Famous Doubters and Critics of the Orthodox Stratfordian Story
by Robert Sean Brazil © 2007
NIETZSCHE on Shakespeare's Essence, Style, and Spirit:
In addition to Nietzsche's specific writings on the Shakespeare authorship controversy, he penned many more comments on "Shakespeare" -- the Author -- in more general philosophical and philological contexts. Still, Nietzsche's critical views of Shakespeare's style and substance are unique and appear to be entirely uninfluenced by other thinkers. Nietzsche had a "personal relationship" with Shakespeare, as did Nathaniel Hawthorne, and those intense private musings took form in the fascinating observations Nietzsche has left us, documenting his views on Shakespeare's essence. -- RSB, 2007
"The historical sense (or the capacity for divining quickly the order of rank of the evaluations according to which a people, a society, a human being has lived, the “divinatory instinct” for the relationships of these evaluations, for the relation of the authority of values to the authority of effective forces): this historical sense, to which we Europeans lay claim as our specialty, has come to us in the wake of the mad and fascinating semi-barbarism into which Europe has been plunged through the democratic mingling of classes and races—only the nineteenth century knows this sense, as its sixth sense. The past of every form and mode of life, of cultures that formerly lay close beside or on top of one another, streams into us “modern souls” thanks to this mingling, our instincts now run back in all directions, we ourselves are a kind of chaos. In the end, as I said before, “the spirit” perceives its advantage in all this.
Through our semi-barbarism in body and desires we have secret access everywhere such as a noble age never had, above all the access to the labyrinth of unfinished cultures and to every semi-barbarism which has ever existed on earth; and, in so far as the most considerable part of human culture hitherto has been semi-barbarism, “historical sense” means virtually the sense and instinct for everything, the taste and tongue for everything: which at once proves it to be an ignoble sense. We enjoy Homer again, for instance: perhaps it is our happiest advance that we know how to appreciate Homer, whom the men of a noble culture (the French of the seventeenth century, for example, such as Saint-Evremond who reproached him for his esprit vaste [vast spirit], and even their dying echo, Voltaire) cannot and could not assimilate so easily—whom they hardly permitted themselves to enjoy. The very definite Yes and No of their palate, their easily aroused disgust, their hesitant reserve with regard to everything strange, their horror of the tastelessness even of a lively curiosity, and in general that unwillingness of a noble and self-sufficient culture to admit to a new desire, a dissatisfaction with one’s own culture, an admiration for what is foreign: all this disposes them unfavorably towards even the best things in the world which are not their property and could not become their prey—and no sense is so unintelligible to such men as the historical sense and its obsequious plebeian curiosity.
It is no different with Shakespeare, that astonishing Spanish-Moorish-Saxon synthesis of tastes over which an ancient Athenian of the circle of Aeschylus would have half-killed himself with laughter or annoyance: but we—we accept precisely this confusion of colors, this medley of the most delicate, the coarsest and the most artificial, with a secret confidence and cordiality, we enjoy him as an artistic refinement reserved precisely for us and allow ourselves to be as little disturbed by the repellent fumes and the proximity of the English rabble in which Shakespeare’s art and taste live as we do on the Chiaja of Naples, where we go our way enchanted and willing with all our senses alert, however much the sewers of the plebeian quarters may fill the air.
That as men of the “historical sense” we have our virtues is not to be denied—we are unpretentious, selfless, modest, brave, full of self-restraint, full of devotion, very grateful, very patient, very accommodating—with all that, we are perhaps not very “tasteful.” Let us finally confess it to ourselves: that which we men of the “historical sense” find hardest to grasp, to feel, taste, love, that which at bottom finds us prejudiced and almost hostile, is just what is complete and wholly mature in every art and culture, that which constitutes actual nobility in works and in men, their moment of smooth sea and halcyon self-sufficiency, the goldness and coldness displayed by all things which have become perfect.
Perhaps our great virtue of the historical sense necessarily stands opposed to good taste, or to the very best taste at any rate, and it is precisely the brief little pieces of good luck and transfiguration of human life that here and there come flashing up which we find most difficult and laborsome to evoke in ourselves: those miraculous moments when a great power voluntarily halted before the boundless and immeasurable—when a superfluity of subtle delight in sudden restraint and petrifaction, in standing firm and fixing oneself, was enjoyed on a ground still trembling. Measure is alien to us, let us admit it to ourselves; what we itch for is the infinite, the unmeasured. Like a rider on a charging steed we let fall the reins before the infinite, we modern men, like semi-barbarians—and attain our state of bliss only when we are also most—in danger."
