In case you haven’t seen this, there is a nice Wikipedia entry about the forthcoming Roland Emmerich film — Anonymous. The article states right at the beginning that the film presents Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, as the true author behind the Shakespeare works.
Here’s how the Wikipedia article begins:
Anonymous is a political thriller which also involves the question of who actually wrote the plays of William Shakespeare. It follows Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans), and is set against the backdrop of the succession of Queen Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave) and the Essex Rebellion against her.
The section about the Controversy is interesting highlighting how James Shapiro really misrepresents in an op-ed piece the positions taken by three U.S. Supreme Court Justices at the famous 1987 moot court case on the Shakespeare authorship question. It’s worth pasting below this section from the Wikipedia article. Note especially the quote from Sir Derek Jacobi, who plays the narrator of Anonymous: ” I’m on the side of those who do not believe that the man from Stratford-upon-Avon wrote the plays. I think the name was a pseudonym, certainly. [Anonymous] puts the authorship question firmly and squarely on the big screen. It’s a very risky thing to do, and obviously the orthodox Stratfordians are going to be apoplectic with rage.”
It is rather sad, if you think about it, that Stratfordians would react that way. It makes it sound as if the Stratfordian position is something akin to a religious faith which does not tolerate any dissent or “heretical” thinking. Having a faith-based attachment to the Stratfordian position makes it very difficult for new information to seep into the barricades that have been erected to protect against (or silence) any opposing views.
Here’s a link to the full Wikipedia entry … followed by an excerpt from the article that deals with Shapiro’s mischaracterization of the position taken by the three Justices. The Emmerich film may not capture the whole truth of the Shakespeare authorship question but I am hopeful that this film will open people’s minds to the possibility that there is something rotten in the state of Stratfordian scholarship and that the case for Oxford’s authorship should not be lightly or cavalierly dismissed.
In response to the inception of the film, James Shapiro, Columbia University English professor and author of Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?, wrote an April 11, 2010 op-ed article in the Los Angeles Times titled “Alas, Poor Shakespeare.” He acknowledged recent substantial worldwide support for Oxfordian theory, including three Supreme Court Justices quoted in a 2009 Wall Street Journal article. Shapiro said that 25 years ago, support for Oxfordian theory was not strong, and that in a celebrated moot court in 1987, Supreme Court Justices John Paul Stevens, Harry Blackmun and William Brennan had “ruled unanimously in favor of Shakespeare and against the Earl of Oxford.” Shapiro calls Oxfordian theory “conspiracy theory,” and argued further against Anoynmous in an April 2010 Wall Street Journal interview.
In screenwriter John Orloff‘s published response in the Los Angeles Times, he said “Shapiro has, at best, oversimplified the facts.” He responded to Shapiro’s characterization of the original 1987 moot court decision by saying:
- In fact, Brennan, the senior justice on the case, did not rule on whether Shakespeare actually wrote the plays; he simply ruled that the Earl of Oxford did not meet the burden of proof required under the law.
- Blackmun agreed, but then added, “That’s the legal answer. Whether it is the correct one causes me greater doubt” (emphasis mine).
- Stevens went even further, saying: “I have lingering concerns. . . . You can’t help but have these gnawing doubts that this great author may perhaps have been someone else. . . . I would tend to draw the inference that the author of these plays was a nobleman. . . . There is a high probability that it was Edward de Vere [the Earl of Oxford].”
- I would hardly characterize these as opinions “unanimously for Shakespeare and against the Earl of Oxford.
In a June 2010 post-filming interview with the Washington Post, Derek Jacobi, who plays the Narrator of Anonymous, noted that he is not neutral in the Shakespeare authorship debate. “I’m on the side of those who do not believe that the man from Stratford-upon-Avon wrote the plays. I think the name was a pseudonym, certainly. [Anonymous] puts the authorship question firmly and squarely on the big screen. It’s a very risky thing to do, and obviously the orthodox Stratfordians are going to be apoplectic with rage.”