Taking inspiration from James Shapiro’s Contested Will Owen Dudley Edwards takes a wry look at the absurdist snobbery and the sheer daftness of the ‘who really wrote Shakespeare?’ tradition.
To be or not to be?
— William Shakespeare
Hail to Professor James Shapiro, of the Larry Miller Chair of English and Comparative Literature in Columbia University, author of 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare (2006), 1606: William Shakespeare and The Year of Lear (2015), and, more particularly for this despatch, Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? (2010). If you haven’t found any of them yet, you have wonders ahead of you. He works history and literature together as well as any Shakespeare scholar can claim to date. He really mingles wit and wisdom, is sure-footed in the past, judiciously omnivorous on preceding authorities, a wise guide through present-day conventions. He restores the lightness of the essay and the profundity of the masterpiece. He questions fashions such as the prevalence of Elizabethan obsessions by English Shakespeare traders, offering shrewd responses such as that Shakespeare did far greater work under James VI now also James I. Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? puns in it its title as instructively as James Joyce could wish. It sparkles amid almost unknown byways and suddenly shows their illumination of main-travelled roads, gives cul-de-sacs their moments of glory and buries yesterday’s fashionable dotty bridle-paths with full honours. He is expanding and exploding the votaries championing authorship of Shakespeare by Lord Chancellor Sir Francis Bacon, Baron Verulam, Viscount St Albans, radiant star in James’s court until becoming a blot on the English escutcheon; he also hunts down and despatches the cult of Edward de Vere 17th Earl of Oxford notwithstanding his recently resurfacing through conversion to his cause of some of unquestionably great Shakespearean actors. (It remains an interestingly moot point as to whether actors are bettered or worsened by having any opinion on the immortal verse they spout.)
TOO ELEMENTARY, MY DEAR BACON
And the professor gives us brief glimpses of alternative candidates occasionally thrown up and subsequently thrown back in the fads of the day, most of them aristocrats often festooned for purposes of their candidacies with hastily manufactured court scandals envisioned by their modern champions. This opens up one common feature of the anti-Shakespeareans: they appear to be primarily driven by snobbery. On this front, Bacon is a more respectable candidate than the belted earls (regardless of his just disgrace for bribery), since he was certainly one of the greatest intellects of his day (also applicable to King James himself, Ben Jonson, Sir Walter Raleigh, John Donne, George Herbert, and several of the translators of the Bible authorised by King James for sale in 1611). Arthur Conan Doyle, allowing himself a Holmesian moment, declared the Bacon candidacy impossible on the ground that Bacon would never have been sufficiently ignorant of European geography to set part of a play ‘on the sea-coast of Bohemia’. The commonplace assumption that all stage directions for the plays had been added by Shakespeare’s posthumous editors hardly invalidates Conan Doyle’s actual argument, which is that Bacon was too intellectual to have written the plays of Shakespeare. Intellectual snobbery as the case against Shakespeare thus implodes. Yet the candidates from the peerage show little sign of the intellect and observation that made Shakespeare’s works: they are too much in love with their own nobility while he watched in the great alibi of unimportance. As for the thesis that Christopher Marlowe wrote Shakespeare instead of dying when he did, let us summon the great ghost-bringer of Christmas (despite the doubt early in Hamlet (I.i. 157-64) as to ghostly activity at Christmas), and amend the first line of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol (1843) to read ‘Marlowe was dead, to begin with’.
IS SHAKESPEARE AS RELIABLE AS THE BIBLE?
Beyond adjuring you to pursue the Shakespearean Shapiro for all you are worth (and his major works are yours for a tenner a time), I leave him reverently here while I pursue the Contest over Will into literary comic legacy. But Professor Shapiro remains the foundation of what follows, as for instance in his remarkable exposition that the root of English and American alternative Shakespeares was the nineteenth-century Higher Criticism dissecting the Old and New Testaments. In fact he locates the connection in Samuel Mosheim Schmucker’s Historic Doubts Respecting Shakespeare: Illustrating Infidel Objections against the Bible (1847) which pioneered anti-Shakespearean enterprise purely as a satire, intended to show that it was as absurd to say the Bible had not been written by its stated authors from Moses to St John as it would be to say Shakespeare had not written Shakespeare, Schmucker never suspecting the intended contraceptive would prove a fertility device. The intended impact of Baconian pseudo-scholarship on English Higher Comedy (in the days when comedy was literature) seems to have been first made when the Reverend Ronald Arbuthnot Knox proved in G.K.’s Weekly in 1925-26 that Queen Victoria had written In Memoriam (1850) hitherto credited to Alfred Tennyson.