Comments by RSB:
1. Note how Nietzsche describes Shakespeare as purveying an "astonishing Spanish-Moorish-Saxon synthesis of tastes."
2. Nietzsche claims the ancient Athenians would have found Shakespeare's mad mix of styles laughable or annoying. Yet to modern readers and theater-goers, it is just this bizarre hash of lofty and lowdown that ensures Shakespeare's appeal.
3. Nietzsche claims Shakespeare's power in this is that we are transported out of present history and "good taste" and confronted with the transcendent. "Measure is alien to us, let us admit it to ourselves; what we itch for is the infinite, the unmeasured. Like a rider on a charging steed we let fall the reins before the infinite, we modern men, like semi-barbarians—and attain our state of bliss only when we are also most—in danger."
In praise of Shakespeare.— I could not say anything more beautiful in praise of Shakespeare as a human being than this: he believed in Brutus and did not cast one speck of suspicion upon this type of virtue! It was to him that he devoted his best tragedy—it is still called by the wrong name—to him and to the most awesome quintessence of a lofty morality. Independence of the soul!—that is at stake here! No sacrifice can be too great for that: one must be capable of sacrificing one’s dearest friend for it, and even if he should also be the most glorious human being, an ornament of the world, a genius without peer—if one loves freedom as the freedom of great souls and he threatens this kind of freedom:—that is what Shakespeare must have felt!. The height at which he places Caesar is the finest honor that he could bestow on Brutus: that is how he raises beyond measure Brutus’ inner problem as well as the spiritual strength that was able to cut this knot!
Could it really have been political freedom that led this poet to sympathize with Brutus—and turned him into Brutus' accomplice? Or was political freedom only a symbol for something inexpressible? Could it be that we confront some unknown dark event and adventure in the poet's own soul of which he wants to speak only in signs? What is all of Hamlet's melancholy compared to that of Brutus!—and perhaps Shakespeare knew both from firsthand experience! Perhaps he, too, had his gloomy hour and his evil angel, like Brutus!
But whatever similarities and secret relationships there may have been: before the whole figure and virtue of Brutus, Shakespeare prostrated himself, feeling unworthy and remote:—his witness of this is written into the tragedy. Twice he brings in a poet, and twice he pours such an impatient and ultimate contempt over him that it sounds like a cry—the cry of self-contempt. Brutus, even Brutus, loses patience as the poet enters—conceited, pompous, obtrusive, as poets often are—apparently overflowing with possibilities of greatness, including moral greatness, although in the philosophy of his deeds and his life he rarely attains even ordinary integrity.
"I'll know his humor when he knows his time. What should the wars do with these jiggling fools? Companion, hence!" shouts Brutus. This should be translated back into the soul of the poet who wrote it.
Comments by RSB:
1. Nietzsche is amazed at how Shakespeare honors both Brutus and Caesar, against historic trends, and portrays in them two different archetypes of Ubermensch heroes.
2. Elsewhere Nietzsche elucidates his grand idea that Tragedy is the very essence of the human experience, and thus the great Tragedians like Shakespeare provide a mirror to life that shows, in a clear light, the brutal truth of things. To Nietzsche, only adversity and struggle educe the greatest strength from humans. Nietzsche was amplifying the thoughts of Heraclitus, the pre-Socratic philosopher whom Nietzsche so admired. Heraclitus taught that all beings are in a state of continuous struggle and competition --- but that this was not a bad thing, it was a fertile dynamic that spurred growth and evolution in all creatures and ideas.
