BOOK REVIEW 
By

MATHER WALKER
author of over 40 essays and a book on the subject of the Shakespeare Authorship


THE BACON SHAKESPEARE QUESTION

The Baconian Theory Made Sane

by N. B. Cockburn

 

Biddles Limited, Guilford

and Kings Lynn 1998, 740p


Abbie Hoffman (one of the weeds from the flower-child generation) once wrote a book titled, "Steal This Book!". It wasn't much of a book. Those who actually stole it were soon seen surreptitiously trying to slip it back onto the bookracks, and there was a spate of "catch me before I steal again" letters to newspapers. But Cockburn's book is the real deal. I'll amplify Hoffman's title to say,- if you really want to know who wrote the Shakespeare works, buy, beg, borrow, or steal this book - but whatever you do don't miss it! If you are a Baconian and read only one book this millennium, this is the book! It's a shame Cockburn's book does not have a wider distribution at this time, because, as far as coverage of the basic evidence relating to the Bacon-Shakespeare question goes, this book, like the line from the Budweiser beer commercial, "is as good as it gets"!!!

Cockburn's book reminds me of the passage from the poem by Sir Walter Raleigh:

One Book among the rest is dear to me;
As when a man, having tired himself in deed
Against the world, and falling back to write,
Sated with love, or crazed by vanity,
Or drunk with joy, or maimed by Fortune's Spite,
Sets down his Paternoster and his Creed.

This book was Cockburn's Paternoster and Creed, and he was admirably equipped for his task. He spent his working life at the English Bar. To the innate gift of an excellent analytical mind he added legal experience gained through many years of experience in all the intricacies of litigation and the organization and presentation of forensic evidence. After he left the Bar, he became a fixture in the library of the British Museum, spending many years of research and reflection on THE QUESTION - slowly but surely fashioning himself into the absolute master of every facet and every detail of his subject, as if preparing for the one great case of his lifetime. Only then did he allow himself to write THE BOOK.

And what a book! One can only admire the format and depth of this book. Cockburn utilizes textbook format to superb effect while avoiding the detriment to readability that is so often the lot of textbooks. Each section within the book is highlighted with a larger font heading. Each chapter, for the most part, begins with a "bullet" in small font that encapsulates the gist of the chapter. Footnotes are located at the end of each chapter making them more readily accessible, rather than lumping them all together at the end of the book, as is the usual irritating format in scholarly books. Throughout the book the bodies of evidence are effectively organized. Cockburn incorporates decades of research into his book. He was 88 in 1998 when his book was finally completed and published, and his book shows in full measure the result of the decades of dedication and preparation he put into it. On the subject of the Bacon Shakespeare Question this is THE BOOK! This is the ultimate source reference for Baconians. All Baconians should thoroughly familiarize themselves with this book and keep a well thumbed copy of it on their desk along with their dictionary and Roget's Thesaurus. Then, in their tilting with the Stratfordians, all they will have to do is cite chapter and verse. This is quite simply (and by far) the best single book ever written on the subject.

The Introduction to Cockburn's book is the very model of what an introduction to a book should be, but seldom is. Cockburn very deftly summarizes the background of the controversy between the Stratfordians and the Baconians. He utilizes the convention of "Shakspere" to designate the man from Stratford, and "Shake-Speare" to designate the true author. He tells us his aim is to:

"cut a swathe through all the nonsense, to get at the points that matter both for and against the Baconian hypothesis, and to state them fairly and accurately."

He says he intends:

"…to cover, as far as possible the whole field of the Bacon-Shake-Speare controversy. All previous books have been limited to some aspects of it. But one cannot judge a dispute unless one knows the whole of it. It is at present contained in an amorphous mass of Baconian literature, and a certain amount of scattered Stratfordian literature.I have tried to collect, marshal and collate the evidence and present it in an orderly,systematic, comprehensive fashion. My hope is that over most of the ground covered by the controversy, pretty well everything worth knowing about the arguments for and against will be found in this book."

And amazingly he manages to accomplish exactly this in his book.

Understandably, and I think wisely, Cockburn is careful to avoid the more extreme elements among the Baconians. He notes that:

"They [Baconians] have come near to destroying their own case by enlisting a host of absurd arguments, the cryptograms especially. Many people must think that cryptograms are what the Baconian theory is mainly about. The most extreme Baconians have even claimed for their idol large chunks of other Elizabethan literature besides Shake-Speare, despite the fact that one has only to read a few page of the works in question to know from their style that neither Shake-Speare nor Bacon could possibly have written them."

And he goes on to add:

"If the Baconians had shown restraint and confined themselves to their valid arguments, of which there are many, their case would have had far wider appeal."

