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Scientific Misrule: Francis Bacon at Gray's Inn.

ON JANUARY 3, 1595, in the middle of the Christmas festival season, six speeches written by Francis Bacon were delivered before the residents of Gray's Inn. The prominent statesman, who had been elected to a readership at Gray's in 1587, was apparently solicited for his counsel as part of a plan to atone for the mistakes revelers at the Inn made on Innocents' Day (December 28). The events of that night cast a shadow on the season's subsequent festivities, as an overcrowded dance and thwarted plans for a masque combined to offend honored guests from the Inner Temple. The revels had only just returned after having been suspended for years due to "Sickness and Discontinuances," but even despite the hiatus, the residents of Gray's and of the Inns of Court more broadly had a reputation for Christmastime excesses. (1) Thus, Bacon's philosophical orations were initially delivered in a social setting that regularly provoked breaches of gentlemanly decorum. With this context in mind, I argue that Bacon's unexpected sanction of revelry in the orations entwines his early ideas for reforming natural philosophy with the unfixed form of festival misrule. For Bacon, both experimental and festival forms demanded an imperfect and constantly renewing manner of attention--a manner of attention that he would come to term experientia literata. (2) Variously translated as "learned experience," "literate experience," and "experiential literacy," experientia literata introduces a provisional layer of mediation to empirical observation and aligns the social skills needed by young gentlemen with the habits of mind necessary for the pursuit of knowledge. (3)

The main account we have of the 1594-95 festival season is the Gesta Grayorum, which was recorded by Francis Davison and printed in London in 1688. It is known among literary scholars largely because of its glancing reference to Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors and its transcription of Davison's "Masque of Proteus," which was performed at court for Queen Elizabeth at Shrovetide. (4) The Gesta and Benjamin Rudyerd's Le Prince d'Amour (1660), which recollects the events of the 1597-98 festival season at the Middle Temple, are two of the most complete histories of what the Elizabethan Inns at Court were like during Christmas. (5) Davison tells us that the revels at Gray's began on December 20, 1594, and that they were spearheaded by Henry Helmes, "The Prince of Purpoole"--Gray's Inn's uniquely tided Lord of Misrule--who was elected to the position in early December. (6) Helmes was awarded the role because he was "thought to be accomplished with all good Parts, fit for so great a Dignity; and was also a very proper Man of Personage, and very active in Dancing and Revelling." (7) Under his stewardship, however, the festival season skidded from acceptable misrule to outright unruliness.

On the night of Innocents' Day, the organizers had prepared "some notable Performance... which, indeed, had been effected, if the multitude of Beholders had not been so exceedingly great." (8) The disruption ended up severely embarrassing the Prince and his officers before an ambassador from the Inner Temple:
When the Ambassador was placed, as aforesaid, and that there was
something to be performed for the Delight of the Beholders, there arose
such a disordered Tumult and Crowd upon the Stage, that there was no
Opportunity to effect that which was intended: There came so great a
number of worshipful Personages upon the Stage, that might not be
displaced; and Gentlewomen, whose Sex did privilege them from Violence,
that when the Prince and his Officers had in vain, a good while,
expected and endeavoured a Reformation, at length there was no hope of
Redress for that present. The Lord Ambassador and his Train thought
that they were not so kindly entertained, as was before expected, and
thereupon would not stay any longer at that time, but, in a sort,
discontented and displeased. After their Departure the Throngs and
Tumults did somewhat cease, although so much of them continued, as was
able to disorder and confound any good Inventions whatsoever. In regard
whereof, as also for that the Sports intended were especially for the
gracing of the Templarians, it was thought good not to offer any thing
of Account, saving Dancing and Revelling with the Gentlewomen; and
after such Sports, a Comedy of Errors (like to Plautus his Menechmus)
was played by the Players. So that Night was begun, and continued to
the end, in nothing but Confusion and Errors; whereupon, it was ever
afterwards called, The Night of Errors. (9)

Deriving from the Latin errare, "to wander," errors were for early moderns readily linked to space and movement. For Bacon, "errors" are deviations from an "ordinary course" resulting from "the perverseness, insolence, and frowardness of matter." (10) The "Night of Errors," clearly, was a night of bodies knocking against one another and barring movement such that the organizers were forced to deviate from their original plans. "This mischanceful Accident sorting so ill, to the great prejudice of the rest of our Proceedings," Davison reports, "was a great Discouragement and Disparagement to our whole State." (11) At the center of this calamity was the difficulty faced by the ambassador's retinue in literally trying to pass around impediments, and this knock-kneed series of detours epitomizes both of the night's derailed "Proceedings" and of how the festival season itself stumbled onward. Such public "Discouragement and Disparagement" haunted the Prince of Purpoole until Shrovetide, when the residents of Gray's Inn were to entertain Queen Elizabeth I at court with the "Masque of Proteus." As a precaution before this event, organizers ensured that the "Plot of those Sports were but small" so that "Tediousness might be avoided, and confused Disorder, a thing which might easily happen in a multitude of Actions." (12) The revelers had learned some lessons, and as we will see, these lessons were in part the results of a reformatory project that began immediately after the "Night of Errors."

