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Ch. 1: The Baconian and Anti-William Positions

Till the years 1856-7 no voice was raised against the current belief about Shakespeare (1564-1616). He was the author in the main of the plays usually printed as his. In some cases other authors, one or more, may have had fingers in his dramas; in other cases, Shakespeare may have "written over" and transfigured earlier plays, of himself and of others; he may have contributed, more or less, to several plays mainly by other men. Separately printed dramas published during his time carry his name on their title-pages, but are not included in the first collected edition of his dramas, "The First Folio," put forth by two of his friends and fellow-actors, in 1623, seven years after his death.

On all these matters did commentators, critics, and antiquarians for long dispute; but none denied that the actor, Will Shakspere (spelled as heaven pleased), was in the main the author of most of the plays of 1623, and the sole author of Venus and Adonis, Lucrece, and the Sonnets.

Even now, in England at least, it would be perhaps impossible to find one special and professed student of Elizabethan literature, and of the classical and European literatures, who does not hold by the ancient belief, the belief of Shakespeare's contemporaries and intimates, the belief that he was, in the sense explained above, the author of the plays.

But ours is not a generation to be overawed by "Authority" (as it is called). A small but eager company of scholars have convinced themselves that Francis Bacon wrote the Shakespearean plays. That is the point of agreement among these enthusiasts: points of difference are numerous: some very wild little sects exist. Meanwhile multitudes of earnest and intelligent men and women, having read notices in newspapers of the Baconian books, or heard of them at lectures and tea-parties, disbelieve in the authorship of "the Stratford rustic," and look down on the faithful of Will Shakespere with extreme contempt.

From the Baconians we receive a plain straightforward theory, "Bacon wrote Shakespeare," as one of their own prophets has said. {4a} Since we have plenty of evidence for Bacon's life and occupations during the period of Shakespearean poetic activity, we can compare what he was doing as a man, a student, a Crown lawyer, a pleader in the Courts, a political pamphleteer, essayist, courtier, active member of Parliament, and so on, with what he is said to have been doing--by the Baconians; namely, writing two dramas yearly.

But there is another "Anti-Willian" theory, which would dethrone Will Shakspere, and put but a Shadow in his place. Conceive a "concealed poet," of high social position, contemporary with Bacon and Shakespeare. Let him be so fond of the Law that he cannot keep legal "shop" out of his love Sonnets even. Make him a courtier; a statesman; a philosopher; a scholar who does not blench even from the difficult Latin of Ovid and Plautus. Let this almost omniscient being possess supreme poetic genius, extensive classical attainments, and a tendency to make false quantities. Then conceive him to live through the reigns of "Eliza and our James," without leaving in history, in science, in society, in law, in politics or scholarship, a single trace of his existence. He left nothing but the poems and plays usually attributed to Will. As to the date of his decease, we only know that it must necessarily have been later than the composition of the last genuine Shakespearean play--for this paragon wrote it.

Such is the Being who occupies, in the theory of the non-Baconian, BUT NOT ANTI-BACONIAN, Anti-Willians, the intellectual throne filled, in the Will Shakespeare theory, by Will; and in the Baconian, by Bacon--two kings of Brentford on one throne.

