I’ve been asked to elaborate on my belief that Bacon was Spenser and Nashe and how that fits with the University Wits. Since I don’t have any more “hard data” than anyone else, the best I can do is what I’ve been doing from the beginning, seeking the scenario, the narrative, the motivation, that makes sense of what we’ve got. Making sense of it means reading all these texts, which has been the project of many years, and since so very few readers will have had the time or the inclination to do this reading for themselves, all I can do is present my conclusions and hope that they make human sense.
Although it must have been clear for some time, probably centuries, to the intellectual community that William of Stratford could not possibly have been the author of the Shakespeare canon, Delia Bacon is credited with having opened the authorship question to the public at large in the middle of the 19th century. Although her 1587 book is next to impossible to read today, it raised a hailstorm of excitement at the time, out of which came the first name to replace the illiterate William, the highly educated and brilliant Francis Bacon.
The Group Theory
But Bacon was not Delia’s choice. She believed that the works were written by a group that was led, not by Bacon, but by Sir Walter Raleigh. Bacon was involved, as were the earls of Oxford and Derby and others. It’s interesting that through the fog of time, Delia perceived, if dimly, almost exactly the same group that makes up the leading candidates today. How they were supposed to have worked together isn’t clear to me without reading her book. (I’ve groped my way through many a tiresome text in pursuit of this story, but this book is too much even for me.) The Group Theory is generally disregarded now, but Delia was right in that the English Literary Renaissance was the result of the work of a group, just not in the way she proposed.
A revolution in style is often made by a group of artists who come along at about the same time. We see this with the Impressionists in France, six originally, with others joining later, or at a distance, who all, though they shared the characteristics of plein air and warm colors, had very different styles. It was true of the artists in 13th and 14th century Florence, of the Kit Kat Club of Swift and Pope, of the Austin High School Gang of jazz players in the 1930s, the Bebop generation of the 1950s, and the “British Invasion” of the 1960s. There are six names who have been considered candidates for Shakespeare’s laurel crown for some time, and from what I can see, though only one is Shakespeare, all of them are part of his story, in one way or another.
Members of such groups may work together for a time, but their main role is to act as competitors, critics, and most important, an audience for each other. It is very difficult to write for an unknown audience. A genius needs an audience that is close enough to his level to make it worth his while to keep reaching. Oxford came to such a community when he was twelve, the young translators at Cecil House. Francis Bacon came to such a community in 1578 when, as an 18-year-old, he returned from France and found himself at the center of Oxford’s coterie.
This is how I see it
Just as one of Shakespeare’s protagonists might switch clothes with his or her servant to avoid trouble, Oxford began borrowing the names of friends and servants to get his work published. Print publishing was in its infancy, and the teenaged Oxford, full of youthful energy, jumped on it as a means of reaching a wider audience than the handful of poets and translators at Cecil House and Elizabeth’s Court much as young artists today are using the internet to find their audiences in ways that were unavailable to their predecessors.
Getting works of the imagination published at that time in English history meant confronting, not just one, but two powerful forces that were set against it. The age-old tradition of keeping what was written by the Court and for the Court within the Court was reinforced by the Protestant Reformation, which saw anything pleasing or sexy as the work of the Devil. Where the young translators at Cecil House had neither the funds to publish (very expensive then), nor the reckless courage to defy convention, Oxford had both. Peers had unlimited credit, even underage peers. He also outranked everyone else at Cecil House, even Cecil himself, and rank was important then to a degree we can only imagine from our experience with film stars, which can’t come close to the power of an ancient name. For these reasons, even as Oxford assumed leadership in the movement towards Renaissance freedom, he did so through intermediaries.
As he finished his studies and moved to take his place at Court, he continued to publish his own and other men’s work. Determined to get for himself and his friends an English literary establishment like the Court-based Pleiade in Paris , we see in the dedicatory letter to Bedingfield’s translation of Cardanus Comforte his effort to enroll writers and translators of works of the imagination––poetry, stories and plays––to publish! Publish! Publish! Publish! Thus begins the frequently repeated pretence, that a friend had the work published while the innocent author was out of the country.
Particularly annoying was the silence of the gifted Sir Philip Sidney, who wouldn’t publish. As the Queen’s official favorite, his uncle the Earl of Leicester did not like the Earl of Oxford. A man with old-fashioned tastes and ideas, Leicester would have been seriously displeased had his heir violated Court protocol by publishing his own poetry, even under another name. While Oxford had the courage of his rank and his peer’s credit, the Sidneys were relatively poor, their father was only a knight, their mother was Leicester’s sister, and the family was steeped in the religion of sin and damnation. It took a mighty shock to unchain Philip Sidney’s muse.
