Interview : MARK RYLANCE 


of  the


with Lawrence Gerald


photos of Mark from 1994 by Lawrence Gerald

"Mark Rylance plays Shakespeare like Shakespeare wrote it for him the night before."

-Al Pacino,

actor and director of Looking for Richard , a documentary on general audiences' perceptions of the Shakespeare works

I had the opportunity to spend part of a Sunday afternoon with Mark Rylance in June of 1994 in his London apartment. It was through Peter Dawkins (Francis Bacon Research Trust) that arrangments were made for us to meet. It was a day off from his hectic schedule of movie acting and I became quite impressed with Mark's learning of the depths as our conversation flowed from Jung, James Hillman, the kabalah, the Tree of Life, western mysticism and back to Shakespeare, the authorship question and more. Mark has a thirst for the wisdom of the ancients. Today up in the Globe Theatre Exhibition Hall on the ceiling it's no coincidence that there can be seen a Tree of Life image

This image of the Tree of Life can be seen on
the ceiling of the new London Globe Theatre Exhibition Hall

like the one Mark brought out to show me demonstrating his alchemical understanding of how the energies of the universe both planetary, and within, and the complimentarity of those energies as reflected in the characters found in Shakespeare. My intent for this interview was to get Mark to make a statement about the authorship. He let me see some of his library which included Peter Dawkins' works and Alfred Dodd's books on Francis Bacon. I had already known that he was a Baconian but I wanted to hear him say so on tape. He was already getting some press associating his name with Anti-Stratfordianism. So Mark was trying to lay low with me on this as he was the leading candidate for director of the Globe Theatre at the time. Mark would make some interesting observations on the authorship but I had to go through the universe of wisdom , alchemy, kabalah, the Tree of Life before getting his statement. He admitted there existed at the time of this interview a stigma associated with the authorship issue especially for one who was about to become the first director of the new Globe Theatre, ground zero for Shakespeare performance. In the Sunday Times on July 30, 1995, Robert Hewison wrote, "The choice of Mark Rylance, announced last week, seems a good one. A working actor, whose own performances have shown no particular reverence for the Shakespeare canon, but whose commitment to the value of Shakespeare in performance is unquestioned, Rylance will have to steer carefully between the pedants and the tourists. But a living building, filled with contemporary actors and a modern audience will be his guide."

at the Globe, 1997

The next time I saw Mark would be in 1997 at the Globe in the lobby, he was in between Saturday matinee performances and obliging his fans who were waiting for autographs. During this moment he and I caught each other's eye and nodded in mutual recognition. Just as he was finishing from the duties of fame, I handed Mark one of my Francis Bacon souvenir phone cards with Bacon on a red motorcycle, he smiled, and was off to get ready for his next show. I then walked out of the lobby and within a synchronistic London minute someone on a red motorcycle zoomed on by!

Today Mark still acts and directs at the Globe when he is not making films (Angels and Insects" (William Adamson),"The Grass Arena" (John Healy), "Hearts of Fire," "The Institude Benjamenta/This Dream People Call Human Life" (Jakob), "Loving" (Charlie Raunce 1995 TV),"Prospero's Books" (Ferdinand) aka Ultima tempesta, L' (1991 Italy) , "Angels and Insects"(William Adamson), Hearts of Fire (1987 Fizz) , "Wallenberg: A Hero's Story" (1985 TV) ,"Nikki Fodor Tartuffe or Imposter," (1983 TV) , "Intimacy" (2001, Jay).
He also continues his explorations into the mysteries inherent in Shakespeare by co-hosting
workshops with his mentor Peter Dawkins at the Globe 2002 and giving public talks on insightful books such as Nigel Cockburn's "The Bacon-Shakespeare Question."Lawrence Gerald 


Mark can you tell me a little bit about your background in acting

MR: Perhaps I should just say that I've been a professional actor in Britain since 1980. I trained in America and trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and then joined the RSC and done a number of seasons with the RSC playing Ariel, Romeo, Taming of the Shrew, Hamlet, Prospero, Iago, Benedict, and I'm an associate artist of the Royal Shakespeare Company. So I've spent most of my time, I would say, acting Shakespeare in Britain, and in America at the ART in Boston and at the Theater for a New Audience in New York City.

