by R. L. Eagle
From Baconiana, Oct. 1964
Very little is understood, even among those known as “Shakespearean experts”, of the danger from arrest for alleged treason or heresy which threatened everybody, especially authors, publishers and printers, during the reign of Elizabeth and, to a lesser degree, James I. These were offences punishable by revolting cruelty and barbarity. A “trial” was a perversion of justice. The State prosecuted and sentence was inevitable, for defence on behalf of a prisoner was unknown. Quite innocent words in speech or writing were twisted into subversive matter. Even thought was cribbed, cabined and confined. When it attempted to flutter from its prison it was struck down by the relentless claws of Authority. It is significant that there is nothing throughout the whole Elizabethan drama that would lead anyone to determine the creed of Shakespeare and the rest. The Ministers of State were also protected against criticism. Shakespeare’s caricature of Lord Burghley as Polonius is so skillfully disguised that it would have been impossible for the authorities to prove intentional representation.
In The Defence of Poesie (written circa 1580), Sidney observes: “The philosophers of Greece durst not for a long time appear to the world but under the masks of poets. So Thales, Empedocles, and Parmenides sang their natural philosophy in verse. So did Pythagoras and Phocylides their moral counsels.” Did Bacon, driven by the barbarous exigencies of his time, adopt a similar expedient, and issue his moral counsels under the mask of a player, who was also a broker of plays in Burbage’s theatre?
The anonymous author of The Arte of English Poesie (1589) claimed to have known “many notable gentlemen in the court that have written commendably and suppressed it again, or suffered it to be published without their own names to it, as if it were a discredit to seem learned, and to show himself amorous of any good art.”
In A Farewell to Folly (1591), Greene writes:
Others, if they come to write or publish anything in print, which for their calling and gravity being loth to have any profane pamphlets pass under their name, get some other to set his name to their verses. Thus is the ass made proud by this underhand brokery, and he that cannot write true English without the aid of clerks of parish churches will need make himself the father of Interludes.
One may well ask what has become of these writings published under other men’s names, and under what names do we know them?
Archbishop Tenison knew that Bacon had suppressed his name for some of his works. In Baconiana, or Certain Genuine Remains of Sr. Francis Bacon(1679) he wrote:
Those who have the skill in the works of the Lord Verulam, like great masters in Painting, can tell by the Design, the Strength, the Way of Colouring, whether he was the Author of this or the other Piece, though his name be not to it.
It was common knowledge among writers that this “underhand brokery” was on a fairly extensive scale. Nashe knew of it, for he wrote in the Preface to Greene’s Menaphon (1589), “Sundry other sweet gentlemen have vaunted their pens in private devices and tricked up a company of taffeta fools with their feathers.”
Greene’s allusion to “profane pamphlets” does not mean that they were blasphemous, for nobody, not even under another name, would dare to publish such verse. “Profane” here means “coarse” as Shakespeare often uses it. At the end of Henry IV, Part II, the new King Henry V rebukes Falstaff for being “so old and so profane.” See also Othello (I, 1, 115) and Cymbeline (II, 3, 129). By “interludes,” Greene does not mean the word as we understand it today. In the 16th and 17th centuries it meant a stage play, especially of a popular nature, such as a comedy. In 1588, a writer described Gammer Gurton’s Needle as “A proper Enterlude” though it is a full-length play. Middleton in It’s a Mad World (V, 1) has: “There are certain pIayers come to town, sir, and desire to interlude before your worship.” The familiar Pyramus and Thisbe is called both a play and an interlude.
As further proof of the unreliability of title-page names we have these lines of John Taylor, the water poet:
Thou brag’ st what fame thou got’st upon the stage
Upon St. George’s day last, sir; you gave
To eight Knights of the Garter (like a knave)
Eight manuscripts (or books) all fairly writ,
Informing them they were your mother wit
And you compil’d them; then you were regarded.
All this is true and this I dare maintain
The matter came from out a learned brain.
