Francis Bacon, Shakespeare and Secret Societies

written by Beth on January 22, 2013 in Content and News with 5 comments

Sir Francis Bacon, first Viscount of St Albans,  was born on this day in 1561. He is well-known for his contribution to science. In fact, science and research is what it is today because of Bacon. The methodology of science and research, something we may not even think about as having an origin, of ever not existing, was Bacon’s brainchild. He is the father of empiricism.

'Engraving: portrait of Francis Bacon', Wellcome Library, CC-BY-NC

‘Engraving: portrait of Francis Bacon’, Wellcome Library, CC-BY-NC

Bacon championed the need for inductive reasoning. That means being able to gradually generalise findings based on accumulated data – the more data you investigate, the more convincing your hypothesis. If you’re interested in his works, you can find them on Europeana here.

'Francis Bacon, Viscount St Albans' as a boy. Stipple engraving by F. Holl after A. Hughes. Wellcome Library, CC-BY-NC

‘Francis Bacon, Viscount St Albans’ as a boy. Stipple engraving by F. Holl after A. Hughes. Wellcome Library, CC-BY-NC

So, Bacon has played his part in all of our educations – science experiments would not be the same without him.

But did you know that some would say the same about English lessons?

A theory first published in the mid-19th century suggests that Sir Francis Bacon was the real author of some or even all of the plays that most of us believe were written by William Shakespeare. Baconian theory holds that Shakespeare was merely the front man, taking all the glory so that the important statesman would not be criticised as being a lowly public playwright. By finding another man to take the credit, Bacon’s high ambitions to hold high office in government  could remain achievable.  Scholars came up with this theory after perceiving similarities in the philosophies of Bacon as seen through his correspondence and the ideas put forward in Shakespeare’s plays. Some also find codes and ciphers in the plays that point to Bacon. But it has to be said that the vast majority of Shakespeare scholars reject this theory.

A scene from Hamlet, but who wrote it, Shakespeare or Bacon? 'Costume design-sketch, Shakespeare: Hamlet, Act I, father of Hamlet and the spirit warriors,' ECLAP, e-library for Performing Arts, public domain

A scene from Hamlet, but who wrote it, Shakespeare or Bacon? ‘Costume design-sketch, Shakespeare: Hamlet, Act I, father of Hamlet and the spirit warriors,’ ECLAP, e-library for Performing Arts, public domain

This isn’t the only unusual claim about Bacon’s life.  He is also thought to have been a member of secret societies. He is alleged to have had connections with the fraternity of  Freemasons and German secret philosophical society, the Rosicrucians. While there are scholars who don’t believe this, others think that he was part of other closed intellectual movements, which he joined motivated by his passion for the advancement of  learning. His motto certainly bears this out: bene visit qui bene latuit – one lives best by the hidden life.

'An archangel revealing the physical nature of the universe to a group of natural philosophers and mathematicians' (including Bacon)  Wellcome Library, CC-BY-NC

‘An archangel revealing the physical nature of the universe to a group of natural philosophers and mathematicians’ (including Bacon) Wellcome Library, CC-BY-NC

His death, aged 65,  has a touch of irony to it. One day in April 1626,  Bacon took a walk in the snow. Whilst on this walk, he had the idea of freezing meat to preserve it. He immediately bought a fowl and stuffed it with snow, whereupon he contracted pneumonia and died just a few days later.  In a letter Bacon wrote on his deathbed to his friend Lord Arundel, he said, ‘As for the experiment itself, it succeeded excellently well.’

So to conclude, we wish Sir Francis Bacon a happy birthday and thank him for research methodology, Shakespeare’s plays, and frozen food.