As noted, part of the project undertaken by the Gray's Inn revelers involved the Prince of Purpoole soliciting six speeches from Francis Bacon with the following prompt: explain "whereunto you think it most for our Honour, and the Happiness of Our State, that Our Government be rightly bent and directed." (13) Evidently, the self-conscious Prince perceived his government to have erred off course; consequently, he invited an esteemed senior member of Gray's to straighten him out. While the speeches Bacon prepared for the counselors, and primarily that of the second counselor advocating for philosophy, are usually read as artifacts tracing his early scientific and political thought, their initial function was at least partly to recover some reputations. As he endeavored to reform natural philosophy and encourage the Prince to "Conquest... the Works of Nature" in the second speech, Bacon was also trying to chasten overzealous and reckless young gentlemen. These channels of thought merged upon addressing the indefatigable tendency of experience to produce errors, and making errors would come to play a crucial role in Bacon's conception of the production of knowledge. (14) His orations evince how the clumsy events of the festival season inculcated the "literacy" Bacon would promote in natural philosophers, because for Bacon, both experimentation and the practice of reveling were organized around errors that are not failures. As he saw it, the task before him was to reconcile calls for disciplined order with the epistemological importance of making mistakes.

Scholars frequently place the development of Francis Bacon's scientific thought within his political, legal, and literary commitments, but in returning to the scene of Gray's Inn during the festival season, I aver that the irreverent playfulness of revelry is an underacknowledged and complementary component to these other contexts. (15) Howard Marchitello suggests that the Gesta encourages us to approach the "literary text with an eye toward its more or less direct negotiations with the scientific," and I follow his program of studying documents like the Gesta in a "perpetual middle ground" where science and culture are not held in distinction. (16) Shifting my attention away from literary culture and onto the theatrical dynamics of revelry, here I examine the artfulness of the seasonal events as procession of performances. (17) The improvisational and opportunistic attitudes inculcated during the festival season reveal that Bacon's scientific, political, and cultural interests were enmeshed, or rather that they sometimes productively collided. His orations recommend different aspects of governance to the prince that encapsulate his career-long preoccupations: the exercise of war, the study of philosophy, achieving fame by building monuments, developing absolute power via wealth, demonstrating virtue and grace, and passtimes and sports. The final speech, rhetorically placed to win the day, licenses the Prince to pursue dancing and reveling, and also reaffirms Bacon's own approval of seasonal feasting and masques. (18) Reading the earlier speeches through the lens of the final offering illuminates how governance that successfully promotes "pass-times and sports" might save the errors produced by uncontrolled bodies from becoming conclusive failures.

Bacon's engagements with the unruliness of nature have inspired a variety of different ways to frame his thought; in locating his orations within their festival context I consider these frames in conjunction with the highly theatricalized nature of revelers' behavior. Michael Witmore's discussion of the centrality of "accident" to early modern epistemology places Bacon's approach to knowledge alongside cultural practices like the nonchalance of Castigliones sprezzatura or early modern rhetorical interest in kairos. (19) In a similar vein, Guido Giglioni observes Bacon's commitment to the necessity of "chance" in his attention to the embodied intuitions of animals whose "skillful combination of chance, cunning, and tendencies to self-preservation results in the best adaptations to reality and in the best inventions to improve such adaptations." (20) Terms like "skill" and "cunning" identify the difference between blind movement and experientia literata, which Bacon introduces in The Advancement of Learning. He defines this as a "sagacity" bred from observing and interpreting nature, and expands his definition as follows:
... [A]s a man may proceed on his path in three ways: he may grope his
way for himself in the dark; he may be led by the hand of another,
without himself seeing anything; or lastly, he may get a light, and so
direct his steps; in like manner when a man tries all kinds of
experiments without order or method, this is but groping in the dark;
but when he uses some direction and order in experimenting, it is as if
he were led by the hand; and this is what I mean by Learned Experience.

The Baconian natural philosopher needed to cultivate a nimble intellectual resourcefulness that would function like a lantern held up against Nature's inscrutable darkness; he would need an intuitive sense of order to "direct his steps" as he stumbled toward knowledge. "Errors that are not failures" propel both Baconian science and revelry, and I perceive them as products of a skillful orientation toward future contingencies. I align this orientation with Debapriya Sarkar's description of "speculative poeisis" which names "a mode of creation that never brings a moment into actuality but is predicated on thought's power to exist only as potentiality," and Erin Kathleen Kelley's account of how Bacon's understanding of the "ongoing process of empiricism" might be most vividly understood in relation to "incomplete, provisional form[s]" like lists, commonplace books, and narrative. (22) Bacon recognized human senses as "infirm and erring" because of human understanding's tendency to forge "abstractions" that privilege "forms" over "matter." (23) To safeguard against this, Bacon advocated a habit of thinking open and receptive to errors caused by nature's interruptions. This involved developing skills that could compensate for how one's ideas about the world remained imperfect--meaning incomplete, provisional, and contestable. Bacon's idea of a natural philosopher thus resembles the professional actor in Evelyn Tribble's reconstruction, whose "memory, vigilancy, and pregnancy of wit" afford him "a quality of alertness and attentiveness" and a "flexible mindfulness that comes only from long practice and experience." (24) To the "learned" or "literate" mind--whether it belongs to an actor, a Lord of Misrule, a charismatic courtier, or a natural philosopher--unexpected outcomes could become prompts for subsequent experiments rather than the breaking point of prior endeavors.

