this is probably something already dealt with, but did Bacon in fact write any of Shakespeares plays?
this is probably something already dealt with, but did Bacon in fact write any of Shakespeares plays?
No serious Shakespeare scholar believes that the plays attributed to William Shakespeare were written by anyone but William Shakespeare. Evidence that anyone else wrote them is thin at best.
I’ve always thought that the best evidence that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare is that all of his contemporaries believed that he did. I mean, he traveled with the performers and is at least rumored to have played small parts himself. If he didn’t really write the plays there’s no way he could have kept up the ruse in those circumstances, especially since he was churning out new work the whole time.
Mark Twain apparently didn’t believe that Shakespeare was the true author of his plays, but I’m almost tempted to believe that his written “opinions” were satirical. Tom Burnam, in his book The Dictionary of Misinformation, said this of Twain’s belief: “It is ironic that Mark Twain, who was born in a tiny frontier village and left school at the age of eleven, argues that Shakespeare couldn’t possibly have written the plays because he was a country bumpkin lacking in education.”
Moreover, it’s not just Shakespeare’s plays that most scholars think that Bacon didn’t write; they also think that Bacon probably didn’t write any other plays either.
The only dramatic works for which there is any scholarly support for an attribution to Bacon are six of the speeches from the Gesta Grayorum, presented at Bacon’s inn of court, Gray’s Inn, at Christmas 1595. But those are more literary exercises than what we or contemporaries would think of as a play.
It is also known that Bacon organised a masque for Gray’s Inn and the Inner Temple in 1613. But such events were a common feature of the inns of court in this period and there is no evidence that any of the other lawyers given the task of organising such masques were expected to do the actual writing.
This is exactly what we would expect of a London lawyer with literary interests in this period - some dabbling in the amateur dramatics of his inn but nothing more.
It’s a circular argument. Serious Shakespeare scholars define themselves as people who believe there’s no question about who wrote the plays. So anyone who questions the authorship can then be dismissed because by definition they’re not a serious Shakespeare scholar.
But even among those who question the authorship of the plays, Bacon is regarded as a unlikely prospect. While he was an intelligent man, an author, and alive during the right period, his writing style is so different from that of the plays and poems it’s virtually impossible to reconcile.
I don’t think it’s a circular argument. I think that saying “No serious Shakespeare scholar believes that Shakespeare didn’t write the plays” is like saying “No serious astronomer believes that the moon is made of green cheese.” It’s impossible to seriously persue the subject and retain such a belief.
Not really. The fact is that there is absolutely no actual evidence proving anyone else wrote Shakespeare’s plays. It’s just speculation (Since this <incorrect assumption> is true, and since <erroneous information> is true, then it has to be <fill in the blank>, not Shakespeare.)
But not a single bit of actual evidence has ever been put forward to prove anyone else is the author. And by “evidence,” I mean contemporaneous documents or accounts that say clearly “Roger Bacon wrote these plays.”
“Evidence” does not include speculation as to hidden messages in the plays, assuming things without a strong general knowledge of Elizabethan society and theater, or arguments based on a total ignorance of Shakespeare’s life.
That’s not quite true. There’s good evidence that Shakespeare collaborated with John Fletcher on some plays, including Henry VIII. However, there is no evidence of Bacon as a playwright.
Shakespeare couldn’t have written the plays. He was too busy running around planting false clues to other writers.
Here are a few other threads that discuss this:
I started writing a long post describing some of the evidence that has been presented questioning the Shakepeare authorship. But I deleted it. Everytime I have entered this discussion in the past, I have been personally insulted by other people and I don’t need the grief. If anyone is interested in reading about this issue, I’d recommend the following:
Alias Shakespeare by Joseph Sobran
The Mysterious William Shakespeare: The Myth and the Reality by Charlton Ogburn
Players: The Mysterious Identity of William Shakespeare by Bertram Fields
Shakespeare by Another Name: A Biography of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, the Man Who Was Shakespeare by Mark Anderson
Shakespeare–Who Was He?: The Oxford Challenge to the Bard of Avon by Richard F. Whalen
Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography: New Evidence of an Authorship Problem (Contributions in Drama and Theatre Studies) by Diana Price
Who Wrote Shakespeare? by John F. Michell
I thought we were talking about Wilco Bacon?
