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Shakespeare, William

Famous playwright and poet, born at Stratford-on-Avon, England, on April 22 or 23,1564; died, April 23, 1616, at Stratford. Brother Henry F. Evans has in the Rob Morris Bulletin of Denver, March, 1918, collected a number of items from the writings of Shakespeare having some bearing on words and phrases common among Freemasons. An article, "Was William Shakespeare a Freemason," by Robert I. Clegg, appeared in the Builder, February, 1910, examined among many others certain references to the letter G. in Richard III i, 1; the grip and whisper, King John iv, 2; the North for darkness and for evil, Henry VI v, 3, Henry IV ii, 4, Merry Wives of Windsor ii, 2; the plant that discovered the grave and thus revealed the murder of Polydorus to the patient seeker, Aeneas, is in Virgil, book iii, 22, and in Macbeth iii, 4, we have similar testimony that murder will out though stones must move and trees speak. These at least show the age of various ritualistic expressions and the advisability of carefully weighing past usefulness before making changes as is sometimes advised with what is now not so familiar in common usage as formerly.



There is no obvious connection between Masonic research and Shakespearean research; Freemasonry as a Fraternity does not appear in the plays, and there is no indication that Shakespeare belonged to any one of the Time Immemorial Lodges. But out of Shakespearean research and theory arose two or three theories which became connected with the Craft, and Masonic research was thereby drawn into "the Shakespearean question "

1. There was the theory that Bacon, not the actor Shakespeare. had written the plays at about the same time, and in consequence, there was the theory that Bacon had organized a secret society and that this was the origin of Freemasonry. The discovery of new documents of unquestioned authenticity since Delia Bacon launched "the Baconian Hypothesis' has completely once and for all, destroyed any possibility of the truth of it.

These documents prove that Shakespeare lived for some thirteen years in London, first in the neighborhood of Blackfriars Theater, then in the neighborhood of the Globe Theater; that he was actor, manager, a re-writer and a writer of plays, etc.; that the principal characters in the plays were adapted to fit the personality, physique, and talents in Shakespeare's company; the names and number of these players are known, etc.; Bacon's name nowhere appears in these records, or any representative of Bacon or any of Bacon's ideas. Shakespeare is proved to have lived neighbor to Decker and Jonson for years, which gives their testimony to his authorship the weight of firsthand knowledge. The author of the plays indubitable was William Shakespeare of Stratford; therefore the flounder of any Baconian secret society was not their author. Meanwhile no evidence of any connection between Bacon and Freemasonry has been discovered, on the other hand a massive accumulation of evidence proves that Freemasonry was at work centuries before Bacon was born.

2. Shakespeare was living in London when the commerce, trade, and crafts were still divided among chartered City Companies; these Companies comprised the framework of London, and contributed most of the Lord Mayors for about six centuries In the manuscript of a play entitled "Sir Thomas More" are three pages in Shakespeare's handwriting. This material has a peculiar interest for Freemasons for a reason that must be explained:

One of the rules of the City Companies (the Mason Company among them) gave London workmen monopolistic control of work in London. Any non-London workman brought in was called a "stranger." It might happen under extraordinary circumstances that an exception would be made in favor of a "stranger' but if not it was considered that any work he might do was "bootlegged," or "clandestine"--Scottish Masons would have called them "cowans." The records of the Mason Company are interspersed with protests against and condemnations of "strangers" in the building crafts. Once in a while the members of a City Company might gather on the street to drive "strangers" out; these were called riots or mobs. It happens that the scene written into "Sir Thomas More" by Shakespeare for use on the stage concerned just such a "mob." In a speech for the character of Sir Thomas More he wrote a powerful denunciation of this mobbing in that overwhelming poetry which was uniquely his own.

3. One of the main supports of the anti-Shakespeare theory of authorship of the plays was the argument that a man from Stratford could not have possessed the encyclopedic knowledge revealed in them. This argument has lost its point.

First, Shakespearean research has proved that Shakespeare lived and worked in the very focus of British government and learning, was a boon companion of scholars, met men from travels in distant countries, was received by the Queen, helped to receive the all-important Spanish Ambassador, produced plays in the Inns of the Temple, the center and home of British law, etc.

Second, it has proved that in writing a play he adhered as closely as possible to some volume by Plutarch, Holinshed, Malory, Montaigne, etc.; much of the erudition which went into the plays, and which has constituted the great puzzle, was therefore not his own erudition but belonged to the books he wed. If he introduced here and there some detail strikingly similar to a Masonic word or phrase, or custom it does not follow that he himself had any knowledge of the Craft. A Shakespeare Lodge constituted at Stratford expressly with the hope of proving Shakespeare to have been a Mason admitted its failure. Evidence may be discovered in the future; if it is it will be welcome; until it is, there are no grounds for believing that he ever entered a Lodge. As for his plays themselves their large themes are historical, political, military; architecture and the gilds have no place in them except as furnishing background for some detail or are mentioned in from passing auction.

Dr. Charles William Wallace, of the University of Nebraskan made in 1919 the discovery of the records of a trial in which Shakespeare was a witness and to one of which he attached his signature. He also discovered in the Record Office the exact location of the Globe Theater. Dr. Leslie Hotson, Haverford College, America, discovered a deed belonging to Shakespeare for a house near Blackfriars; and a subpoena issued to a set of persons who had made threats against a certain William Waytes in 1596, with William Shakespeare among five accused persons named. Shakespeare lampooned this Wayte's close friend Justice William Gardiner as Justice Swallow in two plays. The Countess Clara Longworth de Chambrun discovered the copy of Holinshed which Shakespeare had used.

Discoveries of records and correspondence in late years have cleared up the question of Shakespeare's religion. He spent his boyhood at the period when Roman Catholicism was being driven out of Stratford, and his father, the town's leading citizen, Mayor a number of terms, and until his last years a man of wealth, was the leader of the Protestants who stripped the Stratford Church of its images and other Popish trappings; his mother, on the other hand, was an Arden, a very old family, and famous for its devotion to the Roman Church; she was compelled by law to abandon her creed, but it is probable that she continued to cherish it in secret. Since Shakespeare was as much attached to one parent as to the other it is reasonable to believe that he had no strong inner attachment to either Protestantism or Romanism.

Moreover, Stratford had become not only Protestant but Puritan; since his had been a forced marriage, and since he had gone off to London to work in a theater, the Puritan circles at home could not have looked upon him with approval. He returned, however, a wealthy man, and for that reason was accepted back into respectability, though after his death when London actors arrived in Stratford with a bust to place at his tomb they were ill received, and given one day to leave the town because they belonged to a profession which the Puritans were determined to destroy.

(See Mr. Shakespeare of the Globe, by Frayne Williams; E. P. Dutton & Co.; Stew York; 1941; 396 pages; abundant references Francis Bacon and his secret society. by Mrs. Pott. Speddings Life of Bacon. .Shakespeare: Creator of Freemasonry by Alfred Dodd; Slider & Co.; London.)

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