I HELD IT TRUTH, WITH HIM WHO SINGS
Knox studied at Oxford, graduated, became Fellow and Tutor at Trinity, was ordained an Anglican priest, was converted to Roman Catholicism, became a Roman Catholic priest, and matured as a distinguished Biblical scholar culminating in his translation of the Bible in the 1950s. The advent of ecumenism and the Second Vatican Council led to its eclipse by the Jerusalem Bible, which was unfair: Knox’s Bible did excellent work in bringing Scripture home to the people instead of distancing them by archaic language. He naturally abominated the Higher Criticism of the Bible, and in his turn (at Oxford in 1911) sought to satirize it by reading and publishing a paper on the Sherlock Holmes stories disputing the authenticity of Dr Watson’s authorship. But the cannibal devoured the missionary, and the Holmes stories were subsequently and endlessly investigated by enthusiasts treating Holmes and Watson as real people but subject to some questions on the authenticity of certain episodes or possible interpolations. ‘It is so depressing that my one permanent achievement is to have started a bad joke’, he observed in the 1940s. ‘If I did start it.’ But he had given it the permanency of book publication in a collection of his comparable work Essays in Satire (1928), where he also took off after the Baconians — all too relevant for his bile against the Higher Criticism — and followed their cryptograms which such success that on the evidence nurturing them he proved Victoria’s authorship of In Memoriam conclusively. (Knox explained it as hidden mourning for her old Mentor, Prime Minister William Lamb Viscount Melbourne, who had died on 24 November 1848, in place of the nominal credit of Tennyson’s memorial for Arthur Hallam). It was satire and parody of a whole school of absurd literary fanatics, but it includes authentic discoveries by anagram based on a system of Baconian-style instructions telling what lines in the poem to decipher, with these results (the initial digits being the relevant line in the poem, and the connivance of Tennyson somewhat coarsely admitted):
1 Who is writing this? H. M. luteth hid.
3. V.R.I. the poetess. Alf T. has no duties.
6. Pie hoc nomen clam commodans. T.
13. Her Majesty lacks pelf; I’le help. TE.
9. O Mother, I’m H.M.’s shadow-author! TEN.
20. Who pummels Faith-Defender? TENN.
41. Oh, hurrah! Nest-egg pouched! TENNY.
12. La! What a safe device Alf had! TENNYS.
27. Let A.H. act for W. Lamb’s suit. TENNYSO.
56. She lisp’d in sinuous cyphers deep.
113. Alf, poet-pen to Victoria. Amen.
Knox’s remaining paragraph and concluding repetition of the first sentence of the essay have the cock-a-doodle-dandy of the Higher Criticism and the glittering eye of the triumphant Baconian:
There is much, no doubt, still to be explained as to the personal allusions of In Memoriam: some, no doubt, deliberately put in as a blind, others referring in a veiled way to incidents in Lord Melbourne’s career. But, in the face of evidence such as this, will anyone attempt to rack the long arm of coincidence so as to make it cover this extraordinary series of cryptograms? If so, he has the ostrich-mind that cannot, because it will not, acquiesce in the assured results of modern enquiry.
Why Shakespeare more than anybody else?
And now I await, trembling, the discovery by some future scholar that the words nominally written by Knox (or myself) bristle with endless anagrams and/or cryptograms revealing God knows what.
IT’S ALL RIGHT IF IT’S BACON
But I am quite straightforward in suspecting that P. G. Wodehouse ran across the relevant number of G. K.’s Weekly (which periodical first appeared on 21 March 1925) and/or an early printing of ‘Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes’. Wodehouse had become Conan Doyle’s most successful disciple having written several parodies, songs and verses honouring Holmes and Watson in Edwardian Punch in honour of Holmes’s Return, and with unrivalled genius creating Jeeves and Wooster deriving from the Baker Street duo in the following decade. G. K. Chesterton won hilarious mention in two of Wodehouse’s short stories in the 1920s. Dr Shapiro is very clear that the Baconian fire had died away before the First World War but that the Baconian training of at least one intrepid youth enabled him to bring aptitude in cyphers to the war effort with valuable results. Certainly something must have fired Wodehouse with the necessary enthusiasm for this literary resurrection, ‘The Reverend Wooing of Archibald’ first appearing in the Strand magazine for August 1928. Archibald Mulliner falls in love at first sight with a formidably serious-looking Aurelia whose aunt is a Baconian, thus opening up an unwise route to win ancestral acceptance. He learns from Algy Wymondham-Wymondham:
‘… The aunt … thinks Bacon wrote Shakespeare.’