The Dawn - published 1881
On the morality of the stage.— Whoever thinks that Shakespeare’s theater has a moral effect, and that the sight of Macbeth irresistibly repels one from the evil of ambition, is in error: and he is again in error if he thinks Shakespeare himself felt as he feels. He who is really possessed by raging ambition beholds this its image with joy; and if the hero perishes by his passion this precisely is the sharpest spice in the hot draught of this joy. Can the poet have felt otherwise? How royally, and not at all like a rogue, does his ambitious man pursue his course from the moment of his great crime! Only from then on does he exercise “demonic” attraction and excite similar natures to emulation—demonic means here: in defiance against life and advantage for the sake of a drive and idea. Do you suppose that Tristan and Isolde are preaching against adultery when they both perish by it? This would be to stand the poets on their head: they, and especially Shakespeare, are enamored of the passions as such and not least of their death-welcoming moods—those moods in which the heart adheres to life no more firmly than does a drop of water to a glass. It is not the guilt and its evil outcome they have at heart, Shakespeare as little as Sophocles (in Ajax, Philoctetes, Oedipus): as easy as it would have been in these instances to make guilt the lever of the drama, just as surely has this been avoided. The tragic poet has just as little desire to take sides against life with his image of life! He cries rather: “it is the stimulant of stimulants, this exciting, changing, dangerous, gloomy and often sun-drenched existence! It is an adventure to live—espouse what party in it you will, it will always retain this character!”— He speaks thus out of a restless, vigorous age which is half-drunk and stupefied by its excess of blood and energy—out of a wickeder age than ours is: which is why we need first to adjust and justify the goal of a Shakespearean drama, that is to say, not to understand it.
Comment by RSB:
1. Nietzsche views the effect of witnessing Shakespeare tragedies as potentially transformative and transportable. Because Nietzsche considered himself above and beyond morality, he has projected this "quality" onto Shakespeare as well. Yet, religious readers often argue that there is a deep moral structure to Shakespeare. Conversely, the character Hamlet says, "there is nothing
either good or bad, but thinking makes it so...
HAMLET Act II, sc 2
HAMLET - Denmark's a prison.
ROSENCRANTZ - Then is the world one.
HAMLET - A goodly one; in which there are many confines,
wards and dungeons, Denmark being one o' the worst.
ROSENCRANTZ - We think not so, my lord.
HAMLET - Why, then, 'tis none to you; for there is nothing
either good or bad, but thinking makes it so: to me it is a prison.
ROSENCRANTZ - Why then, your ambition makes it one; 'tis too narrow for your mind.
HAMLET - O God, I could be bounded in a nut shell and count myself a king of infinite space,
were it not that I have bad dreams.
GUILDENSTERN - Which dreams indeed are ambition, for the very substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dream.
HAMLET - A dream itself is but a shadow.
ROSENCRANTZ - Truly, and I hold ambition of so airy and light a quality that it is but a shadow's shadow.
Human, All too Human - published 1878
Cult of the genius out of vanity.— Because we think well of ourselves, but nonetheless never suppose ourselves capable of producing a painting like one of Raphael's or a dramatic scene like one of Shakespeare's, we convince ourselves that the capacity to do so is quite extraordinarily marvelous, a wholly uncommon accident, or, if we are still religiously inclined, a mercy from on high. Thus our vanity, our self-love, promotes the cult of the genius: for only if we think of him as being very remote from us, as a miraculum, does he not aggrieve us (even Goethe, who was without envy, called Shakespeare his star of the most distant heights ["William! Stern der schönsten Ferne": from Goethe's, "Between Two Worlds"]; in regard to which one might recall the lines: "the stars, these we do not desire" [from Goethe's, "Comfort in Tears"]). But, aside from these suggestions of our vanity, the activity of the genius seems in no way fundamentally different from the activity of the inventor of machines, the scholar of astronomy or history, the master of tactics. All these activities are explicable if one pictures to oneself people whose thinking is active in one direction, who employ everything as material, who always zealously observe their own inner life and that of others, who perceive everywhere models and incentives, who never tire of combining together the means available to them. Genius too does nothing except learn first how to lay bricks then how to build, except continually seek for material and continually form itself around it. Every activity of man is amazingly complicated, not only that of the genius: but none is a "miracle."— Whence, then, the belief that genius exists only in the artist, orator and philosopher? that only they have "intuition"? (Whereby they are supposed to possess a kind of miraculous eyeglass with which they can see directly into "the essence of the thing"!) It is clear that people speak of genius only where the effects of the great intellect are most pleasant to them and where they have no desire to feel envious. To call someone "divine" means: "here there is no need for us to compete." Then, everything finished and complete is regarded with admiration, everything still becoming is undervalued. But no one can see in the work of the artist how it has become; that is its advantage, for wherever one can see the act of becoming one grows somewhat cool. The finished and perfect art of representation repulses all thinking as to how it has become; it tyrannizes as present completeness and perfection. That is why the masters of the art of representation count above all as gifted with genius and why men of science do not. In reality, this evaluation of the former and undervaluation of the latter is only a piece of childishness in the realm of reason.
