Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0167. Tuesday, 1 March 1994.
From: William Robinson <
Date: Monday, 28 Feb 1994 21:53:10 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Intelligence gathering
In September 1595 Roger Manners, fifth Earl of Rutland received leave to travel
abroad from England to France and Italy. For his journey and for his personal
guidance a manuscript of `Profitable Instructions' was drawn up. When it was
printed in 1633 it was assigned to Robert Devereux, second Earl of Essex. James
Spedding argues in his `Life and Letters of Francis Bacon' that the true author
of the manuscript was indeed none other than Bacon himself. Spedding then
procedes to show a mental relationship between the manuscript and some of the
acknowledged writings of Francis Bacon. The manuscript was indeed written by
Bacon, Anthony Bacon, older brother to Francis, who at the time was secretary
to the Earl of Essex, and responsible for receiving and sending intelligence
reports over much of Europe through a network of spies. Because of his twleve
years abroad Anthony had managed to set up and operate one of the most
sophistacated spy networks and upon his return to England in 1592, he offered
his services to Essex. From this point the Earl began to climb the stairway to
power. Their rivals couldn't match them in their ability to seek and find
valuable imformation which Essex presented to Elizabeth and her council. As a
result he was offered a seat in the Privy Council. Anthony's philosophy is
spelled out in the opening paragraph:
I hold it for a principle in the course of intelligence
of state, not to discourage men of mean sufficiency from
writing unto me, though I had at the same time very able
advertisers; for either they sent me some matter which the
other had omitted, or made it clearer by delivering the
circumstances, or if the added nothing, yet they confirmed
that which coming single I might have doubted. This rule
therefore I have presented to others....
For the sake of comparison lets look at this same idea dramatised in the play
Duke. There's no composition in the news
That gives them credit.
First Senator. Indeed, they are disporportioned.
My letters say a hundred and seven galleys.
Duke. and mine a hundred forty.
Second Senate. And mine two hundred.
But though they jump not on a just accompt-
As in these cases where they aim reports
`Tis oft with differences-yet do they all confirm
A Turkish fleet, and bearing up to Cyprus.
Duke. Nay, it is possible enough to judgement.
I do not so secure me in the error,
But the main article I do approve
In fearful sense.
Indeed anybody who has studied the plays cannot help but notice the stready
stream of references to intelligence gathering. In Richard III we see Hastings
urging the fellow back to court and telling him not to worry for `nothing can
proceed that toucheth us where of I shall not have intelligence.' Again in
Midsummer Night's Dream we find Helena following Hermia into the woods where
she feels that `for this intelligence if I have thanks it is a dear expense.'
In King John we find the King complaining about his mother's lack of knowledge
about an approaching army:
O, where hath our intelligence been drunk?
Where hath it slept? Where is my mother's care,
That such an army could be drawn in France
And she not hear of it?
One might call it a coincidence but the more we look into the plays the more we
begin to see the naturalness in which Shakespeare talks about gathering
intelligence. Again in The Merry Wives of Windsor we see Ford commenting on the
fact that Falstaff is in his house with his wife, `In my house I am sure he is:
my intelligence is true, my jealousy is reasonable." and further on Falstaff is
warned by the same method, `You shall hear. As good luck would have it, comes
in one Mistress Page; gives intelligence of Ford's approach....'
In the sixteen century the method of gathering intelligence was time consuming,
cumbersome and dangerous. Agents were enlisted from all parts of Europe, their
job was to gather as much information and send it back to their source by
trusted messengers or courtiers. It's interesting to note how much this is
incorporated into the plays.