In regards to the Stratfordians Cockburn notes that they are largely ignorant even of Bacon's acknowledged works, and generally tend to think the Baconian Theory was discredited years ago. They have closed ranks and minds, he says, and even in cases where they entered the fray they have tended to concentrate their fire on the most absurd Baconian arguments while ignoring the others. As far as their ability to evaluate the evidence for the Baconian Theory, even if through some miracle they should attempt to do so, he notes that "an aptitude for sitting in libraries, digging out information, is distinct from an ability to evaluate the evidence so unearthed."

In Part I of his book Cockburn examines the Baconian Case with a detail and thoroughness with which it has never been examined before. In Part II he examines the Rival Claimants Case. In Part III he examines the Stratfordian Case, going out of his way to ensure that an impartial hearing is given to every basic Stratfordian point. Then he sums up and weighs the evidence on each side and provides his conclusion on Shakespeare's identity - concluding that Francis Bacon was indeed the author. Cockburn's book is crafted with an admirable clarity and coherency. He turns Shakspere into the Incredible Shrinking Man. When the book begins Shakspere is normal sized, but Cockburn continually whittles away at him until by the end of his book Stratford Willy is the stuff that dreams are made on - "an insubstantial pageant faded, leaving not a rack behind."

Under Part I he divides his examination of the Baconian Case into the following chapter headings (I have included the "bullets" that appear with most of the chapter headings, and in each case they are fully supported):

BACON WAS A POET {}
BACON'S INTEREST IN THE THEATRE
[Bacon relished the Theatre and poetry as a branch of learning, as a source of delight, and as a means of educating people to virtue] {}
BACON'S REASONS FOR ANONYMITY{}
BACON'S SPARE TIME
[Bacon had abundant leisure during the relevant period to write the Shake-Speare works; Shakspere somewhat less time] {}
THE METAPHORICAL SHAKE-SPEARE
["Shakespeare" would have been an ideal pen name for Bacon by reason of its association with Pallas, the spear-shaker, Goddess of Wisdom] {}
THE LEARNING OF SHAKE-SPEARE, BACON AND SHAKESPERE [Shake-Speare's Learning cannot be reconciled with Shakspere's background and apparent personality] {}
THE COMEDY OF ERRORS AND THE GRAY'S INN REVELS OF CHRISTMAS 1594-5 [The Comedy of Errors was first performed during the Gray's Inn Revels of Christmas 1594-5, and is likely to have been written by Bacon who wrote other parts of the Revels too. Shakspere's company was probably playing before the Queen at Greenwich on the night in question, and, if so, could not have been at Gray's Inn] {}
LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST [This play is tailor-made for Bacon's authorship] {}
"MERRY TALES" AT TWICKENHAM [In a notebook entry Bacon implied that he was writing "merry tales", which can only mean plays, around 1594-6] {}
THE RETURN FRON PARNASSUS PARTS 1 AND 2 [These plays seem to distinguish between Shakspere and Shake-Speare] {}
JOHN FLORIO, SHAKE-SPEARE AND BACON [Three anonymous commendatory sonnets in Florio's works are by Shake-Speare. But Shakspere had no need of anonymity. And Bacon is far more likely to have been a close friend of Florio] {}
THE NORTHUMBERLAND MANUSCRIPT [This shows that Bacon was in possession of manuscript copies of Shake-Speare's Richard II and Richard III, and that Bacon's scribes believed both plays to be by Bacon. It shows too that Bacon probably possessed in manuscript (under the projected title Asmund and Cornelia), and was author of, Shake-Speare's poem A Lover's Complaint] {}
THE HALL AND MARSTON SATIRES AND A FREEMAN EPIGRAM [Hall, Marston and probably Freeman identified Shake-Speare with Bacon] {}
TROILUS AND CRESSIDA [This play was specially written for performance at an Inn of Court, probably Gray's Inn. And several points suggest that it was written by a member of the Inn, probably Bacon] {} SHAKE-SPEARE'S LINKS WITH THE INNS OF COURT
[The performance of Shake-Speare plays at the Inns of Court is more consistent with their having been written by an Inn member than by Shakspere] {}
SHAKE-SPEARE A CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY MAN
[Bacon attended Trinity College, Cambridge from 1573-76. There are hints in the Shake-Speare works that their author was a University man, and most of them point to Cambridge as the University in question] {} EPICENE OR THE SILENT WOMEN
[This Ben Jonson play seems to suggest that Bacon was a concealed poet] {}
A JOHN DAVIES SONNET TO BACON [This Poem tends to imply that Bacon wrote verse] {}
THE TEMPEST [The Tempest uses details from a private letter from one William Strachey to which Bacon, but not Shakspere, had access. Bacon almost certainly drafted a report of the Virginia Company which likewise draws on the letter] {}
KING JAMES'S PROSE WORKS - SHAKE-SPEARE'S COMMENDATORY LINES [Shake-Speare wrote 4 lines of commendation in the omnibus edition of Jame's prose works, 1616. But 1616 seems too late for Shakspere to have written the lines]
THE TOBIE MATHEW POSTSCRIPT [In the postscript of a letter to Bacon, Mathew implied that Bacon had written the Shake-Speare works] {}
THE FIRST FOLIO [Subject to important matters to be discussed in Chapter 38 the First Folio is neutral on the authorship question] {}
CRYPTOMANIA {}
THE SONNETS [Nothing in the Sonnets assists the Stratfordians but several points favour the Baconians] {} DID SHAKSPERE HAVE A PATRON?
[There is no reliable evidence that Shakspere ever had a patron. And the Dedications to Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece are in Bacon's style] {}
THE UNBLOTTED PAPERS [Shakspere's fellow actors said his scripts were unblotted. The likely reason for this is that, contrary to the usual practice, fair copies had been made. Bacon would have had this done, but not Shakspere] {}
SHAKE-SPEARE'S STRANGE ALOOFNESS [Shake-Speare's persistent aloofness suggests a concealed writer] {}
SHAKE-SPEARE MURAL AT ST. ALBANS [The only known Elizabethan painting of a Shake-Speare scene was in a tavern near the Bacon estate at St. Albans] {}
WAS SHAKE-SPEARE A LAWYER? [Most of the legal allusions in the Shake-Speare works shed no light on whether or not he was a lawyer. But some of them, coupled with the early acquisition of his legal knowledge, and with the legal flavour of the Sonnets, make it very probable that he was a lawyer] {}
OPINIONS, ATTITUDES AND INTERESTS SHARED BY SHAKE-SPEARE AND BACON
[There is no discrepancy between the discernible opinions, attitudes and interests of Shake-Speare and Bacon] {}
THE LITERARY STYLES OF SHAKE-SPEARE AND BACON
[The literary styles of our two authors seem fundamentally indistinguishable] {}
PARALLELISM [The most significant of the Bacon-Shake-Speare parallelisms are conclusive evidence that Bacon was Shake-Speare] {}
SOME OTHER BACONIAN POINTS [The aim of this chapter is to sweep up some minor and miscellaneous points which it has not been possible to accommodate in earlier chapters. They are relevant in various ways. Some of them fortify the impression, already created by so much other evidence, that Shake-Speare lived and breathed in aristocratic circles] {}
THE TRUE AMBIT OF THE SHAKE-SPEARE CANON [There are probably extant more short poems by Shake-Speare than have been recognised as his]