Shakespeare as moralist.— Shakespeare reflected a great deal on the passions and from his temperament probably had very intimate access to many of them (dramatists are in general somewhat wicked men). But, unlike Montaigne, he was incapable of discoursing on them; instead of which he placed observations about the passions into the mouths of impassioned characters: a practice which, though counter to nature, makes his plays so full of ideas they make all others seem empty and can easily arouse in us a repugnance to them.— The maxims of Schiller (which are almost always based on ideas either false or trite) are designed purely for the theater, and as such they are extremely effective: while Shakespeare's do honor to his model, Montaigne, and contain entirely serious ideas in a polished form, but are for that reason too remote and subtle for the theater public and thus ineffective.
The revolution in poetry.— The stern constraint the French dramatists imposed upon themselves in regard to unity of action, of place and of time, to style, to construction of verse and sentence, to choice of words and ideas, was as vital a schooling as that of counterpoint and fugue in the development of modern music or as the Gorgian tropes in Greek rhetoric. To fetter oneself in this way can seem absurd; nonetheless there is no way of getting free of naturalization than that of first limiting oneself to what is most severe (perhaps also most capricious). Thus one gradually learns to walk with poise even upon narrow bridges spanning dizzying abysses and brings the highest suppleness of movement home as booty: as has been demonstrated to the eyes of everyone now living by the history of music. Here we see how the fetters grow looser step by step, until in the end it can appear as though they have been wholly thrown off: this appearance is the supreme outcome of a necessary evolution in art. No such gradual emergence out of self-imposed fetters has occurred in the case of modern poetry. Lessing made French form, that is to say the only modern artistic form, into a laughing-stock in Germany and pointed to Shakespeare, and thus we forewent the steady continuity of that unfettering and made a leap into naturalism—that is to say, back to the beginnings of art. Goethe attempted to rescue himself from this situation through his ability again and again to impose differing kinds of constraint upon himself; but even the most gifted can achieve only a continual experimentation once the thread of evolution has been broken. Schiller owed his relative firmness of form to having modeled himself on French tragedy, which, though he repudiated, he involuntarily respected, and maintained a degree of independence of Lessing (whose dramatic experiments he is known to have rejected). After Voltaire the French themselves were suddenly lacking in the great talents who could have led the evolution of tragedy out of constraint on to that appearance of freedom; later they too copied the Germans and made the leap into a kind of Rousseauesque state of nature in art and experimented. One only has to read Voltaire's Mahomet from time to time to bring clearly before one's soul what European culture has lost once and for all through this breach with tradition. Voltaire was the last great dramatist to subdue through Greek moderation a soul many-formed and equal to the mightiest thunderstorms of tragedy—he was able to do what no German has yet been able to do because the nature of the Frenchman is much more closely related to the Greek than is the nature of the German—just as he was also the last great writer to possess a Greek ear, Greek artistic conscientiousness, Greek charm and simplicity in the treatment of prose speech; just as he was, indeed, one of the last men able to unite in himself the highest freedom of spirit and an altogether unrevolutionary disposition without being inconsistent and cowardly. Since his time the modern spirit, with its restlessness, its hatred for bounds and moderation, has come to dominate in every domain, at first let loose by the fever of revolution and then, when assailed by fear and horror of itself, again laying constraints upon itself—but the constraints of logic, no longer those of artistic moderation. It is true that for a time unfettering enables us to enjoy the poetry of all peoples, all that has grown up in hidden places, the primitive, wild-blooming, strangely beautiful and gigantically irregular, from the folksong up to the "great barbarian" Shakespeare; we taste the joys of local color and costumes such as all artistic nations have hitherto been strangers to; we make abundant employment of the "barbaric advantages" of our age that Goethe urged against Schiller's objections [Goethe to Schiller, June 27, 1797] so as to set the