When confronted with the potentially formless chaos of revelry, then, "memory, vigilancy, and pregnancy of wit" were often one's only resources. The spirit of the revels was of opportunistic mirth, and riotous nonsense was both a method and an objective. Rudyerd's account tells us that at the Middle Temple's revels in the 1597-98 season, the gentlemen were audience to a "ridiculous and sensless speech" by the Prince d'Amour's appointed orator. The crowd then demanded that the "Clerk of the Council" make an answer ex tempore, which he delivered as a "Fustian Answer made to a Tufftaffata Speech." (25) Festival seasons at the Inns of Court included a hodgepodge of different cultural practices: pageantry, processions, mock trials, masques, dancing, shows of wit, and bacchanalian indulgence. As Philip J. Finkelpearl summarizes, they were "a mixture of disorderly conduct, mock solemnity, and a serious miming of dignified roles." (26) While it is difficult to generalize about the kinds of "misrule" witnessed at the Inns of Court, it is safe to say that revelers habitually broke things: sense, custom, decorum, comity, bonds of friendship, and even furniture. While the successful gentleman reveler would develop tact, many aspiring courtiers at the Inns of Court evinced the "perverseness, insolence, and frowardness" of their immaturity. (27) The Gray's Inn Pension Book records that in 1570-71, a payment was made "to the carpenter for mendynge tables and trestles this winter broken with revelles at sundrye tymes"; the entry is echoed a year later. (28) Several Inns of Court saw repeated bouts of a banned practice described in the Middle Temple Parliament Book: "Breaking open forciblie of divers chambers in the night season And in leuyinge and takinge iniuriouslie certaine sommes of monie of divers gentlemen of this house in nam of the lord of myrule his rent." (29) Sometimes the destructive irreverence courted resentments. As a member of the Middle Temple, the poet John Davies had apparently been mocked so relentlessly throughout the revels that he vengefully struck Richard Martyn, who had been the Lord of Misrule, with a stick "till it broke." He escaped by running to a boat but was ultimately expelled. (30) Revelers' inclinations foreshadowed the incorrigibility of modern university fraternity houses, but more serious than wanton destruction of property or personal spats was crossing the line between irreverence and outright resistance to any kind of authority. More experienced barristers and courtiers knew that such rebellions were threats to the reputation of a house.

Seasonal revels were, as Bruce Smith points out, "social processes" for conditioning masculine behavior. (31) Becoming intuitively conscious of the invisible protocols of courtly life was part of how young gentlemen at the Inns learned the ropes, and revels afforded low-stakes testing grounds for future courtly and professional encounters. One such responsibility was the mending of amicable associations after having given offense. Le Prince d'Amour reveals a sequence of events during the 1597-98 season at the Middle Temple that echoes what had happened at Gray's: on a night during which visitors from Lincoln's Inn were to come to the Prince's court there were so many people present that it "bred such disorder that the Prince could not receive them according to their worthiness, nor his own desire." The following day, the Lincolnians sent an ambassador who publicly "profered their Princes love unto ours," and a masque was performed that was "exceedingly commended, but not sumciently." (32) Finally, on the following day, the "Lincolnians were entertained with a Banquet by our Prince, where our League was renewed." (33) Gray's Inn held a similar feast of reconciliation shordy after Innocents' Day, and also adapted an elaborate masque in which characters representing "Graius" and "Templarius" reconciled and reaffirmed their friendship. (34) The exercises of the festival season were designed as preparation for lawyers and gentlemen, and it was in the breach of formal protocols that they came to internalize their function.

Committing an indiscretion during revels was thus not necessarily terminal for a young gentleman's reputation or career. Indeed, as another heuristic exercise, revelers confronted errors as opportunities for practicing their wit and ability to invent new sources of mirth. The participants' actions in the immediate wake of Innocents' Day are telling: as Davison indicates, on that very night, they scrapped their plans for a masque and invited a performance of The Comedy of Errors. They then quickly assumed this performance as a self-deprecating emblem of their own behavior. (35) On the subsequent day, in the cold light of sobriety, they decided to prepare some recuperative "Law-Sports": the mock trial of "a Sorcerer or Conjurer that was supposed to be the Cause of [the prior night's] confused Inconvenience." (36) These proceedings placed blame upon "every Officer in any great Place, that had not performed his Duty in that Service," and included a testimony by the prisoner asserting that "the very Fault was in the Negligence of the Prince's Council, Lords and Officers of his State, that had the Rule of the Roast, and by whose Advice the Commonwealth was so soundly mis-governed." (37) Once a kind of communal ownership of error was acknowledged, the members grew "wearied with mocking thus at our own Follies." Continuing their improvisational game, however, a "great Consultation" for "the Recovery of our lost Honour" was held in which it was resolved that "the Prince's Council should be reformed, and some graver Conceipts should have their places." (38) Plans were made for "divers Plots and Devices" to be presented on the "3d. of January" at which were to be "provided a Watch of Armed Men" for keeping order. On that night, after the aforementioned masque staging the reconciliation of "Graius" and "Templarius," the Prince of Purpoole issued new "Articles of the Order of Knighthood of the Helmet" which outlined the rules governing civil behavior for all members. (39)

