Non semper ea sunt quae videntur. (Things are not always what they seem). --Phaedrus, A.D. 8
Charles Dickens, a student of human nature, had this to say: "The life of Shakespeare is a fine mystery, and I tremble every day lest something should turn up."
Something has turned up.
This is a story about William Shakespeare and a few of his contemporaries. He died 374 years ago and for almost a century he rested comfortably in his Stratford-on-Avon tomb.
Then someone tried to write his life history. Some unimportant facts and a few apocryphal traditions were unearthed, about a dozen, so the biography had to be padded out with imaginative but transparent surmises. But, some years later, cynics arose and began to defame Shakespeare's reputation, saying that the imprinting of his name on the plays and poems was not proof that he had written them.
Not long afterward a united howl of rage ascended from the universities. The name of William Shakespeare must not be touched with profane hands or shamefully twitted by knaves. The scholars had what they regarded in law as overwhelming proof: right there they pointed, where any fool can see it, was his name printed on the first page of (some of) the Shakespeare books. They could find none of his manuscripts, or even letters, but they had the books. That was enough.
On this thin, prima facie case they rested; the burden of proof was hastily shifted; the critics of orthodoxy were thenceforward required to prove the negative in this debate, and to do so by documented and thoroughly convincing Facts. The offended Schoolmen demanded that their challengers furnish contradictory evidence of a quantity and quality to be conclusive and authenticated beyond any possible doubt.
The search for such vouchers has continued. Eye-witnesses for either side have been unavailable except in the hereafter. Yet one wonders: if a genuine confession of illiteracy (attested and signed with an "x" by the Bard before a High Notary with Seal) was found in the cellars of New Place or even in Ann Hathaway's attic, would that be admissible? No, probably not. It would be said, in Good William's behalf, that he must have dictated The Works to his bosom friend Ben Jonson, who surely could read and write. Soon this hypothesis would be raised to a legal presumption, a new barrier against literary doubt.
The doubters are well aware of the entrenched prestige and power of the so far successful plaintiffs in this ceaseless paper-chase. The weight of the briefs filed by both sides and hauled in drays across the Thames would surely cause Old London Bridge to fall down. Until now the plaster image of this god of letters has been preserved, but it shall not be for long. Verifiable, determinate proof favoring the patient defendants has been found.
What I have drafted here is mostly a technical essay done in the manner of probative writing that I am accustomed to pursue in law briefs and sometimes in journals of applied science.
Writers are told, by those who have studied the art, to write about their own experiences or to go to the original sources. Lawyers, in writing a brief, have to follow both rules. The personal experiences of their witnesses are elicited at the trial; the original sources that lawyers must rely upon are the bound Law Reports of previous cases that, under the maxim of stare decisis , the courts ordinarily follow.
But the old cases that I studied in law school have not always survived the changes (whether right or wrong) that have occurred in judicial and political philosophy. My "original sources" keep vanishing; the practice of law has become a fragmented, confusing, quickly changing and specialized profession; established values, along with the private general practice of law, are fading away. No one has the memory, much less the time and reckless ambition, to attempt to grasp it all.
Science, both pure and applied, has suffered the same transformation. Citations to previous work in scientific papers now refer to things done a few weeks or a few months before. The rate of change in progress now annually doubles, and doubles again. As a result, the volume of information that must be collected, recorded and disseminated has increased at an alarming rate. The unknown has been penetrated; the seals of the arcanum have been broken; glimpses of the megacosm have come into view, but the observations remain in countless papers still to be cataloged. Until that task is completed and the knowledge precisely outlined much wisdom may be lost. Historians of science, even of last week's experimental papers, if wellarmed with an indexed computer database, may ultimately become more important than discoverers of unforeseen or fugitive anomalies.
The scientist still must work in the same exacting way; he must recount his personal experiences and then refer to previous research to show that he is on the right track, or to demonstrate that he has found some unnatural irregularity in his experiments. It has been said that scientific facts prove themselves by thousands and thousands of trials conducted by hundreds and hundreds of scientists. When the results of such labors agree, then both the theory and the inductive method are admitted to the registers of science. But, once in a thousand or more times, an experiment fails. And despite all precautions,the result is not the same as all scientists would, until that moment, have predicted.
Many times in the history of science the unique, but failed, experiment has been noticed by others learned in the field. The preliminary, apparently spurious, results have been seized upon by a few individualists of this intellectually tolerant fraternity and have been proven either to have been the result of grievous error or to have made a new breach in the parapet of Nature's seemingly hostile defenses against inquisitive minds.
Francis Bacon has been called the father of modern science, not for his own particular scientific studies, but for his demands upon its practitioners to adopt inductive methods. He rebelled against the deductive "philosophic" dogmas of Aristotelian science which still remained as the curriculum of the orthodox schoolmen then teaching at Cambridge University. He quit before he was granted a degree and spent the greater part of the rest of his life studying and communicating, and then writing and publishing his views. If he did not invent the scientific method of experimentation, he was the outstanding publicist of that novel and still misunderstood way of working.