formlessness of his Faust in the most favorable light. But for how much longer? The inbreaking flood of poetry of all styles of all peoples must gradually sweep away all the soil in which a quiet, hidden growth would still have been possible; all poets must become experimenting imitators and foolhardy copiers, however great their powers may have been at first; the public, finally, which has forgotten how to see in the harnessing of the powers of representation, in the mastering of all the expedients of art and their organization, the actual artistic deed, must increasingly value artistic power for its own sake, indeed color for its own sake, the idea for its own sake, inspiration for its own sake, will consequently no longer enjoy the elements and terms of the work of art if not in isolation, and in the long run make the natural demand that the artist must also present them to it in isolation. One has indeed thrown off the "unreasonable" fetters of Franco-Hellenic art, but without noticing it has accustomed oneself to finding all fetters, all limitation unreasonable; and thus art moves towards its dissolution and in doing so ranges—which is extremely instructive, to be sure—through all the phases of its beginnings, its childhood, its imperfection, its former hazardous enterprises and extravagances: in going down to destruction it interprets its birth and becoming. One of the great upon whose instinct one can no doubt rely and whose theory lacked nothing except thirty years more practice—Lord Byron once said: "So far as poetry is concerned, the more I reflect on it, the more firmly am I convinced that we are all on the wrong path, every one of us. We all pursue a revolutionary system inwardly false—our own or the next generation will arrive at the same conviction." [Byron to John Murray, Sept. 15 1817: "... With regard to poetry in general, I am convinced, the more I think of it, that he [Moore] and all of us—Scott, Southey, Wordsworth, Moore, Campbell, I,—are all in the wrong, one as much as another; that we are upon a wrong revolutionary poetical system, or systems, not worth a damn in itself, and from which none but Rogers and Crabbe are free; and that the present and next generations will finally be of this opinion...."]
It is this same Byron who says: "I regard Shakespeare as the worst of all models, even though the most extraordinary of poets." [Byron to Murray, July 14 1821: "Shakespeare's the worst model, if a great poet." (Nietzsche read these letters in a German edition of Byron, namely: Vermischte Schriften, Briefwechsel und Lebensgeschichte—"Assorted Writings, Letters and Life History"—translated by Ernst Ortlepp.)] And does the mature artistic insight that Goethe achieved in the second half of his life not at bottom say exactly the same thing?—that insight with which he gained such a start of a whole series of generations that one can assert that on the whole Goethe has not yet produced any effect at all and that his time is still to come? It is precisely because his nature held him for a long rime on the path of the poetical revolution, precisely because he savored most thoroughly all that had been discovered in the way of new inventions, views and expedients through that breach with tradition and as it were dug out from beneath the ruins of art, that his later transformation and conversion carries so much weight: it signifies that he felt the profoundest desire to regain the traditional ways of art and to bestow upon the ruins and colonnades of the temple that still remained their ancient wholeness and perfection at any rate with the eye of imagination if strength of arm should prove too weak to construct where such tremendous forces were needed even to destroy. Thus he lived in art as in recollection of true art: his writing had become an aid to recollection, to an understanding of ancient, long since vanished artistic epochs. His demands were, to be sure, having regard to the powers possessed by the modern age unfulfillable; the pain he felt at that fact was, however, amply counterbalanced by the joy of knowing that they once had been fulfilled and that we too can still participate in this fulfillment. Not individuals, but more or less idealized masks; no actuality, but an allegorical universalization; contemporary characters, local color evaporated almost to invisibility and rendered mythical; present-day sensibility and the problems of present-day society compressed to the simplest forms, divested of their stimulating, enthralling, pathological qualities and rendered ineffectual in every sense but the artistic; no novel material or characters, but the ancient and long-familiar continually reanimated and transformed: this is art as Goethe later understood it, as the Greeks and, yes, the French practiced it.