‘Thinks who wrote what?’ asked Archibald, puzzled, for the names were new to him.
‘You must have heard of Shakespeare. He’s well known. Fellow who used to write plays. Only Aurelia’s aunt says he didn’t. She maintains that a bloke called Bacon wrote them for him.’
‘Dashed decent of him’, said Archibald, approvingly. ‘Of course, he may have owed Shakespeare money.’
‘There’s that, of course.’
‘What was the name again?’
‘Bacon’, said Archibald, jotting it down on his cuff. ‘Right.’
‘Meadowes, my man’, he said to Meadowes, his man.
‘Sir’, said Meadowes.
‘It appears’, said Archibald, ‘that there is — or was — a cove of the name of Shakespeare. Also a second cove of the name of Bacon. Bacon wrote plays, it seems, and Shakespeare went and put his own name on the programme and copped the credit.’
‘If true, not right, Meadowes.’
‘Far from it, sir.’
‘Very well, then. I wish to go into this matter carefully. Kindly pop out and get me a book or two bearing on the business.’
He had planned his campaign with infinite cunning. He knew that, before anything could be done in the direction of winning the heart of Aurelia Cammarleigh, he must first establish himself solidly with the aunt. He must court the aunt, ingratiate himself with her — always, of course, making it clear from the start that she was not the one. And, if reading about Shakespeare and Bacon could do it, he would, he told himself, have her eating out of his hand in a week.
On hearing his expression of admiration for Bacon, the aunt duly invites him for a long visit to her country house. And then:
Scooping him up and bearing him off into the recesses of the west wing, she wedged him into a corner of a settee and began to tell him all about the remarkable discovery which had been made by applying the Plain Cipher to Milton’s well-known Epitaph to Shakespeare.
‘The one beginning “What needs my Shakespeare for his honoured bones?”’ said the aunt.
‘Oh, that one?’ said Archibald.
‘What needs my Shakespeare for his honoured bones? The labour of an Age in piled stones? Or that his hallowed Reliques should be hid under a starry-pointing Pyramid?’ said the aunt.
Archibald, who was not good at riddles, said he didn’t know.
‘As in the Plays and Sonnets’ said the aunt, ‘we substitute the name equivalents of the figure totals.’
‘We do what?’
‘Substitute the name equivalents of the figure totals.’
‘’The figure totals.’
‘All right’, said Archibald. ‘Let it go. I dare say you know best.’
The aunt inflated her lungs.
‘These figure totals’, she said, ’are always taken out in the Plain Cipher, A equalling one to Z equals twenty-four. The names are counted in the same way. A capital letter with the figures indicates an occasional variation in the Name Count. For instance, A equals twenty-seven, B twenty-eight, until K equals ten is reached, when K, instead of ten, becomes one, and T instead of nineteen is one, and R or Reverse, and so on, until A equals twenty-four is reached. The short or single Digit is not used here. Reading the epitaph in the light of this Cipher, it becomes: ‘What need Verulam for Shakespeare? Francis Bacon England’s King be hid under a W. Shakespeare? William Shakespeare. Fame, what needst Francis Tudor, King of England? Francis. Francis W. Shakespeare. For Francis thy William Shakespeare hath England’s King took W. Shakespeare. Then thou our W. Shakespeare Francis Tudor bereaving Francis Bacon Francis Tudor such a tomb William Shakespeare.”’
The speech to which he had been listening was unusually lucid and simple for a Baconian, yet Archibald, his eye catching a battle-axe that bung on the wall, could not but stifle a wistful sigh. How simple it would have been, had he not been a Mulliner and a gentleman, to remove the weapon from its hook, spit on his hands, and haul off and dot this doddering old ruin one just above the imitation pearl necklace. Placing his twitching hands underneath him and sitting on them, he stayed where he was until, just as the clock on the mantelpiece chimed the hour of midnight, a merciful fit of hiccoughs on the part of his hostess enabled him to retire. As she reached the twenty-seventh ‘hic’, his fingers found the door-handle and a moment later he was outside, sneaking up the stair.