Does the background reading on the authorship of Shakespeare make a difference for a Shakespeare actor?

In terms of pure acting, it's a gift. You know, I don't think you need to be educated to be a great actor. I think it's not only connected with the mind; obviously it's connected with the heart and your physical body. And some people are just look very beautiful, and they're famous actors. So it's not a prerequisite for true acting. In terms of acting in Shakespeare plays, I find it very helpful, and I can only really speak personally. I came upon it first of all when I returned to Stratford in 1988 to play Hamlet. And I wanted to read more about the Stratford man, so I bought a book by A. L. Rowse on '[Shakespeare and the Man', and I walked around Stratford in reverie, you know, believing I was acting in the garden of Mr. Shaksper. And I was performing in a play, Romeo and Juliet, when a couple friends of mine came and said, "Oh, the alchemy is extraordinary in this play. The movement, the use of the words 'leaden' at the beginning for Romeo and the images of silver in the orchard, and eventually the gold statue that they're made into." I asked, "Well, alchemy, and they really couldn't turn minerals into gold, into coins and things, could they?" And they said, "No, no, no, it's a very different thing, alchemy. It's talking about transpersonal states and the transformation of the psyche." And, of course, then I found - I read a lot of Jung and looked into what true alchemy was. And I found that very helpful with Romeo and Juliet, to use those words, not just as descriptive words picked randomly, but there was a consciousness behind someone saying, "My state is leaden." And so I went along and met the Francis Bacon Research Trust, where these friends of mine were going to hear a lecture the next day. And I was experiencing something in the Hamlet performances which we were doing four times a week, and four times Romeo at that time, so there was a certain kind of energy generated in the performance, which the whole cast had come off and said to me, "Oh, it was really good tonight. Why was it, you know, so good?" And you hear that going back to Laurence Olivier, you know, these great performances. He never understood why. And, of course, in a certain sense you don't want to define why.
But I found with Peter Dawkins of the Francis Bacon Research Trust that they were talking about esoteric traditions, that alchemy, the Kabalah, the Hermetic teachings which Frances A. Yates writes very intricately about in her books, and the Celtic major cycles, the Druidic, the Celtic traditions here, all these kind of hidden traditions that can kind of be stretched back to Egypt. And I found in them a description of a form of the movement through Hamlet that I was experiencing as an actor.
Now, I hadn't come to Hamlet interpreting from that light. I'd spent a long time working with a dictionary and working very - just naturalistically and realistically as an actor to find solutions in the play. But the movement from, say, from desire to thought to action to death or desire to action, these cycles of movement and these descriptions of inner states were an enormous help to me and have been an enormous help since that production of Hamlet, which was a great success, on to playing Prospero and Ferdinand and very much so in Much Ado About Nothing, where I used the Kabalistic tree to place myself in context in the performance. It's not something that means a lot to other actors all the time, you know. And that doesn't mean they give bad performances. They give very good performances. So it's not at all necessary. But it is particularly helpful to me.
And I suppose it's particularly helpful to me also to realize that there's a consciousness behind the plays which is not, just about making money, which is the general motivation that I hear of Stratfordians by that I mean people who believe Mr. Shaksper wrote the plays which I find unbelievable, in that most of the plays are published anonymously anyway, and they're not published to make great amounts of money. So the author wasn't out to make money.
But I find with Francis Bacon, some of the things were in the place, and someone who was connected with these schools of thought, and someone who had a motivation that equals the scope of the comedy and the tragedy in the plays.
I don't mind who you think wrote the plays. I think it just as much as in the text, you don't get stage directions, you know? It's an intuitive exercise to do a Shakespeare play and to go through a Shakespeare play. Well, likewise, the authorship question: whoever you believe wrote the plays, they covered at their tracks bloody well. Even Stratford man, I don't believe, he didn't have a library.. So even the Stratford man, you've got to say, why did he leave us only about eleven facts about himself? So whoever you believe wrote the plays, they felt it was important to mask them, to mask the identity, the personality of the author. And to name them, I guess, to name them Shakespeare, which to me is a literal translation of the goddess of wisdom, the Greek goddess of wisdom, Pallas Athena. So even Mr. Shaksper, if he wrote the plays, changed his name to Shakespeare and showed a great consciousness, and I think a proper sense of naming the author of the plays as an inspired source, as coming from an inspired source, into someone who was obviously able to write and able to observe the nature around him in order to encapsulate these really miraculous, miraculous plays. But to me I find Francis Bacon the most likely candidate to be the author.