These lines are quoted in Ordish’s Early London Theatres (1894). Is it possible that John Taylor had Shakespearee in mind as the pretender, and Bacon as the “learned brain”? Ben Jonson wrote. much to the same effect in his epigram “On Poet-ape” — the year after Taylor wrote those lines. “He takes up all, makes each man’s wit his own”:
And told of this he slights it. Tut, such crimes
The sluggish gaping auditor devours;
He marks not whose ’twas first, and aftertimes
May judge it to be his
Jonson’s surmise has certainly proved correct! I do not think there can be any doubt but that his “Poet-ape,” who would bethought “our chief” among the play-writers is an allusion to Shakspere. Sir George Greenwood in Is there a Shakespeare Problem? (pp. 372-376) has made that abundantly clear.
Finally I come to Joseph Hall’s Virgidemiarum, a book of satires in verse divided into six sections and printed in 1597. We are told quite a lot about the concealed literary activities of a poet and dramatist called “Labeo” Editions of Hall’s satire are difficult to obtain. Mine was edited by Rev. Thomas Wharton and Samuel Weller Singer and published in 1824. I am not sure whether, or not, there has been a more recent edition. Since the publication of Rev. Walter Begley’s Is it Shakespeare? early in this century, when it was first demonstrated that Hall directed his indignation at Bacon as the author of Venus and Adonis other have rightly used the argument in agreement. Hall was a Puritan and later became Bishop of Norwich. The somewhat lascivious poem had given great offence to some of the graver readers of English verse. There are some lines in Book II, Satire 1 (the only ones printed in italics in the original) which point to “Labeo” having also written Love’s Labour’s Lost and All’s Well That Ends Well:
There’s so much labour lost,
That’s good, that’s great: nay, much is seldom well
Of what is bad, a little’s a great deal.
Better is more: but best is nought at all.
Less is the next, and lesser criminal.
Little and good, is greatest good save one,
Then Labeo write little, or write none.
The satire ends: “For shame! write cleanly, Labeo, or write none.”
In Book IV, Satire 1, Hall describes how Labeo hides like a cuttle-fish “in the black cloud of his thick vomiture,” and ends this denunciation of “Labeo”:
Who list complain of wronged faith or fame,
When he may shift it to another’s name?
In Book VI, Satire 1, Hall returns to attack “Labeo” in the longest of his castigations. This occupies a section of 36 lines the main part of which clearly alludes to Labeo’s authorship of Venus and Adonis. It begins:
Tho’ Labeo reaches right (who can deny?)
The true strains of heroic poesy;
For he can tell how fury reft his sense,
And Phoebus fill’d him with intelligence.
Surely this refers to Shakespeare’s selection of the two lines from Ovid’s Amores (Elegy 1, 15) to place at the head of Venus and Adonis which Ben Jonson, in the first act of Poetaster cleverly translates:
Kneel hinds to trash: me let bright Phoebus swell,
With cups full-flowing from the Muses’ well.
It is significant that Jonson puts these lines into the mouth of the young lawyer-poet Ovid who excuses himself for writing plays by saying: “I am not known upon the open stage: nor do I traffic in their theatres.” The real Ovid is not known to have written any plays. Although the action of the play is set in Rome in the time of Augustus, the authors and other characters who appear represent Jonson’s contemporaries. Rome is really London, Caesar’s gardens, Whitehall &c. Jonson appears under the name of his favourite Latin author, Horace, and “Shakespeare” is represented by his favourite, Ovid. Labeo scoffs at the frequent use of compound adjectives in Venus and Adonis:
He knows the grace of that, new elegance
Which sweet Philisides fetch’d of late from France,
That well-beseem’d his high-styl’d Arcady,
Tho, others mar it with much liberty,
In epithets to join two words in one
Forsooth, for adjectives can’t stand alone.