Woody Allen has mentioned a text that may help here: Shakespeare: Was He Three Women?
If we’re recommending books…
Do not read Richard Ramsbotham’s Who Wrote Bacon? Now, I’ll happily read a well-written anti-Straffordian book; I’ve read several of those Little Nemo suggests and would even recommend Michell’s book. Moreover, questioning who wrote Bacon’s works seemed a neat way of turning the whole Baconian theory on its head. But the actual book is one of the worst pieces of turgid nonsense I’ve read in a long time.
More seriously, try Harold Love’s Attributing Authorship. It does have a chapter on the Shakespeare authorship issue (how could it not?), but, more importantly, the rest of it is a brilliant study of the wider methodological issues involved in trying to say that a specific author wrote a specific work.
“No serious Shakespeare scholar believes that the plays attributed to William Shakespeare were written by anyone but William Shakespeare. Evidence that anyone else wrote them is thin at best.”
I don’t mean to speak for Loopus, but it seems that a “serious Shakespeare scholar” could mean a scholar of the works attributed to Shakespeare. That’s my take anyway.
There is one big problem with any argument about Shakespearian authorship. And that is that we don’t have any meaningful writings said to be written by Shakespeare other than his plays and poetry. Let’s say I was listed as the writer of some plays and whether I authored them was doubted. Scholars and linguists could then compare the plays to my other known writings. For example, my numerous SDMB posts. If my SDMB posts used completely different syntax and vocabulary than the plays, this would be good evidence I didn’t write them. Conversely, if my SDMB posts revealed some very odd uses of the language few other use, or I use in my posts here repeated certain phrases that also appear in the plays, then I am a good candidate as author.
But you may say “But we can compare the plays to the other known writings of Bacon. If the same odd uses of language appear in the plays as Bacon’s other writings, he is likely the author.” The problem with that: What if Shakespeare for some reason consciously tried to emulate the style of Bacon? Perhaps Shakespeare was totally fascinated by Bacon.
Thus, it is probably best just to say some person, who we call “Shakespeare”, wrote those plays and poems. Is it that important whether the author was that guy called “Shakespeare” who bought that big house in Stratford?
I’d say the same. But some of the authors I noted have studied the works atributed to Shakespeare and have studied the background of Shakespeare’s life and the Elizabethean theatrical world. And they then concluded somebody else wrote the plays. But if you present this theory to somebody committed to the idea that Shaksper of Avon was the playwright they often don’t bother to look at any of the evidence. Too often the principle is “I don’t believe the conclusion so why waste my time reading the evidence.”
This has been done. As you noted, Shaksper of Avon didn’t leave any written evidence so his writing can’t be compared to Shakespeare’s plays or poems. But Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, was certainly a writer. And the work that he wrote has been compared to Shakespeare’s in a number of different ways - syntax, punctuation, word choices, invented vocabulary, spelling, basic word frequency, etc - and found to be remarkably similar. Of course, while suggestive, this does not constitute proof.
I’m surprised by this claim. If you read Harold Love’s Attributing Authorship, mentioned by APB, you’ll see that scholars have in fact studied the word usage and frequencies by Shakespeare and his contemporaries in minute detail and shown that Shakespeare’s writing is unique and is not attributable to any other writer. Everything I’ve read has shown that Oxford’s work is as different from Shakespeare’s as chalk from cheese, to use that old chestnut.
I’ve read some of the works on Oxford and have never seen this type of formal study introduced as evidence. Where did you come across it?
There is one big problem with any argument about Shakespearian authorship. And that is that we don’t have any meaningful writings said to be written by Shakespeare other than his plays and poetry.
So? That’s merely saying “All the evidence we have about Shakespeare’s writing are Shakespeare’s writings.”
Well, scholars and linguists have analyzed the plays. They have found many things, but two stand out: 1. The plays are consistent in style (with a couple of exceptions that are known to be collaborations) and 2. The style does not match that of any other name put forth as the “actual” author.