He ultimately wins Aurelia’s love by imitating a hen laying an egg, his only accomplishment, whose performance is told in epic (not to say Homeric) terms: Aurelia has, of course, hitherto sought to avoid him and his purported Baconian enthusiasm (‘”the thing he seems to enjoy most in the world is to sit for hours listening to the conversation of my aunt, who, as you know, is pure goof from the soles of the feet to the tortoiseshell comb and should long ago have been renting a padded cell at Earlswood”’). As with other stories of the relatives of Mr Mulliner it is a sublime transfiguration of a folktale in which the aunt is a hostile father/guardian/dragon to be faced in mortal combat whence the hero is rescued by a revelation of an unsuspected Achilles heel in the adversary otherwise encased in impregnable armour, occasioned by the hero’s having been enchanted by false magic.
Aurelia’s resemblance (apparently) to Cleopatra while actually a flapper fizzing with the anarchism of the 1920s is another facet of the mystification, analogous to stories of a protagonist finding the potentially adorable one enchanted as a repulsive horror (‘”A girl can’t help her appearance. I may look as if my ideal man was the hero of a Viennese operetta, but I don’t feel that way. What I want is some good sprightly sportsman who sets a neat booby-trap, and who’ll rush up and grab me in his arms and say to me ‘Aurelia, old girl, you are the bee’s roller-skates!’”). I dare say Edmund Spenser’s The Fairie Queene might be another influence, but we can leave such labours to a conscientious graduate student in the future.
A DIET FOR SHAKESPEARE
If Wodehouse was the perfect comic writer, his contemporary sublime equivalent for children was Richard Crompton’s William which conscripted Bacon and Shakespeare in ‘William Holds the Stage’ (William — the Pirate (1932)), both starring generations at odds with posterity, both children of Wilde and ‘Saki’, Crompton showing strong signs of apprenticeship with Archibald. William in his turn was almost certainly the inspiration for the English artist Dudley D. Watkins who spent his working life drawing for D. C. Thomson of Dundee for whom amidst scores of others he created a proletarianized namesake Scottified as ‘Oor Wullie’. Crompton had been a schoolteacher until invalided by polio (despite which she would take on onerous duties of various kinds in the Second World War). The story shows every sign of remembering teaching irritations above and beyond teaching routine:
It was an old boy at William’s school, called Mr Welbecker, who with well-intentioned but mistaken enthusiasm offered a prize to the form that should act a scene from Shakespeare most successfully. The old boy in question had written an article on Shakespeare which had appeared in the columns of the local press, and, being a man of more means than discernment, thought it well to commemorate his intellectual achievement and immortalise his name by instituting the Welbecker Acting Shield in his old school.
The headmaster and the staff received his offer with conventional gratitude but without enthusiasm. Several of the senior members of the staff were heard to express a wish that that fool Welbecker could have the trouble of organising the thing himself, adding that he jolly well wouldn’t do it more than once. The junior staff expressed this all the more simply and forcibly by saying that the blighter ought to be hung. To make matters worse, the blighter arrived at the school one morning, unheralded and unexpected, armed with innumerable copies of his article on Shakespeare, privately printed and bound in white vellum with gold lettering, and, after distributing them broadcast, offered to give a lecture on Shakespeare to the school. …
Wiliam’s form-master is ill, and Mr Welbecker is told to lecture to his class:
‘Now boys’, he said breezily. ‘I want to give you a little talk about Shakespeare, and I want you to ask me questions freely, because I’m — er — well, I’m what you might call an expert on the subject. I’ve written a little book, some copies of which I have with me now, and which I’m going to give to the boys who seem to me to show the most intelligence. I’m sure that they will always be among your greatest treasures, because — well, it isn’t everyone who can write a book, you know, is it?’
‘I’ve written a book’, put in William nonchalantly.
‘Perhaps’, said Mr Welbecker, smiling tolerantly, ‘but you’ve not had it published, have you?’
‘’No’, said William, ‘I’ve not tried to have it published yet.’
‘And it wasn’t about Shakespeare, was it?’ said Mr Welbecker, smiling still more tolerantly.
‘No’, said William. ‘It was about someone a jolly sight more int’rest’n’ than Shakespeare. It was about a pirate called Dick of the Bloody Hand, an’ he started off in search of adventure an’ he came to —’
‘Yes’, said Mr Welbecker hastily, ‘but I just want to tell you a little about Shakespeare first. Now the theory I incline to is that Bacon wrote the plays of Shakespeare.’
