The Woman Driven Insane By Shakespeare

By Debra Kelly on Tuesday, February 2, 2016
Delia-Bacon_(1811-1859)
“I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me.” —Charles Darwin

In A Nutshell

Delia Bacon, a literary genius and scholar in her own right, became convinced that Shakespeare wasn’t the one who wrote all the works that bore his name. The real author, she claimed, was Sir Francis Bacon, and he had written at the behest of a secret society that was operating in opposition to the English monarchy. Her 682-page book said the works were riddled with codes and anagrams, but no one really took her seriously even after the book was published. Her attempts at finding Bacon’s “evidence,” left behind in Shakespeare’s tomb, ended when she was committed to an asylum.

The Whole Bushel

There’s a rather widely accepted version of literary history that states that a guy named William Shakespeare was born in 1564, wrote some stuff, and died in 1616.

But there’s also a huge debate over whether he actually wrote everything that was attributed to him. Some people doubt he even existed.

One woman was absolutely convinced that Shakespeare was a complete charlatan given credit for something he clearly didn’t do and that the real, unsung author was Sir Francis Bacon.

Her name was Delia Bacon, and even though she really, really believed that she was (by blood or by genius) related to the intrepid philosopher and statesman Sir Francis Bacon, she really, really wasn’t.

Born in 1811 in a log cabin in Ohio to a missionary family, her formal education ended when she was 14. She was certainly no slouch when it came to the literary world, though, once entering a short story competition and beating Edgar Allan Poe. Migraines and a bout of malaria put an end to her attempts at starting her own school, but she still traveled extensively and gave all sorts of lectures. She eventually met and befriended Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne, who both ended up playing a financial part in her bizarre quest.

Delia became convinced that all the works of Shakespeare had been written by Sir Francis Bacon and that they had been written at the behest of a secret society nestled deep within the English court. The society was, at its heart, anti-monarchical, so it was no mystery as to why they needed to keep the real identity of the writer secret.

Enter the “vulgar, illiterate deer poacher,” William Shakespeare.

Delia went on to claim that hidden in all the works were anagrams pointing to the real author. In Love’s Labour’s Lost, there’s the Latin word honorificabilitudinitatibus, which she insisted was nothing short of an anagram of a Latin phrase that meant, “These plays, the offspring of F. Bacon, are preserved for the world.”

The work was full of ciphers and codes, she claimed, a hidden language that allowed the anti-government sect of the court to communicate secretly in plain view of the public and of their regents.

Eventually, she compiled her evidence into a book called The Philosophy of Shakespeare’s Plays Unfolded, in addition to writing other works that were lauded in their day.

While she was waiting for the book to be released to the public, she decided that she needed to go and find some evidence, because it was completely lacking in her 682-page book. With help from Hawthorne and the US consul in England, she financed a trip to Shakespeare’s tomb.

It was there, she was sure, that Bacon had left proof that she was right, that he was the author, and that Shakespeare was nothing more than a figurehead. Bacon would have the credit he deserved, she was convinced.

When she got there, though, there was a problem. No one would open the tomb for her.

She descended into a nightmare of suicidal tendencies, illness, and fever, and was committed to an institution. Her brother, who had already been fearing for her mental and physical health, had been trying to get her to return to Connecticut. Finally she did return, was confined to an asylum there, and died in 1859.

Show Me The Proof

Featured image credit: Theodore Bacon
New England Historical Society: Delia Bacon, Driven Crazy By William Shakespeare
NY Times: On This Day—October 3, 1874
“Delia Bacon, History’s Odd Woman Out,” by Nina Baym
Stanford: Who wrote Shakespeare’s plays? Stanford professor lets you decide