Tag Archives: Francis Bacon

Man who didn’t write Shakespeare doesn’t have birthday

St. George slaying the dragon/Gustave Moreau/Wikimedia CommonsToday, as much of the world is eager to tell you, is William Shakespeare’s 445th birthday. The Bard of Avon, the Sultan of Stagecraft, the Titan of Tragedy, the Crown Prince of Comedy was born beneath a twinkling star on this day, April 23, in the Year of Our Lord 1564, whereupon he was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, and …

Oh, wait. Wrong myth.

It’s popular these days, as it has been for centuries in certain circles, to declare that the penny-pinching commoner WS couldn’t possibly have written all that stuff ascribed to him, and that the real genius behind the greatest achievements in the English language was Kit Marlowe, or Francis Bacon, or Edward de Vere, or a committee of sophisticates united in an elaborate literary conspiracy, or possibly Saint George, in an expansive mood after he’d polished off that pesky dragon.

Now Art Scatter discovers that not only did Shakespeare maybe not write Shakespeare, but maybe he wasn’t even born on the day we’ve all assumed he was. See this, from Anthony Holden, author of William Shakespeare: The Man Behind the Genius:

So another myth must be dispelled at the outset. There is no evidence, alas, to support the popular belief that William Shakespeare was born – as fifty-two years later he was to die – on 23 April, the date celebrated in England since 1222 as the feast day of dragon-slaying St George. As the poet’s posthumous fame grew, securing a unique niche for his country in the cultural history of the world, it was a natural enough temptation for posterity to unite the birthday of England’s national poet with that of its patron saint. But the tradition is based on a false assumption, that Elizabethan baptisms invariably took place three days after the birth.

The instruction given to parents in the 1559 Prayer Book, published five years before Shakespeare’s birth, was to have the christening performed before the first Sunday or holy day following the birth ‘unless upon a great and reasonable cause declared to the curate and by him approved’. In 1564 the 23rd day of April happened to fall on a Sunday, four days after the feast day of St Alphege and two before that of St Mark – traditionally an unlucky day, so the curate’s permission to avoid it may well have been forthcoming. But the contemporary inscription on Shakespeare’s tomb in Holy Trinity – that same church where he was christened on 26 April by the vicar of the parish, John Bretchgirdle – reads that he died in his fifty-third year (‘obiit anno . . . aetatis 53‘). We know that he died on St George’s Day, 23 April, so this would seem to imply that he was born before it, however marginally. There are few more satisfactory resolutions of this problem than that of the poet Thomas de Quincey, who suggested that Shakespeare’s granddaughter Elizabeth Hall married on 22 April 1626 ‘in honour of her famous relation’ – choosing the sixty-second anniversary of his birth, in other words, rather than the tenth of his death.

See — it was Saint George!

shakespeareAll right, so I’m jumping to conclusions based on the thinnest of evidence. Which is pretty much, we here at Art Scatter tend to believe, exactly what the anti-Stratfordians have been doing all these years. The most rational response to this whole dust-up, we tend to believe, is that the guy whose name is on the cover actually wrote the stuff inside. But we also tend to think that, unless you own stock in downtown Stratford-Upon-Avon, which has a huge vested interest in the local boy actually being who he said he was, it doesn’t make a lot of difference. The play’s the thing. And the plays aren’t going away. (As a side note, Art Scatter would like to declare that we approve mightily of the historical existence of a character named Vicar Bretchgirdle. Did the good vicar know Sir Toby Belch?)

It’s good to point out that although Holden doubts April 23 is Shakespeare’s birthday, he doesn’t doubt that Shakespeare wrote the plays and poems. And it’s good to note that inventing birthdays is a time-honored tradition. Jesus was almost certainly born sometime in spring, not on December 25, a date adopted to co-opt all those pagan solstice celebrations. And the great jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong didn’t really know when he was born, so he settled on July 4, 1900, because … well, because in America, July 4 is a pretty special day.

So never mind all the kerfuffle, Bill. Here at Art Scatter we still believe in you.
As Rosemary Clooney used to sing, a very merry unbirthday to you!

Scatter news and scatter notes

\"Gross Clinic,\" Thomas EakinsNews: The Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Academy of Art have raised the $68 million necessary to buy Thomas Eakins’ “Gross Clinic” and keep it in Philadelphia. Without a city-wide effort to purchase it, “Gross Clinic” would have headed to Bentonville, Ark., and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, founded by a Wal-Mart heiress.

Notes: So, the question arises, what paintings residing in Oregon would (or should) generate a similar effort to keep them in the state? My quick, short, wrong list: 1.) The C.S. Prices at the Central Library. 2.) The Hilda Morris bronze sculpture in front of the Standard Insurance Building on S.W. 6th Ave. (and maybe her sculptures on the lawn at Reed College). 3.) The Isaka Shamsud-Din painting of the pool hall. Isn’t it at the Portland Art Museum? 4.) Cindy Parker’s big painting at the Convention Center. 5.) The multi-paneled James Lavadour that usual resides at the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute in Pendleton. But that’s a very fast, rough cut (obviously!). Help me out!

News: Francis Bacon’s 1976 Triptych goes on sale at Sotheby’s in New York on May 14 and is expected to fetch somewhere around $70 million. It’s the last major Bacon painting still in private hands.

Notes: Yesterday, we connected the British painter Francis Bacon to Portland artist George Johanson — Bacon, David Hockney and the Brits he met at the Birgit Skiold printmaking studios in London helped to confirm his decision to leave Abstract Expressionism behind and re-embrace the figure. Art Scatter has a certain fondness for Bacon, both his gruesome paintings and his tumultuous personal life, from his days in the Weimar demi-monde to Paris to London. We like the sense of dread that hovers over his paintings, his reduction of humans to slabs of beef, those famous gaping mouths that suggest torture. He prefigures, maybe even predicts, Abu Ghraib and Gitmo and the Dark Ops rooms in Eastern Europe, although he was probably citing Nazi torture chambers. It’s possible that this reading is too political, though; maybe he thought he was representing the human condition period, not the human condition in extremis.

Although I don’t have the receipts in front of me, I’m pretty confident that no George Johanson painting has ever commanded $70 million. Heck, the prints at Pulliam Deffenbaugh are $850 apiece, not to equate them with Triptych, which is a major Bacon painting. But the sensuality of Johanson’s paintings, without a glimmer of S/M in sight, has a dark, mysterious element, that speaks to us, too. Things are about to happen in them, voluptuous things, sexual things, passionate things, rarely creepy things. I like their possibility.

News:The San Francisco Ballet is in the middle of a festival of new work — 10 new dances by the likes of Mark Morris, Paul Taylor, James Kudelka and Christopher Wheeldon.

Notes: Lots of those names will be familiar to White Bird and Oregon Ballet Theatre fans. And the San Francisco Ballet itself will be in town for White Bird’s “4 X 4 — The Ballet Project.”