Friday, 17 July 2009

Was Shakespeare a time-travelling computer?

The question is not as absurd as it may at first appear. For centuries, scholars have wrestled with the Shakespeare authorship question. How ever did the son of a Stratford glover, with limited education, emerge as England's premier wordsmith?

Attempts to uncover his identity as Bacon, Marlowe or Oxford have foundered because they rest upon implausibilities even more absurd than those which suppose Shakespeare to have been a polymath (with no evidence of a library) having unprecedented verbal skills. Indeed, they defy the 'coherence of probabilities'.

First, Bacon was far too busy with civic affairs to churn out - in his spare time - as many as four plays in a year, as Shakespeare attestedly did in 1593-4 and 1599-1600. 'Proofs' of Bacon's signature encoded throughout the works in anagrams are risible. The scripts never stayed the same from one play night to the next, as the many variorium editions of the Folios suggest. For an anagram to be decryptable, it must be encoded in a durable and published text. Shakespeare (or whoever wrote his plays) never showed the slightest interest in publishing his evanescent scripts.

Moreover, the modern Dan Brown craze for finding expedient cryptograms in everything - famously exemplified by Drosnin's lucrative The Bible Code - was laughed to scorn even in the sixteenth century (see Montaigne's Essais, 1580).

Kit Marlowe is a candidate even less plausible. He died on 30th May 1593 yet many of Shakespeare's most famous plays were not only produced up to nine years later but also some, like Macbeth and The Tempest, are indisputably grounded upon contemporary events unknowable to the 16th century Marlowe.

Only Oxford remains a feasible candidate, but he exhibited little wit or genius in those writings attributed to him.

All textual quibbles aside, the clearest impartial evidence that Shakespeare was, well, Shakespeare comes from his close friend Ben Jonson. If someone other than Shakespeare had written the plays (perhaps a Marlowe recidivus lurking in the closet?), Jonson would have known it. So would Shakespeare's early paymaster, Burbage, and all the other major actors like Kemp. (Who fell out with Shakespeare and was not noted for his discretion.) This hints at a massive conspiracy. Yet Jonson gives no hint of it in his candid memoires Discoveries, published 1640 and written in the 1630s, nearly twenty years after Shakespeare's death.

No. Shakespeare was Shakespeare. So how was he able to write so well?

BRUTUS is a software programme developed at MIT that already composes convincing short stories indistinguishable from those written by a human author, but without human mediation. It is not impossible that the recuperation of Love’s Labours Won is next on its agenda.


Just suppose some futuristic university English dept had encrypted BRUTUS into algorithms as small as a virus, and time-flown them back to 1585, and implanted them in Shakespeare when he first left Stratford to make his fortune in London? Time travel? I am not privy to the technologies of future English depts. Unethical? Not for English depts. Trust me. I know these guys.

Suffice to say, this simple explanation entirely clears up the authorship question. In fact, MIT patently acknowledges that its program wrote Shakespeare. Why else would the program have embedded in Julus Caesar the explicit clue: 'Et tu, Brute?'.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Did Roger Bacon Discover the Secret of Immortality?

This has long been a topic of scholarly conjecture. We might equally ask: did the Elizabethan Dr John Dee light upon the secret too? Or the alchemist Richard Ingalese in the early 20th century? Both were on the quest for immortality and both vanished mysteriously in 1609 and the 1930s, respectively. We have no record of their deaths or places of burial.

That fact alone is enough to convince fabulists that both men are alive today. (Ingalese explicitly stated: 'I know of one alchemist more than 600 years old, and one whose age is more than 400, and another whose age is 200, and all of these look and function as do men in the prime of life at about 40 years.") Perhaps, then, Dee and Ingalese are still among us, heavily disguised as Peter Ackroyd and A.S. Byatt? How else could such novelists have acquired their polymathic knowledge of their respective periods if they had not lived in them?

To return to the question: did Roger Bacon discover the secret of eternal life?

Very possibly.

We know that Bacon had sent his first three books on the Philosopher's Stone – his Opus Minus, Tertium, and part of the Maius - in the year 1265 to Pope Clement IV, at the Pope’s command. Bacon dispatched them from his house in Paris to the Vatican by separate carriers, and encoded for safety.