We are to be much engaged by the form of this theory which is held by Mr. G. G. Greenwood in his The Shakespeare Problem Restated. In attempting to explain what he means I feel that I am skating on very thin ice. Already, in two volumes (In Re Shakespeare, 1909, and The Vindicators of Shakespeare), Mr. Greenwood has accused his critics of frequently misconceiving and misrepresenting his ideas: wherefore I also tremble. I am perfectly confident in saying that he "holds no brief for the Baconians." He is NOT a Baconian. His position is negative merely: Will of Stratford is NOT the author of the Shakespearean plays and poems. Then who is? Mr. Greenwood believes that work by an unknown number of hands exists in the plays first published all together in 1623. Here few will differ from him. But, setting aside this aspect of the case, Mr. Greenwood appears to me to believe in an entity named "Shakespeare," or "the Author," who is the predominating partner; though Mr. Greenwood does not credit him with all the plays in the Folio of 1623 (nor, perhaps, with the absolute entirety of any given play). "The Author" or "Shakespeare" is not a syndicate (like the Homer of many critics), but an individual human being, apparently of the male sex. As to the name by which he was called on earth, Mr. Greenwood is "agnostic." He himself is not Anti-Baconian. He does not oust Bacon and put the Unknown in his place. He neither affirms nor denies that Bacon may have contributed, more or less, to the bulk of Shakespearean work. To put it briefly: Mr. Greenwood backs the field against the favourite (our Will), and Bacon MAY be in the field. If he has any part in the whole I suspect that it is "the lion's part," but Mr. Greenwood does not commit himself to anything positive. We shall find (if I am not mistaken) that Mr. Greenwood regards the hypothesis of the Baconians as "an extremely reasonable one," {7a} and that for his purposes it would be an extremely serviceable one, if not even essential. For as Bacon was a genius to whose potentialities one can set no limit, he is something to stand by, whereas we cannot easily believe--I cannot believe--that the actual "Author," the "Shakespeare" lived and died and left no trace of his existence except his share in the works called Shakespearean.

However, the idea of the Great Unknown has, for its partisans, this advantage, that as the life of the august Shade is wholly unknown, we cannot, as in Bacon's case, show how he was occupied while the plays were being composed. He MUST, however, have been much at Court, we learn, and deep in the mysteries of legal terminology. Was he Sir Edward Coke? Was he James VI and I?

It is hard, indeed, to set forth the views of the Baconians and of the "Anti-Willians" in a shape which will satisfy them. The task, especially when undertaken by an unsympathetic person, is perhaps impossible. I can only summarise their views in my own words as far as I presume to understand them. I conceive the Baconians to cry that "the world possesses a mass of transcendent literature, attributed to a man named William SHAKESPEARE." Of a man named William SHAKSPERE (there are many varieties of spelling) we certainly know that he was born (1564) and bred in Stratford-on-Avon, a peculiarly dirty, stagnant, and ignorant country town. There is absolutely no evidence that he (or any Stratford boy of his standing) ever went to Stratford school. His father, his mother, and his daughter could not write, but, in signing, made their marks; and if he could write, which some of us deny, he wrote a terribly bad hand. As far as late traditions of seventy or eighty years after his death inform us, he was a butcher's apprentice; and also a schoolmaster "who knew Latin pretty well"; and a poacher. He made, before he was nineteen, a marriage tainted with what Meg Dods calls "ante-nup." He early had three children, whom he deserted, as he deserted his wife. He came to London, we do not know when (about 1582, according to the "guess" of an antiquary of 1680); held horses at the door of a theatre (so tradition says), was promoted to the rank of "servitor" (whatever that may mean), became an actor (a vagabond under the Act), and by 1594 played before Queen Elizabeth. He put money in his pocket (heaven knows how), for by 1597 he was bargaining for the best house in his native bourgade. He obtained, by nefarious genealogical falsehoods (too common, alas, in heraldry), the right to bear arms; and went on acting. In 1610-11 (?) he retired to his native place. He never took any interest in his unprinted manuscript plays; though rapacious, he never troubled himself about his valuable copyrights; never dreamed of making a collected edition of his works. He died in 1616, probably of drink taken. Legal documents prove him to have been a lender of small sums, an avid creditor, a would-be encloser of commons. In his will he does not bequeath or mention any books, manuscripts, copyrights, and so forth. It is utterly incredible, then, that this man wrote the poems and plays, so rich in poetry, thought, scholarship, and knowledge, which are attributed to "William Shakespeare." These must be the works of "a concealed poet," a philosopher, a courtier moving in the highest circles, a supreme legist, and, necessarily, a great poet, and student of the classics.

No known person of the age but one, Bacon, was a genius, a legist, a scholar, a great poet, and brilliant courtier, with all the other qualifications so the author of the plays either was Francis Bacon--or some person unknown, who was in all respects equally distinguished, but kept his light under a bushel. Consequently the name "William Shakespeare" is a pseudonym or "pen-name" wisely adopted by Bacon (or the other man) as early as 1593, at a time when William Shakspere was notoriously an actor in the company which produced the plays of the genius styling himself "William Shakespeare."

