April 23: On this day in 1616 both William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes died, thus prompting UNESCO to declare today “World Book and Copyright Day.” As April 23 is also the generally accepted date of Shakespeare’s birth, based on baptismal records, the day is even more momentous.
On the other hand, some say that Cervantes really died on April 22. And of course, some say that Shakespeare never existed, or more accurately, that someone else wrote the plays by “Shakespeare.” The Shakespeare Oxford Society, perhaps the most prominent of the ‘real Shakespeare’ groups, makes a claim for Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. Among those who back Francis Bacon as the Bard is Francis Carr, of the Shakespeare Authorship Information Centre. In fact, Carr goes one further; below is an excerpt from his case to support his belief that Bacon wrote not only Shakespeare’s plays but Cervantes’s Don Quixote:
Over and over again in Don Quixote — 33 times in fact — we are told that the real author is an Arab historian, Cid Hamet Benengeli. There is no such person. Cid is a Spanish title, a lord; it is a word of high esteem. Hamet is one letter short of Hamlet; Ben is Hebrew for son, Engeli could mean ‘of England.’ I will not take you into the complicated world of cipher, but the simplest of all ciphers is the numerical one, in which A is 1, B is 2, C is 3 — and so on. If you turn BACON into a number, using this cipher, it would be 2,1,3,14,13, which, added up, makes 33. Why repeat 33 times in a single novel that the real author is a non-existent historian with a strange name?
Carr, incidentally, does not say if he believes that Bacon also wrote the poems by “William Wordsworth,” — the Romantic poet who died on this day in 1850. But stranger things, in the world of Shakespeare-authorship debate, have been dreamt of.
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.