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But since he died, and poets better prove,
The object of this stanza is to direct those who, in after generations, should seek for the meaning of this poem, to study it, not for any beauty in its composition, but solely to discover who was its author. There is very little to admire in its style, as compared with the works of the poets of succeeding ages, therefore “reserve them for My Love, not for their rhyme” (My Love personated his dramas). Study them to ascertain who Shakespeare was, and who I am. Think, if you please, that if I had lived and cultivated my powers I would have written better, but as I did not, and your poets excel me, give no heed to my style, but read my poem to ascertain the meaning of the history it contains. One readily infers from this that Bacon appreciated his dramatic writings at their full worth, and derived great delight from the thought that future ages would
discover that he was their author, and do justice to his memory.
Yet him for this My Love no whit disdaineth;
This majestic verse fittingly describes his brief hour of enjoyment when his first drama (“My sun”) was completed. It is very beautiful. As the sun which renders the morning glorious by flattering the mountain-tops, kissing the green meadows, and gilding the pale streams with its rays, is suddenly obscured by dark clouds, until its setting, so his sun one “early morn did shine with all-triumphant splendour on my brow” (he had triumphed over all difficulties in the composition of his work, and brought it to completion). It was like the glory of morning sunlight to him. Alas! "he was but one hour Mine” (he was obliged by his position in life to give it, with all its beauty, to another). “The region cloud hath
mask'd him from me now” (his right to it was like that of one who concealed his person and features with a mask to escape recognition). Shakespeare, “the region cloud," stood between him and that sun at that moment, and has masked him from the world ever since. Yet “My Love" (his drama) was no more affected by this change over the earthly sun than the earth by the clouds that hid the heavenly sun. The darkness was all to him alone.
Ah! but those tears are pearl which Thy love sheds,
He tells in this stanza how he became dispossessed of his dramas. As if angry with Thou (Truth), he asks why the promise was made of so much fame in his work, as he was to lose it all so soon. He was in distress for means to live, “without my cloak,” and possibly threatened with arrest, “base clouds” overtook him on his way. In
this extremity it occurred to him that he might dispose of his play to some theatrical manager. Shakespeare, a young fellow in pursuit of fortune, was at the time a shareholder in Blackfriars Theatre. Thou's (Truth's) “bravery” (Truth's incorruptibility) was hid “in the rotten smoke" of the clouds (in the unpleasant embarrassments that were threatening the author). Bacon found Shakespeare, and arranged with him to assume authorship of the drama. The sacrifice was made with less reluctance, because he could not, without destroying all his future prospects, be known as the writer of plays for the theatre. The play thus disposed of was probably “The History of the Contention between the Houses of Lancaster and York,” his first effort. It was afterwards incorpo. rated in the play of Henry VI. We learn from the history of the dramas that this play and the “True Tragedy of the Duke of York ” were performed before the poems of " Venus and Adonis" and “Lucrece" were published, of both of which Shakespeare appeared as author. This play was first published without the name of an author, but Green, who by many critics is supposed to have aided in its composition, alludes unmistakably to Shakespeare as connected with it, in his “Groatesworth of Wit.” This arrangement probably marks the period, not later than 1592, when the friendship commenced between Bacon and Shakespeare.
It appears from this stanza that the arrange
ment was of Bacon's own seeking. Allegorically he charges the offence to that attribute of himself, Thou (Truth), because it was untruthful to permit the play to appear as Shakespeare's. During the transaction Thou is represented as breaking through the clouds with a smile of encouragement, which, while it “heals the wound” (sanctions the act), “cures not the disgrace" (does not relieve him of the shame). Then the address changes to “Thy's shame," or the wrong done to his own thoughts, which he sees in Shakespeare. "Nor can Thy shame give physic to My grief” (Shakespeare's part in the purchase did not remove any of the offensive features of the act). Any delicacy he might feel in assuming the authorship did not restore the play to the true writer of it. It was gone from him forever. There was this consolation: “Those tears are pearl which Thy love sheds” (he has received substantial pay for the play). “And they are rich and ransom all ill deeds" (and that compensates for all that is wrong in the transaction between them).