Delia Bacon

Actual historical evidence of the man William Shakespeare is meager and seems incongruous with the language and the art of the plays and sonnets attributed to his hand. Delia Bacon was one of the earliest to speculate publicly that the author and William Shakespeare might be two different people.

Could the man whose will mentions disposition of his second-best bed be the same man who adapted stories found only in Italian or Latin, who knew details of a 1580 visit of Marguerite de Valois and Catherine de Medici to Henry of Navarre's court?

Delia Bacon was born in Ohio and moved to Connecticut where she studied at Catherine Beecher's girls' school. She taught school for some years, unsuccessfully tried to start her own school, published a book, Tales of the Puritans, and a play, The Bride of Fort Edward, and had some success as a paid lecturer.

An affair with a minister led Delia Bacon to withdraw into private study and reading. She came to the conclusion that Shakespeare's writings were not the product of the "stupid, ignorant, third-rate player," in her words, but of a group of writers including Sir Walter Raleigh, Edmund Spenser, and most prominently, Francis Bacon.

Delia Bacon argued that the political content of the plays and even the sonnets made it safer for these notables to attribute the writing to the actor whose name was Shakspear (he spelled it differently in different records, but never signed his name "Shakespeare.")

Encouraged to pursue her theory by Ralph Waldo Emerson but few others, she traveled to England for further research. Nathaniel Hawthorne at one point rescued her from poverty and then helped her to publish her theories in The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakespeare Unfolded (1857).

Almost immediately after the book came out, Delia Bacon, in the words of contemporaries, "went insane," and was returned to the United States. She died in Connecticut in 1859.

While Bacon's book was treated primarily as a crackpot theory and literary novelty, it opened up speculation into the authorship of Shakespeare's writings. That speculation continues today, although Delia Bacon's theory centering on Francis Bacon has met with considerable counter-evidence. The current "leading suspect" is, instead, Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford.