Who was the Bard of Stratford?
What do the following eminent individuals have in common? Charles Dickens, Sigmund Freud, Charles de Gaulle, Daphne du Maurier, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Benjamin Disraeli, and Charles Chaplin.
The answer is that none of them believed that the thirty-eight plays attributed to Shakespeare were written by the great bard. Freud thought that Shakespeare had nothing to justify his claims, and believed that the real author of Hamlet and King Lear was the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere.
It is somewhat ironic that Mark Twain and Charlie Chaplin held the view that Shakespeare could not have produced the plays credited to him because he was a mere country bumpkin, lacking in education. Twain himself was born in a small frontier village and left school at eleven years of age, and Chaplin, who experienced an impoverished childhood when his father died, received his first taste of education at the Hanwell poor law institution!
If we are to believe that the Baconians have a case, then there must have been a gigantic conspiracy in the late 16th century, and the conspirators would have included the rector of the Stratford church where the records of Shakespeare's birth, marriage and death are kept - along with the baptism records of his children. Other individuals would have had to have been implicated in the Bacon Conspiracy; people like Ben Johnson, King James, Queen Elizabeth, the 2nd Earl of Southampton, the 2nd Earl of Essex, and the twenty-six members of Shakespeare's acting troupe, the King's Men. Far fetched? Not according to the Baconians, who cite two pieces of information to back up their argument. The first piece of 'evidence' concerns an enigmatic inscription on Shakespeare's monument in Poet's Corner at Westminster Abbey. Upon the monument's marble scroll, there is an inscribed quotation from The Tempest, Shakespeare's last play. The quotation has been hacked about and is laced with apparently intended spelling mistakes, and a line in the middle of the inscription stands out because, for some unaccountable reason, it only contains two words, which are: 'Shall Dissolve'. Cryptologists have now discovered that if the letters of those two words are set out in the thirteen squares of a wellknown 17th century cipher, they do indeed spell out: FRANCIS BACON.
One of the first people to doubt that Shakespeare existed at all was a Dr James Wilmot, an associate of Samuel Johnson and a fellow of Trinity College, Oxford. Wilmot researched the Bard of Stratford for four years, and in 1785 reached the conclusion that the plays of Shakespeare were penned by none other than Sir Francis Bacon. Just what led him to this conclusion will never be known, for upon Wilmot's death, his housekeeper threw the fruit of his researches onto a fire. Anyone who has slogged their way through one of Bacon's scientific essays will laugh at Wilmot's claim, but adherents to the Bacon theory (who call themselves Baconians) assert that their candidate had the educational background to produce the plays and chose 'Shakespeare' as a mere nom de plume. They point out that Shakespeare's works indicate that the author was a true Renaissance Man who had a vast knowledge of law, history, seamanship, medicine, and the Continent - just like Bacon.
Alexander Pope, who had a hand in the erection of the Shakespeare monument in 1741, was a master of cipher, and was probably behind the encoded message on the marble scroll. If so, what was he trying to say? That Bacon was Shakespeare?
Another curious fact came to light in 1989 when a producer from Yorkshire Television's documentary programme 'First Tuesday' obtained permission to X-ray Shakespeare's grave in Stratford's Holy Trinity Church, which is visited by thousands of tourists every year. The results of the Xray proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Shakespeare's 'grave' was completely empty. Nothing was there - not even the slightest trace of the bard's bones.
In March 1994, a book called "The Shakespeare Controversy" by Graham Phillips and Martin Keatman was published. The book claimed that the most famous playwright of all time was a secret agent who used his theatrical career as a cover. In a nutshell, the authors' theory is that through his fellow playwrights Christopher Marlowe and Anthony Munday, Shakespeare was embroiled in a network of spies, informers and saboteurs led by Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Walsingham, a puritanical Protestant and one of Queen Elizabeth's principal Secretaries of State. The authors point out that the idea of Shakespeare as an agent in the Elizabethan Secret Service is not as absurd as it seems; so many in his circle certainly were. People like Munday, Marlowe, and Shakespeare's patron, Lord Strange, who was involved with the government network of spies. Strange informed Sir William Cecil of the Hesketh Plot, a planned Catholic conspiracy to overthrow the government. The authors of The Shakespeare Conspiracy go on to say that William Shakespeare's sudden death in 1616 was probably the result of being poisoned by Raleigh, who had just been released from the Tower. Raleigh had been imprisoned after being named as a spy by a mysterious agent known as William Hall - an alias for Shakespeare? So upon Raleigh's release, he quickly sought out the agent who had put him behind bars and exacted his revenge.
What are we to make of all this? Are the Baconians right? Was Shakespeare a spy? Does it really matter in the end? He still left us the magnificent legacy of his plays and sonnets which are being performed and read all over the world. As the Bard himself (whoever he was) wrote in Romeo and Juliet: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet."
FROM TOM SLEMEN'S "STRANGE BUT TRUE"
PUBLISHED BY PARRAGON
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
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