My name is Annalisa Ricciardi and I am the Shakespeare Project Cataloguer at Senate House Library. I graduated in Italy in Conservation of Cultural Heritage (MA) and afterwards in Information management (MA) at the University of Tuscia, Viterbo. In 2009 I gained a PhD in ‘History of the centers, the routes and the culture of the Pilgrimages in the Euro-Mediterranean Middle Ages’ at the University of Salento, Lecce, with a dissertation on archival research and palaeographic transcriptions.

I have previously worked at some Academic institutions such as the British Library, where I catalogued incunabula at the History and Classic Department; Tate Britain, where I chiefly worked on cataloguing artists’ archives and papers; and at the Sotheby’s Institute of Art Library as a library assistant and cataloguer. Currently I am also working at Middlesex University Library where I am involved in space and collection management.

Since June 2015 I have been working as the Shakespeare Project Cataloguer. The Shakespeare collection is a heterogeneous collection of modern books. At the heart of the Library’s Shakespeare collections is the personal library of Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence (1837-1914) who based his acquisitions mainly on the Bacon-Shakespeare theory. Bequeathed by his widow to the University of London in 1929, Lady Durning-Lawrence arranged the collection following her husband’s death, and Senate House Library continued adding new acquisitions to the collection primarily based on the Bacon controversy.

The Bacon theory, perhaps the most famous one because of the caliber of the character involved, is only one of about a dozen theories on the real identity of William Shakespeare. According to its dramatic claim, Francis Bacon was the real author of Shakespeare’s plays, arguing that his philosophical ideas were strongly related to Shakespeare’s works. Starting from the mid-nineteenth century, the Bacon theory was strongly fostered by a large number of Shakespeare scholars. It was very popular up to the early twentieth century, when a substantial number of new studies started to highlight the unreliability of the theory.

Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence, who was one of the biggest supporters of the theory, himself wrote a convinced plea on Shakespeare's real identity, and in his Bacon is Shake-Speare (New York, The John McBride, 1910), he lay claim to a public attention on his explanation of the argument. My favorite part of the book is the one in which he makes a surgical analysis of the illustrated frontispiece of Gustavus Selenus’1 book on cryptography in the attempt to validate his thoughts: "You see a man, evidently Bacon giving his writing to a Spearman who is dressed in actor's boots… Note that the man has a spring of bay in the hat which he holds in his hand. This man is Shake-Spear.” (Plates XXVII, XXVIII, and p. 125).

Frontispiece of Gustavus Selenus' Cryptomenytices
Frontispiece of Gustavus Selenus' CryptomenyticesCaption
Enlarged left side of the frontispiece of Gustavus Selenus' Cryptomenytices
Enlarged left side of the frontispiece of Gustavus Selenus' Cryptomenytices

I have always found this theory captivating, even in its groundlessness, by virtue of which Shakespeare’s art has preserved a shadow of mystery.

There are many mysteries contained in poetry which of purpose were written darkly, lest by profane wits it should be abused”. (Sir Philip Sidney, The Defense of Poesy [1595]).

Gustavus Selenus being the pseudonym of Augustus the Younger, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg.