Originator of the Shakespeare-Bacon Theory: Delia Bacon Part 1

The early life of the originator of the Shakespeare-Bacon theory, Delia Bacon, who believed Shakespeare did not write his own works.

DELIA BACON (1811-1859). Originator of Shakespeare-Bacon theory.

In 1852, a strange, frail, possessed New England lady, who had dabbled in teaching, writing, lecturing, jolted literary circles with the announcement that William Shakespeare had not written the classical plays attributed to him. These plays had actually been written, the lady insisted, by a group of English scholars--a secret Elizabethan club--whose ranks included Sir Francis Bacon, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Edmund Spenser. The originator of this sensational theory was 41-year-old Delia Bacon, of Hartford, Conn., the spinstress daughter of impoverished missionary parents and no relative to Queen Elizabeth's favorite adviser.

Delia Bacon was the 1st Baconian, the founder of the Shakespeare-Bacon movement, and her theory kicked off a controversy that has already lasted a century. Miss Bacon argued that William Shakespeare was no more than "a vulgar, illiterate . . . deerpoacher" and "Lord Leicester's stableboy." His name had been used merely as a front by a school of brilliant writers who wished to promote radical political philosophies without revealing their true identities.

Not only had Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello been penned by Sir Francis Bacon and company, but their advanced political propaganda had been concealed in the dramas by a clever system of ciphers. As to proof, Delia Bacon offered, beyond her unshakable intuition, evidence that she had deciphered the plays. If more proof were needed, she said, it could be found inside Shakespeare's grave at Stratford-on-Avon. There, moldering beside the Bard's body, were the documents that would tell the entire world the truth. If she could reach England, open the crypt, her theory would be fully vindicated.

Within a year, Miss Bacon was on her way to England, backed by Ralph Waldo Emerson, who had been converted to her theory and who considered her, with Walt Whitman, "the sole producers that America has yielded in 10 years." Emerson's support encouraged Putnam's Magazine to give Miss Bacon a series of assignments reporting upon her researches.

Until she had made her startling announcement, Delia Bacon had been a nonentity. She was one of 6 children, born in a Tallmadge, O., log cabin in 1811. Her father, the Rev. David Bacon, went broke, moved his brood to Hartford, Conn., and died when Delia was 6. She attended a famous private school run by Catharine Beecher, sister of Henry Ward Beecher, until she was 15. Later, with an older sister, she tried to set up a private school of her own. For 4 years, in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York, she tried and each time failed, mainly because she lacked sufficient funds and because she was plagued by ill health.

At 20, she published a book of short stories, at 28 a play. Meanwhile, she began lecturing before women's groups on literature. Slight and graceful of presence, highly enthusiastic about her subjects, she managed sufficient speaking engagements to support herself. During this period she became involved in a disastrous love affair with one Rev. Alexander MacWhorter, which led to his almost being defrocked and to her total disillusionment with men. Apparently, she had to take it out on some man, and so she took it out on William Shakespeare. For it was at this time, continuing her researches, that she became convinced Shakespeare was a hoax and a fraud. At once, in a burst of energy, she delved deeper into the plays, fending off all family resistance and ridicule, until she became a fanatic on her thesis.

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