A large part of Baconian literature is devoted to cipher, in which Bacon had a lifelong interest and expertise. But critics of Baconianism have long ridiculed certain attempts to prove Bacons authorship of Shakespeare through cryptograms, i.e. the theory that Bacon somehow encypted messages in 17th century printed books, including Shakespeares First Folio and Bacons philosophical works, telling a thrilling secret history with ramifications that cut across Elizabethan letters and life. The ridicule is mostly justified and has often spawned amusing polemics. But from the perspective of scholarship this has had doubly unfortunate results: the strongest Baconian authorship arguments have been ignored and the true intellectual significance of emblems and cipher marginalised. Yet these are integral to any consideration of Elizabethan literature.
However, Baconianism is a broad church, and as Nigel Cockburn comments the more rational Baconians, especially the lawyers, have always repudiated cryptograms. Cockburns book is without doubt the best ever written on the authorship question, and is the only book in the entire Shakespearean critical literature to consider all the chief arguments for and against the Baconian and Stratfordian cases and pursue them with single-minded logic and power.
Cockburns refutation of the cryptogram-hunting business is eloquently concise (and at one page the shortest chapter in his book). He clearly shows why it is illogical and flawed in principle, to look for coded messages from Bacon about the authorship question, especially to those that accept the rational Baconian argument. In any case, the intellectual credibility of virtually all decipherments had been destroyed by the Friedmans, world class cryptologists who had played a prominent part in the Allied effort in World War 2.
Nevertheless, this website will feature some of the more interesting and less easily refuted attempts to uncover cryptic messages in Shakespeare, and elsewhere. Click here to read a monograph wherein the poems and plays attributed to William Shakespeare are proven to contain the enciphered name of Francis Bacon. Of contemporary Baconians only Penn Leary has attempted to meet the Friedmans challenge of demonstrating a decipherment that holds us to the strict rules of cryptographic analysis. However, his work has been forcibly critiqued on the primary Stratfordian website, and the orthodox world remains sceptical of all such attempts.
In spite of the continuing scorn of orthodoxy, some Baconians remain impressed by the cipher literature. It is definitely part of the cult appeal of Baconianism, the more so because it only ever preaches to the converted, and is thus as exegetical as any theology. Perhaps the most important lesson is that the cipher hunt isirrelevant to the authorship question: the falseness of hypothetical ciphers doesnt diminish the Baconian argument, and even a valid cryptogram (which has probably never been found) could never convince a skeptic of the truth of Baconianism.