Alas, Poor Bard
Shakespeare is under siege in new film
Anonymous is a new film catering for the conspiratorial mood of postmodern man. The film dramatizes the fringe theory, that Shakespeare did not write his plays. Instead Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, is presented as the most likely author. Apart from being a literary prodigy in his childhood, he is also presented as the illegitimate child of Elisabeth I as well as at a later stage her incestuous lover. Due to censorship he organizes to have his plays staged in the name of an alcoholic actor and murderous ruffian, William Shakespeare.
The film is a grand costume drama. For this reason alone the film will probably gain a large audience. Another reason, however, will be the angry mood of the film, which primarily reflects the vehemence of the director, Roland Emmerich, who by his own account hated to be exposed to Shakespeare in School. But also points to the aggravated feelings amongst the so called “Oxfordians” (proponents of the “Oxford” theory) who feel hindered in garnering research grants and tenure in what might be termed “Shakespearian” academia represented by the so called “orthodox Stratfordians”.
This would all be very amusing, were it not for the fact, that the myth has been shown again and again as being totally unfounded. The problem is however encapsulated in what the Oxfordian blogger William Ray writes, that: “This is one of the few instances where the artistic community is going to revolutionize the Western world’s educational system.” The challenge is that the film is being launched together with educational material targeting schools in the English-speaking world.
Judging by the “success” of the “Da Vinci Code” there is no doubt, that the initiative will be well received by any number of high-school teachers around the world. First of all it is an easy way out to show a film in class. Secondly it may be an outlet for those teachers who harbor grievances against Academia. Finally the idea that there was and is a conspiracy caters for the cheeky spirit of lazy undergraduates. It is really quite complicated to read the dramas of Shakespeare, let alone the sonnets. Changing focus from the texts to the biographical issue may present students with a welcome diversion.
Fueled by the film there is no doubt that the controversy about the authorship will play its part. Lumped together with creationism, climate denial and other idée fixes of the same order it fits the general mood.
Nevertheless one may hope that at least some of the filmgoers will take the time to delve into the very illuminating and funny book by James Shapiro, who in 2010 published the ultimate account of the deification of Shakespeare, the related forgeries and finally the development of the different conspiracies over time. Absolutely hilarious, well written and with much empathy it has been hailed as the “definitive treatment” of Oxfordian theory.
A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare. James Shapiro. HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The Lodger Shakespeare. His Life on Silver Street Charles Nicholl. Viking 2007.