Then in 1578, 18-year-old Francis Bacon returned from two years at the French Court. Bacon’s genius was just what Oxford had been looking for. Although he had no more money or rank than Sidney, and had been raised in a similarly puritanical household, eleven years his junior, separated for the first time in his life from his beloved older brother, Francis became (I believe) utterly devoted to Oxford. Having been inspired by the French, he was equally dedicated to seeing England reach the same literary levels achieved in Renaissance France and Italy. This was the bond that kept the two working together as long as they lived.
Within weeks Bacon had prepared his own contribution to Oxford’s publishing effort, signing it Immerito––“without merit,” a reference to the fact that he had not been given a post at Court worthy of a man of his natural gifts, the son of the Queen’s recently deceased Lord Keeper. Recalling the simple shepherds of Greek romance, The Shepheard’s Calender is in many ways a call to Court poets like Sidney, Dyer, Buckhurst, and Raleigh to set aside their political differences and see each other as fellow poets. Calling himself E.K., Oxford filled out what would otherwise have been a very small book with an extended gloss, a useful insight into his prose style of the late 1570s.
Denied the serious job he craved, Bacon joined Oxford in entertaining the Court. But where Oxford and Sidney drew inspiration chiefly from the Greeks, Romans, French and Italians, Bacon, seeking a style that was his own and had no hint of imitation, turned to the early English writers, Chaucer and Skelton. He probably began writing the first installments of The Faerie Queene shortly after publishing Shepherd’s Calender. He continued to write new installments of FQ for a decade, finally publishing the earlier ones in 1590 as by Edmund Spenser. The stylistic quirks that show how FQ matches with Bacon’s style are fairly clear once one looks for them.
There can be no possibility that Spenser himself was the author of FQ, or of anything published under his name. Although making connections at this point seems impossible, it’s clear that FQ is filled with allusions to Court figures and gossip. Located in the wilds of southern Ireland as a functionary of its English occupier, Lord Grey, Spenser could not possibly have had the kind of personal connection to the English Court he would have needed to write FQ. And even if he had he would not have dared to play fast and loose with the personal idiosyncrasies of courtiers of rank and power, a role for which Francis Bacon was uniquely suited, having grown up at Court. What seems to be the case is that Raleigh, who owned land in southern Ireland and so maintained an ongoing physical presence there, set up the Spenser cover for Bacon, paying Spenser for its use and using it himself to get some of his own poetry published.
The 1570s saw the rise of a style that’s come to be known as Euphuism, after the protagonist in the novel published by Oxford in late 1578 that he attributed to his secretary, John Lyly. An embellished account of his own adventures during his year in Italy, the novel was also a polemic delivered in response to the puritanical dicta on style and learning pronounced by Roger Ascham in his book The Scholemaster. Published a decade earlier, dedicated to Cecil just as he was embarking on the final years of Oxford’s education, it was vicious in its denunciation of Italy as the sink of all sin. Oxford’s point in Euphues, admittedly not all that serious, was that men learn how to live correctly, not from reading behavior guides but by experiencing life for themselves.
The 1580s were all about keeping the nation Protestant within, and defending it without against the might of the Catholic Church as wielded by Philip II of Spain. In 1572, Cecil, by then Lord Burghley, had passed his office of Secretary of State on to Oxford’s old tutor, Sir Thomas Smith, while he took over the office of the recently deceased Lord Treasurer. A year later Burghley got Sir Francis Walsingham appointed as Elizabeth’s Second Secretary. When Smith died in 1577, Walsingham took his place, gradually increasing the power of the office as the need to prepare for war with Spain increased. Although Walsingham had begun as Burghley’s protégé, as he increased in power, Burghley became uneasy. Having had little experience of life outside England, Burghley continued to hope, and to encourage the Queen to hope, that peace could be maintained by shifts and promises, while Walsingham, having lived and studied overseas, saw that the crisis was building and knew that it was sure to come and that the nation had to be prepared.
Despite the weak reputation bequeathed him by the Cecils through their control of history, Walsingham was in fact a man of superb intellect, broad education, and refined tastes. Where Burghley had always handled his own propaganda efforts in secrecy, Walsingham, burdened by the thousand things required of a Secretary of State, particularly one faced with a violent confrontation with the Spanish Empire, created an office of Public Relations to deal with everything that required expert writing and translation, an office he kept secret because so much of what it did had to be done in secret. With Raleigh’s help, he got the banished Earl of Oxford reinstated at Court, created the first official Crown acting company, the Queen’s Men, and gave Oxford the mandate to write plays they could perform in and near the port towns where the Armada was most likely to strike. Oxford’s response included The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, Edmond Ironside, and The Troublesome Raigne of King John, all of which portray England as a proud nation with a long history of defeating Continental invaders.