Comment by RSB:
1. Again, it is Nietzsche's belief that the Shakespeare author must have struggled intensely with the twin but opposing angels of his personality. Nietzsche correctly intuited that the real Shakespeare author must have been reacting to accusations of a crime, or reverberating from the reality of his own misdeeds. While the Stratford Man seems to have largely evaded legal consequences, and Nietzsche did not consider other candidates who ran afoul of the State (like Raleigh) he latched onto Bacon, who suffered from a bribery case against him that somewhat ruined his reputation. Yet I cannot fathom how Nietzsche avoided looking at the chronology. Nashe speaks of Hamlet as early as 1589. Bacon's career did nothing but rise through the the next 30 years. Bacon only suffered disgrace in 1621 when he was accused of graft. How does this embarrassment and conflict work its way retroactively to the years when the plays were actually written? Nietzsche doesn't go there.
In conclusion, Nietzsche was, himself, a kind of Shakespeare idolater, but of a unique stripe. He was perceptive enough to see the incredible depth and philosophical range in Shakespeare, and also astute enough to conclude, along with most other bright lights of the 19th century, that there was something wrong with the standard story of the Shakespeare authorship. I think that Nietzsche was attracted to Bacon, in part because he admired his cold scientific clarity, and in part because he couldn't avoid the thousands of pages arguing Bacon's role as veiled author. Yet, I'm disappointed that Nietzsche did not reason through the problem with the thoroughness that he employed in other problems. On Shakespeare, Nietzsche had the story half right.
Robert Sean Brazil
Ithaca, New York
Nietzsche: Publication History
Homer and Classical Philology - 1869
Contribution toward the Study and the Critique of the Sources of Diogenes Laertius - May 1870
Socrates and Greek Tragedy - June 1871
The Birth Of Tragedy - published January 2, 1872
- David Strauss: the confessor & the writer - published August 8, 1873
- On the Use and Abuse of History for Life - published February 22, 1874
- Schopenhauer as Educator - published October 15, 1874
- Richard Wagner in Bayreuth - published July 10, 1876
Human, All Too Human - published May 7, 1878
The Birth Of Tragedy, Second Edition - published September 4, 1878
Human, All Too Human: A Supplement: Mixed Opinions and Maxims - published March 20, 1879
The Wanderer and His Shadow - published December 18, 1879
The Dawn - published July 1881
Idylls from Messina (in "Internationale Monatsschrift," May 1882) - published June 1882
The Gay Science - published September 10, 1882
Thus Spoke Zarathustra I - published August 1883
Thus Spoke Zarathustra II - published late 1883 or early 1884
Thus Spoke Zarathustra III - published April 10, 1884
Thus Spoke Zarathustra IV - distributed May 1885 (first trade ed. published March 1892)
Beyond Good and Evil - published August 4, 1886
The Birth Of Tragedy, Third Edition (New Title: The Birth of Tragedy Or: Hellenism and Pessimism) - published October 31, 1886
Human, All Too Human, Second Edition (Volume I): New Preface - published October 31, 1886
Human, All Too Human, Second Edition (Volume II): New Preface, Mixed Opinions and Maxims and The Wanderer and His Shadow - published October 31, 1886
Thus Spoke Zarathustra I, II, III (New Title Page) - published late 1886
Untimely Meditations (New Title Pages):
David Strauss: the confessor & the writer - published 1886
On the Use and Abuse of History for Life - published 1886
Schopenhauer as Educator - published 1886
Richard Wagner in Bayreuth - published July 1886
The Dawn, Second Edition: New Preface - published June 24, 1887
The Gay Science, Second Edition: New Title Page, Preface, Book V, and Songs of Prince Vogelfrei - published June 24, 1887
Hymn to Life, for Mixed Chorus and Orchestra - published October 20, 1887
On the Genealogy of Morals - published November 16, 1887
The Case of Wagner - published September 22, 1888
Twilight of the Idols - published January 24, 1889
Nietzsche contra Wagner - published February 1889
Dionysus Dithyrambs - published March 1892
The Antichrist - published November 1894
Poems and Maxims - published April 1898
The Will to Power [Selected and published by Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche]
First Version in December 1901
Second Version in December 1906
Third Version in September 1911
Ecce Homo - published April 1908
Is it not strange that the only books by Nietzsche that contained his statements that Shakespeare was, perhaps, really Francis Bacon, were the only two books NOT published in his lifetime.
to first Nietzsche page with chronology
Back to second Nietzsche page with his views on the Shakespeare Authorship
Back to Shakespeare Authorship page
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