Let me repeat that, to the best of my powers of understanding and of expression, and in my own words, so as to misquote nobody, I have now summarised the views of the Baconians sans phrase, and of the more cautious or more credulous "Anti-Willians," as I may style the party who deny to Will the actor any share in the authorship of the plays, but do not overtly assign it to Francis Bacon.

Beyond all comparison the best work on the Anti-Willian side of the controversy is The Shakespeare Problem Restated, by Mr. G. G. Greenwood (see my Introduction). To this volume I turn for the exposition of the theory that "Will Shakspere" (with many other spellings) is an actor from the country--a man of very scanty education, in all probability, and wholly destitute of books; while "William Shakespeare," or with the hyphen, "Shake-speare," is a "nom de plume" adopted by the Great Unknown "concealed poet."

When I use the word "author" here, I understand Mr. Greenwood to mean that in the plays called "Shakespearean" there exists work from many pens: owing to the curious literary manners, methods, and ethics of dramatic writing in, say, 1589-1611. In my own poor opinion this is certainly true of several plays in the first collected edition, "The Folio," produced seven years after Will's death, namely in 1623. These curious "collective" methods of play-writing are to be considered later.

Matters become much more perplexing when we examine the theory that "William Shake-speare" (with or without the hyphen), on the title- pages of plays, or when signed to the dedications of poems, is the chosen pen-name, or "nom de plume," of Bacon or of the Unknown.

Here I must endeavour to summarise what Mr. Greenwood has written {11a} on the name of the actor, and the "nom de plume" of the unknown author who, by the theory, was not the actor. Let me first confess my firm belief that there is no cause for all the copious writing about the spellings "Shakespeare" or "Shake-speare"--as indicating the true but "concealed poet"--and "Shakspere" (&c.), as indicating the Warwickshire rustic. At Stratford and in Warwickshire the clan-name was spelled in scores of ways, was spelled in different ways within a single document. If the actor himself uniformly wrote "Shakspere" (it seems that we have but five signatures), he was accustomed to seeing the name spelled variously in documents concerning him and his affairs. In London the printers aimed at a kind of uniformity, "Shakespeare" or "Shake-speare": and even if he wrote his own name otherwise, to him it was indifferent. Lawyers and printers might choose their own mode of spelling--and there is no more in the matter.

I must now summarise briefly, in my own words, save where quotations are indicated in the usual way, the results of Mr. Greenwood's researches. "The family of William Shakspere of Stratford" (perhaps it were safer to say "the members of his name") "wrote their name in many different ways--some sixty, I believe, have been noted . . . but the form 'Shakespeare' seems never to have been employed by them"; and, according to Mr. Spedding, "Shakspere of Stratford never so wrote his name 'in any known case.'" (According to many Baconians he never wrote his name in his life.) On the other hand, the dedications of Venus and Adonis (1593) and of Lucrece (1594) are inscribed "William Shakespeare" (without the hyphen). In 1598, the title-page of Love's Labour's Lost "bore the name W. Shakespere," while in the same year Richard II and Richard III bear "William Shake-speare," with the hyphen (not without it, as in the two dedications by the Author). "The name which appears in the body of the conveyance and of the mortgage bearing" (the actor's) "signature is 'Shakespeare,' while 'Shackspeare' appears in the will, prepared, as we must presume, by or under the directions of Francis Collyns, the Stratford solicitor, who was one of the witnesses thereto" (and received a legacy of 13 pounds, 6s. 8d.).

Thus, at Stratford even, the name was spelled, in legal papers, as it is spelled in the two dedications, and in most of the title-pages--and also is spelled otherwise, as "Shackspeare." In March 1594 the actor's name is spelled "Shakespeare" in Treasury accounts. The legal and the literary and Treasury spellings (and conveyances and mortgages and wills are NOT literature) are Shakespeare, Shackspeare, Shake-speare, Shakespere--all four are used, but we must regard the actor as never signing "Shakespeare" in any of these varieties of spelling--if sign he ever did; at all events he is not known to have used the A in the last syllable.