Having been banished from Court in 1581 for impregnating the Queen’s maid of honor, Oxford quit writing the comedies for the boy companies that the Queen had come to depend on for her holiday “solace.” Upon his return to Court in 1583, either he refused to pick up where he left off in ’81, or Walsingham needed him to focus on providing material for the Queen’s Men. Based largely on the similarity of the style of the Lyly plays to the style of The Faerie Queene, I believe Walsingham enrolled Francis to work with Lyly to keep the Queen entertained. Those who find the Lyly plays interesting might try comparing them to the style and content of FQ. This was period when pastoralism was a favored theme for masques, when Sidney was writing his Arcadia, Bacon was writing Faerie Queene, and Oxford was publishing pastoral tales under a variety of noms de plume.
The University Wits
Meanwhile Walsingham helped Oxford fund a staff at Fisher’s Folly that could assist with keeping these projects in motion. There’s plenty of evidence that John Lyly and Anthony Munday were already part of Oxford’s team. And there’s a fair amount of proxy data that suggests that George Peele, Thomas Lodge, and Thomas Watson were members of this playwriting team to which Stephen Gosson belonged at one time, and which he later vilified as “the sink of all sin.” Although whatever evidence that these last were connected with Oxford has been scrubbed from the books, it’s a matter of record that these were all members of what the academics have nicknamed the University Wits.
I suggest that among those hired at this time was the young Christopher Marlowe. A prodigy who had already proven himself at Cambridge, it was to learn how to write for the Queen’s Men that Marlowe missed his studies during the theater seasons of 1584 through 1586. Having graduated in 1587, Marlowe and his NBF (New Best Friend) Edward Alleyn, decamped for the new Rose Theater on Bankside where manager Henslowe was more than willing to produce Marlowe’s Tamberlaine, a rabble-rouser that it’s most unlikely that the Oxford-Burbage-Walsingham team would have allowed to be staged as it was written. That it was a super-hit gave solid promise that the London Stage had a viable future as a way for writers and actors to make a living. It was also a step towards disaster, for the newborn London Stage as well as Marlowe himself.
While still banished in 1581, ’82 and early ’83, Oxford, freed from having to entertain the Court, had turned to entertaining, informing and proselitizing the “gentlemen of the Inns of Court,” the legal community of the West End, with plays probably performed by Burbage’s adult team, most likely at the little stage at the chorister’s school he had helped to create upon his return from Italy. Angry at the Queen and the Court, this is when The Spanish Tragedy and early versions of Timon, Hamlet, Merchant of Venice, Julius Caesar, Coriolanus and Romeo and Juliet first reached a (limited) London audience. If these were ever performed at Court, it could only have been in versions revised to suit the Queen.
Astrophil and Stella
During Oxford’s banishment, Philip Sidney was suffering an exile of his own. Due to Leicester’s affair with Lettice Knowles, Countess of Essex, and their subsequent marriage and her pregnancy, Sidney found himself, not only out of favor with the Queen for his attitude towards her possible marriage to the Duc d’Alençon, but snubbed by those whose interest in him had been based solely on his relationship to Leicester while Leicester seemed likely to marry the Queen. Unused to such treatment, Philip fled both the Court and his herd of supporters to hide away with his sister Mary at Wilton. During an idyllic summer with her and her new baby, little William, something happened to Philip that gave rise to over 100 love sonnets about his relationship with a mysterious Stella that not only raised his standing at Court as a poet, but helped to diminish his reputation as sexually cold. Eventually he married Walsingham’s daughter, and having followed Leicester to the lowlands war, was mortally wounded in 1586 at the Battle of Zutphen.
Enter Robert Greene and Thomas Nashe
At some point in the early ’80s, Oxford began publishing tales in the Greek romance style that he had written earlier to entertain the Queen and her ladies. Some of these he published as by George Pettie, a fellow student at Oxford, some as by Thomas Lodge, one of the crew hired by Walsingham to assist him at Fisher’s Folly, some as by Barnabe Riche, another friend, but most were attributed to the ephemeral “Robert Greene.” All but Greene are known to history, two of them writers in their own right, but Greene has never been located––although there was a man by that name who held a copyhold agreement to work a piece of Oxford’s land in Essex whose name suggests that he was a member of a local family that was once very close to Oxford’s father.
The Robert Greene of the title pages was the first and most prolific of the handful of pamphleteers who launched the first successful English commercial periodical press. For a full decade, every year or two Oxford would publish a tale with a plot aimed at a female readership, laced with excellent poems. Some bore the name of one of his associates, most bore the name Robert Greene. In this way he became the originator of what one day would be the extremely influential and lucrative (though not for him) British periodical press.
