on 23 July 2008
Have you ever had that feeling when picking up a new book that it may not be as comfortable a read as you might hope? You just know, without reading it, that it will change the way you look at the world. But for some reason, no matter how long you delay reading it, you somehow eventually acquiesce. Peter Hawkins has produced such a book.
The title of his book promises mystery and intrigue and it delivers both. I had no idea when I began reading it that I would end up learning more about the English polymath Sir Francis Bacon than William Shakespeare and that I would be entering the fascinating worlds of poets, playwrights, spies, ciphers, codes, political intrigue, rosicrucians, Minerva, and spiritual quests. And therein lays its fascination.
The core of the book is a careful and scholarly documentation of the evidence that proves, from the author's perspective, that William Shakespeare was a front for the writings of Francis Bacon. By the end of the book I was convinced that Peter Hawkins is correct in his conclusions. However, after talking to a number of modern poets and playwrights, I am less convinced on reflection. Part of this is due I am sure to a very human frailty of not wanting to see one of one's heroes supplanted by someone else. But, as I hope to show, it does not matter whether Peter Dawkins is correct or not for he has produced a cracking read reflecting the very spirit in which his own hero Francis Bacon approached life. Bacon was the inner or hidden whereas Shakespeare was the world, outer or mundane. However, I am consoled and enriched because I have a new hero to add to my own pantheon of heroes.
There are so many ideas covered in this book, and in such meticulous detail, that I scarcely know where to begin. At the heart of the book there is an unfolding of an idea that there seems to be an unbridgeable gulf between the life of the actor William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon and the life experience of the author than can be gleaned from his poems and plays. It is the vast breadth of knowledge, learning and life experience in these works as well as the literary skills, contacts, and required activity that appear to have nothing to do with the actor William Shakespeare. Peter Dawkins suggests that the `true' Shakespeare must have been an aristocrat, a scholar, constitutional lawyer, and have been privy to government and court life. He suggests that he best candidate for the real author, based on a detailed analysis of ciphers, codes and symbols in Shakespeare's works, and by reference from poets like Spencer and Steer, is Sir Francis Bacon.
Once one starts to explore the life of Francis Bacon one becomes drawn into a world of mystery, intrigue, hermeticism, masks, and betrayal. He and his brother Anthony both worked for Queen Elizabeth 1 as spies, and were supported and betrayed by Lord Essex. Both brothers were very religious and worked tirelessly for their Queen, King, and country with little real reward for Francis. Yet Francis went on to become one of the most influential Rosicrucians of his time and it is this hidden side of his life that is so intriguing.
There is some evidence to suggest that the collective works of `Shakespeare' may have been a group work involving a range of authors. Bacon himself was dedicated to creating his `great work' - the reformation of the world through the renewal of the arts and sciences. He dedicated most of his life to this goal in a project both hermetic and cabbalistic in design. His `renaissance' group, of which he was Master, was dealing with the accumulated wisdom of the ancients, adding to it, and hoping to leave a legacy to make the world a better place. Their collective artistic, dramatic, pageantry, poetic, literary, and scientific insight was the highpoint of the English Renaissance (c.1576-1626) and continues to impact modern science and culture. So why did they hide so much of their discoveries as clues, and ciphers? Peter Dawkins asks whether it was to teach us the art of discovery and the wisdom that waits to be discovered, and to inspire us to make the world a better place.
I end with a reminder to myself to re-read The Tempest - perhaps the most fully-expanded allegory of initiation on all the main levels of being. It has parallels with the cryptic initiation rites in Virgil's The Aeneid. So whether you believe that Shakespeare was who he is reputed to be or not is not really important. What is important is that Peter Dawkins has revealed that the writings of `Shakespeare' contain a multitude of hidden meanings and layers. The tragedy of our times is that just as these are being revealed the bard's works are either being expunged from the school curriculum or the very clues and meanings in the works are being stripped out or simplified into meaningless prose. Read this book to find out why. There is more to Shakespeare than the A-level summary booklets we all used to `understand' Shakespeare.