Literary Daybook, April 23

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

Published April 23, 2002 7:00PM (EDT)

Today in fiction

On April 23, Jessica Bartram has a birthday.
-- "Neverwhere" (1997)
by Neil Gaiman

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
occurred? Send it to

- - - - - - - - - - -

Today in Literary History
On this day in 1616, both William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes died, thus prompting UNESCO to declare today World Book and Copyright Day. The declaration may also have been inspired by a third death on this day, that of William Wordsworth in 1850. 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 claim that Cervantes really died on April 22; whichever day is correct, to say they died on the same day relies on a calculation correlating the new Gregorian calendar of Cervantes' Spain to the old Julian calendar still in use in Shakespeare's England.

None of these dates would matter to Sir John Gielgud, Sir Derek Jacobi, Mark Twain, Henry James, Helen Keller, Charlie Chaplin, Malcolm X or anyone else listed either voluntarily or posthumously to the Honour Roll of Skeptics maintained by the Shakespeare Oxford Society in an effort to promote Edward de Vere, earl of Oxford, as the true author of Shakespeare's plays. Caring less, and more spectacularly, would be Francis Carr of the Shakespeare Authorship Information Centre, who believes that Francis Bacon wrote not only Shakespeare's plays but also Cervantes' "Don Quixote." Among Carr's reasons is the following:

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?

Though hardly needing to, Carr goes on to point out that "there are 33 Masonic degrees and Bacon was the leading thirty-three degree Mason in England at that time." Moreover, "the only way that Dulcinea could regain her former beautiful figure and face was to subject Sancho to a prolonged beating. The amount of lashes he is to suffer is not a mere fifty or a hundred, but 3,300 -- 33 hundred."

Carr does not say if he believes that Bacon also wrote Wordsworth's poems. But if you add up the letters in "William Wordsworth" you get 17; if you multiply by 2, because it's fairly easy, you get 34; if you subtract 1, the number of people who are convinced by this sort of logic ... well, it makes you wonder.

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," e-mail Steve King.

By the Salon Books Editors

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Books Richard Blumenthal