“Actors including Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance have launched a debate over who really wrote the works of William Shakespeare”, the BBC reports on 9/9/07. “Almost 300 people have signed a "declaration of reasonable doubt", which they hope will prompt further research into the issue”. Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1654, but did he write the poems and plays?
It has been claimed before that Shakespeare was probably the penname used by a group of people living during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the principal among them probably Francis Bacon. Wikipedia says about this: “Various authors have written that there were indications that Francis was secretly funding the publishing of materials for the Freemasons, Rosicrucians, "Spear-Shakers", "Knights of the Helmet", as well as publishing (with the assistance of Ben Jonson) a selection of the plays he had written under the penname of "Shake-Speare"(…)”.
The 287-strong Shakespeare Authorship Coalition notes that it is impossible that the Shakespearean plays could have been penned by a 16th Century commoner raised in an illiterate household. They point out that most of the plays are set among the upper classes, and that Stratford-upon-Avon is never referred to. "How did this commoner become so familiar with all things Italian so that even obscure details in these plays are accurate?" the group adds. The ‘declaration of reasonable doubt’ also names 20 prominent Shakespeare-doubters of the past, including Mark Twain, Orson Welles and Charlie Chaplin.
Now, the question is whether this controversy is important? Is it of any real significance for us in the Caribbean, apart from being an interesting speculation? We would probably have to answer it is not, except for the fact that Francis Bacon (and his group) were driven by a desire to ‘restore the world’, i.e. give power to the people instead of people to the power. They knew this change should be brought about in the then so-called ‘New World’, i.e. the Americas. This idea was of influence during the American Revolution to establish political democracy.
Liberalism should be given more credit
The love of freedom is called liberalism. Freedom of religion and freedom of expression, government by the people via their freely elected representatives are all part of liberalism. Nor is liberalism anti-religious, but it does not favor any particular religion to the exclusion of all others. The practice of the idea that all religions can peacefully co-exist in one society is one of the great achievements of the US. It was people like Francis Bacon (probably also as ‘Shakespeare’) who helped lay the foundation for this.
The Caribbean was less successful in this. They tried in Haiti, but flunked badly. Bolivar tried and Pedro Luis Brion. But liberalism did not thrive. However, some of the basic ideas did rub off, such as religious tolerance. Religious tolerance has become a Caribbean trait. Curaçao boasts the oldest Synagogue in the Americas, for instance. Most South American and Caribbean countries are democratic now, or are studying democracy.
In this context the Shakespeare/Francis Bacon controversy is of some interest. At any rate, Bacon’s book ‘The New Atlantis’ can explain some of the thinking behind the establishment of democracy in the Americas. The book is still relevant also for Caribbean scholars who want to delve into the genesis of ideas imported from Europe, which helped shape our societies.
Today’s video is a piece of British humor related to the subject. Watch it to the end, to understand the relevance to today’s theme. Hilarious!