Late in 1588, a new voice entered the pamphlet arena. Using the pseudonym Martin Mar-prelate, the satirist used the new medium to harrass the bishops who were in the process of turning the Protestant Reformation into the present-day Church of England. After a few pathetic attempts by the bishops to respond to the devastating Martin, Archbishop Whitgift, Bacon’s former master at Trinity College Cambridge, turned to Walsingham’s team for help. Oxford’s response was a little on the tepid side, but Bacon, dazzled by Mar-prelate’s bold effrontery, found the voice he’d been seeking. Using the name of a Cambridge sizar that provided a rather good pun for this new self, he gnashed his literary teeth, first at Mar-prelate, then, in pamphlet after pamphlet, at anyone and everything that gave him cause.
Railing was an art form then, something along the lines of today’s standup comedy; a wit who was good at it could count on being invited as a guest to expensive dinners. Bacon, as Nashe, was good at it, at least in print; no one has ever been better. If the world could realize who actually wrote Piers Penniless or Jack Wilton, these would soon become required reading for students of English literature.
Furious with Marlowe and Alleyn for deserting the Folly coterie, Oxford and Bacon did what they could by blasting them in Greene’s Perimedes and Menaphon, but Marlowe, lashed to Phaeton’s cart, was not to be deterred. His Latin motto, found on his portrait in 1955, translates as “that which nourishes me destroys me.” Following Walsingham’s death in 1590, with Cecil at his heels, he ignored the warning in Robert Greene’s farewell pamphlet, that unless he gave up his “atheism,” “little knowest thou how in the end thou shalt be visited.” Having eluded the Crown during an attempted sting in Flushing in 1591, Marlowe was finally nailed in May of 1593 during a deadly “visit” from three of Walsingham’s former operatives.
Meanwhile Mary Sidney, having mourned her brother for two years, arrived in London in the autumn of 1588, shortly after Leicester’s death, eager to do what she could for her family now that both Philip and their uncle were gone. Mary has never been properly recognized for her immense ability as a poet. Her translations of the Psalms are among the best poetry from this period. They are also a clue to the dark nature of the puritanical protestantism in which she and her brothers were raised, and from which both of them, each in his and her own way, used their writing to fight free.
I also believe that it was Mary who, as Countess of Pembroke, was responsible for organizing the acting company known as Pembroke’s Men that stepped into the breach briefly during the theatrical disasters of the early ’90s. I am also totally certain that everything written as by John Webster was Mary’s work, written and published throughout the latter half of the 1590s and through the first two decades of the 17th century. While Webster the coachmaker’s son has next to nothing to offer in the way of a biography, the plays that bear his name reflect Mary’s own story in ways that once revealed, cannot be denied. The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi are the great masterpieces of Jacobean literature. I only hope that someday they will be properly attributed to the genius who wrote them.
Mary is also the individual most responsible for making the first move to remove the barrier to publishing the poetry and tales written by courtiers. By publishing her brother’s sonnets in 1591, she opened the door, first to Sir John Harington, who published his translation of Orlando Furioso that same year, to Bacon who followed suit in 1596 by putting his own name on the first edition of his famous Essays. Some continued to hide behind pseudonyms and initials for another century or so, but the fortress of tradition was cracked. Only time, and the crumbling of aristocratic isolation, would bring it down for good.
With the 1591 publication of Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella, Oxford, in dire straits, having lost his ability to raise the funds needed to keep his theater enterprise going, now found himself in danger of losing what may have been even more precious to him, his place in the sun as England’s top courtier poet, for Sidney, whose stock was already sky high due to his heroic death in battle, was being touted as the new Chaucer. His sonnets were selling like hotcakes. Determined to protect his status, Oxford worked with Richard Field, who ran the print shop next door to the little Blackfriars Theater, to publish Venus and Adonis in a beautifully-designed edition. Forced to seek a new cover name, having put paid to Robert Greene some months earlier, he used the name of a friend of his printer. Unable to pay for it himself, we hear his gratitude to a new patron, the young Earl of Southampton, in the dedicatory note signed William Shakespeare. This was located on the reverse side of the title page, an indication to those aware of such traditions, that since it wasn’t on the title page, it did not represent the author.