I now give the essence of Mr. Greenwood's words {13a} concerning the nom de plume of the "concealed poet," whoever he was.

"And now a word upon the name 'Shakespeare.' That in this form, and more especially with a hyphen, Shake-speare, the word makes an excellent nom de plume is obvious. As old Thomas Fuller remarks, the name suggests Martial in its warlike sound, 'Hasti-vibrans or Shake- speare.' It is of course further suggestive of Pallas Minerva, the goddess of Wisdom, for Pallas also was a spear-shaker (Pallas a'p?' t?? p???e?? t?' d???); and all will remember Ben Jonson's verses . . . " on Shakespeare's "true-filed lines" -

"In each of which he seems to shake a lance,
As brandished at the eyes of ignorance."

There is more about Pallas in book-titles (to which additions can easily be made), and about "Jonson's Cri-spinus or Cri-spinas," but perhaps we have now the gist of Mr. Greenwood's remarks on the "excellent nom de plume" (cf. pp. 31-37. On the whole of this, cf. The Shakespeare Problem Restated, pp. 293-295; a nom de plume called a "pseudonym," pp. 307, 312; Shakespeare "a mask name," p. 328; a "pseudonym," p. 330; "nom de plume," p. 335).

Now why was the "nom de plume" or "pseudonym" "William Shakespeare" "an excellent nom de plume" for a concealed author, courtier, lawyer, scholar, and so forth? If "Shakespeare" suggested Pallas Athene, goddess of wisdom and of many other things, and so was appropriate, why add "William"?

In 1593, when the "pseudonym" first appears in Venus and Adonis, a country actor whose name, in legal documents--presumably drawn up by or for his friend, Francis Collyns at Stratford--is written "William Shakespeare," was before the town as an actor in the leading company, that of the Lord Chamberlain. This company produced the plays some of which, by 1598, bear "W. Shakespere," or "William Shakespeare" on their title-pages. Thus, even if the actor habitually spelled his name "Shakspere," "William Shakespeare" was, practically (on the Baconian theory), not only a pseudonym of one man, a poet, but also the real name of another man, a well-known actor, who was NOT the "concealed poet."

"William Shakespeare" or "Shakespere" was thus, in my view, the ideally worst pseudonym which a poet who wished to be "concealed" could possibly have had the fatuity to select. His plays and poems would be, as they were, universally attributed to the actor, who is represented as a person conspicuously incapable of writing them. With Mr. Greenwood's arguments against the certainty of this attribution I deal later.

Had the actor been a man of rare wit, and of good education and wide reading, the choice of name might have been judicious. A "concealed poet" of high social standing, with a strange fancy for rewriting the plays of contemporary playwrights, might obtain the manuscript copies from their owners, the Lord Chamberlain's Company, through that knowledgeable, witty, and venal member of the company, Will Shakspere. He might then rewrite and improve them, more or less, as it was his whim to do. The actor might make fair copies in his own hand, give them to his company, and say that the improved works were from his own pen and genius. The lie might pass, but only if the actor, in his life and witty talk, seemed very capable of doing what he pretended to have done. But if the actor, according to some Baconians, could not write even his own name, he was impossible as a mask for the poet. He was also impossible, I think, if he were what Mr. Greenwood describes him to be.

Mr. Greenwood, in his view of the actor as he was when he came to London, does not deny to him the gift of being able to sign his name. But, if he were educated at Stratford Free School (of which there is no documentary record), according to Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps "he was removed from school long before the usual age," "in all probability" when "he was about thirteen" (an age at which some boys, later well known, went up to their universities). If we send him to school at seven or so, "it appears that he could only have enjoyed such advantages as it may be supposed to have provided for a period of five or six years at the outside. He was then withdrawn, and, as it seems, put to calf-slaughtering." {16a}

What the advantages may have been we try to estimate later.

