To the best of our current knowledge, William Shakspere of Stratford was not the sole author of the collection of plays Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies (1623). One need not be a conspiracy theorist to reach this conclusion. It is accepted by most academic practitioners of stylometric and phrase-matching tests. In fact, All’s Well That Ends Well, 1 Henry VI, 3 Henry VI, Henry VIII, Macbeth, Timon of Athens, and Titus Andronicus are just a few of the works in which other hands have been strongly indicated. However, the only man to receive credit in the First Folio eulogies is the actor William Shakspere of Stratford who played in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, later known as the King’s Men. So the First Folio collection of 36 plays cannot possibly be an accurate record of attribution of the Shakespeare work. Once one is aware of this fact then one is entitled to ask just how much Mr Shakspere wrote. The best method of identifying the contributors to a text is through a stylistic test but Shakspere has no independent prose works or extant letters to make a comparison with. So his style is unknowable. In the absence of documentary evidence, it is not possible to assert who originated any of the plays in the First Folio. For example, it is possible that a manuscript draft by some unknown dramatist was acquired by some author — later detectable — who inserted topical allusions and revised it into a complete play. For this reason, no play can ever be dated with certainty. What can be detected in a play are the rare locutions of writers that already exist in a database of contemporary texts, for example, Chadwyck–Healey’s Early English Books Online (EEBO) database.
Foreword by Sir Mark Rylance
The Renaissance philosopher-statesman Sir Francis Bacon (1561–1626) of Gray’s Inn is one candidate who has been proposed as the secret single author of the Shakespeare canon. However, the only claim set out in these pages is that he is one of several contributors. With 27 works in Chadwyck–Healey’s Early English Books Online (EEBO) database, it is possible for a stylistic test to either suggest him or — and the following is what makes his test scientific — eliminate him as a contributor to a Shakespeare play. If Bacon seems an unlikely candidate for dramatic contribution, it is only because most academic treatises neglect his role as producer for the Inns of Court players, and have passed over the several examples of fictional devices he wrote for contemporary entertainments. Here our English polymath, who served as Solicitor General (1607), Attorney General (1613), and Lord Chancellor (1618), shall be revealed as a man active in the production of plays and masques at the Inns of Court law schools. There is documentary evidence that he assisted in writing dumb shows for The Misfortunes of Arthur, a play performed by the Gray’s Inn players before the queen at Greenwich in February 1587–8. He wrote speeches for the mock Privy Councellors at the 1594–5 Gray’s Inn Christmas revels where The Comedy of Errors received its first known performance, and there is also strong evidence that Love’s Labour’s Lost was planned for enactment there but cancelled. It almost certainly contains allusions to Bacon’s speeches at the revels proceedings.
In 2019, Professor MacDonald P. Jackson reviewed my book in Style journal. This can be downloaded below together with my response which was published in a later edition of the same journal.
Barry R. Clarke, Francis Bacon's Contribution to Shakespeare: A New Attribution Method, Routledge, 2019.
Barry R. Clarke, 'The Virginia Company and The Tempest', Journal of Drama Studies, 5 (2011):13-27.
Barry R. Clarke, 'The Virginia Company's role in The Tempest', Peter Penda, editor, The Whirlwind of Passion: New Critical Perspectives on William Shakespeare, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016.
MacDonald P. Jackson, 'Francis Bacon's Contribution to Shakespeare: A New Attribution Method by Barry R. Clarke (review)', Style, 53 (2019): 364-370.
Barry R. Clarke, 'Response to Book Review: "Barry R. Clarke, Francis Bacon's Contribution to Shakespeare: A New Attribution Method"', Style, 54 (2020): 365-368.