Bacon shifts gears
In the early 90s, after Oxford got rid of Greene, he and Bacon went a few rounds in a phony paper duel in which Bacon railed as Nashe and Oxford pretended to be Gabriel Harvey. When Oxford found it necessary to rid the world of the fictional Robert Greene, he realized that Greene’s absurd deathbed mea culpa, Greene’s Groatsworth, was not going to be sufficiently convincing, so he faked a third party commentary on Greene which he attributed to Gabriel Harvey. The infamous Second Letter, in which Harvey supposedly reveals the disgusting facts about Greene’s terrible lifestyle and pathetic death is sheer foolery, as we’re informed by the statement that Greene died of “a surfeit of pickled herring,” a clue that the whole thing was a joke. Bacon, looking for an excuse to continue to rail in print, pretends to defend Greene by attacking the Harveys. When scholars, seeking the horrendous insult in works by Greene, finally discovered it, there was nothing about it that could possibly cause such a reaction.
Harvey had been friendly with both Bacon and Oxford when the Shepheard’s Calender was published back in 1578. Referred to as Colin Clout’s “especial good friend Hobbinol”; he was also the addressee of E. K.’s dedicatory letter, which urged him to promote the new poet’s work “with your mighty Rhetoric and other your rare gifts of learning.” But something happened between then and a year later when Bacon published some of Harvey’s personal letters to him in Three Witty and Familiar Letters, which caused Harvey a great deal of trouble. His effort to respond in a light vein to this damning maneuver is particularly touching. In my view, it was the last thing published under his name that he actually wrote himself.
I do not believe that a single pamphlet from the Nashe-Harvey pamphlet duel was actually written by Gabriel Harvey; they were all by Oxford, who, bereft of his credit, was dying of boredom. For one thing, in the early 1590s Gabriel Harvey was in no position to take on these two powerful Court figures. He had lost his position at the university, and his stipend, and so was in dire financial straits, with the added burden of having to fight with the widow of his recently deceased brother John for control of his brother’s estate. It’s possible Harvey got some work in London, but at some point he retired to his home town where he continued to correspond with serious scholars, never commenting, in writing at least, on the rude way his name had been bandied about.
Bacon goes legit
In 1596, the Queen finally gave Bacon a job as her personal counsel. 1596 was a terrible year for Elizabeth, during which she lost the last remaining member of her family, Lord Hunsdon, and was more or less forced to yield to the Cecils’ demands to make them the supreme power on the Privy Council. Perhaps in seeking a balance to the weight of the Cecils, Essex turning out to be unreliable, she had no one left to turn to but Bacon. There was no salary, but for Francis, who it appears genuinely adored the Queen, it may be that finally having her ear was all he needed.
The effect this had on him was amazing. Finally given the position he craved for so long, with Walsingham and Hunsdon gone and Oxford and his projects in trouble, it seems he was ready to quit his role as Court entertainer and satirist and to devote his talents to supporting the Queen and the Earl of Essex. According to his biographer, his handwriting totally changed at this time. Within a few months he published everything he’d ever written as Spenser, and after one final blast as Nashe in 1599 (probably for the sake of his printer, since it was the printer who made money, not the author), he seems never to have written another word as either Spenser or Nashe.
If, as history has it, Spenser actually arrived in person in London in December of 1598, fleeing the rage of the Irish, it must have caused something of an embarrassing situation. If, as history has it, he then died a few weeks later, it was probably lucky for all concerned. Following an elaborate funeral provided by Essex, he (or something like him) was buried in Poet’s Corner, and that was that. By then Bacon was up to his ears in Court politics, where he continued to assist Oxford and the Lord Chamberlain’s Men whenever and wherever he could. The surfacing of the Northumberland Manuscript in 1867 strongly suggests that he was heavily involved in getting Richard II and Richard III published during Oxford’s showdown with Cecil in 1597.
The Earl of Derby
One of the candidates whose name has been linked to Shakespeare since early on is William Stanley, sixth Earl of Derby. His older brother, Ferdinando Stanley, had been deeply involved in the London Stage as patron of various companies––most recently of the Lord Strange’s Men, the crew that produced Marlowe’s Tamburlaine in 1587––until his murder in 1594 passed the earldom to his brother William. William’s marriage to Oxford’s oldest daughter, Elizabeth Vere, in January 1595, was (in my view) the occasion for a version of The Tempest in which Prospero bequeaths the magical isle to his daughter Miranda and the shipwrecked Ferdinand, just as it appears Oxford, weary of his role as Court jester, was attempting (or pretending) to bequeath the Court Stage to his daughter and her husband, so he could retire to the Forest of Waltham.
Efforts to cast William Stanley as Shakespeare appear to grow from records that show his involvement in the Court Stage in the late 1590s, in particular his patronage of the new Children’s Company that, through his efforts, got the use of the Burbage’s Blackfriars Theater in 1600.