Is it easy for you to talk about this subject with other actors,, or do you think there's a stigma still going on about it?

I think there is a stigma. There's a lot of people certainly in the academic world there's a lot of people whose livelihoods are bound to this. There have been more books alone written about Hamlet than have been written about the Bible. So there's a lot of people tied into believing that the traditional response to the authorship question. In terms of actors, some people get very angry about it. I'd say some people are very interested and have gone on and read some of Peter's books and things. ActorsI think .........they're curious as to what I'm doing.

So they know a little bit of your leanings towards the background of Shakespeare.

I think they do. I mean, of course, when you first come upon this stuff, as you know, it's so exciting, and I guess you feel a certain sense of injustice towards Francis Bacon or, I don't know, principles of historical truth, and so at first I was very keen to talk about it with people, and it was so convincing to me. I would be stunned that people didn't pick it up. I couldn't understand. But now I've gradually really try to avoid antagonizing people and see that it's just as important if you feel that there isn't an absolute truth about it and there isn't a truth that I feel everyone must come to feel, you know? I really do honor the Stratford man as doing something very dangerous by taking the name, from my point of view. And so it just seems to whether you think the Stratford man wrote it or the Oxford man wrote it or Bacon wrote it, it just is a kind of gauge of what you feel about the nature of reality to me, and that's not something for me to tamper with, you know? I think the most absolute truth is only as good as the time that it's told. It's only as good as where the person, the receiver of that, is. You can pass by things, and so I don't really press it anymore. But I do bring, say, in Much Ado About Nothing, I do bring my Kabalistic charts and place Benedict with Mercury and Claudio with Venus and Beatrice with Mars and Hero with Jupiter and talk about thought and desire and perception and compassion and try and share that the plays are not only about individuals, but they're also about one individual, and each of the characters can be seen as an archetype or a transpersonal quality of a whole individual. And so the harmony that's achieved at the end of these comedies is really a united figure, a figure of eight, as the hermetic teachers use over and over again. And, as you'll find in the Stratford, and in the memorial in Westsminster Abbey with Shakespeare with his legs crossed. So I do bring information !(laughter).
I'll show you that because it's quite interesting.
[demonstrates] He's leaning on a pillar here, which, of course, is very masonic. In the masonic traditions there's always one pillar that's there in pure form, and the other one is invisible or crumbled to form. And he's pointing to the word "temples" on this bit of text, altered text of The Tempest, which is a sign to go up to the temple, the temple area of London, which is smack in between Westminister and the rebuilding of the Globe. And in the temple church there you'll find Knights of the Crusades lying on the floor with their legs crossed like this, and you see that it makes a figure of eight. And it was a sign of in the crusading times of Templar Knights who had made a crusade for Jerusalem. But the Elizabethans picked it up, and particularly the group who met at the Earl of Leicester's [Robert Dudley] house, which is right next to the Templar area.

They picked it up as a sign of people who were making a crusade into a consciousness, into becoming more into trying to really balance the spiritual self with the material self, by the movement in between these two through the heart, through a balance point in between justice and mercy, in the center of the body. And that's what the figure eight comes to suggest. I find that very helpful in really looking into the period and seeing that it's not just a chance happening, these Shakespeare plays, but Sidney and Spencer, Sir Nicholas Bacon's Gorhambury, there was a great movement to educate the young noblemen, first of all, so that there would be better laws, better treatment of the people. And then with the Shakespeare plays this marvelous thing of after they've all been performed, first of all, in the court and in the Inn's of Temple, the Grays' Inn and the other Christmas celebrations there, that there was this great thing of, well, let's have them perform for the common people, for everyone! They should be universal and not be just ...... we mustn't just educate the noblemen and the wealthy and the intelligent, but that they must be put out there to be taken as you like it, to be enjoyed at whatever level you want to enjoy it. And people do enjoy the plays at completely different levels. And, likewise, they enjoy the authorship question . . . at completely different levels. And it is a very beautiful idea, and possibly true, that a common man from Stratford with a common education was able to write these plays. I think that was very important to Bacon . . . personally. I think he went to great efforts to get a house for the Stratford man, to make it so difficult for us to prove that it was Francis Bacon, because it is very difficult to prove. I ramble on about it.