It is in this tacit curriculum of learning how to react to and revise assumptions in response to unforeseen contingencies that I place Bacon's incipient sense of experimental literacy. Knowing where the line of acceptable behavior was and how not to cross it without fading into the background as a tedious bore was the fundamental challenge facing revelers. Elizabeth Rivlin presents The Night of Errors as a limit case for the difference between the literacy embraced as a "marker" for one's position in the social hierarchy and the literacy aspiring courtiers could use as "instrument" for changing their place in that hierarchy. (40) The courtier's art, in a context where social mobility was becoming increasingly possible, was not learned by adopting a fixed template of behaviors but rather involved cultivating a form of belonging in disordered spaces. Achieving this kind of belonging could not be done passively, but it also could not be enforced. It could only emerge through experience. For Bacon, "experience, if taken as it comes, is called accident, if sought for, experiment." He makes clear that "experience, when it wanders in its own track is... mere groping in the dark," but the "true method" of experience "first lights the candle, and then by means of the candle shows the way; commencing as it does with experience duly ordered and digested, not bungling or erratic." (41) To turn accidents into experiments, one must anticipate "erratic" wanderings and know how to turn them into an ordered progress. Noting how Bacon distinguishes between "confused" and "inexact" forms of inquiry and "systematic" ones in the Sylva Sylvarum, Dana Jalobeanu explains how experientia literata is the engine behind experimental modes such as variations of parameter, trials of repetition or extension, translating an experience into artificial models, inversion, compulsion, application, coupling, and finally, "chances" [sorto]. The openness to "randomness" in Bacons embrace of "chances" should not be understood as patiently waiting for surprise outcomes. "Chance" can only be productive "at the end of a disciplined process of inquiry." (42) For the residents of Gray's Inn, then, the happenstances and surprises bred during revels might be understood as elements of a social "experiment" that, on Innocents' Day, they bungled quite thoroughly. The "reformation" Bacon was called forth to instill in them, then, would stress the need for decorum and order as a part of social literacy but also recognize the value of boldness and the virtue of receptivity to the unforeseen.

Bacons first oration valorizes the Prince's martial capabilities, which is unsurprising given that the Prince had just finished remaking his state into the "Order of Knighthood of the Helmet." Force, laws, and physical exertions of control are a predictable first suggestion raised in addressing disordered states. The initial counselor encourages the Prince to remember the pleasures of regulating the state and maintaining order: "Think, Excellent Prince, what Sense of Content you found in your self, when you were first invested in our State: For though I know Your Excellency is far from Vanity and Lightness, yet it is the nature of all things to find Rest when they come to due and proper places." As the speech develops, the counselor acknowledges that "this Delight will languish and vanish; for Power will quench Appetite, and Satiety will endure Tediousness," and so advises embracing wars that will produce "Trophies and Triumphs" that will "be as continual Coronations, that will not suffer your Glory and Contentment to fade and wither." (43) Even as it recognizes the pleasant nature of order, the first counselor concedes that perfect regulation can be "tedious" (which is atavistic to the spirit of revelry) and that "continual" activity is more rewarding than complacency.

Princes should engage in "preservation" rather than "destruction," argues the second counselor, who nevertheless adopts the first counselor's resistance to tedium. Rather than warfare, the Prince should invest in "the Conquest of the Works of Nature" and dedicate his state to "searching out, inventing, and discovering of what soever is hidden and secret in the World." (44) Bacon the natural philosopher steps forward here, positing ideas that he would elaborate upon in his description of "Salomon's House" decades later. (45) The second counselor recommends that the Prince establish a "perfect and general Library," a "spacious, wonderful Garden," a "goodly huge Cabinet," and "a Still-house." (46) The procession of proposals recalls the movement of Bacon's conception of knowledge in general, from classical authorities (books), to observations of nature (a garden), to accounts of nature's accidents (the cabinet of curiosities), and finally to the artificial implements like "Mills, Instruments, Furnaces and Vessels" that a natural philosopher might deploy in seeking and using knowledge (the still-house). Following the first counselor, the theme of "conquest" continues to shape the educational program. The first two speeches prescribe addressing restlessness by giving it structure: on the one hand, warfare, and on the other, an institute wherein plants, animals, and other natural phenomena could be organized in "Rooms" and cages such that "in a small Compass" the ruler could have "a Model of Universal Nature made private." (47) It is in the movement from the garden to the still-house via the cabinet that Bacon's overarching argument about proper government, as well as his eventual view of scientific literacy, open up.