Mr. Greenwood, with Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps, thinks that Will "could have learned but little there. No doubt boys at Elizabethan grammar schools, if they remained long enough, had a good deal of Latin driven into them. Latin, indeed, was the one subject that was taught; and an industrious boy who had gone through the course and attained to the higher classes would generally be able to write fair Latin prose. But he would learn very little else" (except to write fair Latin prose?). "What we now call 'culture' certainly did not enter into the 'curriculum,' nor 'English,' nor modern languages, nor 'literature.'" {17a} Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps says that "removed prematurely from school, residing with illiterate relatives in a bookless neighbourhood, thrown into the midst of occupations adverse to scholastic progress--it is difficult to believe that when he first left Stratford he was not all but destitute of polished accomplishments." {17b} Mr. Greenwood adds the apprenticeship to a butcher or draper, but doubts the poaching, and the frequent whippings and imprisonments, as in the story told by the Rev. R. Davies in 1708. {17c}

That this promising young man, "when he came to London, spoke the Warwickshire dialect or patois is, then, as certain as anything can be that is incapable of mathematical proof." {17d} "Here is the young Warwickshire provincial . . . " {17e} producing, apparently five or six years after his arrival in town, Venus and Adonis . . . "Is it conceivable that this was the work of the Stratford Player of whom we know so little, but of whom we know so much too much? If so we have here a veritable sixteenth-century miracle." {17f} Moreover, "our great supposed poet and dramatist had at his death neither book nor manuscript in his possession, or to which he was legally entitled, or in which he had any interest whatever." {17g}

If it be not conceivable now that the rustic speaking in a patois could write Venus and Adonis, manifestly it was inconceivable in 1593, when Venus and Adonis was signed "William Shakespeare." No man who knew the actor (as described) could believe that he was the author, but there does not exist the most shadowy hint proving that the faintest doubt was thrown on the actor's authorship; ignorant as he was, bookless, and rude of speech. For such a Will as Mr. Greenwood describes to persuade the literary and dramatic world of his age that he DID write the plays, would have been a miracle. Consequently Mr. Greenwood has to try to persuade us that there is no sufficient evidence that Will DID persuade, say Ben Jonson, of his authorship and we shall see whether or not he works this twentieth-century miracle of persuasion.

Of course if Will were unable to write even his name, as an enthusiastic Baconian asserts, Mr. Greenwood sees that Will could not easily pass for the Author. {18a} But his own bookless actor with a patois seems to him, as author of Venus and Adonis, almost inconceivable. Yet, despite Will's bookless rusticity, this poem with Lucrece, which displays knowledge of a work of Ovid not translated into English by 1593, was regarded as his own. I must suppose, therefore, that Will was NOT manifestly so ignorant of Latin as Mr. Greenwood thinks. "I think it highly probable," says this critic, "that he attended the Grammar School at Stratford" (where nothing but Latin was taught) "for four or five years, and that, later in life, after some years in London, he was probably able to 'bumbast out a line,' and perhaps to pose as 'Poet-Ape that would be thought our chief.' Nay, I am not at all sure that he would not have been capable of collaborating with such a man as George Wilkins, and perhaps of writing quite as well as he, if not even better. But it does not follow from this that he was the author either of Venus and Adonis or of Hamlet." {19a}

Nothing follows from all this: we merely see that, in Mr. Greenwood's private opinion, the actor might write even better than George Wilkins, but could not write Venus and Adonis. Will, therefore, though bookless, is not debarred here from the pursuits of literature, in partnership with Wilkins. We have merely the critic's opinion that Will could not write Hamlet, even if, like Wordsworth, "he had the mind," even if the gods had made him more poetical than Wilkins.

Again, "he had had but little schooling; he had 'small Latin and less Greek'" (as Ben Jonson truly says), "but he was a good Johannes Factotum; he could arrange a scene, and, when necessary, 'bumbast out a blank verse.'" {19b}

The "Johannes Factotum," who could "bumbast out a blank verse," is taken from Robert Greene's hackneyed attack on an actor-poet, "Shake-scene," published in 1592. "Poet-Ape that would be thought our chief," is from an epigram on an actor-poet by Ben Jonson (1601-16?). If the allusions by Greene and Jonson are to our Will, he, by 1592, had a literary ambition so towering that he thought his own work in the new art of dramatic blank verse was equal to that of Marlowe (not to speak of Wilkins), and Greene reckoned him a dangerous rival to three of his playwright friends, of whom Marlowe is one, apparently.

