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20 June, 2007
Book Review: The Shakespeare Code By Virginia M. Fellows
Reviewed for Front Street Interviews
“Who questions much, shall learn much, and retain much”. ~ Francis Bacon
The question of who wrote Shakespeare’s plays is one that has raised debates since shortly after the death of William Shakespeare himself. It is a heated topic that has in the past named Francis Bacon as the author a theory of authorship, which has never been definitely proven. The Shakespeare Code is a nonfiction work that looks into the life of Frances Bacon and the events of the time that shaped his life.
In the latter part of the nineteenth century, a medical doctor by the name of Orville Owen made an astounding discovery. Throughout the passages of Shakespeare’s plays, there is a hidden story written in code. With the help of Elizabeth Wells Gallup, a school teacher who became his assistant, Dr. Owen created a massive cipher wheel by following Bacon’s writings on code systems and attempted to decode the hidden story. During their research, they discovered very different codes embedded in the same work of Shakespeare. The codes that they found were Francis Bacon’s word cipher code, and a bi-lateral cipher. This book is an attempt by author Virginia M. Fellows to bring public attention to the now-out-of-print writings and to help along the opinion of the Baconians as to who really authored Shakespeare’s writings.
The main portion of this book is a biography of Sir Francis Bacon, supplemented with the facts that were found with use of Dr Owen’s cipher wheel. The coded writings bring light to explosive ideas including the fact that Queen Elizabeth... was secretly married and mother to two boys, the eldest of whom is Francis Bacon. Like his brother, he was much loved by the queen but never acknowledged as her child to protect her title and reputation of being the “Virgin Queen”. The life story of Francis Bacon is one of much scandal, corruption, and lies. The man who, along with Newton changed Europe’s ideas of science and philosophy lived a life that ended tragically. The Shakespeare code attempts to shed light on secrets revealed by the codes that have lain hidden for hundreds of years, shaping new insights on one of the men responsible for the birth of the modern world.
Finally, included in the book, is an in-depth look at Dr. Owen’s research. A thorough look at the cipher codes found in the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays and also in many of Bacon’s own works sheds some light on these ciphers. Many of these codes were more advanced than those used in the Civil War, which is the first recorded time frame where cipher codes were used in the United States. I found this to be one of the more interesting parts of the book and thought it much too short.
I found this book to be an intriguing look at the life of an interesting historical figure. It gave me much to think about, though as I don’t know much about the time of the Tudors and Elizabeth I’s reign, I did read this with the idea that much of the information found in the book has not been proven factually true. The book does however, give a very in depth look into court life during Elizabeth the first’s rule up into the start of the Stuart family’s rise to rule with King James.