inTouch: Movie Questions Authorship of Shakespeare’s Plays…The Studio Questions Movie’s Viability
I first heard theories that the plays of Shakespeare were authored by someone other than the man known as William Shakespeare when I was in high school (possibilities then included Sir Francis Bacon and Queen Elizabeth). For my classmates and me, it didn’t really matter who was the real author, we were still expected to read his plays. Not that I minded, I have a great appreciation for Will (if that is his real name…).
When I first saw a commercial for Anonymous, a movie that dramatizes the cover-up that allegedly let William Shakespeare take credit for plays he didn’t write, I was intrigued (tagline: “We’ve all been played”). Here was a racy-looking, sexed-up movie of conspiracy theories about a writer. How often does that happen? Still, I wondered just who was the movie’s intended audience…teens who might pay to see something scandalous about that dead British guy they’re forced to read in English class? Adult Shakespeare enthusiasts who are tired of stuffy stage productions and want to see swords and bodices fly?
Even though Sony Pictures decided at the last-minute to do a soft launch of Anonymous rather than the larger launch it had planned because surveys showed that it wouldn’t do well, the movie still got plenty of press. (And perhaps that is just what the studio wants since they feared no one would want to see a Shakespeare movie from the same guy who made Independence Day and 2012.)
I agree with Slate’s Ron Rosenbaum, “My position has always been that what matters is what Shakespeare wrote, not who he was.”
However, I can’t endorse or dispute Rosenbaum’s “10 Things I Hate About Anonymous” because I haven’t seen the movie. Given that politics seeps into every conversation now, Rosenbaum likens the Oxfordians (those who believe the Earl of Oxford is the true auteur of Shakespeare’s plays) to a “stupid Shakespearian birther cult.”
The Washington Post‘s Fiction Editor Ron Charles also examines the Oxfordian Theory and along with Rosenbaum, points out that the Earl of Oxford died before Shakespeare’s later plays were written and that the theory smacks of elitism, since some of the Oxfordian rationale rests on the notion that a non-aristocrat actor couldn’t have written with such authority.
I like that Charles uses the term “costume drama” to describe Anonymous because often movie makers just want to re-hash old plot devices with people in different clothes. The Post’s movie critic Ann Hornaday attests to this, calling the movie “a sort of ‘JFK’ for the 16th-century literary fringe” and warns moviegoers : “Don’t let the frilly costumes, courtly language and historical pretense fool you: ‘Anonymous’ is still a Roland Emmerich movie.”
A little mystery can be good, right? Writers from our times will leave long e-trails of their writing behind…for future scholars to say how can they really know who wrote what, even with logins and time stamps…
Since I wasn’t actually around back then, I can’t definitively say who wrote the plays and poems attributed to Shakespeare. Nor have I combed over old documents to find the kind convincing evidence that would make me take sides for or against the Oxfordians. What I do believe is the evidence that Shakespeare’s writing was influenced by older stories and plays. No matter who wrote them, those plays drew from other sources, as most texts do. And this is not to say they are not original or creative—their endurance is a testament to the author’s way with words.
Are you going to see Anonymous? Do you think it’s important to know if Shakespeare really wrote the plays that bear his name?