Yet Clement died in 1268 before Bacon could send the last of his Maius which were, some say, its most crucial chapter. (See Thorndike, Lynn, 1916, ‘The True Roger Bacon’, I, The American Historical Review, Vol. 21, No. 2. (Jan., 1916), pp. 237-257.)

There is no mystery about the composition of the formula. Bacon published it openly and Dr John Dee reproduced it in a pamphlet, published fifty years after Dee's death (?) in 1659: ‘Friar Bacon, his Discovery of the Miracles of Art, Nature, and Magick/Faithfully translated out of Dr [John] Dee’s own Copy by T.M.’

But we must remember that the good friar was a humorist. He created an omnisicent speaking head of brass. (It is immortalised in the name 'Brasenose College' at Oxford.) When nobody asked the wretched golem a question, it exploded in a fit of petulance.

Bacon's Philosopher's Egg is likewise a joke. When decoded, it proves to be no more than a recipe for making gunpowder.

So what did Bacon send to the Pope? Not a formula for gunpowder, we can be sure.

Of course, the answer might lie just twenty yards from me at this moment, in the garden of the Yeoman Institute. If we are to believe Hippo (I do), it is some three foot below the rose bush where he buried his decryption of Bacon's book in 1625. I could dig it up in thirty minutes. Should I?

No. It might kill the rose bush. And as a gardener, I value a rose bush attestedly four centuries old a good deal more than I do some will o' the wisp fable of immortality.

And who needs eternal life? Did I have it, I might (perish the thought) end up writing like Peter Ackroyd or A.S. Byatt.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Was Elizabeth I truly the legitimate heir to the English throne?

Certainly, Queen Mary I thought that Elizabeth was a bastard. She claimed that Elizabeth was really the daughter of Ann Boleyn by way of Mark Smeton, Ann's lute player. (See Benjamin Woolley The Queen's Conjuror, 2002: 60.)

Mary had a point. Henry VIII was arguably impotent, raddled with syphilis and incapable of conceiving a child. Hence, his desperate quest for yet new wives to assert his long-gone potency. The son of Henry's personal physician Sir William Butts (1486-1545), who might have learned this from his father, hinted at it to the young Yeoman.

So why was Elizabeth nonetheless famous for being 'flame' or red haired like Henry?

One interesting speculation is that she was, in fact, a brunette. Both Ann Boleyn and Smeton were (see Woolley, ibid). Her hair had been dyed red from infancy, possibly using madder or henna. This fact would have been known to her intimate maid servants.

No wonder that she panicked when Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex, burst into her bedchamber, unannounced, on 29th September 1599 when she were ill-dressed and, by some reports, naked. It was not her maidenly modesty she were concerned for, but the revelation of the true colour of her public hair.


Consider another mystery. Why did Elizabeth banish Sir Walter Raleigh so suddenly from her court in 1591? He was the most popular man in England, the Winston Churchill of his times. He had single-handedly (at least, in rumour) seen off the Spanish Armada just three years previously. Yet she tossed him into the Tower of London in a moment and shortly afterwards shipped him off to South America.

Why? Historians tell us it was because he had married Elizabeth Throckmorton, Elizabeth's maid servant, without her knowledge or consent. Hardly a hanging offence, surely? But it was. For Throckmorton surely knew the secret of Elizabeth's true hair colour.
Had that knowledge spread, the brunette Elizabeth would have been proclaimed a bastard. The Pope, gleeful, would have roused the Catholic nations against her. Philip of Spain would have marshalled his ships once more. And the Scottish lairds might have marched on England to overthrow Elizabeth and replace her with their own king, James VI.

Raleigh had to be got rid of.

Speculation? Yes. But as Yeoman reminds us: a 'fact' is merely a myth consentially agreed upon.

Read 'The Apothecary's Tales' now


Many have proposed that The Apothecary's Tales is a detective novel in the genre of historical fiction or fictive history set in the Jacobean and Elizabethan era called the Jacobethan (or the age of Shakespeare). Certainly, its tone of mystery, suspense, humour, comedy and ribald sex might suggest that. However, the mystery, detective and thriller elements merely support its presentation as an historical novel; they do not invaidate the possibility that it is a true account originally written in the language of Shakespeare and revised for the reader of modern historical novels.