The subject format of most of these headings will be familiar to most Baconians. The difference is the depth and competency with which Cockburn covers them, and the fact that he is careful to search out and bring in any existing arguments of the Stratfordians against each individual subject heading, and to rebut these objections in full. And, as might be inferred, since Cockburn says that the parallelisms provide conclusive evidence that Bacon was Shake-Speare, he hits this with both barrels. He covers this aspect of the Baconian evidence with more depth and acuity than it has ever been covered before. And, in my humble opinion, the parallelisms that he marshals accomplish exactly what he says they do.

In the process of covering the various Baconian points in these chapters Cockburn addresses and fully rebuts the following Stratfordian counter-arguments:

Edmund Howes and John Aubrey treat Shake-Speare and Bacon as distinct poets {}
Bacon had no interest in the public Theatre {}
Bacon would not have chosen as his front an actor in the company which produced the plays {}
Bacon lacked time to write the Shake-Speare works {}
Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece were written while the theatres were closed because Shakspere then had time to write them {}
Shake-Speare made historical and other mistakes which Bacon would have avoided {}
Passages in Shake-Speare echo Shakspere's Grammar School learning {}
In Love's Labour's Lost Shake-Speare mistook the Duc de Mayenne (which Bacon would not have) for a supporter of Henri of Navarre {}
In his report of the Essex treason trial Bacon was scornful of the performance of Richard II on the eve of the rebellion; and on a later occasion also he criticised those who brought the play upon the stage and into print in Queen Elizabeth's time. This was too brazen to be credible if he himself was the play's author {}
John Davies of Hereford treats Shake-Speare and Bacon as distinct poets {}
The First Folio texts are full of corruptions which the author, if still alive (as Bacon was), would have eliminated {}
A number of points on the Sonnets help the Stratfordian case {}
The dedications to Southampton of Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece are too subservient to have been written by Bacon {}
Sir William Davenant identified Shakspere with Shake-Speare {}
Shake-Speare collaborated on a few of the plays; Bacon would not have collaborated {}
Shake-Speare makes mistakes of law which Bacon would have avoided {}
Shake-Speare displays ignorance of aristocratic life which Bacon was familiar with {}
There are differences between Shake-Speare and Bacon in their treatment of the Scriptures {}
Shake-Speare and Bacon had different attitudes to love {}
Bacon could not have drawn Shake-Speare's low class characters, and would have spured bawdy {}
Bacon loved dogs; Shake-Speare disliked them {}
There are differences between Shake-Speare and Bacon as naturalists. {}
And on certain subjects they hold diametrically opposed views. {}
There is no trace in the Shake-Speare works of many of Bacon's preoccupations in matters of natural science {}
Shake-Speare's knowledge of leather and of a glover's knife shows that he was a glover's son {}
Bacon was too cold a fish to be capable of Shake-Speare's passion {}
Bacon's literary style is different from Shake-Speare's {}
One man could not have been genius enough to write both the Bacon and Shake-Speare works {}
Shake-Speare was sometimes too careless over detail to be Bacon {}
The vocabularies of Bacon and Shake-Speare are markedly and decisively different {}
The theories of the rival Shake-Speare claimants are mutally destructive.

