W. F. & E. S. Friedman: The Shakespearian Ciphers Examined

Is there a secret cypher buried in the First Folio edition of Shakespeare’s plays, or hidden on his epitaph? If
such a cypher exist, does it show that Bacon wrote the plays?

The rules governing cyphers must be unambiguous, the solution grammatically and semantically coherent. Two cryptanalysts working independently should reach identical answers.

In 1955 two professional cryptographers, William and Elizabeth Friedman, subjected the “cyphers” and “secret sigilli” to scientific testing and proved them false.

Elizabeth Wells Gallup thought Shakespeare’s first folio concealed Bacon’s bilateral cypher, but her results were subjective, her premises fallacious.

Other patent absurdities are patiently debunked.

Key Quotations

  • Taking a page from an ordinary school edition of Julius Caesar, we produced our own message, a good outspoken one: Dear Reader: Theodore Roosevelt is the true author of this play but I, Bacon, stole it from him and have the credit. Friedman can prove that this is so by this cock-eyed cypher invented by Doctor C. (p. 162-3) [This passage debunks Dr. Cunningham’s cryptographic theory by applying it’s method and producing the above “message”.]
  • With each successive letter deciphered she had a choice – limited but definite – of possibilities; and so, as she went on, there would be a kind of collaboration between the decipherer and the text, each influencing the other. Hence perhaps the curious maundering wordy character of the extracted messages, very like the communications of the spirit world: with some sense but no real mind behind them, just a sort of drifting intention, taking occasional sudden whimsical turns when the text momentarily mastered the decipherer. (p. 264)
  • …one may well wonder if reasoned argument is going to carry much weight with investigators who are so constantly moved by the providential ordering of the merely coincidental. (p. 284)

W. G. & E. S. Friedman
W. G. Friedman (1891-1969) was a US Army cryptologist who ran the research division of the SIS in the 1930s, and similar services into the 1950s. His team, led by Frank Rowlett, broke Japan’s PURPLE cipher, thus disclosing Japanese diplomatic secrets in World War II.

E. S. Friedman (1892-1980) was a Shakespeare enthusiast, cryptanalyst, and pioneer in U.S. cryptology who introduced her husband to the field. After working for the U.S. Navy she moved to the U.S. Treasury Department’s Bureau of Prohibition and Bureau of Customs where she successfully broke the increasingly sophisticated cyphers of numerous international smuggling and drug running rings.


David Hurley