Baconian Theory - History of Baconian Theory

History of Baconian Theory

A pamphlet entitled The Story of the Learned Pig (c1786) and alleged research by James Wilmot have been claimed to be the earliest instances of the claim that Bacon wrote Shakespeare's work, but the Wilmot research has been exposed as a forgery and the pamphlet makes no reference to Bacon.

The idea was first proposed by Delia Bacon in lectures and conversations with intellectuals in America and Britain. William Henry Smith was the first to publish the theory in a letter to Lord Ellesmere published in the form of a sixteen-page pamphlet entitled Was Lord Bacon the Author of Shakespeare's Plays? Smith suggested that several letters to and from Francis Bacon that apparently hinted at his authorship. A year later, both Smith and Delia Bacon published books expounding the Baconian theory. In Delia Bacon's work, "Shakespeare" was represented as a group of writers, including Francis Bacon, Sir Walter Raleigh and Edmund Spenser, whose agenda was to propagate an anti-monarchial system of philosophy by secreting it in the text.

In 1867, in the library of Northumberland House, one John Bruce happened upon a bundle of bound documents, some of whose sheets had been ripped away. It had comprised numerous of Bacon's oratories and disquisitions, had also apparently held copies of the plays Richard II and Richard III, The Isle of Dogs and Leicester's Commonwealth, but these had been removed. On the outer sheet was scrawled repeatedly the names of Bacon and Shakespeare along with the name of Thomas Nashe. There were several quotations from Shakespeare and a reference to the word Honorificabilitudinitatibus, which appears in both Love's Labour's Lost and Nashe's Lenten Stuff. The Earl of Northumberland sent the bundle to James Spedding, who subsequently penned a thesis on the subject, with which was published a facsimile of the aforementioned cover. Spedding hazarded a 1592 date, making it possibly the earliest extant mention of the Shakespeare.

After a diligent deciphering of the Elizabethan handwriting in Francis Bacon's notebook, known as the Promus of Formularies and Elegancies, Constance Mary Fearon Pott (1833–1915) argued that many of the ideas and figures of speech in Bacon's book could also be found in the Shakespeare plays. Pott founded the Francis Bacon Society in 1885 and published her Bacon-centered theory in 1891. In this, Pott developed the view of W.F.C. Wigston, that Francis Bacon was the founding member of the Rosicrucians, a secret society of occult philosophers, and claimed that they secretly created art, literature and drama, including the entire Shakespeare canon, before adding the symbols of the rose and cross to their work. William Comyns Beaumont also popularized the notion of Bacon's authorship.

Other Baconians ignored the esoteric following that the theory was attracting. Bacon's reason for publishing under a pseudonym was said to be his need to secure his high office, possibly in order to complete his "Great Instauration" project to reform the moral and intellectual culture of the nation. The argument runs that, he intended to set up new institutes of experimentation to gather the data to which his inductive method could be applied. He needed high office to gain the requisite influence, and being known as a dramatist, allegedly low-class profession, would have impeded his prospects (see Stigma of print). Realising that play-acting was used by the ancients "as a means of educating men's minds to virtue", and being "strongly addicted to the theatre" himself, he is claimed to have set out the otherwise-unpublished moral philosophical component of his Great Instauration project in the Shakespearean work. In this way, he could influence the nobility through dramatic performance with his observations on what constitutes "good" government.

By the end of the 19th century, Baconian theory had received support from a number of high profile individuals. Mark Twain showed an inclination for it in his essay Is Shakespeare Dead?. Friedrich Nietzsche expressed interest in and gave credence to the Baconian theory in his writings. The German mathematician Georg Cantor believed that Shakespeare was Bacon. He eventually published two pamphlets supporting the theory in 1896 and 1897. By 1900 leading Baconians were asserting that their cause would soon be won. In 1916 a judge in Chicago ruled in a civil trial that Bacon was the true author of the Shakespeare canon. However, this proved to be the heyday of the theory. A number of new candidates were proposed in the early 20th century, notably Roger Manners, 5th Earl of Rutland, William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby and Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, dethroning Bacon as the sole alternative to Shakespeare. Furthermore, alternative authorship theories failed to make any headway among academics.

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