Monday, October 17, 2011

“Anonymous”...a film not about Shakespeare but Edward de Vere

"Hollywood Dishonors the Bard"


James Shapiro

October 16, 2011

The New York Times

ROLAND EMMERICH’S film “Anonymous,” which opens next week, “presents a compelling portrait of Edward de Vere as the true author of Shakespeare’s plays.” That’s according to the lesson plans that Sony Pictures has been distributing to literature and history teachers in the hope of convincing students that Shakespeare was a fraud. A documentary by First Folio Pictures (of which Mr. Emmerich is president) will also be part of this campaign.

So much for “Hey, it’s just a movie!”

The case for Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, dates from 1920, when J. Thomas Looney, an English writer who loathed democracy and modernity, argued that only a worldly nobleman could have created such works of genius; Shakespeare, a glover’s son and money-lender, could never have done so. Looney also showed that episodes in de Vere’s life closely matched events in the plays. His theory has since attracted impressive supporters, including Sigmund Freud, the Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia and his former colleague John Paul Stevens, and now Mr. Emmerich.

But promoters of de Vere’s cause have a lot of evidence to explain away, including testimony of contemporary writers, court records and much else that confirms that Shakespeare wrote the works attributed to him. Meanwhile, not a shred of documentary evidence has ever been found that connects de Vere to any of the plays or poems. As for the argument that the plays rehearse the story of de Vere’s life: since the 1850s, when Shakespeare’s authorship was first questioned, the lives of 70 or so other candidates have also confidently been identified in them. Perhaps the greatest obstacle facing de Vere’s supporters is that he died in 1604, before 10 or so of Shakespeare’s plays were written.

“Anonymous” offers an ingenious way to circumvent such objections: there must have been a conspiracy to suppress the truth of de Vere’s authorship; the very absence of surviving evidence proves the case. In dramatizing this conspiracy, Mr. Emmerich has made a film for our time, in which claims based on conviction are as valid as those based on hard evidence. Indeed, Mr. Emmerich has treated fact-based arguments and the authorities who make them with suspicion. As he told an MTV interviewer last month when asked about the authorship question: “I think it’s not good to tell kids lies in school.”

The most troubling thing about “Anonymous” is not that it turns Shakespeare into an illiterate money-grubber. It’s not even that England’s virgin Queen Elizabeth is turned into a wantonly promiscuous woman who is revealed to be both the lover and mother of de Vere. Rather, it’s that in making the case for de Vere, the film turns great plays into propaganda.

In the film de Vere is presented as a child prodigy, writing and starring in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in 1559 at the age of 9. He only truly finds his calling nearly 40 years later after visiting a public theater for the first time and seeing how easily thousands of spectators might be swayed. He applauds his art’s propagandistic impact at a performance of “Henry V” that so riles the patriotic mob that actors playing the French are physically assaulted. He vilifies a political foe in “Hamlet,” and stages “Richard III” to win the crowd’s support for rebellious aristocrats.

De Vere is clear in the film about his objectives: “all art is political ... otherwise it is just decoration.” Sony Pictures’ study guide is keen to reinforce this reductive view of what the plays are about, encouraging students to search Shakespeare’s works for “messages that may have been included as propaganda and considered seditious.” A more fitting title for the film might have been “Triumph of the Earl.”

In offering this portrait of the artist, “Anonymous” weds Looney’s class-obsessed arguments to the political motives supplied by later de Vere advocates, who claimed that de Vere was Elizabeth’s illegitimate son and therefore the rightful heir to the English throne. By bringing this unsubstantiated version of history to the screen, a lot of facts — theatrical and political — are trampled.

Supporters of de Vere’s candidacy who have awaited this film with excitement may come to regret it, for “Anonymous” shows, quite devastatingly, how high a price they must pay to unseat Shakespeare. Why anyone is drawn to de Vere’s cause is the real mystery, one not so easily solved as who was the true author of Shakespeare’s plays.

[James Shapiro, a professor of English at Columbia, is the author of “Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?”]

"Anonymous – review"

The shock in this exposé of the Bard is that it's rather good


Damon Wise

September 9th, 2011

The Guardian

The last time Derek Jacobi appeared in a movie with a literary bent it was a year ago in Clint Eastwood's dreadful life-after-death drama Hereafter, where he cameoed as himself, to the delight of Matt Damon's Dickens fan – a man who loved the novels so much he listened only to the audio versions. Jacobi's appearance at the beginning of this stunningly-designed takedown of the Bard – directed by the man behind Independence Day and Godzilla – might therefore be taken by some as a signal to leave the cinema immediately.

But Roland Emmerich's meticulously crafted and often well-acted exposé of the "real" William Shakespeare is shocking only in that it is rather good.

The problem is that Emmerich seems so determined to prove himself as a serious director his film drowns in exposition. There is no Hollywood-style crawl to explain the year or characters; instead, after a short preamble by Jacobi, disputing not only the existence of Shakespeare but his ability to have written the works, the story throws us into the deep end, with a cornered Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto) arrested by guards in the Globe Theatre.

At first, the film appears to suggest the unmasking of Shakespeare will have more to do with communal effort than anything, since John Orloff's script is heavy in confusing plotlines. Jonson is in a coterie of struggling writers, including one Kit Marlowe (Trystan Gravelle), who, at the theatre, encounter an amazing play seeming to have no author. It is a riotous success; so much so that the police arrive and close it for being seditious. More plays follow. But nobody except Jonson seems to notice the attention paid to these stagings by the suave, aloof Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans), who looks down from the balcony in a reverie.

Emmerich's film plays its hand early by having Oxford summon Jonson to his estate, where he offers him money to be a front for plays he has been secretly writing. Jonson turns him down, but the role is filled by a jobbing actor named William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall), a drunken buffoon who staggers onstage to take the credit simply because nobody else will. Oxford is appalled. "An actor!" he laments. "An actor, for God's sake!" But Shakespeare it is, and Oxford continues to launder his material through this semi-literate idiot.

The politics of the late 17th century comes heavily to play, most of it retrofitted to match the theory. But beneath the CG and bombast there is a very enjoyable film. Emmerich vividly portrays Elizabethan audiences and their visceral appreciation of the plays put before them.

More importantly, he draws on the Queen's own fascination with dramaturgy and poetry, which allows the film to dwell rather interestingly on the connection between art and politics ("All art is political, otherwise it would just be decoration," snaps Oxford). And most fittingly for a play about such great works, there are some wonderful performances too, despite the unengaging leads.

Edward Hogg as the Queen's adviser is a standout, and Vanessa Redgrave makes an eminently awards-worthy Elizabeth. Best of all, though, are the snippets of the Mark Rylance (former artistic director of the modern Globe) as a jobbing actor bringing Oxford/Shakespeare's work to life. Its a testament to Emmerich's cluttered but sincere film that, at the heart of all the flash and filigree, the play really is the thing.

Anonymous [Wikipedia]

Shakespeare, astronomy, Thomas Digges, Giordano Bruno, "Hamlet", and more

William Shakespeare...if you are lost for words of affection
"Cardenio"...the lost Shakesperean play?

Grizzly happenings on stage..."Titus Andronicus"

1 comment:

Holger said...

For your consideration: a more in-depth review of Anonymous, much more in line with Prof. Shapiro's response than the Guardian's: