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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Shakespeare and Francis Bacon and Walter Raleigh

Francis Bacon was born 22 January 1561, about 3 years before Shakespeare was born.

Francis Bacon

Bacon was a philosopher, and he is the father of the scientific method.

It has been proposed that Bacon was the true author of the Shakespeare plays.

I don't think he was, but it is apparent that Shakespeare and Bacon knew each other.

Bacon was friends with Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, and became his confidential advisor by 1591.

This would have been around the same period of time that Shakespeare was writing and acting in his earliest plays.

It would be around the same time that Shakespeare would have met Essex, and they would become friends. Essex, with the Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, were Shakespeare's greatest patrons.

Essex and Southampton were notorious for the addiction to seeing plays, and it is not hard to imagine that they would invite someone like Francis Bacon to join them, sitting in the best seats in the house, the Lords Rooms -- which were above and behind the stage, where they could hear the play's dialogue the best.

I think in these early days of Shakespeare's career, as he was writing and performing the Henry VI plays, Richard III and others he would have been excited to meet someone as educated and enlightened as Francis Bacon.

I like to think that they would have found much to talk about, and while Essex and Southampton would drink and have fun, Shakespeare and Bacon would have found a quiet corner and discuss anything and everything.

Here was Bacon, a rising star in politics, and a reformer and here was Shakespeare, a rising star on stage, who wanted change.

But sadly, within a few short years, the Queen's affection for Essex -- once her personal favorite at court -- was waning. Bacon made a political calculation and dissolved whatever relationship he had with Essex, and for this Bacon found more favor with the Queen.

I don't think Shakespeare would have appreciated this very much, and I have to think that whatever connection he had with Bacon came to an end.

In 1601, after Essex's failed Rebellion against the Queen, Francis Bacon wrote an official government report on the matter.

In 1603, Queen Elizabeth died and James became king.

Essex had supported the accession of King James, and now that James was king, Bacon had to change his political position. He wrote a public apology for having written the Essex report.

King James rewarded him with a knighthood.

I doubt that King James much trusted Bacon, who had in 1586 publicly called for the execution of James's mother, Mary, Queen of Scots.

I think that by this time, Shakespeare would have had nothing to do with Bacon.

22 January is also the birthday for Walter Raleigh.

He was born about 10 years before Shakespeare.

Raleigh is one of the most famous figures of the period, and really seems to embody the Elizabethan era -- he was a soldier, an explorer, a poet, etc.

It is hard to believe that one man lived such an eventful life.

He was a staunch enemy of the Catholic church, and that must have endeared him to Queen Elizabeth, who favored him and rewarded him greatly.

Much has been written, and movies have been made about their alleged love affair. I'm not sure I believe these stories, but I do enjoy them.

Whatever their relationship was, it must have been passionate, since almost immediately after Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, he allegedly plotted to assassinate King James.

I think King James wanted to kill Raleigh. But Raleigh's wife's family had once fought on the behalf of James's mother Mary, Queen of Scots -- and for this, I think James spared Raleigh's life.

Raleigh would be found guilty and he faced a lifetime in prison.

In fact, he was released thirteen years later, in1616 to go on yet another adventure to discover El Dorado -- a hidden "Lost City of Gold".

When that didn't work out, he was soon after executed, in 1618.

It would seem that his luck had run out.

In all of these years, I don't think that Shakespeare had much contact with Raleigh. They may have met from time to time, but I don't think they would have ever established anything like a relationship

During the reign of Elizabeth, it is likely that as a guest of the Queen, Raleigh would have watched Shakespeare perform at court with the Lord Chamberlain's Men.

I think that Shakespeare would have marveled at the exploits of this truly heroic adventurer, and would have been eager to hear about the New World, but I doubt they ever spent any significant time alone.

By the time that James became king, Shakespeare would have had little or nothing to do with Raleigh.

Once Raleigh was put in prison, I think Shakespeare would have considered him an object lesson in the absolute powers of the king, who could decide anyone's fate on a whim.

Shakespeare would not have done himself any favors in talking about or writing about Raleigh, who was sent to the Tower of London to rot.

Finally, with these two very different men, we can get a sense of the world in which Shakespeare lived.

While Shakespeare may not have been friends precisely with either of them, I do think that their accomplishments opened Shakespeare's eyes to the possibility that he too could achieve some sort of greatness in his lifetime, too.

I don't think that Shakespeare would have ever entertained the notion that he would be remembered more than either Bacon or Raleigh.

Shakespeare probably just wanted to keep writing and achieve a small place in the history of theatre.


David Schajer

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