue is best in a body that is comely, though not of Delicate Features. (…) Neither it is almost seene, that very Beautifull Persons, are otherwise of great Vertue. Having established this general rule, he admits that there may be exceptions, and he then mentions six men in history, who were all High and Great Sprits; And yet the most Beautifull Men of their Times. Needless to say, women are not mentioned at all; not even Helen of Troy gets a line of commendation.
In Of Marriage and Single Life, we read that wives and children are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief. Certainly the best works and of greatest merit for the public, have proceeded from the unmarried or childless men. And later: wives are young men’s mistresses, companions for middle age, and old men’s nurses.
His marriage must have been a lark. At the age of forty-five, Francis Bacon had married the fourteen-year-old Alice Barnham. The couple had no children; Bacon disinherited his wife for some unknown reason the year before he died. Alice Bacon married someone else two weeks after Sir Francis’s death.
A profound respect for, and understanding of, women is perhaps the most conspicuous characteristic in the Shakespearean Canon, which fact helps us to dismiss both Shakespeare and Bacon as possible authors, on the grounds of their well-documented family life. (Marlowe’s alleged homosexuality, based exclusively on the charges presented by his enemy,Richard Baines, cannot be taken seriously; and his early heroes, such as Tamburlaine and Faustus, are both heterosexual.)
It is important to realize how the capacity for rebellion and independence in women is important to Shakespeare, and how insistently he explores (both as Marlowe and later), the myriad nuances of the use that women make of whatever power they have, from the murderous power of Catherine of Medicis and Lady Macbeth, to the self-liberating power of Rosalind, Beatrice and Viola, or the self-serving power of Dido, Volumnia and Cleopatra. Even the angelic Cordelia and Desdemona show a considerable measure of self-respect and the capacity to make dangerous choices.
And there is no denying that the author loves and admires these women he has invented (or perhaps known): their panache, their wit. He loves those thoroughly modern Mrs. Page and Mrs. Ford, the Merry but ruthlessly independent Wives of Windsor; he loves Rosalind and Beatrice. How could Francis Bacon, the woman-hater, have written those comedies?
In his Masonic Utopia, New Atlantis, 4 Bacon describes The Feast of the Family (my italics): “It is granted to any man that shall live to see thirty persons descended of his body, alive together and all above three years old, to make this feast. The Father of the Family, whom they call the Tirsan, (a possible anagram for artisan, with its connotations of the Masonic Craft)…taketh to him three of such friends as he liketh to choose…The Tirsan cometh forth with all his generation or lineage, the males before him,and the females following him; and if there be a mother from whose body the whole lineage is descended, there is a traverse placed in a loft above, on the right hand of the chair, with a privy door, and a carved window, leaded with gold and blue, where she sitteth but is not seen. …” etc.
Freud would have had a field day exploring the mind of a man who disliked and, possibly, feared women as much as that. Renaissance Freemasons were explicitly sexist, but this Tirsan seems to consider the exercise of procreation so distasteful to a man that he deserves a national feast to glorify his public- spirited effort for, he says, the King is debtor to no man but for the propagation of his subjects. The mother of those children, the woman he had to take to his bed out of duty to his King, will be allowed to attend the ceremony, as long as she remains out of sight!
Now, this was not the situation of women in Jacobean England, bad as it was. It is no good trying to explain this mise-en-scene in terms of the period’s social mores. This is a ceremony that Bacon is inventing for his Utopian New Atlantis, a ritual that he describes with obvious approval. The narcissistic treatment he lavishes on the Father and the subordinate role he gives to the Mother, is not just early Masonic, it is thoroughly Baconian. When Shakespeare creates his plucky heroines he does so in the very same period (actually some twenty-five years earlier), within the same social rules for women. But while Shakespeare obviously wishes his heroines more liberated than women actually were at the time, Bacon, in his ideal City of Bensalem,wishes them totally subordinate to the male, and invisible!
Here is Emilia’s rebellious speech (Othello FF- Act IV, 3):
But I do think it is their husbands' faults
If wives do fall: say that they slack their duties,
And pour our treasures into foreign laps,
Or else break out in peevish jealousies,
Throwing restraint upon us; or say they strike us,
Or scant our former having in despite;
Why, we have galls, and though we have some grace,
Yet have we some revenge.
Bravo, Emilia! Was Alice Barnham at all like her and is that the reason why she was disinherited? We can see that Shakespeare is openly on Emilia’s side, but such a wife would have been a nightmare for Francis Bacon.
© Isabel Gortázar, February 2009
Isabel Gortázar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
1The Oxford Book of Sixteenth Century Verse: Farnaby, Florilegium Epigrammatum Graecorum, 1629.
2 The Essayes or Counsels Civill and Morall of Francis Lo.Verulam Viscount St Alban, London. Printed by John Haviland for Hanna Barret, 1625.
3The Essays. Op cit; On Ambition.
4Francis Bacon: New Atlantis (Three Early Modern Utopias), Oxford World’s Classics, Ed. Susan Bruce, Oxford University Press, 1999.
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Posted by CARLO D. at 12:00 AM