I did a production of The Tempest, see, this is a chart of the alchemical process. It's a basic fact of chemistry that if you take a substance and dissolve it in water, and then heat that substance so that it divides into a gas, and that the sediment of the substance drops to the bottom of whatever you're doing, and then you cool it . . . and sort it, you could change it and you might be able to change how people have a cathartic experience that would alter some block in them. And to my feeling, that's what the Shakespeare plays are about, absolutely. You know, you dissolveyou take a hard stone, a hard situation like Hamlet, locked in his grief, "Oh, that this too, too solid flesh" would melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a dew, and you add a lot of water, and you add all the emotional qualities, and the arrival of his father and the stuff with Ophelia, and you immerse that into emotion, and then you separate it in the mad area, say, of Hamlet, and the alchemical elements of air, so you move from earth to water to air. You separate it, and then he finally gets an idea of what to do with the players arriving, and it drops into the fire and comes back together. And that kind of sense of looking at scenes as moving through a cycle that is cathartic, and then, of course, reaching out with soliloquies and with the production of the play and hopefully taking the audience through these things that we all thought they'd never have to experience in reality, that for somethis is a chart of the wheel of fortune or the wheel of nature, I suppose. Rosalind and Celia talk a lot about it in the beginning of As You Like It. And you can see I've got the desire for action and the four elements. It helps me to look at why certain words have been chosen in the text and to look at movements really so that rather than states that I'm acting, situations have changed.

You can anticipate it and you can understand the cycles . . .'cause things are cyclical. .Rather than being fixed.

Yes, And then I'm not . . . original. This is about this, so this and then you get a very clever idea put to you. But I don't sit down at dinner and have clever ideas. I want something that's alive and is going to take me through. So rather than looking for clever ideas, I'm really trying to find more the muscularity of the plays, the movement through, and I find in the hermetic teachings the use of those ideas. We were saying earlier before we started, and I'll say it again now, I find in the archetypal school of psychology, led by people like James Hillman, a friend of mine over here, Noel Cobb, who wrote a brilliant book about . . .

Sufis and Sufism?

Yes, Sufis, and Peter Brook is going into this archetypal-Hermetic understanding, I find these kind of traditions very helpful. This very complicated drawing . . .


Yeah. This is a chart I put up in the rehearsal last year. It's a Kabalistic tree of life. And you can see there the different principles, like - I really can't go into the depth of it at the moment, but I put characters associated with earth. And I've put the four lovers up here, associated very much - Claudio, if you know the play - associated with Venus, with feelings and desires, and above him Hero, who's associated with compassion or a more developed sense of the emotions. And the emotions very much wanted to unite on that side, that love wants to rush together as the two of them do. On this side I have Benedict connected with Mercury and thought and communication, that chit-chatty part of the mind, as he is, you know, which is very witty, but not with a great deal of perception. And above him in the seat of Mars, or judgment, perception, discrimination, I placed Beatrice, who is the only one at the wedding ceremony who perceives Hero's innocence. Now, above them, again, up in higher principles of Saturn and the pure energy over here, which doesn't have form, you have Don Pedro or Peter in the Bible and Don John, or John in the Bible, affecting the intelligence side, affecting this subplot and Peter's affecting this subplot

I see. This is an excellent visual way to understand the complexities of form.

Well, my wife always says to me, and I think it's true, it's very difficult for us to understand the Elizabethan understanding and enjoyment and perception of form as it is to say...... it would be for them to understand computers or going to the moon or something. But their sense of form, their sense of connection between human life and the zodiac, say, or their sense of balance.

That was the English renaissance during that time, and that stuff was then a topical way of looking at things, emblems and symbols.......

Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

Of form.

