Famous Doubters and Critics of the Orthodox Stratfordian Story
by Robert Sean Brazil © 2007
Friedrich Nietzsche and the Shakespeare Authorship Controversy
By Robert Sean Brazil -- copyright © 2002 and 2007
All rights reserved. Do not copy text from this web page for re-use on the web
or in any media. To cite this article properly for your research paper click here
NIETZSCHE on the Shakespeare Authorship:
It is, perhaps, hard for some people to wrap their minds around the idea that Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) read Shakespeare in English and offered unusual comments -- not only on Shakespare's style and philosophy, but also on the emerging Shakespeare authorship problem. However, recall that before Nietzsche was a philosopher, he was a philologist. He read widely in many languages, and endeavored to read authors in their native tongues. In addition to the English-language Shakespeare, Nietzsche is reported to have been very fond of the writings and ideas of Ralph Waldo Emerson. (Kaufmann, p. viii; p. 306, full citation below) Emerson had been one of the first and most formidable of the Shakespeare doubters.
Walter Kaufmann was a translator and biographer of Nietzsche. According to Kaufmann, in his excellent Nietzsche, Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist (1968), Nietzsche's views on the Shakespeare authorship were born from his own elitist reading of the texts combined with his simultaneous interest in the writings and philosophies of Francis Bacon. Nietzsche did not accept Bacon's thinking in all things. For example, Francis Bacon was the perfect apologist for the power of the State, and for uniformity and allegiance to social norms. Nietzsche was an early proponent of individualism and an early critic of the bloated power of the State and its attendant institutions, academic, military, religious, and bureaucratic, which all serve to enforce social conformity and obedience. What Nietzsche did like about Bacon was his rationalism, his thinly veiled skepticism of theological claims, and his precise scientific ability to differentiate between things and place things and ideas in appropriate categories. Bacon had written an essay in Novum Organum called "The Four Idols," documenting the four intellectual mistakes of his civilization. They were termed by Bacon, "Idols of the Tribe, Idols of the Cave, Idols of the Marketplace and Idols of the Theater."
Bacon's titles are a bit misleading. Here is what he meant (my interpretation, at least): 'Idols of the Tribe'=commonplace nonsense such as the medieval idea that stars are pinholes letting through the light of heaven, or that the moon is watery, or that gods need to be appeased and fed. 'Idols of the Cave'=tunnel vision and seeing only what we expect. A grocer sees things only by their weight, an exorcist sees sickness as possession by devils, a chemist insists all things are chemicals. 'Idols of the Marketplace'=the way common folk are fooled by advertising, rhetoric, misleading claims, and con-men's smooth pitches. 'Idols of the Theater'=reliance on Authority, experts, and swallowing the received wisdom, without questioning. The bigger the lie, the more easily it is accepted.
Nietzsche was impressed by this approach and wrote his own "The Four Great Errors," which appeared in The Gay Science and, later, as a section of Twilight of the Idols. Kaufmann suggests (page 265) that Nietzsche's general fascination with Bacon preceded and led to his suspicion that Bacon wrote the works of Shakespeare. However, if Nietzsche had really thought this concept all the way through, he would certainly have found Bacon's scientific rationality at odds with Shakespeare's mythic, quasi-historic, and folkloric approach. Moreover, though Shakespeare defended Kingdom and State on the surface, he was also a harsh critic of its abuses, like Nietzsche, but rather unlike Bacon. Bacon thought ideas and institutions were more important than individual people. Modern critics/idolaters (like H. Bloom) claim that there was never such a thing as an "individual personality" or "independent mind" until Shakespeare showed us how to be one and to have one. Nietzsche is also famous for theorizing that the inherent conflict in Western civilization arises from an antique clash between two major human impulses: the Apollonian and the Dionysian. (Apollo guides order, organization, rules, rationality, and power. Dionysus guides inspiration, insobriety, dance, theater, the miracle of the unexpected.) By Nietzsche's own model, Bacon is clearly Apollonian and Shakespeare Dionysian, what with Falstaff, and Puck, and all those bawdy songs.
Unfortunately, this great philosopher's ideas on Shakespeare got "locked in" by his statements written in 1887-1888, and he was never in a position to revise or update his opinions. Nietzsche came to the authorship problem rather late in his intellectual career, at a time when he was starting to "lose it." He was writing and thinking about Shakespeare and Bacon in 1887-1888. Just one year later, in 1889, Nietzsche had his famous "very bad day" on the streets of Turin, when he allegedly freaked out after he saw a crude tradesman cruelly whipping his horse, and Nietzsche rushed to defend the horse. It all went downhill after that.
