I have resisted writing about the movie Anonymous after my friend Connie
Ogle, critic extraordinaire at the Miami Herald, warned that it might make my head
explode. Resisted, that is, until today.
Connie already knew how strong is my belief that none other than Will Shakespeare
wrote the plays attributed to his name, and that any other notion is a farrago of
anti-democratic snobbery and lunatic conspiracy mongering.
But my indignation tugs me by the hand, like a persistent child, into the discussion.
Anonymous, in case you don’t yet know, is a movie dramatizing the
Oxfordian hypothesis, which postulates that Shakespeare was slipped the plays by
their real author, the suave yet haunted Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere.
Just writing these words makes me itch all over. I have no intention of seeing
Anonymous, for the same reason Thomas Monson, president of the Mormon
Church, has politely declined to attend the irreverent Broadway smash,
Book of Mormom:
No matter how good it is, its very premise offends my sensibilities and assaults
my understanding of life, literature, and what makes the universe spin.
But of course, while Book of Mormon is written by those witty rascals behind
South Park and may actually merit the critics’ raves, Anonymous is
the work of Roland Emmerich, the auteur who gave us such cinematic monuments as
Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, and 10,000 BC.
Besides, I could not possibly surpass movie critic A.O. Scott, whose
New York Times
review begins, “Anonymous, a costume spectacle
directed by Roland Emmerich, from a script by John Orloff, is a vulgar prank on
the English literary tradition, a travesty of British history and a brutal insult
to the human imagination. Apart from that, it’s not bad.”
Likewise I leave the finer details of the pro-Will argument to wiser heads, such
James Shapiro and Hillary Mantel, whom I wrote about last year.
Let me give the opposition its due: The aforementioned Ms. Ogle has an admirably
in a recent edition of the Herald, wherein she gives equal time to the
thoughts and comments of Roland Emmerich, the hack filmmaker, and James Shapiro,
the distinguished popularizer of Shakespearean studies.
Furthermore, allow me to refer you to
the Huffington Post,
where John Orloff, Emmerich’s screenwriter on Anonymous, makes a
cogent presentation of the Oxfordian argument.
Telegraph, you can find a pithy examination of the various major
Anti-Stratfordian theories. Yes, dear reader, the Earl of Oxford is not the only
candidate identified by literary snobs who cannot abide the idea a proletarian
actor wrote the plays of Shakespeare.
Finally, I recommend Hoyt Hilsman’s
HuffPo essay championing
the Christopher Marlowe theory, on the excellent grounds that “it makes
the best story. If you are going for fictional intrigue, I say, choose the best
The most offensive of the Anti-Stratfordian arguments, the one that raises my blood
pressure and forced the writing of this column, is the one that says, with a
condescending chuckle, that a provincial thespian like Will Shakespeare, with the
benefit of only an elementary school eduction—at best—could not possibly
know all the things that are in the plays.
The plays, therefore, must have been composed, cough-cough, by someone with the
advantages of an aristocratic classical education, like, say, the Earl of Oxford.
This is rank snobbery, expressing a kind of classism I would have thought went out
of style, at least in this country, circa 1776. It does not account for
autodidacticism—self-education through reading (the best kind!)—and
even more outrageously, it does not account for genius.
Supremely well-educated men and woman, I cannot help but mention, fail to write
great works of literature in every generation. Genius, by contrast, flourishes where
I suppose Emmerich’s next film may show how Lincoln, born in a log cabin and
given scant education, could not possibly have saved the Union, freed the slaves
or written the Gettysburg address. It must have been William Seward, on the sly
for some reason.
Or Sam Clemens—how could this untutored frontier newspaper reporter have
written the books of Mark Twain? It must have been William Dean Howells (although
he didn’t have much formal learnin’, either).
Or Arthur Rimbaud—surely this unruly adolescent could not have written the
poetic masterpieces that altered French literature and helped found modernism by
the age of 19, after which he wrote nothing more. No, it must have been his lover/mentor,
In the end, the only good thing that can come out of Anonymous is that
it’s so wretched, like The Day After Tomorrow, which set the cause
of global warming back at least a quarter century, that it destroys rather than
advances its own thesis. Shapiro certainly thinks that’s the case.
“I’m jealous in a way,” Shapiro joked with Connie Ogle. “The
movie makes the case that scholars have tried to make for years. There will be conspiracy
theorists who will claim I’m behind this film to hurt the cause.”
Open Page (28 October 2011)
fell in love with reading in the first grade because he wanted to learn about
dinosaurs, little suspecting he would become one himself. After many years as a
print journalist, including two decades as the book review editor and senior
entertainment columnist for the Sun-Sentinel newspaper in Fort Lauderdale,
Fla., he was summarily tossed overboard when original arts reporting was suddenly
deemed a superfluous luxury.
Today, when he’s not gnashing his teeth over the rise of digital technology,
he works as a freelance journalist and ghost writer in South Florida. He’s
about to start on his fourth pseudonymous book in three years, none of which you
are likely to have heard of. In his spare time he thanks God he’s not yet
a greeter at Wal-Mart.
Open Page blog