If Jonson's "Poet-Ape" be meant for Will, by 1601 Will would fain "be thought the chief" of contemporary dramatists. His vanity soared far above George Wilkins! Greene's phrases and Jonson's are dictated by spite, jealousy, and envy; and from them a true view of the work of the man whom they envy, the actor-poet, cannot be obtained. We might as well judge Moliere in the spirit of the author of Elomire Hypocondre, and of de Vise! The Anti-Willian arguments keep on appearing, going behind the scenes, and reappearing, like a stage army. To avoid this phenomenon I reserve what is to be said about "Shake-scene" and "Poet-Ape" for another place (pp. 138-145 infra). But I must give the reader a warning. Concerning "William Shakespeare" as a "nom de plume," or pseudonym, Mr. Greenwood says, "Some, indeed, would see through it, and roundly accuse the player of putting forth the works of others as his own. To such he would be a 'Poet-Ape,' or 'an upstart crow' (Shake-scene) 'beautified with the feathers of other writers.'" {21a}

If this be true, if "some would see through" (Mr. Greenwood, apparently, means DID "see through") the "nom de plume," the case of the Anti-Willians is promising. But, in this matter, Mr. Greenwood se trompe. Neither Greene nor Jonson accused "Shake-scene" or "Poet-Ape" of "putting forth the works of others as his own." That is quite certain, as far as the scorns of Jonson and Greene have reached us. (See pp. 141-145 infra.)

If an actor, obviously incapable of wit and poetry, were credited with the plays, the keenest curiosity would arise in "the profession," and among rival playwrights who envied the wealth and "glory" of the actors. This curiosity, prompting the wits and players to watch and "shadow" Will, would, to put it mildly, most seriously imperil the secret of the concealed author who had the folly to sign himself "William Shakespeare." Human nature could not rest under such a provocation as the "concealed poet" offered.

This is so obvious that had one desired to prove Bacon or the Unknown to be the concealed author, one must have credited his mask, Will, with abundance of wit and fancy, and, as for learning--with about as much as he probably possessed. But the Baconians make him an illiterate yokel, and we have quoted Mr. Greenwood's estimate of the young Warwickshire provincial.

We all have our personal equations in the way of belief. That the plot of the "nom de plume" should have evaded discovery for a week, if the actor were the untutored countryman of the hypotheses, is to me, for one, absolutely incredible. A "concealed poet" looking about for a "nom de plume" and a mask behind which he could be hidden, would not have selected the name, or the nearest possible approach to the name, of an ignorant unread actor. As he was never suspected of not being the author of the plays and poems, Will cannot have been a country ignoramus, manifestly incapable of poetry, wit, and such learning as the plays exhibit. Every one must judge for himself. Mr. Greenwood fervently believes in what I disbelieve. {22a}

"Very few Englishmen . . . in Elizabethan times, concerned themselves at all, or cared one brass farthing, about the authorship of plays . . . " says Mr. Greenwood.

Very few care now. They know the actors' names: in vain, as a rule, do I ask playgoers for the name of the author of their entertainment. But in Elizabeth's time the few who cared were apt to care very much, and they would inquire intensely when the Stratford actor, a bookless, untaught man, was announced as the author of plays which were among the most popular of their day. The seekers never found any other author. They left no hint that they suspected the existence of any other author. Hence I venture to infer that Will seemed to them no unread rustic, but a fellow of infinite fancy,--no scholar to be sure, but very capable of writing the pieces which he fathered.

They may all have been mistaken. Nobody can prove that Heywood and Ben Jonson, and the actors of the Company, were not mistaken. But certain it is that they thought the Will whom they knew capable of the works which were attributed to him. Therefore he cannot possibly have been the man who could not write, of the more impulsive Baconians; or the bookless, and probably all but Latinless, man of Mr. Greenwood's theory. The positions already seem to me to be untenable.

Andrew Lang