I mean this was the safe house of all these great thinkers that had come out of Italy. And the Church had, first of all, encouraged this study of hermetic teachings and of the Kabalah that came out of the great situation in Spain when Judaic and Islam and Christian students could work together. But then there was this great repression of it as the Church got frightened. It was basically saying you don't need an interpreter. You don't need a priest or a guru or a hero, that any man or woman with reason can have interaction with the divine, with or the archetypal or the psychic or the natural level, that you don't have to go through another person. Now, that really is the very threatening idea! And it's very much behind the Shakespeare plays. You can find it on the back of the American dollar even, as, you know, on the pyramid there.
So there are lots going on in the plays, that leads onto the question of why mask the authorship of the plays? Well, it's not just that the author was revealing political secrets of the time, which the plays are doing. If you look at them, if you look at Lord Burleigh and look at the hunchback Cecil, his son, you can see a lot of stuff that's going on that's being revealed in the plays.

Richard III ?

Richard III, absolutely.

Polonius being maybe Burleigh?

Burleigh, absolutely; and a lot about Elizabeth. I mean I found when I play Henry V a lot of connections with the hidden history of the connection between Francis Bacon and Elizabeth. If you take a lot of Elizabeth's views towards Bacon being, you know, leading a kind of wild life, like with the Grays Inn chambers, for the young lawyers, that he knew people like a Falstaff, people like a Shallow, and he put himself about a lot, if you look at the scene between young Hal and Henry IV, it can very much be associated with Francis and Elizabeth. So sometimes I do move into a direct historical kind of parallel in thinking about characters like that.
But my point was it's not just to protect the identity of the author in terms of what he may have been revealing of political secrets and powerful people's personalities and ambitions. There's also a very important and dangerous idea being put about that any man and any woman too, could have access to the divine, and it didn't have to come through the Catholic or Protestant church, which was a massive . . .change of thinking at that time.

So this is being part of an intimate existential transformation that the actors are undergoing during performance when it all clicks.... and the live audience senses it.... some type of, what.... a religious kind of epiphany or something?

Well, I think you've got to take on the spiritual side if you act these plays. If you do Macbeth and you don't believe in witches, then, you know, why do the play? If you do Hamlet and you don't - you've got to deal somehow with what a ghost is, whether that's a projection of the psyche or a thing that has its own consciousness. If you perform As You Like It , you've got to say, well, just old Adam dressed up as the God above, or is it actually a God coming to earth? And so nicely does Shakespeare leave that open you know? To the level of the performers and the level of the audience you will get the production. But it's absolutely right. You couldn't say no if in a production you do deal with a spiritual event happening there and an angel coming into the presence of Duke Senior and Jacques,Touchstone, but there's a certain harmony achieved there for the moment actually graced by the divine. But it's put in so marvelously in the plays that it cannot be associated with any one religious dogma or any one political system. And that's you see, even with a personality, such as, to say, you go to a Tennessee Williams play, you know all about Tennessee Williams, so you kind of oh, that's Tennessee, that relates to that. In the Shakespeare plays, it's not like that. You have to identify it with yourself. I mean if you look into it, these archetypal levels a bit more, as I have and as you are, then you start to see, well, there is a man, of course, behind this, but very important is that these plays don't have filters of personality or religious dogma or of political states that might block people out.

Thank you very much, Mark.

Can I say one thing more?


Yeah. So when I say that I believe Francis Bacon wrote it, my personal belief is that he wrote that with a lot of other people helping, good pens as he called them. And I believe that . . .

Ben Jonson.

Ben Jonson obviously. I believe Devere was involved. I believe there were a lot of people involved in these works.

Toby Matthews, I think, on Measure for Measure.

People who were collecting - I think Sir Water Raleigh and others who came back with information about travels abroad.

To help The Tempest come together.

The two Earls of Pembroke were obviously involved as the Folio which was dedicated to them. If you look into their lives.,and Mary, too, Mary, the Countess of Pembroke was involved earlier on, for people who wonder if there was a woman involved. I think Elizabeth may have been involved. I don't think that this means that they were written by a committee. But I think that if you look even at a group like Monty Python, who I was looking at the other night on the television, they wrote separately in groups, and then came together. Now, I didn't know that until I saw this program. I thought it was just written by, you know, they all sat together and wrote these amazing programs. But they wrote separately and wrote about what they knew about, and then brought that together. So I find that's my feeling. And who knows maybe the Shakespeare man wrote a few lines as well.......

