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THE BACON-SHAKESPEARE CONTROVERSY

The following article is reprinted from A Dictionary of the Drama. W. Davenport Adams. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1904.

The theory that Francis Bacon, Viscount St. Alban's, was really the author of the plays hitherto ascribed to William Shakespeare was first broached by Miss Delia Bacon in Putnam's Magazine for January, 1856. It was afterwards elaborated by her in a volume called The Philosophy of Shakespeare's Plays Unfolded (1857), for which Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a preface, without, however, approving the "philosophy." For some years the theory languished, but it was once more advocated by Nathaniel Holmes in The Authorship of Shakespeare (1867), by Appleton Morgan in The Shakespearean Mythh (1881), and by Mrs. Pott in The Promus of Formularies and Elegancies of Francis Bacon, illustrated and eludicated by passages from Shakespeare (1883). Then in 1888 came The Great Cryptogram , by Ignatius Donnelly, who argued that Bacon's claim to the plays was asserted by that writer in the form of a cryptogram running through the text of the dramas. Among subsequent books on the subject may be named The Bacon-Shakespeare Question , by C. Stopes (1888), Sir T. Martin's Shakespeare or Bacon (1889), Wigston's Bacon v. Phantom Shakespeare (1891), Mrs. Pott's Bacon and his Secret Society (1891) and Did Francis Bacon write "Shakespeare"? (1893), Owen's Bacon Cipher Story (1893), and The Shakespeare Secret translated from the German of Edwin Bormann by Harry Brett (1895).

The controversy is thus summed up by Richard Grant White: "It is as certain that William Shakespeare wrote (after the theatrical fashion and under the theatrical conditions of his day) the plays which bear his name, as it is that Francis Bacon wrote the Novum Organum, the Advancement of Learning, and the Essays. The notion that Bacon also wrote Titus Andronicus, The Comedy of Errors, Hamlet, King Lear, and Othello, is not worth five minutes serious consideration by any reasonable creature" (Atlantic Monthly, April, 1883).

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