That William Stanley did nothing to prevent rumors that he was the real Shakespeare, seems likely from the otherwise meaningless scene in As You Like It where Touchstone, in the repartee over his marriage to Audrey, the personification of the public audience that Oxford was now forced to entertain, having greeted William, Audrey’s other suitor (and only one of two in the entire named William) with “Cover thy head, cover thy head; nay, prithee, be covered,” after some even more obscure wordplay, continues: “You do love this maid [the public audience]?”
WIL: I do, sir.
TOU: . . . Art thou learned?
WIL: No, sir.
TOU: Then learn this of me: to have, is to have; for it is a figure in rhetoric that drink, being poured out of a cup into a glass, by filling the one doth empty the other; for all your writers do consent that ipse is he: now, you are not ipse, for I am he.
WIL: Which he, sir?
TOU: He, sir, that must marry this woman [entertain the public]. Therefore, you clown, abandon––which is in the vulgar leave––the society––which in the boorish is company––of this female––which in the common is woman; which together is, abandon the society of this female [the London Stage], or, clown, thou perishest; or, to thy better understanding, diest; or, to wit I kill thee, make thee away, translate thy life into death, thy liberty into bondage: I will deal in poison with thee, or in bastinado, or in steel; I will bandy with thee in faction; I will o’errun thee with policy; I will kill thee a hundred and fifty ways: therefore tremble and depart!
The audience for which this was written was the same audience for which Oxford had prepared the 1595 version of The Tempest, one aware of all the family connections and political issues addressed, so they would have had no problem understanding the meaning of this exchange, nor would William Stanley himself, who doubtless was present when As You Like It was performed for the Court while King James dallied at Wilton in August of 1603. What then was the general opinion of the Court with regard to Stanley? George Carey, who in 1603 was the patron of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, called him a “niddicock” [a nincompoop] in a letter written to his wife following Ferdinando’s murder.
A recent addition to the list of candidates is Emilia Bassano Lanier (or Lanyer), the first woman to publish a book of her original poetry under her own name. (Mary Sidney’s translations of the psalms remained unpublished in print in her lifetime.) Although she was certainly not the author of the Shakespeare canon, Emilia played a most important role in the Shakespeare story as the most likely candidate for the Dark Lady of his Sonnets, and the figure of Cleopatra in his last great romantic tragedy.
The final figure in this coterie of writers who has been bruited as Shakespeare is Sir Walter Raleigh. Raleigh’s excellent style as seen in his Ocean to Cynthia poems, his letters and his History of the World, plus the fact that, despite his need, and the Queen’s genuine fondness for him, like all the other Court poets, he was never given a truly important Court position, would be sufficient to accept him as a member of this group, but too little has been done to identify enough of his poetry to go any further. It seems likely that the Amoretti sonnets and the Epithamalion attributed to Spenser in 1596 were Raleigh’s, written during his wooing of Bess Throckmorten in the early 1590s. They certainly sound nothing like the other works attributed to Spenser.
These then are the members of the group who gave the world the English Literary Renaissance: Oxford, Bacon, Marlowe, the Sidneys, and probably Sir Walter Raleigh. Born with Oxford, it matured and developed with help from the others, and died with the deaths of Mary Sidney in 1621 and Bacon in 1626. Both Mary and Francis (born within months of each other), in my opinion, spent their final years assisting her sons, the Earls of Pembroke, and their good friend Ben Jonson in his task of preparing Oxford’s collected works for print in 1623.
Of this group, only Philip Sidney never used a pseudonym. (Marlowe’s name was put on several works after his death that do not sound like his plays.) All the others published their works under a variety of names, Oxford using a good dozen at least before settling on Shakespeare; Bacon using at least three, Mary using at least one, and Raleigh, who can tell? Of this group of current candidates, only Derby had nothing to do with creating a canon, though he did have something to do with the Court and London Stage.
Although I can’t put all the evidence for each of the standins used by Oxford and Bacon in a blog, I will do my best to do this at some point in the future. This kind of proof is text-heavy and painstaking, and it is not always something that is going to capture everyone’s interest. Right now it seems more important to present a scenario that makes sense. Without the cream and yeast of a believable narrative, facts are like a bowl of flour as compared to a digestible loaf of bread.
A personal note
Many thanks to those who made a Christmas donation when I passed the hat a few weeks ago. With the help of Rick, Francis, Kelly, Heike, Lynn and Kathleen, I now have $360 to help get the books and other materials I need through Amazon.com. Many thanks, dear readers. It’s your interest that keeps me going, but a little coin of the realm never hurts.
