Something Surely Hidden: Conspiracies and Codes in the Margins of a First Folio Facsimile



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Shown here are pages from ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost,’ ‘Hamlet,’ and ‘Henry IV Part 1’ in the SUNY Buffalo State facsimile of William Shakespeare's First Folio from 1866.

A popular theory throughout the SUNY Buffalo State First Folio facsimile’s marginalia is the numerological idea that certain letters “add up” to spell Francis Bacon. In Baconian numerology, each letter of the alphabet is given an equivalent numerical value.[1] So A equals 1, B equals 2, and so on, using the 24-letter Elizabethan alphabet which did not have J or U.[2] Thus, the name “Francis” would equal 67, “Bacon” equals 33, and his full name equals an even 100. Baconians routinely searched the First Folio, and other contemporary texts, for examples of letters adding up to Francis Bacon.[3]

The marginaliast’s notes on the pages shown here appear to have been inspired by two prominent Baconian numerologists: Walter Conrad Arensberg and Frank Woodward. For the simple transposition of letters to numbers, the marginaliast seems to have been guided by Arensberg’s The Cryptography of Shakespeare (1922), where Arensberg explains, “The numerical value of a name may be computed as the sum of the numerical value of all its letters” and goes on to show how “Bacon” equals 33.[4] The marginaliast in the SUNY Buffalo State First Folio facsimile does the same math repeatedly throughout the book.

Meanwhile, Woodward’s 1923 book Francis Bacon’s Cipher Signatures points out (as the marginaliast does almost verbatim on the pages shown here) that the name “Francis” appears 33 times in the left-hand column of page 56 of the First Folio.[5] Since “Bacon” equals 33 in Baconian numerology, both Woodward and the marginaliast find this to be highly significant.

While, as cryptographers William and Elizebeth Friedman wrote in the late 1950s, “it is hardly necessary to add that there is no cryptographic validity at all in methods of the kind Arensberg used,”[6] the fact that the marginaliast also used them is meaningful in our quest to discover more about his or her identity. Arensberg’s and Woodward’s books came out just one year apart, suggesting a trend towards numerology in Baconian circles in the mid-1920s. It’s probable that the marginaliast was active around the same time.


[1] “Ciphers of Francis Bacon,” The Francis Bacon Research Trust, accessed April 24, 2016,

[2] Friedman, 169.

[3] Ibid., 169.

[4] Walter Conrad Arensberg, The Cryptography of Shakespeare (Los Angeles: Howard Brown, 1922), 143.

[5] Quoted in Friedman, 170.

[6] Friedman, 153.

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William Shakespeare, First Folio, marginalia, book history, Francis Bacon, numerology, cryptography