Logical induction requires students of history to consider all aspects of their subject before presenting a conclusion, but some historians have been content to select an agreeable premise and then attempt to sustain it with carefully sorted evidence; the facts which do not fit their postulates are screened out, while legends are clutched at and made to seem plausible. History is a fragile and often a perishable form of merchandise. It is sometimes a political image seen through multiple reflections of darksilvered mirrors placed randomly in the corners of biased or guilty minds, or filtered through fading memories. Someone has been so daring as to remark, "To study history is first to study the historian." Henry Ford who was thought by some to be an uneducated, though wildly successful, American peasant said in his thrifty manner of expression, "History is bunk." Perhaps he was anticipating what was about to be done about history in Europe before World War II by the German, Italian and Russian "Information" agencies. The process of rewriting history continued discreditably within the Iron Curtain, and frequently without.
The events of the remote past, even when first accurately recorded, have often been bent to the ideological or whimsical or sensational or merely dogmatical views of the many hands through which they have passed. Novel views of even current history nag at us; "anchor-men" born with good profiles and clean collars have been raised, by popular benediction, to the status of full-tenured savants and permitted to write and to declaim their own versions. Merely by the passage of time some things that probably never occurred have, with common negligent consent, become frozen into marble episodes. Good intentions, founded upon ancient assertions, have jealously built ivory fortresses against new, and therefore suspect, inquiries. The guards athwart such towers warn us against any change, and fresh dry charges are kept near their cannon.
It is with this suspicious view of history that I turn to the subject at hand. Bardicide .
It is considered by some (yet certainly not by all) academicians that it is a lunacy to question the authorship of the Works of William Shakespeare --a comical 1984 thought-crime, a preposterous and radical and specious view of the obvious, a conspicuous deviation from normal and proper opinion. These worthy innocents, still armed and standing beside the crumbling earthworks of nineteenth century Bardolatry, remain committed to the standard, docile, immemorial, unshakable and glorious opinion of a Stratford actor. Though they have become fewer, they cling to their simple faith. One may hope that when bound in the iron chains of a cryptogram such provincials may be escorted into the real world of the Seventeenth Century.
For a long time I have been certain that the Bard of Avon was a decoy. I am joined in that heresy by others who count in my esteem. Until the present we have been supported only by carefully assembled particles of documented history, most of which have been neglected by the learned and tenured.
Now, by science, I intend to prove that our actor, Mr. Shakespeare, is worthy only of that pity we reserve for literary impostors. For example, I will show the patient reader the real author's name as it was concealed in the isolated first word of dialogue, on the first line of the first page of the first printing of the first play in the First Folio , the 1623 edition of William Shakespeare's COMEDIES HISTORIES & TRAGEDIES .
I know he did not write the Sonnets. I know he did not write the Plays. And I know who did write those poems, those plays that still shine with the early, the sunrise glory of our English language. And more. So come along with me, you bold unbiased examiners of Stratfordian and Verulamian tombs, and I will explain my delightful secret. We shall need to recede, to steal silently and thoughtfully back through the ages. We shall need to study and to consider; to compare the obvious with the unthinkable; to learn something about cryptography.
While following these traces it is not necessary to leave behind a sense of humor, to see the fun of it as Twain might have enjoyed it. Perhaps we should approach our subject in more Gothic terms, so as to set the scene for our grave researches.
Hark! What ghostly voices may still be heard in our hypothetical library of the English Renaissance? Speak softly--spirits may yet dwell between the faded leathern covers of the old books here. These monuments to typographical elegance, these vestiges of grace and brilliance, these vanishing specimens of literary splendor may yet be lost to veracious imputation.
Our paleographic chamber is growing colder now; the probing, the intellectual fire in the grate is dying. We must take heed; we must stoke it quickly with fresh coals lest this,perhaps eternal, chill of the literary charnel- house carry us all to orthodox perdition.
Through the leaded, dusty glasswork of our illusory casement window we may glance into Stratford Church itself. There, where it has anonymously rested upon the floor of the Chancel since 1616, is Mr. Shake-speare's purported gravestone. We intend to pursue this plebeian to the edge of the hereafter; we shall hound him into his very tomb; we shall drive our cryptographic quill into his rustic heart.
Is it Hamlet, whispering through the panes: "Tis now the very witching time of night, when churchyards yawn, and hell itself breathes out"? Look! Through a widening crack in the wall of time a faint image is forming; we must capture its likeness before it fades. Yonder we may behold a latent name freshly exposed upon this crypt. And Mark! Here about us are a few crumbling, unread pages of history, yet the words and letters are so scantily placed. What is the meaning of these signatures, these names, these carvings, these fragments of an ancient lexicon?
But this is not a novel.
As Mark Twain once wrote, "This is the petrified truth."