‘I repeat that I incline to the theory that the plays of Shakespeare were written by Bacon.’
‘How could they be?’ said William.
‘I’ve already said that I wished you wouldn’t keep interrupting’, snapped the lecturer.
‘That was a question’, said William triumphantly. ‘You can’t say it wasn’t a question, and you said we could ask questions. How could that other man Ham—’
‘I said Bacon.’
‘Well, it’s nearly the same’, said William. ‘Well, how could this man Bacon write them if Shakespeare wrote them?’
‘Ah, but you see I don’t believe that Shakespeare did write them’, said Mr Welbecker mysteriously.
‘Well, why’s he got his name printed on all the books then?’ said William. ‘He must’ve told the printers he did, or they wouldn’t put his name on, an’ he ought to know. An’ if this other man Eggs —’
‘I said Bacon’, snapped Mr Welbecker again.
‘Well, Bacon, then’, said William, ‘well, if this man Bacon wrote them, they wouldn’t put this man Shakespeare’s name on the books. They wouldn’t be allowed to. They’d get put in prison for it. The only way he could have done it was by poisoning this man Shakespeare and then stealing his plays. That’s what I’d have done, anyway, if I’d been him, and I’d wanted to say I’d written them.’
‘That’s all nonsense’, said Mr Welbecker sharply. ‘Of course I’m willing to admit that it’s an open question.’ Then, returning to his breezy manner and making an unsuccessful attempt to enlarge his audience: ‘Now, boys, I want you all please to listen to me —’
No one responded. Those who were playing noughts and crosses continued to play noughts and crosses. Those who were engaged in mimic battles, the ammunition of which consisted in pellets of blotting-paper soaked in ink, continued to be so engaged. Those who were playing that game of cricket in which a rubber represents the ball and a ruler the bat remained engrossed in it. The boy who was drawing low-pitched but irritating sounds from a whistle continued to draw low-pitched but irritating sounds from a whistle. Dejectedly Mr Welbecker returned to his sole auditor.
‘I want first to tell you the story of the play of which you are all going to act a scene for the shield that I am presenting’, he said. ‘There was a man called Hamlet –
‘You just said he was called Bacon–‘, said William.
‘I did not say he was called Bacon’, snapped Mr Welbecker.
‘Yes, ’scuse me, you did’, said William politely. ‘When I called him Ham you said it was Bacon, and now you’re calling him Ham yourself.’
‘This was a different man’, said Mr Welbecker. ‘Listen! This man was called Hamlet and his uncle had killed his father because he wanted to marry his mother.’
‘What did he want to marry his mother for?’ said William. ‘I’ve never heard of anyone wanting to marry their mother.’
[Amongst his fascinating pursuits of various eminent figures such as Mark Twain and Henry James for their anti-Shakespearean attitudes, Dr Shapiro goes into much detail on Siegmund Freud who became a supporter of Edward de Vere 17th Earl of Oxford as ‘Shakespeare’ and concluded that Hamlet’s author must have been involved in an Oedipal struggle relative to his mother. Crompton as an educationist, albeit retired, may have found instructive learned papers or academic gossip on Freud’s interest in Hamlet, doubts about the play’s authorship, &c. Like Shakespeare she was a fine observer.]
‘It was Hamlet’s mother he wanted to marry.’
‘Oh, that man that you think wrote the plays.’
‘No, that was Bacon.’
‘You said it was Ham a minute ago. Whenever I say it’s Bacon you say it’s Ham, and whenever I say it’s Ham you say it’s Bacon. I don’t think you know which his name was.’
‘Will you listen!’ said the distraught lecturer. ‘This man Hamlet decided to kill his uncle.’
‘I’ve told you. Because his uncle had killed his father.’
‘Hamlet’s. There’s a beautiful girl in the play called Ophelia, and Hamlet had once wanted to marry her.’
‘You just said he wanted to marry his mother.’
‘I did not. I wish you’d listen. Then he went mad, and this girl fell into the river. It was supposed to be an accident, but probably —‘
‘He pushed her in’, supplied William.
‘Who pushed her?’ demanded Mr Welbecker irritably.
‘I thought you were going to say that that man Bacon pushed her in.’
‘Hamlet you mean.’
‘I tell you what’, said William confidingly, ’let’s say Eggs for both of them. Then we shan’t get so muddled. Eggs means whichever of them it was.’