The cabinet invokes the language of material clutter in a way that suggests the Prince endeavor to understand experience by the enforced production of random chances:
The third, A goodly huge Cabinet, wherein whatsoever the Hand of Man,
by exquisite Art or Engine, hath made rare in Stuff, Form, or Motion,
whatsoever Singularity, Chance and the Shuttle of things hath produced,
whatsoever Nature hath wrought in things that want Life, and may be
kept, shall be sorted and included. (48)

The "Shuffle" of things in nature produces singularities that may contribute to the wide store of knowledge. In The Advancement of Learning, Bacon would argue that there is "no sufficient and competent collection of those works of Nature which have a digression and deflection from the ordinary course of generations, productions, and motions; whether they be singularities of place and region, or the strange events of time, or casuum ingenia (as they have been called)--devices of chance." Such a collection, if achieved as Bacon's second counselor imagines, might "correct the partiality of axiomes and opinions" and also because "from the wonders of nature is the most clear and open passage to the wonders of art." (49) As Witmore observes, while nature only brings about these "unusual" scenarios over great periods of time, experimentation supersedes nature with "a more efficient mode of producing rare and unusual situations." (50) The "cabinet" Bacon envisions here would, "by exquisite Art or Engine," be that efficient mode. This insight echoes one Bacon developed even earlier: in "Of Tribute," a device similar to the speeches at Gray's Inn featuring several speakers, the speaker championing knowledge observes that the "industry of artificers maketh some small improvements in things invented; and chance sometimes in experimenting maketh us stumble upon somewhat which is new." (51) Bacon recognized in nature a degree of "shuffling" and saw that its surprise outcomes would continually challenge human understanding's formal abstractions and conclusions. Repeated exposure to errors and chance accidents was a way to revise and reform one's own preconceptions about the world--but making sense of this shuffling required that the experimenter possess a discipline that nature itself would not demonstrate.

As Bacon's orations move from a purely active form of governance--a fantasy of global or "universal" conquest and possession--to a mentality for approaching the world attentive to its variations and possibilities, his counselors begin to offer defensive tactics. The third counselor states outright that the first counselor did not draw into question "the Success and Fortune of the Wars" and that the second counselor avoided "the Difficulties and Errors in the Conclusions of Nature." The consequences of failure, this counselor advises, are "Tragedies of Calamities and Distress" and "Comedies of ridiculous Frustrations." (52) He advises, accordingly, that the Prince seek to "win fame, and to eternize [his] Name" with buildings and foundations. The fourth counselor continues this theme of considering the Prince's memory, but advises him to avoid chasing external markers of power and endeavor to "conquer here at home the overgrowing of your Grandees in Factions, and too great Liberties of your People" by becoming "the only Proprietor of all the Lands and Wealth of your Subjects." (53) Both of these counselors operate out of a fear of the unknown, and veer first toward the superficial reliability of material artifacts and then to the extremist perspective of perfect control. These are ways to ignore the "accidents" of nature out of a fear of failure.

The fifth counselor changes course by suggesting that the Prince consider "vertue" as his objective. Rather than overriding his subjects' property rights, the virtuous prince would use "the Light of your State" to "advance Men of Vertue, and not of Mercenary Minds." This would result in the Prince placing his trust not in "Laws for correcting the Times" but rather "Education." (54) At this juncture we start to glean Bacon's broader argument as a function of all of the speakers' proposals. He thoughtfully negotiates between different aspects of the Prince's power; the counselors do not advance hollow assertions, but rather work together through a theme: the limits of the Princes control. Errors are posited both as likely inevitabilities and as things that must be avoided, overcome, or at least rendered inert. Wars may be calamitously lost, but fighting wars also prevents restlessness and tedium; experiments may come to frustration, but new discoveries bring new forms of power. One way to resist public shame wrought by errors is to dedicate oneself to concrete evidence of sovereign power, like monuments, or to a kind of tyranny; another is to foster an educated society that is both daring and adventurous but that also does not necessarily see errors as weakness.

The fifth counselor's advice seems most attuned to Bacon's sensibilities, but one more oration remains. The sixth counselor jokes that valorizing "Fame and Memory" makes it sound like the others, upon the Prince's coronation, were "in hand with him to make himself a sumptuous and stately Tomb." (55) The variety of approaches--some leading the prince to more absolutism, others to more graciousness--are presented as exhausting:
I assure your Excellency, their Lessons were so cumbersome, as if they
would make you a King in a Play, who when one would think he standeth
in great Majesty and Felicity, he is troubled to say his part. What!
Nothing but Tasks, nothing by Working-days? No Feasting, no Musick, no
Dancing, no Triumphs, no Comedies, no Love, no Ladies? Let other Men's
lives be as Pilgrimages, because they are tied to divers Necessities
and Duties; but Princes Lives are as Progresses, dedicated only to
Variety and Solace. (56)

Bacon is of course appealing to his audience here; a stern lecture would not have read the room. The sixth counselor rejects unyielding discipline and instead promotes appreciation for the pleasures of staying true to immediate experience and not abstracting one's ends too quickly. Thinking always about virtuousness, he proposes, is as tedious as perpetual peace. His final send-off seems particularly Baconian: "And, in a word, Sweet Sovereign, dismiss your five Councellors, and only take Councel of your five Senses." (57) While other counselors would like the Prince to either trust in his own assumed authority through conquest or work backward from their conclusions (a "stately Tomb"), this counselor encourages the Prince to dwell, as Bacon would later suggest, "purely and constantly among the facts of nature." (58) Bacon here makes the connection between skillful theatrical performance and sensible government explicit, warning the Prince against merely regurgitating a "part" that restrains his essential liberty. Instead, by juxtaposing "Pilgrimages" tied to foregone conclusions with "Progresses," scripts with experiences, Bacon allows the Prince to become more like a clown who can step outside the bounds of a script without threatening the integrity of his performative role. (59)