If Nietzsche had been born a generation later, or had escaped degenerative mental illness, or had lived past 1920 with his faculties intact, I'm quite sure he would have been an Oxfordian. In fact, Kaufmann makes a similar point (in his edition of Ecce Homo, page 246.) While discussing Nietzsche's Baconian leanings Kaufmann says, "Incidentally, Freud believed that the Earl of Oxford had written Shakespeare's plays". [Elsewhere Kaufmann and others detect a straight line from Nietzsche to Freud. See article, "Nietzsche and the romantic construction of adolescence," from Adolescent Psychiatry, 1998, by Vivian M. Rakoff. Excerpted here, Rakoff writes (emphasis added):
"..Chapman (1955) has made a careful compilation of Nietzsche's influence on Freud as represented in the writings of Ernest Jones and Henri Ellenberger. While it may not have been clear to Freud, his debt to Nietzsche was apparent to others, and has been increasingly noted. Kauffman (1968) appears to accept without the need for discussion that Freud was in the cultural shadow cast by Nietzsche. A case in point: when Jung commented on the theoretical struggle between Adler and Freud, he wrote, "Freud himself had told me that he never read Nietzsche: now I saw Freud's psychology as, so to speak, an adroit move on the part of intellectual history, compensating for Nietzsche's deification of the power principle. The problem had obviously to be rephrased not as Freud versus Adler, but Freud versus Nietzsche" (Mahony, 1982, p. 213). Jones provides further support for the position that Freud's disclaimer of lack of knowledge of Nietzsche was disingenuous. As early as 1897 he echoed a phrase of Nietzsche's when he wrote of the "collapse of all values". (Jones, 1995, p. 391)."
While Nietzsche had much to say about the author "Shakespeare," irrespective of authorship (read here), in two of his books he made explicit reference to the authorship problem and in both cases suggested Lord Bacon as the author, with subtle qualifications to the assertions. The examples are found in Will to Power and Ecce Homo.
Will to Power
Section #848 (This was written spring-fall, 1887, but Will To Power was never published until 1901, the year after Nietzsche died).
"To be classical, one must possess all the strong, seemingly contradictory gifts and desires -- but in such a way that they go together beneath one yoke; arrive at the right time to bring to its climax and high point a genius of literature or art or poetics (not after this has already happened --); reflect a total state (of a people or a culture) in one's deepest and innermost soul, at a time when it still exists and has not yet been overprinted with imitations of foreign things (or when it is still dependent-); and one must not be a reactive but a concluding and forward-leading spirit, saying Yes in all cases, even with one's hatred.
"Is the highest personal value not part of it?" -- To consider perhaps whether moral prejudices are not playing their game here and whether great moral loftiness is not perhaps in itself a contradiction of the classical ? Whether the moral monsters must not necessarily be romantics, in word and deed? Precisely such a preponderance of one virtue over the others (as in the case of a moral monster) is hostile to the classical power of equilibrium: supposing one possessed this loftiness and was nonetheless classical, then we could confidently infer that one also possessed immorality of the same level: possibly the case of Shakespeare (assuming it was really Lord Bacon)"
Comments by RSB:
1. Kaufmann's only footnote on this is to invite the reader to also look at the similar, relevant passage in the "Why I am so Clever" section of Ecce Homo.
2. Nietzsche begins by pointing out that the essence of the "classical" personality is the blessing or burden of being possessed by at least two powerful contradictory forces, desires, or motivations at the same time. Classic heroes struggled mightily over questions of honor and reputation, versus their continued life, limbs, love, and happiness, etc.
3. Nietzsche uses his own theory of equilibrated contradictions to explain how a writer like Bacon may have transcended immorality through his Shakespeare mask. Note that in his first published musing on the subject, Nietzsche says "assuming it was really Lord Bacon." It seems he is leaving the door open for further information or another candidate. In his next piece, however, he seems more certain.
(written in 1888, but never published during Nietzsche's lifetime. First printing: 1908.
Chapter: Why I am So Clever
"The highest concept of the lyrical poet was given to me by Heinrich Heine. I seek in vain in all the realms of history for an equally sweet and passionate music. He possessed that divine malice without which I cannot imagine perfection: I estimate the value of men, of races, according to the necessity by which they cannot conceive the god apart from the satyr.
And how he handles his German! One day it will be said that Heine and I have been by far the foremost artists of the German language at an incalculable distance from everything mere Germans have done with it." [#1]
"I must be profoundly related to Byron's Manfred: all these abysses I found in myself; at the age of thirteen I was ripe for this work. I have no word, only a glance, for those who dare to pronounce the word "Faust'" in the presence of Manfred. The Germans are incapable of any notion of greatness; proof: Schumann. Simply from fury against this sugary Saxon, I composed a counter-overture for Manfred of which Hans von Bulow said that he had never seen anything like it on paper, and he called it rape of Euterpe.
When I seek my ultimate formula for Shakespeare, I always find only this: he conceived of the type of Caesar. That sort of thing can only be guessed: one either is it, or one is not. The great poet dips only from his own reality -- ;up to the point where afterwards he cannot endure his work any longer.