Any alert Baconian will have noticed that a main plank of the Baconian platform is missing from the above itemizations. This is the Manes Verulamiani - the 32 Latin elegies that were published in commemoration of Bacon after his death by his literary executor - Rawley. Cockburn concludes that rather than being a trump card of the Baconians they fail to carry the hand. Therefore he relegates his consideration of the Manes Verulamiani to small text in Appendix 4 at the end of his book.

Cockburn gives short shift to Part II - Rival Claimants. He only considers three Claimants as even meriting a glance. These three are Christopher Marlowe, Edward de Vere (17th Earl of Oxford), and William Stanley (6th Earl of Derby). In regards to the darling of the muses -Marlowe, Cockburn resorts to one of his rare bits of humor in the book. He says Marlowe was killed in a pub brawl in 1593, so if he continued to write the Shake-Speare plays, he was a "ghost writer" in an unusually literal sense.

He gives equally short shift to Oxford. He says Oxford suffers from a similar biological handicap to Marlowe's in that he died in 1604 before several of the Shake-Speare plays were written. He notes that to meet this, the Oxfordians attempt to ante-date the later plays. But says they cannot succeed sufficiently. For example, he notes, The Tempest was obviously not written before 1610 (and so much for the darling not of the muses, but of the idiots). Cockburn spends somewhat more ink disposing of Stanley, but dispose of him he does. And this takes us to Part III.

Cockburn begins Part III, after itemizing the Stratfordian points that have been rebutted in Part I, by noting that the starting point of the discussion, "must of course of course be that the Shake-Speare works were published under a name very similar to that of William Shakspere, the actor." He squashes that bug under his foot and then goes on to consider in detail the 4 main points he says the Stratfordians regard as their "bull" points:

1. No one even thought of the Baconian theory till the middle of the 18th century at the earliest.

2. The "spirit" of the Shake-Speare works is so different from that of Bacon's acknowledged works that one man could not have written both.

3. If Bacon was Shake-Speare, his secret could not have been kept - it would have been the greatest fraud in history.

4. A number of contemporaries mention Shakspere or Shake-Speare without questioning Shakspere's authorship.

After he has considered each of these points in depth, and very effectively demolished them, he goes on to consider a few more auxiliary points, including the alleged Warwickshire references in the plays, and makes his closing statement on his "Conclusion on Shake-Speare's Identity" to the jury of his readers in which he closes his case, having weighed the evidence for each side, imposing an equal burden on each, and concluded that the case for Bacon is made beyond all reasonable doubt. At this point Cockburn ends his book on a very somber note:

"…I doubt if Bacon's authorship of the Shake-Speare works will ever win general acceptance. New evidence cannot now be expected and a lot of people with mistaken notions of the burden and standard of proof would be satisfied with nothing less than manuscripts of the works in Bacon's handwriting. I am sanguine enough to believe that Man is slowly and painfully becoming more rational. But by the time his powers of reason are equal to the task of considering the authorship question dispassionately and sensibly, and of perceiving that the existing evidence is more than sufficient to place the crown on Bacon, the English language will probably have moved on and the world will have lost interest in Shake-Speare."

It is understandable if Cockburn may have been a bit bitter after beating his head against the brick wall of idiots for so long. Only time will tell whether was right in this final statement or not. As Francis Bacon himself said:

"The human understanding is unquiet; it cannot stop or rest, and still presses onward…"

No one can say what the future will bring. But one thing we can say with absolute certainty: Nigel Cockburn has produced a damned fine book!!!

The Complete Table of Contents of The Bacon Shakespeare Question by Nigel Cockburn

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