In his response, the Prince of Purpoole voiced what must have been on the minds of all participants remembering the recent chaos: "But if a Man should follow your five Senses [...] I perceive he might follow your Lordship, now and then, into an Inconvenience." (60) He raised the specter of Innocents' Day as a consequence of overinvestment in the "Variety and Solace" afforded by the senses, but ultimately accepted the sixth counselor's suggestion: "though one should not be forward to follow [this advice], yet it fitteth the time, and what Our own Humour inclined oftentimes to, Delight and Merriment." The Prince's primary resolution seems to be that "a Prince should be of a chearful and pleasant Spirit; not austere, hard-fronted and stoical, but after serious Affairs, admitting Recreation." (61) Recognizing the importance of balancing strict discipline and occasional license, he positioned himself as opposed to both "hard-fronted" monumentality and the frustrations or inconveniences of unmitigated chaos. Bacon's counselors, ultimately, did not offer the Prince rules for how he might "direct" his government. Instead, they presented a discursive training exercise appropriate to the setting by challenging the Prince to think for himself--to be

both responsible and bold, both methodical and imaginative. The orations were a success: after them, the Prince apparently "took the Occasion of Revelling." Davison tells us that the performances held that night "did so delight and please the Nobles, and the other Auditory, that thereby Grays-Inn did not only recover their lost Credit, and quite take away all the Disgrace that the former Night of Errors had incurred; but got instead thereof [...] great Honour and Applause." (62)

The performative closure of this affair, which concluded with the same activities that elicited it, reflects how revels were a balancing act between design and accident. Revels shared what Scott Trudell sees as the "volatility"--"unpredictable weather, crowds, and innumerable distractions"--of events like processions, triumphs, and entertainments in general. Such events required labor geared toward "carving theatricality out of occasion," a phrase that aptly captures the nimble resourcefulness and mediating movements of experientia literata." "The universe to the eye of the human understanding is framed like a labyrinth," Bacon reiterates in The Great Instauration, such that "the way is still to be made by the uncertain light of the sense, sometimes shining out, sometimes clouded over, through the woods of experience and particulars." In a world of shuffling, dizzying disorder, "those who offer themselves as guides are [...] themselves also puzzled, and increase the number of errors and wanderers." To prevent cascading errors, "the whole way from the very first perception of the senses must be laid out upon a sure plan." (64) This plan, however, should not be figured as narrow path. Experiential literacy does not chart ones course through the dark maze, it merely turns on a light and presents the traveler with viable choices. As a model for scientific experimentation, then, misrule offers heuristic, self-conscious disorientation capable of producing participants akin to Shakespeare's Feste: "wise enough to play the fool" who "like the haggard, check[s] at every feather / That comes before his eye." Like sophisticated clowning, experimentation "craves a kind of wit" that is often "as full of labor as a wise man's art" and certainly demands more practice. (65) As Bacon would put it in correcting Platonic conceptions of form as "abstracted from matter, and not confined and determined by matter," the experimenter should "keep a continual watchful and severe eye upon action, operation, and the use of knowledge" in order to "advise and take notice what are the Forms, the disclosures whereof are fruitful and important to the state of man." (66) A "watchful and severe eye" does not necessarily predicate mirthlessly suppressing the risk of error, despite Bacon's reputation for seriousness. After all, when called upon to offer correction, he did not admonish against the frivolous activities toward which the revelers were naturally predisposed. Even though Bacon would call events akin to these revels "but toys" in his essay "Of Masques and Triumphs," he acknowledges that "princes will have such things" and betrays his own deep familiarity with their production. Apparently drawing on personal experience, however, he makes clear what differentiates the wild shuffle of unruly bodies from a properly experimental enterprise: "But all is nothing except the room be kept clear and neat." (67)

Bard College


(1) Francis Davison, Gesta Grayorum 1688, ed. W. W. Greg (Oxford: The Malone Society Reprints, 1914), 1. As both Davison and Bacon, and potentially others, are "authors" of this text, I cite it below simply as Gesta. A letter from Lady Anne Cooke Bacon, Francis's mother, to his brother Anthony, dated December 5,1594, issues a pessimistic prediction: "I trust they wyll not mum nor mask nor synfully revel at Grayes Inn." Anne Cooke Bacon, The Letters of Lady Anne Bacon, ed. Gemma Allen (Cambridge U. Press, 2014), 198.

