William Shakespeare is thought to be one of history’s greatest playwrights. His work is timeless, taught in school centuries after his death, and his plays are still produced in modern theater. They have been turned into movies, been the foundation of television shows, and many other forms of entertainment.
In total, 154 sonnets, about 38 plays, and 2 long-narrative poems are attributed to him in some way. His plays have been translated into every major living language.
What if Shakespeare wasn’t actually the author of those works? That is the question which provides fuel for the Baconian Theory. First suggested in the 19th century, this theory posits that it was Sir Francis Bacon, not William Shakespeare, who was one of the greatest writers in history.
Why Would Sir Francis Bacon Hide His Identity?
Although numerous candidates have been proposed as the actual author of the plays that are attributed to Shakespeare, Sir Francis Bacon is often deemed to be the most likely candidate. Bacon offered several writings which explored philosophical ideas. Similar concepts can be found in Shakespeare’s work.
Proponents of Baconian theory even suggest that there are allusions, ciphers, and codes that can be found in Shakespeare’s plays that prove it is Bacon, not Shakespeare, who is the author of the plays and poems.
The reason why Bacon would use Shakespeare as a ghostwriter of sorts is based on his position, according to theory supporters. If Sir Francis Bacon were to be identified as the author of those works, it would hinder his high office. He would be unable to serve in his eventual position as the Viscount St. Alban, a title granted in 1621.
There are several verbal parallels between Bacon’s work and Shakespeare’s work. The two men also shared similar views, especially in how they interpreted Aristotle. Several stanzas in both men’s work are also similar, especially within Hamlet.
What Other Arguments Are Used to Promote Baconian Theory?
One of the claims that theory proponents use to suggest Sir Francis Bacon’s authorship is the personal background and history of Shakespeare. Because he grew up in Stratford, it is suggested that Shakespeare didn’t have the education or early resources to develop a writing talent for the plays in the first place.
Baconians also refer to a publication by Gustavus Selenus called the Cryptomenytices et Cryptographiae. By analyzing the language, structure, and wording of Bacon’s work, then comparing it to the works attributed to Shakespeare, certain coding appears in the eyes of Selenus. The title page of the publication shows Bacon giving the plays and poems to a middleman, who then gives the works to Shakespeare.
Arguments are also made about the scientific knowledge that is included in many of Shakespeare’s works. Proponents claim that at the time, it could have only been Bacon who would have known these principles.
Why Is Baconian Theory Often Discounted?
Since Baconian theory was first proposed, there have been numerous skeptics that discount the theory. Although the style and structure of writing may be similar, opponents point out that the writer’s voice between the two men is very different. Bacon liked to use shortened renderings of words in his writing. “Miliar” was substituted for “military,” for example. Politicians were referred to as politiques.
That rendering never appeared in the work of Shakespeare.
Opponents also use the argument that Shakespeare was under-educated, but to point out the fact that there are scientific misunderstandings sometimes included in his works. In a 1971 essay, Isaac Asimov pointed out Bacon would have possessed actual scientific knowledge, while Shakespeare would have possessed “popular” knowledge regarding science.
There is also a question of Bacon’s ability to compose poetry. Bacon was an excellent scientist and leading-edge philosopher of his era, so much so that he fell out of favor with the queen. His ability to produce poetry, however, was not equal to his ability to produce prose.
The reality of Baconian theory is this: it is unlikely that the idea will ever be proven, but it is also unlikely that it will ever be fully disproven. Two people can look at the same evidence and come to different conclusions regarding the authorship of the works in question.
Did Sir Francis Bacon use William Shakespeare as a proxy? Was Shakespeare his ghostwriter? Or is Baconian theory a meaningless discussion because, as the New York Herald published in 1879, it is filled with “blank ammunition?”
Who do you believe is the actual author of the plays, poems, and sonnets that are attributed to William Shakespeare?