"When I have looked into my Zarathustra, I walk up and down in my room for half an hour, unable to master an unbearable fit of sobbing. I know no more heart-rending reading than Shakespeare: what must a man have suffered to have such a need of being a buffoon! [#4]
"Is Hamlet understood? Not doubt, certainty is what drives one insane.--; But one must be profound, an abyss, a philosopher to feel that way--; We are all afraid of truth.
And let me confess it: I feel instinctively sure and certain that Lord Bacon was the originator, the self-tormentor [#6] of this uncanniest kind of literature: what is the pitiable chatter of American flat-and muddle-heads to me? But the strength required for the vision of the most powerful reality is not only compatible with the most powerful strength for action, for monstrous action, for crime--; it even presupposes it. [#7]
We are very far from knowing enough about Lord Bacon, the first realist in every sense of that word, to know everything he did, wanted, and experienced in himself."
[#1 WK's comment: "Ecce Homo was published in 1908." .. "Nietzsche's reference to "mere Germans'" makes a point of the fact that Heine was a Jew (and very widely resented), and Nietzsche took himself to be of Polish descent."]
[#4 WK's comment: A hint for readers of Ecce Homo---WK]
[#4 RSB's comment:
I think what Nietzsche means with his "buffoon" quip is that the noble and aristocratic actual writer of the plays had to make a buffoon of his talent by writing plays geared for the popular stage. The word "buffoon" may have been chosen deliberately. Its early attested use in English goes back at least to 1549. It derives from Middle French bouffon, and further, from Italian buffone: a "jester," and from Italian buffare "to puff out the cheeks," an archaic comic gesture. Puffy-face jester reminds one of the cartoonish Droeshout "portrait" that was slipped in to adorn the First Folio of Shakespeare.
Moreover, Ben Jonson used the word buffoon a lot. He also has a character called Carlo Buffone in Every Man Out of His Humor, whom BJ describes with, "Carlo Buffone, "a most fiend like disposition," "a public scurrilous and profane jester -- who will swill up more sack at a sitting than would make all the guard a posset." And, "he will sooner lose his soul than a jest, and profane even the most holy things to excite laughter." Critics of the past have tried to associate Buffone with Marston or Dekker. But perhaps Jonson was referring to the Stratford Man.]
[#6 WK comment: Selbsttierqualer: literally, self-animal tormentor. Incidentally, Freud believed that the Earl of Oxford had written "Shakespeare's" plays.---WK]
[#6 RSB comment: Nietzsche seems to have projected his own neuroses onto his heroes. He felt that great art, great accomplishment, only comes at the cost of a huge personal struggle. Thus the true "Shakespeare" author, in Nietzsche's view, must have suffered mightily for such a huge achievement, in what Nietzsche calls the "uncanniest kind of literature." Next, even though Nietzsche says he is "instinctively sure and certain that Lord Bacon was the originator" he must have still retained doubts because of his qualifier, "We are very far from knowing enough about Lord Bacon, the first realist in every sense of that word, to know everything he did, wanted, and experienced in himself." In other words, he blithely classifies away the mismatches and inelegant contradictions of the Bacon theory as simply due to a lack of primary material on Bacon. In fact, there is enough primary material on Bacon to comfortably disqualify him. He had neither the lightness of being, the musical wit, the lyrical ease, nor the fundamentally satrirical, aloof, Jaques-like detached attitude to have written the plays. However, if Nietzsche had only been exposed to the later material on Oxford I'm sure he would have switched candidates in a heartbeat.
[#7 WK comment: "Presumably Nietzsche means that he has been persuaded, not by American Baconians but by considerations of his own. Bacon was Lord Chancellor and the "crime" to which he pleaded guilty in 1621 was bribery. He explained, "I was the justest judge that was in England these last 50 years; but it was the justest censure of Parliament that was these two hundred years. In accordance with the general practice of the age, he said, he had accepted the gifts from litigators; but his judgment had never been swayed by a bribe."
[#7 RSB comment: Nietzsche is saying that he has recognized this epic internal authorial struggle in the Shakespeare texts. Thus, his discovery of Bacon is personal, and reasonable, and derived from first principles, and not a mere reaction to the published speculations of American Baconians. He considers Americans to be flat-headed and muddle-headed, incapable of higher thought. He implies their adoption of Bacon is irrational -- a mere lucky guess.
NEXT: Nietzsche on the essence, style, and spirit of Shakespeare.
Back to first Nietzsche page with chronology
Back to Shakespeare Authorship page
Friedrich Nietzsche and the Shakespeare Authorship Controversy by Robert Sean Brazil -- copyright © 2002 and 2007
All rights reserved. Do not copy text from this web page for re-use on the web or in any media.
To cite this article properly for your research paper click here
The Elizabethan Authors website is a collaborative effort by Robert Brazil & Barboura Flues. All Rights Reserved.
All site contents copyright © 2002- 2007, Robert Brazil, and Barboura Flues, and elizabethanauthors.com.
Webmaster contact: robertbrazil at juno.com replace at with @