The Shakespeare poem has no less than four compound adjectives in the first six lines! In the 32nd line of the section on “Labeo” he remarks that this poet had “been in Venus’ chamber trained.” The accumulated circumstantial evidence is as convincing as it is possible to be that “Labeo” stands for the author of Venus and Adonis. It follows, therefore, that the name “William Shakespeare” was used to conceal the identity of the poet, and that he had used “another’s name.” We have proof from several contributors to Manes Verulamiani (that little book of some thirty elegies published shortly after Bacon’s death in 1626) that he was, as he confessed to Sir John Davies in 1603, a “concealed poet.” Aubrey records that “His Lordship was a good poet but concealed as appears by his letters.” Campion, Waller, Stow, Edmund Howes and others name Bacon among the poets of the period. John Davies of Hereford, in a sonnet addressed to him, said that `’all thy notes are sweetest airs” and that he delighted in the company of his muse. But the Manes go much further. In this publication, which is entirely in Latin, he is apostrophised as “The Morning Star of the Muses”; “the Hinges upon which turns the world of Literature”; “a Muse more choice than the Nine”: “Apollo, the Master of our Choir.” One writer states that he revived Philosophy through the medium of Comedy and Tragedy.
The allusions to the writing and publishing of poetry and “Interludes” (plays) by “gentlemen” from 1589 onwards, and the naming of Bacon in connection with such writing, although no poetic or dramatic works had been published under his name, make it certain that he was one of those whom the author of The Arte of English Poesie, Greene, Nashe and others had in mind.
It may be asked why he should conceal his authorship of such writings. There is considerable proof from contemporary sources that to be known as a poet obstructed a man’s prospects as lawyer, statesman or other public servant. In the MS. play of Sir Thomas More (circa 1600), the Earl of Surrey says: “Poets were ever thought unfit for state.”
In Ben Jonson’s Silent Woman (1609) occurs an argument as to the advisability, or otherwise, of Sir John Daw (whom Begley and some others have considered to be a caricature of Sir Francis Bacon) publishing verses under his own name. He, too, said that he did not “profess” to be a poet the very word which Bacon used in his Apology in certain imputations concerning the late Earl of Essex (1604), when he mentioned a sonnet he had written pleading for pardon for the Earl. “Clerimont” says that “Sir John Daw has more caution; he’ll not hinder his rising in the State.” Sir John Daw did not mean that he had no qualification for calling himself a poet. The word “profess” means “acknowledge” or “declare openly” as in King Lear (I, 1, 62):
Myself an enemy to all other joys.
Bacon, like Sir John Daw, took precautions not to reveal himself as a poet.
The author of The Arte of English Poesie is only one of many who confirm “the scorn and ordinary disgrace offered unto poets in these days.” In the dedication of Massinger’s Emperor of the East, he writes:
It being so rare in this age to meet with one noble name that, in fear to be censured for levity and weakness, dares express himself a friend or patron to contemned poetry.
So noxious were plays considered that Sir Thomas Bodley would not admit one to his famous library at Oxford. The evil reputation of the playhouses was, no doubt, the reason for this prejudice. The end of Lodge’s Glaucus and Scilla (1594), has this renunciation of writing for the stage:
and then by oath he bound me
To write no more of that whence shame doth grow;
Or tie my pen to Penny-knaves’ delight,
And live with fame, and so for fame to write.
The dangers that threatened playwrights and other authors is proved by the narrow escape of the author of Richard II because the play with the deposition scene was acted in the streets of London at the time of the Essex rebellion. The play had been published in 1597 anonymously and without the deposition scene. Sir John Haywarde was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower for alleged treason in his book on the Life and Reign of Henry IV which related the deposition of Richard II by a subject.
The book was dedicated to Essex who happened, like Bolinghroke, to be Earl of Hereford, and the Queen imagined that she was represented as Richard.
