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Book Review: The Shakespeare Code by Virginia Fellows

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Virginia Fellows, unfortunately died before her new book The Shakespeare Code was published. Fellows was one of a growing number of researchers who are convinced William Shakespeare was a sham, and the actual author of the great plays was Sir Francis Bacon. Bacon is also widely acknowledged as the illegitimate child of Queen Elizabeth I.

Furthermore, Ms. Fellows informs us that the plays and sonnets, while being great works of literature, also contain hidden messages in a coded form. She makes a convincing argument that by using the Bi-literal or Trithemius cipher systems, the reader can find a new and completely different story hidden within the text.

William Shakespeare is world-famous, though he is an author that you either love or hate. This is the author who generations of school children have grown up to dislike. Written nearly 400 years ago, the stories do not usually appeal to the younger generations. I, for one, remember being forced to read and dissect some of the plays in grammar school. I share in their pain!

The first printed efforts of William Shakespeare were released in 1623, and is widely known as the Shakespeare Folio, containing within it a mere 36 plays and other works.
According to Ms. Fellows the real story contained within the Folio is actually more of a diary concerning the life and times of Francis Bacon, his contemporaries, and comments about life in the Elizabethan age.

Using the strange use of fonts, italics and capitalization as keys to the code, the Shakespeare Folio reveals a completely different tale. According to the deciphered material in The Shakespeare Code, Queen Elizabeth had two illegitimate children, Francis Bacon, and Robert, who later became the Earl of Essex. Many historians acknowledge Francis Bacon as being the illegitimate son of Queen Elizabeth, but few acknowledge there may have been a second child. At the Queen's behest, the latter met an untimely end from the executioners axe in the Tower of London.

Although brought up in different family environments, Francis and Robert do join forces during their early adulthood, each trying to help the other in their quest for fame, and subsequent fortune. As for Queen Elizabeth, she is portrayed as a very strong-willed woman who would go to almost any lengths to ensure the security of her position. While Francis and Robert were widely accepted as her progeny within court circles, at no point did the Queen publicly admit it.

A good example of her iron will is shown when the young Francis Bacon gains the disfavor of the Queen and is effectively banished. His punishment for defying the queen is to spend three years in France. During this period in exile he falls in love with a beautiful woman. He seeks the Queen's permission to marry; however, permission is not forthcoming. Relations between the two countries were at a stressful stage. This, according to Virginia Fellows, was the basis for the play Romeo and Juliet. Historians have talked about this well-documented event, and when taken with the secret writings it becomes an even more endearing story.

There has been a rash of Code books recently, spurred on no doubt by Dan Brown’s blockbuster novel The Da Vinci Code. The difference with Fellows' work is that she began her quest many years before today's popularized genre. The other significant difference is that relatively little time is spent on the intricacies of the code; rather, we are entertained by what the decoded information tells us about life in the court of the Queen Elizabeth I.

Combining the secrets contained in the works of Shakespeare with actual contemporary accounts from the era, the author weaves an interesting and in many ways sad tale about the life and times of Francis Bacon. Perhaps more importantly, it is an interesting look at a somewhat turbulent period of history. Fellows includes a chapter about the deciphering system, so if you feel like doing some sleuthing, you can join in the fun.

This is a book that may not make the New York Times bestseller list, but it is an interesting and thought-provoking work. If you are looking for something a little different, this might be it.

I have been informed that there is an equally avid proponent of The Shakespeare Code running with the project. I am hoping to track her down and have a chat.

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About Simon Barrett

  • Sounds interesting but I remain fairly skeptical of the premise. One of the difficulties with Shakespearean studies in general is Shakespeare himself has been so vigorously chewed over by 500 years of scholarship that there is an utter paucity of new info….into this paucity fly the various theories that the bard was actually Francis Bacon, or the Earl of Oxford or on occasion Queen Elizabeth herself…

    One gets the impression that lacking any verifable data, scholars simple start to spin theories that will, hopefully, give them a place to stand in the annuls of Shakespearean studies.

    Now the concept that Shakespeare layered his work with a hidden code and meaning is one that has been previously explored on several levels. I recommend Shadowplay by Claire Asquith which looks at the hidden coded Catholic subtext of many of Shakespeare’s works.

  • If you do track down the supporter of this theory, you might like to ask what’s so special about the First Folio’s “strange use of fonts, italics and capitalization as keys to the code”? – every book of this period uses – to our eyes – strange capitalisation and italics – the conventions, in so far as their were any conventions at all, were very different to those of today.

  • You are both right. There is much in this book that need further explanation. Not least of which is the scientific process used.

    You can rest assured that if I can get an interview on this subject, these are questions that I will be asking.