Letter: Early Baconians

Sir: The most effective form of censorship is for the orthodox believer to label heretics as snobs, self-advertisers, or lunatics. Shakespeare is such a sacred myth in England that all discussion of the authorship is habitually killed in this manner. Thus Terry Eagleton cannot resist the tired old jibes at "Looney" Oxfordians and mad Baconians called Bacon in his review of The Genius of Shakespeare (1 November).

However, he is wrong in suggesting that nobody questioned Shakespeare's identity until 200 years after his death. The identity of many writers in that era was regularly disputed by contemporaries such as Robert Greene, Thomas Nashe and Thomas Puttenham, and Shakespeare was no exception. In 1597 Joseph Hall published Virgidemiae, in which he identified the author of "Venus and Adonis" and other early works as someone he called "Labeo", who passed them off as someone else's.

A year later in his Pigmalion's Image and Certain Satires John Marston identified "Labeo" as "mediocria firma", which was Francis Bacon's family motto. Even H N Gibson, who accepts the orthodox theory, acknowledges that "Marston believed that Hall meant Bacon as the author and `Venus and Adonis' as the poem".

Incidentally, the Baconian theory was first directly suggested by the Rev James Wilmot about 1785, which is still less than 200 years.


Lisburn, Co Antrim