Saturday, February 21, 2009

Not Bacon! by Isabel Gortázar

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?

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

© Isabel Gortázar, February 2009

Isabel Gortázar can be reached at

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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Anonymous said...

finally someone sets bacon straight!

Anonymous said...

excellent, isabel--do you have an essay against devere also?

Unknown said...

a very effective case against Bacon

Anonymous said...

very effective case

Anonymous said...

go get 'em Isabel!

Merchant of Light said...

Your remarks on the "poem" by Bacon are completely off-course

You appear to think that this is simply an original set of ideas put into poetry by Bacon. You don't seem to realise that the poem is actually a paraphrase of a Greek epigram attributed to Posidippus. There is also a Greek epigram in reply to it, attributed to Metrodorus, expressing the contrary rosy view of life.

You are also blissfully unaware that Bacon also produced his own reply to the poem.

The first part, which you quote without a title, is called The World's a Bubble. The second part is called The World's a Globe of State. They go together. They are a matched pair, in style and metre, intended to represent two contrary views of life, just like the original greek versions.

Had you read the second part of the pair, you would not be able to so breezily ascribe the views of the first part as representative of Bacon himself, because they are completely countered in the second half. The point is they are a fictional poetic exercise, not intended as the real emotions of the author, but an exercise in style. And in fact they complement each other quite brilliantly, with line answering to line, and identical metre. The whole effect is actually a virtuoso effort, more than worthy of a great poet.

You disagree naturally, so please send me your translations, in metre, of a pair of matching greek epigrams and we'll see how any old amateur can do better.

They were not published during Bacon's lifetime under his name, by the way, as you imply in excitable italics, but found in his papers and published after his death in a collection of greek epigrams by a scholar, Thomas Farnaby.

Arguments based on opinions of style are worthless. Much more valuable are direct parallels. You will no doubt not want to hear that there are a whole slew of parallels between both halves of the poem and Shakespeare's works. There are more than two full pages of these detailed in N.B.Cockburns book, which doubtless you haven't read.

Not that any of this will make any difference. You've got your hobby, and a few facts aren't going to get in the way of it are they. This is so lazy: this "poem" of Bacon's is handed around the non-Bacon camp and constantly held up as the gold standard of proof that Bacon wasn't a poet. It's a pity that none of you ever bother to get the facts of it even remotely correct.

Anonymous said...

I stand corrected and grateful for your clarifications . . .

In defence of my ignorance, I can only say that in the Oxford Book of Sixteenth Century Verse, where I read Bacon’s Poem (and where it has the title The Life of Man, not The World’s a Bubble), the Editor does not seem to have thought it necessary to reproduce Bacon’s reply, a reply which, I must assume, disqualifies the misogynist feelings displayed in the poem quoted, otherwise your point is irrelevant to my theory.

Your scathing remarks about my lack of information would be more painful if I did not feel somehow in good company with such Editor, who reproduces one of Bacon’s poems -one page-, the same quota that he gives to Essex, for example, and four pages that he gives to Oxford, against the more than thirty pages that he devotes to Philip Sidney and thirty pages again to Marlowe. Of course, you believe all the pages he devotes to Shakes were in fact Bacon’s poems, but that is only an opinion unsupported by the available evidence.

I should have guessed that the Bacon poem quoted was a paraphrase of something or other, preferably Greek. Bacon had a habit of imitating and/or “paraphrasing” other people’s works, often Greek. Plato’s Atlantis produced New Atlantis and his Laws inspired Bacon’s English Laws; Aristotle’s Organon produced the New Organon, and so on. Your information, for which I am grateful, confirms him as an erudite pedant with little imagination of his own. In fact, one is faced with the inescapable conclusion that unless he wrote Shakespeare, which I find impossible to believe, Bacon’s extensive body of work over a long life has proven him to be a man who had little of importance to say but took a long time saying it.

Moreover, your reply focusing on the poem, does nothing to change my argument that, since he obviously hated women, he could not have written the works of Shakespeare.

I realize Baconians are ferocious in the defence of their unlikely candidate, so I feel rather gratified by the fact that my little effort has already produced your erudite (but ineffective in terms of my argument) rebuttal, which I find truly Baconian. I am prepared to agree that I have a “hobby”, as you disdainfully term my work on the Authorship Question, whereas you seem to be enrolled in a “religion”; facts do not usually get much in the way of “religious” theories either.