Well, he certainly had difficulty writing his own signature!

[Laughs] He did, indeed. And I like Ben Jonson's quote about him. What is it? (reads)

This Figure, that thou here seest put,
It was for gentle Shakefpeare cut
W herein the Grauer had a ftrife
with Nature, to out-doo the life:
O,could he but haue drawne his wit
As well in braffe, as he hath hit
His face; the Print would then furpaffe
All, that vvas euer vvrit in braffe.
But fince he cannot, Reader, looke
Not on his Picture, but his Booke.

And one can contrast Jonson's sly To the Reader enigma with Archbishop Thomas Tenison's who said about Bacon: (reads)

"And those who have true skill in the Works of Lord Verulam, like great Masters in painting, can tell by the design, the strength, the way of coloring, whether he was the author of this or the other piece, though his name be not to it."["Baconiana" 1679]

Also that the author never crossed out - Shakespeare never crossed out a word. Ben Jonson says something roughly, 'Would that he had crossed out a thousand'. . . . one of the ways you can take it is that he never crossed out a word because he never wrote a word of it! And would that he had crossed out a thousand - well, someone maybe Southampton, paid him a thousand pounds at the time of the rebellion, of the Essex rebellion, which is when the first time that the Shakespeare name appears on the plays . . .1598, I think , but after this time when Essex went and saw Richard II the evening before he was arrested, it was after that that the name first starts to appear on the plays, and it's after that that the Stratford man goes back to Stratford and buys this house for a thousand pounds, which is a helluva lot of money at that time. So I think Ben Jonson is making a nice little joke that he crossed out a thousand!

Well, it's even been said through one of Ben Jonsons' plays,"Every Man Out of his Humour", that he possibly lays down the inside story about what happened to the man of Stratford thru the character named Sogliardo I think. In life , the rumor is that Jonson was last seen drinking with Shaksper on his birthday, on the 23rd of April, 1616, and may have put arsenic into his drink.

That's was not uncommon.

Maybe they were afraid that he was, of course, going to spill the beans about Bacon and what was really behind the whole front scenario, and they needed to protect their group of pens . There was also something I came across in one kind of orthodox, conventional book about Shaksper or the man from Stratford, and that he had purchased a home in Blackfriars, which originally belonged to Anne Bacon, who was Francis Bacon's stepmother.

That's right.

Well, this could show a partial payment in kind for the deal or situation that may have been arranged, so that there is a possible connection between Bacon and Shaksper. One of the few I've seen, outside of the Northumberland manuscript, which has . . .both their names on the same document.....

Oh, yeah. The most convincing thing to me, I think, is the fact, and you'll find many writers who will agree with this, that writers write about what they know about. And you have here a body of work that knows intricate details .There is not one legal mistake in the entire canon. And when you act in the plays, you become so aware, even down to the grave diggers in Hamlet, who are talking about a very intricate legal case where a man went into a river and did he kill himself or did the river kill him, and should the property go to his wife or not? And this is a very intricate legal case.

So the author would have to have an extensive background in law to have written the plays. . .

I really think it's difficult not to get around that, yeah.


I mean there are also, what?, thirteen intricate details not only of political situations, but of royalty and of questions of succession that were of great interest to Francis. Thatand if you look at the plays, that would apply that people write about what they know about, what they experience. Try writing yourself about something, and your self will come through it. You know? That really to me is the most convincing argument, if you're interested in who the author was like Francis.

That's a good point. In conclusion, is there any Shakespeare lines you wouldn't mind reciting off the top, or if you want to read from it ......

You know, I really can't. I'm not very good at this. When people ask me . . .

[Laughs] OK. It's hard enough to just read from it. But that's great. All right, I think we've covered a few bases of eternity with Jung, alchemy and Shakespeare!


comments can be sent to Lawrence Gerald
 See Mark Rylances' introductions to Peter Dawkins' books on the Wisdom of Shakespeare Series

Merchant of Venice 

Julius Caesar

As You Like It