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A Bacon Caricature by Beerbohm

British caricaturist, author, and bon vivant Sir Max Beerbohm irreverently summarized the Baconian theory of Shakespeare authorship in this 1904 color lithograph, which shows Shakespeare underhandedly receiving a copy of Hamlet from Sir Francis Bacon.


The idea that Bacon wrote Shakespeare’s plays had its roots in the writing of an American woman, Delia Bacon, who believed herself to be descended from the Elizabethan philosopher. In her 1857 work on the subject, Delia Bacon actually proposed that Francis Bacon was one of several eminent figures who wrote the plays. Later Baconians credited him alone, and some have tried to prove it by locating cryptographs within Shakespeare's texts. In its day, the Baconian theory had a considerable vogue, convincing no less a figure than Mark Twain of its merits.


The Folger collection includes many materials on the subject. As A.S.W. Rosenbach wrote in his 1931 recollections of Henry Folger, “Although not a believer in the Baconian theory, Mr. Folger formed an almost complete library on this subject, including many manuscripts and autograph letters." Those holdings were further enhanced in December 1968 with a gift from three members of the Bacon family of 300 letters and other papers from 1821 to 1859 relating to Delia Bacon.


In advocating her theories, Bacon sought the support of literary and other important figures of her day, most of whom were unconvinced of her ideas but personally sympathetic to her. The correspondence in the Bacon collection includes letters from Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Thomas Carlyle, James Buchanan, and Harriet Beecher Stowe.


Max Beerbohm. William Shakespeare, His Method of Work. Print, 1904.

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