I believe I have read more of Bacon’s works than the vast majority of people on both sides of the English-speaking world. The non-English-speaking world has less chances of reading them, as Bacon’s works, unlike Plato’s and Aristotle’s, are not generally available in popular editions. Nothing in what I have read has seemed to me to be remotely worthy of a candidate to the Shakes authorship. Moreover, I have a general impression that many Baconian followers have read far less of Bacon’s works than I have, and limit themselves to read pro-Bacon books, accepting the words of Bacon Worshippers as gospel. Talk about being lazy. You accuse me of having read no pro-Bacon books; how many pro-Marlowe books have you read? How well do you know Marlowe’s plays?

But, sorry, I was forgetting that, as the inescapable fact of Marlowe’s authorship asserts itself, the Baconians (and the Oxfordians) have now decided that Bacon (and Oxford) wrote Marlowe as well as Shakespeare. And Don Quixote! YES I have read Francis Carr’s book very carefully, and I find it arrant nonsense, as I have told him more than once. But, as I hear you Baconians have also decided that Bacon was immortal, I have not lost hope of reading next that he wrote Plato’s Republic.

I honestly do not think you want me to reply to your next email on Bacon’s marriage, but I shall if you insist.

And for further information of my views, after carefully reading the historical facts from many of the available sources and during a long period of time, when I finally came across Macaulay’s Essay, I was surprised to find it rather benevolent. I don’t mind explaining this to you, if you should wish me to; the trouble is, if I make the effort of putting together an article explaining my opinion of Francis Bacon and the reasons for it, I might be tempted to publish it.

Best regards,

Merchant of Light said...

well, i was very pleased to see my comment made it through. thank you. so now I would like to comment on the rest of the article which supposedly "fries" bacon. Ha Ha.

other than some remarks about Bacon's marriage, which are pure speculation, the only evidence brought forward in this very short article is the quotation New Atlantis. This is supposed to demonstrate Bacon's alleged "misogyny", because the mother is screened from view.

i challenge all readers of this page to take the trouble to find New Atlantis online, and to read the full passage from which this short excerpt has been taken. when you do, you will see that the charge that the women are treated with any lack of respect, or indeed, hatred, which is what misogyny of course implies, cannot even remotely be sustained. indeed, Bacon goes out of his way to insist that the sons and daughters are treated equally and with no difference in respect or consideration.

This completely disarms the argument that the passage may be called as evidence of misogyny. Obviously, if hatred of women was the only reason for the concealment of the mother during the ceremony, then this would also have applied to the daughters as well.

no, this wont do. the entire article by Isabel has now fallen in a heap. her comments on the poem have turned out to be misinformed and completely miscast. her comments on a marriage from 400 years, which neither party discussed publically, are pure speculation, indeed fantasy. and the passage from New Atlantis certainly does not convict Bacon of misogyny. what's left? nothing.

i don't smell bacon frying. not nearly enough heat I'm afraid. haha.

i note though that Isabel says she has lots more evidence but there are some kinds of limits on the length of the article. i cannot think what these might be. its a big internet. however, if for some reason this blog cannot host longer articles, i would be more than happy to host Isabel's longer version of it at my own blog, which is naturally i would have right of reply also, but that shouldn;t be a problem.

finally, i just want to add that the argument that Bacon couldn't have written Shakespeare because he lacked some quality which the Bard must have had, is weak from the outset. one of the features of the plays is that they display such a range of opinions and voices, that it is impossible on many counts to even know which side the author really took. so, no matter what the author himself believed, the plays are full of views expressed to the contrary. therefore, even if Bacon was a misogynist, a charge I would deny, it would not disqualify him from writing differently.

in any case, bacon was certainly not a misogynist. learn about the case of Lady Hatton for example. if Bacon hated women, there is no way that he could have acted as courageously, against his own best interests, as he did in this occasion, just to pick one example. and as for the views of Bacon and Shakespeare on the question of love: they are identical. perhaps i will type out a couple of pages of examples on my blog to drive home the point.

and the point is this: if you want to fry bacon, you are going to have to do a lot better job than Isabel has done, with all due respect to her. and i do respect her, because she has been very gracious in response to my ferocious counter-charges. but still: if you want to do it properly, you have to start from the best of the Baconian arguments, not simply call him names and then claim that such a bad person as this couldn't be the eternal Bard.

thank you for posting this...

Anonymous said...

Merchant -

I've visited your website. My money is on Ms. Gortazar . . .

Anonymous said...


On your website/blog you state:

"For example, by equally compelling evidence he can just as readily be shown to be the author of Don Quixote, writing under the mask of Miguel Cervantes. He was also Edmund Spenser. And Robert Greene and George Peele. Christopher Marlowe. Nashe. Montaigne. Sir Philip Sidney. Not to mention, he was also Francis Bacon, himself, let us not forget."

