Saturday, October 29, 2011


If you've been on the internet at all lately, you have probably heard the buzz that is going on about the new Shakespeare movie. No, this is not a new adaption of one of his plays; and no, this movie isn't a straight up biopic of Shakespeare's life. It is a film that centers around the idea that Shakespeare never wrote any of the great plays that history has credited to him.

This is not a new idea, by any means. Scholars have been debating his authorship of what is arguably the single most important body of work in the English language. Any number of other Elizabethans have been suggested like Sir Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, William Stanley Earl of Derby, and (as in Anonymous) Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford. But though this idea has been bounced around for centuries, today's audience seems to be taking particular offense to it. In Warwickshire, England (Shakespeare's home turf), they have been temporarily covering Shakespeare's name on area signs to protest the film. Dr. Paul Edmondson of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust said "This film flies in the face of a mass of historical fact, but there is a risk that people who have never questioned the authorship of Shakespeare's works could be hoodwinked."

Ron Rosenbaum over at wrote an article describing the top 10 things he hated about the film. "The conspiracy theorists who waste time trying to browbeat the credulous into thinking that the works of William Shakespeare were actually ghostwritten by Someone Else (in "Anonymous", it’s the Earl of Oxford) can’t stop. They have invested too much of their lives in the chuckleheaded fantasy to give it up now, despite how ridiculous the film reveals it to be." The actors in the film insist that there should not be this sense of ownership over Shakespeare, but rather an appreciation for the works themselves, regardless of the author was.

So what is my take on all of this? I haven't seen the film (and it's not exactly at the top of my list), but I do have a few thoughts on the subject. First off, if you really think that the average Joe is going to start questioning Shakespeare's authorship based on a movie, you're crazy. The average Joe couldn't care less if these plays and poems were written by Shakespeare, the Earl of Oxford, or Dr. Seuss. And as with most conspiracy theories, this one will be accepted by some and ignored by the rest. Secondly, you have to remember this is Hollywood, and historical (or literary) fact is not their number one (two, three, four, etc.) priority. I used to spend a lot of time nitpicking films and getting mad if they didn't hold true to the original, but I've slowly been giving that up and simply taking film for what it is...entertainment. Finally, the actors in this film are right in a way. Ultimately, it doesn't matter who the author of these works was. The important thing is that they were written, and continue to enthrall, surprise, and teach us centuries later. Beowulf is no less important for our not knowing who the author was, and the same can hold true for Hamlet, The Tempest, and Richard III.

What do you think? Are people right to be upset? Is Shakespeare's authorship something that must be protected? Or is this all much ado about nothing?

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