17 thoughts on “Bacon and the Wits”
It is important, above all, to approach Elizabethan authorship with skepticism and to explore who wrote what and why and, lacking the sort of facts we need, to seek the most plausible reasoned explanations as you have done here. I have George Harman’s book arguing Bacon’s authorship of Spenser’s works. Quite some time ago I had queried Joseph Sobran in a private email and he was open to such theories, including doubts about Sidney’s authorship. Sobran was perhaps too much of an iconoclast. As you know, the facts for Spenser’s authorship are few and, if one actually studies them, questionable. However (and I think few people know this), aside from title pages, the same can be said for Sidney, though Sidney unquestionably had the necessary educational background and associations. Only one of his numerous personal letters refers to his ostensible authorship, a letter to his brother Robert, where Philip mentions his “toyful book” (presumed to be the Arcadia). Otherwise his writing is never mentioned in his correspondence with Lanquet or to anyone else. His one attempt at writing an entertainment, a masque, The Lady of May, doesn’t, in my opinion, testify to his writing talent. Nor was he known for his sense of humor, though, very notably in my opinion, he makes fun of himself in the beginning of the Defense of Poesie with a reference to his love of horses. And one finds considerable humor in the Arcadia as well, not to mention a poem therein that seems very much to refer to Oxford. And then there is the AS poem to “my brother Philip” that, if one doesn’t accept the theory that the poem was written to a pet bird, sounds rather like Oxford chiding Sidney. But it is a huge subject and all we lack are some supporting facts.
But, as usual, I applaud and say, ‘press on’!
A former president of the Bacon Society, W.S. Melsome, also argued that Bacon wrote under the name of Nashe (though his primary argument was that Bacon wrote under the name of Shakespeare) in his book “The Bacon-Shakespeare Anatomy”, 1945. There’s a section where he shows analogous thoughts and phrases of Bacon and Nashe. For example: Bacon “…that by learning man ascendeth to the heavens…” and Nashe “Heaven itself is but the highest height of Knowledge”; Bacon– “Science has no enemy but the ignorant” and then Nashe, the same– “Science hath no other enemy but the ignorant”; Bacon– “Poesy parabolical…when the secrets and mysteries of religion, policy, or philosophy, are involved in fables or parables. Of this in divine poesy we see the use is authorised.” and Nashe– “I account of poetry as of a more hidden and divine kind of philosophy, enwrapped in blind fables and dark stories.” It’s indeed a pity that all these authors felt they couldn’t publish the plays and related matter under their own names, but then they knew they wouldn’t be able to speak their minds, even allusively.
Thanks for both of these. Steve, there’s no doubt that Sidney wrote the poetry that his sister and friends attributed to him. He had a unique voice, as did all the original members of the club. Clayton, thanks for the Bacon-Nashe conjunctions. Of course the academics would say that Bacon was imitating Nashe.
It’s curious to see how history is not what we’ve been told. I can’t see why academics won’t admit that writers like Bacon and Raleigh might have opted for anonymity, at least, once in their lives, in a time when politically daring works were heavily punished?
John Lyly, Shakespeare, Spenser, etc. … aren’t the only (pen-)names of the time. Names like Richard Barnfield also has a mysterious biographical background. Do you think Barnfield could have been a name used by any aristocrat of the time?
Yes, Barnfield is one of those names that needs more study. There are quite a few of these.
I’ve asked you the question of Barnfield’s identity because I think he is important to the Authorship issue. At least I think so. He praised Shakespeare for “Venus and Adonis” and “Lucrece” in a time, as far as I am concern, Shakespeare’s name was still appearing as author of some plays but yet as only author of the dedications to Southampton in his erotic-epic poems (correct if I am wrong). Given that Spenser (also praised by him) was Bacon and Shakespeare was Oxford, I believe the author may have knew them. His first works were also published for the first time anonymous, while dedicated to courtiers like Derby or Penelope Rich, in intimacy tunes like those dedications from Shakespeare to Southampton. Given also the mysterious biographical background he has, everything points out he had connections to aristocracy, Oxford and Bacon. Thank you for the answer, anyway!
It’s very possible that Barnfield was a standin for Oxford or one of the other Court poets. It’s just that there’s so little available about him that it’s difficult to form an opinion. It’s certainly a factor in the mystery that cloaks this entire period (1590-95), possibly an important factor. If nothing else it suggests that there was a fairly substantial homosexual underground who would have appreciated the homoerotic nature of his poetry, otherwise it would not have been published, that is, unless a patron who could afford it paid for the publication. If you’re interested, I’ll send you Barnfield’s ODNB biography by email. A great deal of research can be done now without having to go to a university library, so much is available online.
This was something that occurred to me way back.
A group effort.
Could de Vere have been the chief ‘dialogue writer’ (or “screenwriter”) in a project, one in which he was co-operating with more sophisticated and more political and cynical minds than his own?