(2) The sense of form I construe here draws on Henry Turner's articulation of form as "a constantly renewing, relational network," Andrew Pickering's "mangle of practice," and Caroline Levines understanding of forms in terms of collisions, imbrications, and calibrations between a plurality of organizing principles and habits of attention. Henry S. Turner, "Lessons on Literature for the Historian of Science (and Vice Versa): Reflections on 'Form,'" Isis 101.3 (2010): 582; Andrew Pickering, The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency, & Science (U. of Chicago Press, 1995); Caroline Levine, Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network (U. of Princeton Press, 2015).

(3) For a deeper look at experientia literata, see Guido Giglioni, "Learning to Read Nature: Francis Bacon's Notion of Experiential Literacy (Experientia Literata)" Early Science and Medicine 18.4-5 (2013): 405-34; and Dana Jalobeanu, "Disciplining Experience: Francis Bacon's Experimental Series and the Art of Experimenting," Perspectives on Science 24.3 (2016): 324-42. A more wide-ranging discussion can be found in Literate Experience: The Work of Knowing in Seventeenth-Century English Writing, ed. Andrew Barnaby and Lisa J. Schnell (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2002).

(4) For the festival context of Innocent's Day at Gray's Inn in relation to Shakespeare's play, see Elizabeth Rivlin, "Theatrical Literacy in The Comedy of Errors and the Gesta Grayorum" Critical Survey 14.1 (2002): 64-78; and Arthur F. Kinney, "Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors and the Nature of Kinds," Studies in Philology 85.1 (1988): 29-52. For a breakdown of the practical theatrical considerations and settings of the Gesta Grayorum, see Margaret Knapp and Michal Kobialka, "Shakespeare and the Prince of Purpoole: The 1594 Production of The Comedy of Errors at Gray's Inn Hall," The Comedy of Errors: Critical Essays, ed. Robert S. Miola (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1997): 431-45. For a discussion of the continuities between the confusions of the evening and the theatrical performance, see William N. West, '"But this will be a mere confusion': Real and Represented Confusions on the Elizabethan Stage," Theatre Journal 60. 2 (2008): 217-33.

(5) Benjamin Rudyerd, he Prince d'Amour, or The Prince of Love (London: Printed for William Leake, at the Crown in Fleet Street, 1660), Wing (2nd ed.), R2189, British Library, EEBO,

(6) "The Prince of Purpoole" was the title adopted by Gray's Inn for their Lord of Misrule or Christmas King after the parish of Portpool, in which Gray's was situated; the Middle Temple of course had The Prince d'Amour. While it seems that the Inner Temple had the Prince of Sophy and Lincoln's Inn the Prince de la Grange, these names have less documentary evidence. See Alan H. Nelson and John R. Elliott Jr., "Drama, Entertainment, and Music," Records of Early English Drama: Inns of Court, ed. Nelson and Elliott Jr. (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2010): xvii-xlvii, esp. xx.

(7) Gesta, 2.

(8) Gesta, 20

(9) Gesta, 22.

(10) All references to Bacon's texts, aside from the speeches in the Gesta and except where otherwise noted, are to The Works of Francis Bacon, ed. James Spedding, Robert Leslie Ellis, and Douglas Denon Heath (Boston: Houghton Mifflin & Company, 1900) and cited in footnotes by title, volume, and page number. Quote from The Advancement of Learning, Works, 8:410.

(11) Gesta, 22.

(12) Gesta, 57.

(13) Gesta, 32.

(14) Julianne Werlin argues that Bacon's attention to the "perils" attending the practice of interpretation "gestures toward a world in which the consequence of greater knowledge is greater error.' Katherine Eggert sees Bacon praising the "by-products" of alchemy's error-filled and vain searching, as "Alchemy crystallizes for Bacon the possibility that the pursuit of learning is worthwhile even when it is not the pursuit of truth" because alchemy "models a kind of knowledge" even if its outcomes and aims are "likely wrong." Werlin, "Francis Bacon and the Art of Misinterpretation," PMLA 130.2 (2015): 237,247; and Eggert, Disknowledge: Literature, Alchemy, and the End of Humanism in Renaissance England (U. of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), 47.

(15) For example, Julian Martin observes how Bacon perceived an "affinity between the laws of nature and those of the civil polity" such that his view of natural knowledge was that it would produce "man's key to the knowledge of truly potent civil governance. Carolyn Merchant posits that Bacons vision of "an active inquisitor (scientist) who posed a question, a subject/object that held the answer as a veiled secret, witnesses who could verify and if necessary replicate the experience, and a practical outcome that would improve the life of human-kind" can be contextualized in relation to "three early modern settings--the courtroom, the anatomy theater, and the laboratory." Martin, Francis Bacon, the State, and the Reform of Natural Philosophy (Cambridge U. Press, 1992), 145; and Merchant, '"The Violence of Impediments': Francis Bacon and the Origins of Experimentation," Isis 99 A (2008): 732,754. See also Robert P. Ellis, Francis Bacon: The Double-Edged Life of the Philosopher and Statesman (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2015), esp. 39fF.

(16) Howard Marchitello, The Machine in the Text: Science and Literature in the Age of Shakespeare and Galileo (Oxford U. Press, 2011), 32, 46,44.

(17) Marchitello, Machine in the Text, 29.