In 1597, Nashe was imprisoned for certain matter contained in his lost play The lle of Dogs. It was written for the Admiral’s company in 1597. In 1605, Jonson, Marston and Chapman were imprisoned for alleged reflections upon the Scots in Eastward Ho ! Again, in the same year, Chapman was impeached by the French Ambassador as to Byron’s Conspiracy in which he introduced the French Queen as giving Mlle. de Verneuil a box on the ear. Three actors were also arrested. Expression of opinion which today would be regarded as absolutely harmless and amusing could not have been written, or even uttered, without the greatest danger to liberty and life. The fate of the victim condemned for treason was too horrible to describe in detail. Torture and mutilation were ever-present dangers threatening authors, publishers and printers. For instance, in September 1579, the Privy Council ordered all persons having copies of Stubbes’ Discovery of a Gaping Gulf, whereinto England is like to be swallowed by another French Marriage, to take them to the Lord Mayor to be destroyed. The Privy Council declared that “the author had not only very contemptously intermeddled in matters touching Her Majesty’s Person, but had uttered certain things to the dishonour of the Duke of Anjou, brother to the French King.” Stubbes (a lawyer of Lincoln’s; inn), William Page (the publisher) and Hugh Singleton (the printer) were arrested. Stubbes and Page had their right hands cut off and Singleton was pardoned.
Sir Edmund Tilney (Master of the Revels) refused to license the play of Sir Thomas More, and wrote a warning on the manuscript “leave out ye insurrection wholly and the cause thereof at your own perills.” There is no record of the play having been performed. As Munday was the principal writer of the group of four who wrote the play, it was obviously done for the Admiral’s men for whom Munday was regularly employed.
When the Dean of Ely delivered the Shakespeare sermon in 1897, he made this very true and memorable statement:
There were some things in Shakespeare that the author might have been burnt for had he been a theologian, just as certainly as there were things about politics, about civil liberty, which, had he been a politician or a statesman, would have brought him to the block.
Is not this the explanation as to why Bacon should have so carefully hidden his activities as author of the Plays? That his greatest enjoyment in life came from the company of his muse we have the best of all testimony, his own. Not only is this apparent in the Sonnets, but also in his regret that necessity compelled him to seek employment in public life.
In Sonnet 76 the author writes that he “keeps invention in a noted weed” and that “every word doth almost tell my name.” “Invention” is a favourite word with Shakespeare to mean poetic skill. What does emerge from this much-debated sonnet surely is that the name “Shakespeare,” or “Shakespere” was a cloak or disguise.
When Essex had promised to assist Bacon in obtaining for him the office of solicitor-general in 1594, Bacon replied to Essex admitting that pursuit of the legal profession was distasteful to him because poetry was the chief delight and preoccupation of his mind:
Desiring your good Lordship nevertheless not to conceive out of this my diligence in soliciting this matter that I am either much in appetite, or much in hope. For as for appetite, the waters of Parnassus are not like the waters of the Spaw that give a stomach; but rather they quench appetite and desires.
The following is from Martin Pares, Baconiana 1963:
In 1599 a book entitled The First Part of the Life and raigne of King Henrie the IIII, but actually dealing with the deposing of Richard II, was published by John Haywarde, whose initials appear on the title page and who signed the dedication to the Earl of Essex. Queen Elizabeth sent for Bacon about this and interrogated him as to whether there were grounds for prosecuting the author for treason. According to Bacon, the Queen could not be persuaded that it was Haywarde’s work, and suspected “some more mischevious author.”
Let us hear from Bacon himself:
The book of deposing King Richard the Second, and the coming in of Henry the Fourth, supposed to be written by Dr. Haywarde, who was committed to the Tower for it, had much incensed Queen Elizabeth; and she asked Mr. Bacon, being of her learned counsel, whether there was any treason contained in it? Mr. Bacon intending to do him a pleasure, and to take off the Queen’s bitterness with a merry conceit, answered, ‘No Madam, for treason I cannot deliver an opinion that there is any, but very much felony.’ The Queen apprehending it gladly, asked ‘How? and Wherein?’ Mr. Bacon answered, ‘Because he had stolen many of his sentences and conceits out of Cornelius Tacitus.’ [Bacon’s Apothegms No. 58.] And another time, when the Queen could not be persuaded that it was his writing whose name was to it, but that it had some more mischievous author; and said with great indignation, That she would have him racked to produce his author: I replied, ‘Nay, Madam, he is a doctor; never rack his person, but rack his style; let him have pen, ink, and paper, and help of books, and be enjoined to continue the story where it breaketh off, and I will undertake, by collating the styles, to judge whether he were the author or no’. (Ibid.)