Further, the plays reveal that the use of language that would only make sense from an author who lived in Stratford and London. No other candidate fits that criteria, either.
The truth is always important.
Further, the sloppy logic and bogus reasoning that tries to disprove Shakespeare’s authorship is no different logically from the sloppy logic and bogus reasoning that let’s people complain that the Holocaust never happened. Obviously, that is not your belief, but those disputing the authorship are using the same logic as they Holocaust deniers use to “prove” their assertion. It doesn’t work for them, and it doesn’t work for those trying to prove a different author of the works.
Ultimately, despite all the handwaving, the fact remains: no one has ever put forth any actual evidence to back the claim that anyone other than Shakespeare from Stratford-on-Avon was not the author of the plays.
So I’m not actually a Holocaust denier, I’m just similar to one.
This is the point in these discussions where I’ve learned to get out. If anyone’s interested in the subject and in seeing what some people have presented as evidence, feel free to check out the books I mentioned above.
Analogies are not moral equivalents, even though some people use them or read them that way. The problem is that there are only a few anti-establishment theories that almost everyone is familiar enough with. Just a few in which people can understand not just the claims but the stated reasoning behind those claims. If you were to say that the Oxford supporters are just like those who claim that Proto-Indo-European came from the Corded Ware peoples’ culture, nobody would know what you were talking about.
It is a unfortunate truth that anti-Shakespearean claims do use many of the same techniques as other well-known discredited but still popular beliefs.
Supporters are similar to moon hoax believers, for example, in that they are forced to use negative evidence because of the total lack of positive evidence for their side. They must also ignore large items, such as that seemingly everyone in Shakespeare’s time accepted that he was the author, in favor of looking for loopholes in tiny items so they can try to amass their own weight of “proofs.”
And they are very similar to supporters of Creationism, who almost never are working professional biologists with deep knowledge of the intricacies of the formal processes. The writers of the anti books are normally professionals in other areas and mere hobbyists in the formal academic study of Elizabethan drama, history, language, and society.
Do Holocaust deniers use negative evidence and ignore positive evidence? Most certainly. Are they academic historians who use formal procedures and intimately know the standard literature on Elizabethan verb forms? Almost never.
None of this means that the anti-Shakespeareans are morally equivalent to moon hoaxers, Creationists, or Holocaust deniers. But when the methodology is similar to that known to produce false results - and it’s hard to think of any examples in which it’s come up with a result that was later accepted, serious scholars are going to shy away from it as speeds up to those of Lance Armstrong’s.
But they aren’t blameless either. Scientists write popular science books that carefully detail how science is done, how arguments are pursued, and why one side or the other wins out in the end. English professors write popular biographies of Shakespeare that suck.
You simply can’t write a 400-page biography of a person whose life we know so few details of. So they all read the same way: start with a fragment known to be true, then say if that’s true then it’s likely that this happened and that means it’s reasonable to infer that and then there’s a good chance that these occurred and for sure those are real possibilities, and by that time you’re off in cloud-cookoo land but you got there so slowly and with so many small steps that you never noticed.
But that’s exactly the way that the anti-Shakespearean books are written. Only a few specialized scholars can tell when the reasonable isn’t reasonable and the possibilities aren’t really real. They sound real, though, just as real as the standard bios.
They’re not real. Just as you don’t change physics by writing a popular book about black holes, you don’t change literary history by writing a popular book about Oxford. They may both be enjoyable and informative and the lay reader may think he or she has learned something deep and meaningful, but the professionals know the difference.
So I hope you read this and come back, Little Nemo. I’m firmly convinced that you’re wrong in your beliefs, but I don’t think you were insulted, deliberately or otherwise.
We actually a great deal about Shakespeare, too. While hardly the most famous man in the world, he was well known in England and was certainly known to anyone interested in the theater. We have quite a few documents and histories with some information on him, probably as much as we have for Sir Francis Drake.
That just says we know as little about Shakespeare as Sir Francis Drake. Basically all we know about Shakespeare was he was commercially successful producer. He obviously made money as a theatrical producer. Doesn’t mean he ever wrote a play.