This might explain the creation of the works as they’ve come down to us;
the complex (and, as above, sometimes cynical) stories/plots, which are nonetheless shot through with dialogues, speeches, soliloquies and poetry which bespeak a more naïve, humane intelligence.
That said, everything that’s to be learned about de Vere indicates that by the time he reached his middle-age, he was anything but naïve or un-worldly.
Whatever, it’s really difficult to imagine de Vere as some kind of ‘lone wolf’ or ‘man on a mission’, accomplishing these works single-handed.
Rainer: The combination of more naive attitudes with the cynicism of plays like Troilus and Cressida or Measure for Measure is easily explained as the natural result of a writer maturing over time as romantic ideals give way to cynical realism. The mixing of naive passages with mature passages in some plays is explained by revision. When he revised, he would keep those parts that were still strong, changing only what was no longer working, whether for the actors, the audience, or his own taste level. The Stratford biography won’t allow enough time for this, but Oxford’s biography not only allows for it, but these varying levels can actually be ascribed to particular points in time, something impossible with the Stratford dating scheme.
By no means did Oxford achieve this all by himself. From the beginning he was taught theater arts by skilled actors, assisted by patrons with high levels of taste, and challenged by other writers and poets. But the Stratford biography has caused scholars to portray the author of these works as nothing more than an imitator and a “play-patcher” when it should be obvious that he was a genius of a very high level, on or surpassing that of da Vinci or Newton, probably approaching in the sweep of his influence, Alexander the Great.
More than any other single individual, Shakespeare created the language that English-speakers speak today, if not by creating it himself (some of which he certainly did),then by blending the language he heard in the street with words and syntax adopted from Greek and Latin, which he taught to his audiences by means of the stage, where thousands who couldn’t read absorbed it by hearing it spoken. This came from him alone, as did the designs for airplanes from da Vinci or military strategies from Alexander, and those who came after, learned from him, not as the Stratford crew would have it, the other way around.
Perceptive, Stephanie, the comment on how difficult it is to write with originality if deprived of an audience close to your level. This is true even for more reclusive artists like Emily Dickinson, who relied heavily, we now see, on Thomas Wentworth Higginson, on her beloved Sue Gilbert Dickinson, even Helen Hunt Jackson and (to a lesser extent) Mabel Loomis Todd. Again, it’s the quality and not the size of audience that matters in Emily’s case.
I think it’s always a matter of quality, not quantity. We write, perform, etc., for a particular person or small group. How the rest will respond is impossible to know. If we can identify for what person or group he was writing, it helps to pinpoint when the first version was written.
This business of audience is very helpful in the De Vere case, as he could count on not only a sensitive peer group with involvement or at least interest in the great creations, but also on a number of allies, servants by rank, highly teachable and biddable, thus an audience whom he could literally command and integrate into the enterprise: the Marlowes, Lylys, and Mundays.
I’m curious about your opinion, Hughes. There is a poem, “Salmacis and Hermaphroditus” which was attributed to Francis Beaumout. At least to me the vocabulary is similar; Ovid’s “Methamorphoses” is clearly a source; and it’s very similar to “Venus and Adonis” in its story. Is there any probability Oxford wrote it along with “Hero and Leander”, “Venus and Adonis” and “Lucrece”?
That’s possible, but I don’t think so. The language is similar,but it lacks the punch that most of Oxford’s poems have. If it is from Beaumont’s time it’s too late for Oxford, who wouldn’t have written like that at that time. It sounds more like someone who has adopted his style. But anything is possible.
Thanks, Hughes. The methaphors of this poem are very similar to those present in “Lucrece”, the storyline is similar to “Venus and Adonis”. If Oxford published “Hero and Leander” years after its likely composition, he could have done the same here. Also, it seems S&H has the same fate as “The Spanish Tragedy”: attributed to someone who wasn’t the true author years after the death of the true author. Thank you, anyway.
Yes, it’s possible. But there are so many avenues of inquiry ready and waiting for exploration that are far more likely to lead to a conclusion. Why follow this one?
Good question. I haven’t thinking about its importance?. Maybe like “Hero and Leander”, it involves the connection between Oxford and Marlowe. With H&L and S&H, we have two poems similar to “Venus and Adonis”. I have spent years searching and reading books and other literary pieces of this time to try to find connections between Oxford as Shakespeare or just to Shakespeare. I believe you can help in my search for truth, for History is not always what has been told to us. S&H, as I said, had the same fate as “The Spanish Tragedy”, and Beaumount was a co-author with Fletcher in many plays. At the same time, Fletcher seem to have rewritten some of Oxford’s play as Shakespeare (at least that’s the traditional position, correct me if I’m wrong). S&H was attributed to a writer who was associated with one associated with Shakespeare? Any connection? That’s what I want to find out. Thank you.