Shakespeare Converted into Bacon

Samuel Cox
Dublin: Sealy, Bryers, and Walker, 1899

Set in 1601, this “extravaganza in two acts” opens with William Shakespeare relating a dream to fellow playwrights Jonson, Chapman, Peele, Heywood, and Nash in which Shakespeare is told to give up poetry and plays and become a lawyer. Specifically, he is to switch places with Francis Bacon. When a fairy visits Bacon, he feels a desire to become Shakespeare. The two are ready to make the switch when Queen Elizabeth boxes Bacon’s ear and tells him to get back to the courts, then send Shakespeare “back to his playing.” Both Bacon and Shakespeare seem only to serve as foils for a bit of fun with the Shakespeare/Bacon debate.

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Poet’s Corner

Max Beerbohm
London: William Heinemann, 1904

English caricaturist and master of parody Max Beerbohm portrays Shakespeare sneaking past Francis Bacon, who slips the manuscript of Hamlet to him behind his back. But Beerbohm did not condone this view, once writing that Shakespeare-deniers had “made themselves very ridiculous.”

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Lewis Bostelmann
New York: Rutland Publishing Company, 1911

“A chronologically arranged outline of the life of Roger Manners, Fifth Earl of Rutland and author of the works issued in folio in 1623 under the nom de plume Shake-Speare” followed by two plays. The first play has the Earl setting up a certain William Shaxper as his “dummy and strawman,” while the second deals with the making of the First Folio nine years after Earl Rutland’s death. When the Earl of Pembroke wants to publish Rutland’s works in folio, Ben Jonson, Martin Droeshout, Heminge and Condell all agree to work on the project, and a few of them even remember the real Shaxper who could not even sign his own name.

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Clipt Wings

William R. Leigh
New York: Thornton W. Allen, 1930

Leigh is an author with an ax to grind. In the preface, he inveighs against Shakespeare as “a boor with the mind of a scullion, who could not, by the most fantastic attribution, have written anything of literary or dramatic stature, anything worth performance or publication in his own or any other age.” Described by one reviewer as “loony,” the play introduces William Shaxper of Stratford as an illiterate bumpkin, willing to let Francis Bacon hide behind his name. Bacon, it turns out, is Queen Elizabeth’s son, as is William Cecil, Lord Burghley. The sibling rivalry turns murderous and Queen Elizabeth is killed. The simpleton Shakespeare is paid off and Bacon goes on writing plays. But when Shakespeare later becomes troublesome, Ben Jonson and other playwrights feel no remorse at poisoning him. –VH

The Hack

Gerald Kersh
Courier Magazine, September 1954
Later published in Men Without Bones (New York: Paperback Library, 1962)

A humorous short story that flips the Shakespeare as Bacon theory on its head when Shakespeare confesses that he served as Francis Bacon’s ghost writer.

The Lost Chronicle of Edward de Vere

Lord Great Chamberlain, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, Poet and Playwright William Shakespeare
Andrew Field
London: Viking, 1990

Another candidate for the writer behind Shakespeare, Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, here in a fictional biography of the great genius who wrote the works of William Shakespeare. At least since the mid-twentieth century, the Earl of Oxford theory has been the most popular alternative among the anti-Stratford theorists. The conceit of a lost manuscript by de Vere is the foundation for this version of the argument.

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The School of Night

Peter Whelan
London: Josef Weinberger Plays, 1992

Shakespeare appears in this play disguised as Tom Stone, an actor and admirer of Christopher Marlowe—but is he, like Marlowe, perhaps also a spy? The action, which takes place in 1592 and 1593, centers around Marlowe, his genius, and his untimely death. It also veers into Marlovian theories of Shakespearian authorship. The School of Night is presented as a secret society of sceptics to which Sir Walter Raleigh, Walsingham, and Marlowe belonged. Tom Stone/Shakespeare’s questions about the group both intrigue Marlowe and raise his suspicions about this actor with pretensions (and talent) to be a worthy rival or perhaps a mouthpiece for Marlowe’s “posthumous” plays. -VH

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The Eyre Affair

Jasper Fforde
New York: Penguin, 2001

In a world without chronological bounds where Time Police regularly investigate misalignments in history, an officer looking into the question of Shakespearean authorship discovers that the plays do not exist in 1610. He corrects the problem by travelling to 1592 and handing William Shakespeare a copy of the First Folio of 1623, asking him to produce and claim authorship of the plays according to a schedule he provides him. “Shakespeare was only an actor with a potentially embarrassing sideline as a purveyor of bagged commodities in Stratford.”

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Mrs. Shakespeare

Avril Rowlands
Malvern: J. Garnet Miller, 2005

In this two-act play that unfolds in flashbacks after Shakespeare’s funeral, we discover that Anne was the brains behind the Shakespeare brand. Shakespeare himself appears as a failed author, rescued by his wife, who needed a frontman to produce her plays in London. Though he complains a bit, William does the household chores and cares for the children to give Anne the peace she needs to write. Similar conceits are found in at least a half-dozen recent plays and novels. –VH

Marvel 1602: New World / Fantastick Four

Peter David, Greg Pak, Pascal Alixe, and Greg Tocchini
New York: Marvel, 2007

The Fantastick Four, who literally embody the four elements, use their superpowers to undermine Count Otto von Doom’s kidnapping of William Shakespeare. Shakespeare himself appears only infrequently as he is tossed around the airship that carries him toward a new world (not America). He is often seen reacting wide-eyed to a nice turn of phrase (quotes from his plays, actually) by another hostage, Mistress Doris Evans. Saved by the Fantastick Four, Doris and Will go off together. We later learn that she is ghostwriting Shakespeare’s plays because “the man’s damned near illiterate.”

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