Given that you believe Bacon wrote EVERYTHING, it's obvious that you need a little intervention from family and friends. Your zeal prevents any rational discourse.

Anonymous said...

Facinating debate, albeit I always found Bacon to be a weak candidate

Anonymous said...

thank you, Ms Gortazar, for this excellent piece.

Anonymous said...

Excellent good sport;
"But Bacon's not the only thing
That's cured by hanging from a string"!"
Keep your intellectual fires burning...
Simon Addleplot (Sir)

Anonymous said...

funny and enlightening!

Carol L said...

From "William Holds the Stage" (1932) by Richmal Crompton. The Martin Jarvis version (BBC Audio Just William: No.3) is essential listening

"Please, sir, he told us that he thinks that the plays of Shakespeare were really written by a man called Ham and that Shakespeare poisoned this man called Ham and stole the plays and then pretended he'd written them. And then a man called Bacon pushed a woman into a pond because he wanted to marry his mother. And there's a man called Eggs, but I've forgotten what he did..."

Anonymous said...

Well, straight masterpiece !))))

ElviraCardigan said...

Why would Marlowe's "alleged homosexuality' mean he had no understanding of women? In my experience gay men can often have a lot more natural sympatico with women than straight men. I'm afraid I just keep sensing this rather fanatical and intense hostility to homosexuality lurking behind everything you say on the subject.

isabel Gortazar said...

Elvira Cardigan said: Why would Marlowe's "alleged homosexuality' mean he had no understanding of women? (...) I'm afraid I just keep sensing this rather fanatical and intense hostility to homosexuality lurking (...)."

Oh dear! You seem rather obsessed don't you?"

This is, I believe, the third attack I have received from you because I have dared to propose that Marlowe was not a homosexual. Now you pick up on my essay on Bacon.

Francis Bacon was a mysoginist, as the reading of his works avers. He may have "understood" women, but he does not seem to have "sympathized" with them. His view of their role in the family, as expressed in "New Atlantis" and the Essays, makes it extremely difficult to believe he could have written The Merry Wives, or As You Like It, to name just two of the more "feminist" of the Shakesperian plays.

In what way can "fanatical hostility" be seen "lurking" in my analysis of Bacon's work? Is it the jokes that bother you? Or perhaps you believe that women actually like to be kept hidden during family ceremonies? I am trying to imagine Mr Ford keeping Alice out of sight, "where she can see but not be seen" at Nanette's wedding.

Sam Blumenfeld said...

On the matter of whether or not Marlowe was a homosexual, I first accepted Calvin Hoffman's assertion that he was and that Thomas Walsingham was his lover. But after writing my own book on Marlowe-Shakespeare, I could not find any irrefutable evidence that he was "gay." Indeed, his interests seem to be quite clearly heterosexual. I came to that conclusion not because I am homophobic but because the evidence was not there apart from what his enemies accused him of being. However, I do not have a closed mind on the subject. If someone can make a plausible case that Marlowe was perhaps bisexual, I would consider the evidence before changing my mind. I take a cue from The Tempest, which I believe is autobiographical, that Marlowe had a daughter with whom he lived in his old age. But that doesn't prove his sexual proclivities one way or another. Many homosexuals have married and have children.
I guess we shall never know for sure. That is why these discussions continue to be so very lively and interesting.

ElviraCardigan said...

Isabel - I'm not committed enough to have a specific POV about Bacon=Shakespeare, other than to conclude it's a pretty far-fetched scenario, as are most such. But that wasn't the point of my question. I understood you to be saying Marlowe/Shakespeare must have been straight because he/they sympathised with and understood women, and I was asking you why you felt able to make such a statement.

If that's not what you meant then I do apologise for misunderstanding you.

I've highlighted elsewhere the kind of general comments on homosexuality you have made that made me infer a slightly 'fanatical' hostility. Perhaps the word was a little harsh and inappropriate, but I hope you can see where the (mis)perception is springing from?

Sam, firstly I think it's entirely possible to believe M was straight *without* expressing homophobia, and indeed I'm sure that's what you do. I don't want to be seen as 'defending' this interpretation, as I'm trying to be as neutral as is humanly possible.

In that regard I'd like to pursue one comment you make. You say:

"Indeed, his interests seem to be quite clearly heterosexual"

I haven't seen anything that unequivocal, are we talking M's overtly expressed personal opinions, or biographical 'readings' of his work? I have to say the latter always seem rather dubious as a source of information to me.