‘Rubbish!’ exploded the lecturer. ‘Listen — I’ll begin all over again.’ But just at that moment the bell rang, and the headmaster entered the room. Immediately whistle, rubbers, rulers, noughts and crosses, pellets, vanished as by magic, and twenty-five earnest, attentive faces were turned towards the lecturer. So intent were they on the lecture that apparently they were unaware that the headmaster had entered the room, for not one turned in his direction.
‘This is the end of the period, Welbecker’, said the headmaster. ‘A thousand thanks for your help and your most interesting lecture. I’m sure you’ve enjoyed it tremendously, haven’t you boys?’
A thunder of applause bore tribute to their enjoyment.
‘Now’, continued the headmaster rather maliciously. ‘I want one of you to give me a short account of Mr Welbecker’s lecture. Let any one of you who thinks he can do so put up his hand.’
Only one hand went up, and it was William’s.
‘Well, Brown?’, said the headmaster.
‘Please, sir, he told us that the plays of Shakespeare were really written by a man called Ham and that Shakespeare poisoned this man called Ham and stole the plays and then pretended he’d written them. And then a man called Bacon pushed a woman into a pond because he wanted to marry his mother. There’s a man called Eggs, but I’ve forgotten what he did except that —’
Mr Welbecker’s complexion had assumed a greenish hue.
‘That will do, Brown’, said the headmaster very quietly.
Bacon having brought home the plot now disappears from the story, but Crompton had further use for Mr Welbecker:
Mr Welbecker had chosen Act III Scene I, to be acted for the Shield. The parts of the Queen and Ophelia were to be played by boys, ’as was he custom in Shakespeare’s time’, said Mr Welbecker, who seemed to cherish a pathetic delusion that no one had ever known anything about Shakespeare before his article appeared in the local press.
If Crompton’s readers took this as typical of anti-Shakespeareans in general, that would seem to have been all right with her. The rest of the story records how William involuntarily and unknowingly torpedoed the Welbecker Acting Shield through himself holding the stage until his efforts crashed it and when Mr Welbecker withdrew the Welbecker Acting Shield the entire staff of the school found it ‘so difficult not to regard [William] as a public benefactor’. Asked at the end what was the name of the farce in which he had appeared — it had once been Hamlet:
William gazed frowningly into the distance.
‘I’ve forgotten’, he said, then his face cleared. ‘Oh yes, I remember. It was called “Eggs and Bacon”.’
RANCID BUT IMMORTAL BACON
Francis Bacon was intellectually attractive, but ethically dubious. Such at least was the thesis of Macaulay’s monster essay on him (Edinburgh Review, July 1837) towering over all other treatments for the next century, notwithstanding cavernous attempts in refutation, some authors running — or rather lumbering — to several volumes. Macaulay wrote with passionate indignation against his having written to blacken the memory of Robert Devereux Earl of Essex, once the favourite of Elizabeth I, formerly Bacon’s benefactor, and then executed partly through Bacon’s hostile legal advocacy. And Macaulay savagely contrasted Bacon’s subsequent attempts to ingratiate himself with King James I’s favourite of his later years, George Villiers Duke of Buckingham (it was complicated by Bacon and James both being homosexual, with Buckingham almost certainly heterosexual but passing for gay). The image probably eclipsed all others in popular awareness of Bacon. A century after Macaulay the comic pseudo-historians Caryl Brahms and S.J. Simon produced No Bed For Bacon (1941: later given no credit for its massive inspiration for the film Shakespeare in Love), a largely hilarious farrago of learned nonsense in which Shakespeare puts Bacon into Twelfth Night as Malvolio, and Bacon’s sight of it is his last appearance in the book:
Bacon, sitting alone and thin-lipped, was no longer weighing the arguments with which he would mollify his own conscience and justify himself in the eyes of the world for his indictment of his friend, and was concentrating his hatred on William Shakespeare, that bibulous oaf, who had dared to ridicule him in a play. He glared at the unfortunate Malvolio, who at that moment might have been speaking Essex’s epitaph.
‘I marvel that your ladyship takes delight in such a barren rascal.’
No escaping Will’s deliberate taunts at him. Malvolio stood with his stance, spoke with his voice, and played with a handkerchief exactly like he did himself. Crude, overdrawn, a vile caricature — but so unkind. Bacon nearly burst into tears. No matter, he promised himself, he would get even with Master Will for this. He would devise some dark revenge, something dark and literary to obscure Will’s name to all posterity. Bacon should deface the name of Shakespeare! But how?