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Who Really Wrote Shakespeare's Plays Sir Francis Bacon Part 1

About the controversy over who really wrote Shakespeare's plays, history and supporters of the claim for Sir Francis Bacon.

WHO REALLY WROTE SHAKESPEARE'S PLAYS?

SIR FRANCIS BACON (1561-1626)

Supporters: The Bacon faction, the first and largest to contest Shakespeare's authorship, has had many of its arguments adopted by advocated of the other "true Shakespeares" as well. Baconian vehemence often went beyond the question of mere authorship to personal slander of "Will the Jester."

While the Baconian theory was first proposed about 1785, not until 1856, when Delia Salter Bacon announced in Putnam's Magazine her absolute conviction that Shakespeare was a fraud, did the controversy heat up. (See "Delia Bacon," p. 85, The People's Almanac 1.) No relation to Sir Francis, this intense New England woman maintained in her Philosophy of the Plays of Shakespeare Unfolded that Bacon had headed a literary syndicate to advance his ideas by means of "veiled allegory." She told historian Thomas Carlyle, "You do not know what is really in the plays if you believe that that booby wrote them." Carlyle whooped with laughter.

Ignatius Donnelly, the all-around "Apostle of Protest," published in 1888 The Great Cryptogram, the first attempt to prove Bacon's authorship by detecting ciphers within the plays. Orville W. Owen, M.D., used a wooden deciphering machine consisting of two wheels and 1,000 ft. of canvas; and Sir Edwin Durning Lawrence's Bacon Is Shakespeare (1910) presented numerous anagrams. The proofs of Bacon's hidden authorship assumed many forms and were consistent only in their dead seriousness.

To Baconians, the idea of Shakespeare as an author has been downright offensive. Whatever the quality of their ammunition, they have always approached the issue with both barrels blazing.

Who Was Bacon? "I have taken all knowledge to be my province," announced Bacon in an age when that could still be said without undue arrogance by a man of genius. Pope described him as "the wisest, brightest, meanest of mankind." Along with other historic "Renaissance men." Bacon believed that all aspects of art, intellect, and daily conduct were means of achieving the good life.

A contemporary of Shakespeare's Bacon was born three years earlier and died ten years later than the Bard. He studied law and entered politics, rising to become lord chancellor of England in 1618. Bacon was knighted and created Baron Verulam and Viscount St. Albans by James I. His career was shattered, however, when he was accused of taking bribes from litigants; he admitted his wrongdoing, was imprisoned briefly, and spent his last five years in anguished retirement.

Bacon's written works have become landmarks in philosophy, science, and literature, which was what he had intended them to be. The Advancement of Learning (1605) heralded his Novum Organum (New Instrument) in 1620, which grounded science in the method of inductive reasoning. The New Atlantis (1627) posed a utopian society of scientists performing "great and marvelous works for the benefit of man." while his notable Essays crystallized broad topics into gems of practical wisdom--perhaps the first "self-help" handbook in history.

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