Shakespeare's Expostulation

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Shakespeare's Expostulation is a poem written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in The Cornhill Magazine in march 1909, and collected in Songs of the Road on 16 march 1911.

Arthur Conan Doyle's contribution to the Shakespeare authorship debate. The poem speaks in the plaintive voice of Shakespeare himself, complaining at the attribution of authorship of his works to Francis Bacon.


The manuscript has 3 pages.


  • Christie's London, 10 july 2019, lot 580. GBP 2,125.


Shakespeare's Expostulation

Masters, I sleep not quiet in my grave,
There where they laid me, by the Avon shore,
In that some crazy wights have set it forth
By arguments most false and fanciful,
Analogy and far-drawn inference,
That Francis Bacon, Earl of Verulam
(A man whom I remember in old days,
A learned judge with sly adhesive palms,
To which the suitor's gold was wont to stick) —
That this same Verulam had writ the plays
Which were the fancies of my frolic brain.
What can they urge to dispossess the crown
Which all my comrades and the whole loud world
Did in my lifetime lay upon my brow?
Look straitly at these arguments and see
How witless and how fondly slight they be.
Imprimis, they have urged that, being born
In the mean compass of a paltry town,
I could not in my youth have trimmed my mind
To such an eagle pitch, but must be found,
Like the hedge sparrow, somewhere near the ground.
Bethink you, sirs, that though I was denied
The learning which in colleges is found,
Yet may a hungry brain still find its food
Wherever books may lie or men may be;
And though perchance by Isis or by Cam
The meditative, philosophic plant
May best luxuriate; yet some would say
That in the task of limning mortal life
A fitter preparation might be made
Beside the banks of Thames. And then again,
If I be suspect, in that I was not
A fellow of a college, how, I pray,
Will Jonson pass, or Marlowe, or the rest,
Whose measured verse treads with as proud a gait
As that which was my own? Whence did they suck
This honey that they stored? Can you recite
The vantages which each of these has had
And I had not? Or is the argument
That my Lord Verulam hath written all,
And covers in his wide-embracing self
The stolen fame of twenty smaller men?
You prate about my learning. I would urge
My want of learning rather as a proof
That I am still myself. Have I not traced
A seaboard to Bohemia, and made
The cannons roar a whole wide century
Before the first was forged? Think you, then,
That he, the ever-learned Verulam,
Would have erred thus? So may my very faults
In their gross falseness prove that I am true,
And by that falseness gender truth in you.
And what is left? They say that they have found
A script, wherein the writer tells my Lord
He is a secret poet. True enough!
But surely now that secret is o'er past.
Have you not read his poems? Know you not
That in our day a learned chancellor
Might better far dispense unjustest law
Than be suspect of such frivolity
As lies in verse? Therefore his poetry
Was secret. Now that he is gone
'Tis so no longer. You may read his verse,
And judge if mine be better or be worse:
Read and pronounce! The meed of praise is thine;
But still let his be his and mine be mine.
I say no more; but how can you for-swear
Outspoken Jonson, he who knew me well;
So, too, the epitaph which still you read?
Think you they faced my sepulchre with lies —
Gross lies, so evident and palpable
That every townsman must have wot of it,
And not a worshipper within the church
But must have smiled to see the marbled fraud?
Surely this touches you? But if by chance
My reasoning still leaves you obdurate,
I'll lay one final plea. I pray you look
On my presentment, as it reaches you.
My features shall be sponsors for my fame;
My brow shall speak when Shakespeare's voice is dumb,
And be his warrant in an age to come.