(18) Bacon had participated in authoring entertainments in 1588, and, in a letter to William Cecil, Lord Burghley, would even vouch for the ability of the "galant yowng gentlemen" of Gray's Inn to furnish an acceptable masque. Records of Early English Drama: Inns of Court, ed. Alan H. Nelson and John R. Elliott Jr. (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2010), 127.

(19) Michael Witmore, Culture of Accidents: Unexpected Knowledges in Early Modern England (Stanford U. Press, 2002), 128.

(20) Giglioni, "Learning to Read Nature," 421.

(21) Bacon, The Advancement of Learning, Works, 9:72. For discussion of the term and Bacon's original Latin, see De Augmentis Scientiarum, Works, 2:370-72 and nl.

(22) Debapriya Sarkar, "The Tempest's Other Plots," Shakespeare Studies 45 (2017): 204; Erin Kathleen Kelly, "'Experience has not yet learned her letters': Narrative and Information in the Works of Francis Bacon," Configurations 24.2 (2016): 156.

(23) Bacon, Novum Organum, Works, 8:82-83.

(24) Evelyn Tribble, Early Modern Actors & Shakespeare's Theatre: Thinking with the Body (London: Bloomsbury, 2017), 125. Also see Tribble, Cognition in the Globe: Attention and Memory in Shakespeare's Theatre (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).

(25) Rudyerd, Le Prince d'Amour, 37.

(26) Philip J. Finkelpearl, John Marston of the Middle Temple (Harvard U. Press, 1969), 38,44. For more on festival culture, see Erika T. Lin, "Popular Festivity and the Early Modern Stage: The Case of George a Greene" Theatre Journal 61.2 (2009): 271-97; and Erika T. Lin, "Festivity'' Early Modern Theatricality, ed. Henry S. Turner (Oxford U. Press, 2013), 212-29.

(27) Ann Hurley, discussing courtly revels, observes that "[o]f the various entertainments presented to Elizabeth up to and including those of the 1590s, nearly every one features some aspect of interruption." Hurley, "Interruption: The Transformation of a Critical Feature of Ritual from Revel to Lyric in John Donne's Inn's of Court Poetry of the 1590s," Ceremony and Text in the Renaissance, ed. Douglas F. Rutledge (U. of Delaware Press, 1996), 106.

(28) REED, 94-95.

(29) REED, 118. This behavior was evidently also banished in Gray's Inn after 1585-86 (109); for more discussion see the editors' introduction, xxxvii-xxxviii.

(30) Finkelpearl, John Marston, 54-55, quoting from Middle Temple Records, ed. Charles H. Hopwood (London: Butterworth and Co., 1904).

(31) Bruce Smith, "A Night of Errors and the Dawn of Empire: Male Enterprise in The Comedy of Errors" Shakespeare's Sweet Thunder: Essays on the Early Comedies, ed. Michael J. Collins (U. of Delaware Press, 1997): 107.

(32) Rudyerd, Le Prince d'Amour, 88

(33) Rudyerd, Le Prince d'Amour, 88-89

(34) Gesta, 25.

(35) Smith observes that though the disturbances were not planned, "[g]iven a proper name, The Night of Errors was written into the script" ("Night of Errors," 108).

(36) Gesta, 24, 23.

(37) Gesta, 24.

(38) Gesta, 24.

(39) Gesta, 27.

(40) Rivlin, "Theatrical Literacy," 65.

(41) Bacon, Novum Organum, Works, 8:115, 135-36.

(42) Jalobeanu, "Disciplining Experience," 339.

(43) Gesta, 32-33.

(44) Gesta, 34.

(45) Bacon, New Atlantis, Works 5:398-406.

(46) Gesta, 35.

(47) Gesta, 35.

(48) Gesta, 35.

(49) Bacon, The Advancement of Learning, Works 8:411-12.

(50) Witmore, Culture of Accidents, 123.

(51) Francis Bacon, "Of Tribute," Francis Bacon: The Major Works, ed. Brian Vickers (Oxford U. Press, 2002): 34.

(52) Gesta, 35-36

(53) Gesta, 38.

(54) Gesta, 39-40.

(55) Gesta, 40-41.

(56) Gesta, 41.

(57) Gesta, 41.

(58) Bacon, The Great Instauration, Works, 8:34.

(59) Richard Preiss discusses how, for many playgoers, "the play was what interrupted [the clown's evanescent ludic forms']; it was an afterthought, and the clown, the ringmaster who transcended it, was the main attraction." Preiss, Clowning and Authorship in Early Modern Theatre (Cambridge U. Press, 2014), 9. See also Tribble, Early Modern Actors, 125-32.

(60) Gesta, 41.

(61) Gesta, 41.

(62) Gesta, 42.

(63) Scott A. Trudell, "Occasion," Early Modern Theatricality, ed. Henry S. Turner (Oxford U. Press, 2013), 236.

(64) Bacon, The Great Instauration, Works, 8:32.

(65) William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, in The Norton Shakespeare 3rd ed., ed. Stephen Greenblatt et al. (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2016), 3.1.53-59.

(66) Bacon, The Advancement of Learning, Works, 6:220.

(67) Bacon, "Of Masques and Triumphs," in Vickers, Francis Bacon: The Major Works, 416-17.
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