The Playgoer: Shakespeare Conspiracy Action Flick Hits the Screens...and the Schools

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Shakespeare Conspiracy Action Flick Hits the Screens...and the Schools

The Shakespeare-denying swashbuckler Anonymous, certainly Hollywood's oddest premise for an action flick in ages, is about to open wide and thankfully some scholars are getting out there to stop the bullshit.

James Shapiro continues his crusade against such pseudo-academic misinformation in yesterday's Times, drawing attention to the potential wide reach of the film's message beyond the cinema:

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!” 
Daily Beast's Chris Lee has more:
The studio (Sony) plans to concurrently release Last Will. & Testament, a documentary about the authorship debate, through First Folio Pictures (a production shingle whose president is none other than Roland Emmerich) and has been providing materials to educators that encourage teachers to “make this thought-provoking new film part of your class plan.” 
Yes, and make your class part of our subsidiary box office profits!
A corporate spokesman for Sony responded to a request for information about the scope of its marketing push into schools with a statement: “The objective for our Anonymous program, as stated in the classroom literature, is ‘to encourage critical thinking by challenging students to examine the theories about the authorship of Shakespeare’s works and to formulate their own opinions.’ The study guide does not state that Edward de Vere is the writer of Shakespeare’s work, but it does pose the authorship question which has been debated by [wackjobs] [armchair historians] scholars for decades."
In other words..."teach the controversy."

Remember this next time you hear about "privatizing" education.

Last word goes to Prof. Simon Schama:
None of [the controversy] would matter very much were there not something repellent at the heart of the theory, and that something is the toad, snobbery—the engine that drives the Oxfordian case against the son of the Stratford glover John Shakespeare. John was indeed illiterate. But his son was not, as we know incontrovertibly from no fewer than six surviving signatures in Shakespeare’s own flowing hand, the first from 1612, when he was giving evidence in a domestic lawsuit.
The Earl of Oxford was learned and, by reports, witty. But publicity -materials for Anonymous say that Shakespeare by comparison went to a mere "village school" and so could hardly have compared with the cultural richness imbibed by Oxford. The hell he couldn’t! Stratford was no "village," and the "grammar school," which means elementary education in America, was in fact a cradle of serious classical learning in Elizabethan England. By the time he was 13 or so, Shakespeare would have read (in Latin) works by Terence, Plautus, Virgil, Erasmus, Cicero, and probably Plutarch and Livy too. One of the great stories of the age was what such schooling did for boys of humble birth.
Yes, it's called Renaissance Humanism. Look it up.

Just to be clear, I am not very disturbed that some Hollywood schlockmeisters want to attempt some highbrow genre picture. Movies spread all kinds of nutty theories (from JFK to The DaVinci Code) and we've survived.  But I'm with Shapiro on the schools thing. Again, not that I blame Sony for trying. But beware if desperate and/or gullible teachers or principals take them up on their revisionist product placement scheme.


Anonymous said...

What a disgrace - anyone who's studied this issue at all knows that real author of the plays was Christopher Marlowe.

D said...

This is from a thread on my Facebook page about the issue:

What I love about these conspiracies about Who Wrote Shakespeare Actually, For Real is that they never factor in the one element that really matters: The unaccountable fluke of talent. A middle-class country boy with a decent education with a phenomenal, intuitive grasp of language, the slipperiness of meaning and sound, a natural affinity for moral ambiguity, a tragicomic sense of reality and an ability to make the cognitive leap from the quotidian to the cosmic. Not to mention an obsessive collector or words and inventor of new ones.

Where's the Talent Conspiracy?

David Cote said...

Hey, sorry but I hit return too fast. D is me, David Cote.

Alisa said...

What I like best about Jim Shapiro's piece is his linking of pushing this debate into schools to today's fact-optional discourse. Note the use of the world 'opinion' in the material you quote, PG: everyone is entitled to an "opinion" and some sophistry to back it up; never mind considered judgment and the preponderance of evidence. This is the literary equivalent of climate-change denial and the conspiracy-theorist in me almost smells a plot.

Playgoer said...

So "D" is David Cote, eh? You sure it's not for...DeVere???

Daniel Pinkerton said...

DeVere wrote his own plays under his own name, and though none have survived, they were praised and frequently performed during his lifetime (particularly the comedies). Why would he want to pretend to be Shakespeare? And the historical record is full of contemporaries who both praised (Jonson) and attacked (Greene) Shakespeare. These people could not all have been part of a gigantic hoax. Honestly -- if there's anything worse than a wingnut, it's a pretentious, snobbish wingnut.

Anka said...

Playgoer, you've got it bass-ackwards. It's the Oxfordian scholars who have been trying to stop the Stratfordian bullshit for decades.

Alice Eaton said...

Why are Shapiro et al. so afraid of this idea being discussed in schools? Probably because it has legs. It is not pseudo-scholarship; quite the contrary, it is quite rigorous and hefty. The film takes liberties, but the Oxfordian scholarship is quite substantial. If the Stratford theory were ironclad, then other theories would not arise. But the Stratford story is full of holes, so natural curiosity leads doubters to other explanation for the person who wrote this incomparable body of work. Genius is great, but exposure to the vast array of ideas in the Shakespeare canon is needed to create that canon, and it is hard to believe, for many people, including Mark Twian, Sigmund Freud, Walt Whitman, and many others, that Will of Stratford had that exposure. What amazes me is the fear of Shapiro and others that the Stratford story will be tainted somehow by looking at other theories. What happened to a free and open, democratic discourse in academia?

Seattle Shakespeare Oxford Society said...

The biography of William Shakspere, or Edward de Vere, or any of the other possible candidates is a historical question, not just a literary one. The question of the authorship of Shakespeare's works needs to be decided using historical methods. We need to do research, analyze, and argue. Those arguments need to be based on evidence. There are legitimate questions about the authorship of "Shake-Speare's" works. Why don't we just look at the evidence. In fact, nobody knows what happened. Nobody knows how these works got written. But a lot of interesting research is being done, although the subject is still taboo. What's wrong with a critical look at the evidence. The only people who don't want to do that are the ones who aren't happy with their evidence.

Williecouldntread said...

Once again the Shapiro minions in the media trying to shut down discussion because of fear that his (Shapiro et al) life's work is all wrong and has been in vain. THATS what this is about...fear. When you know you are right you have no fear. When you think you might be wrong you shut things down like a frightened preacher.

cgeye said...

Whoa. A whole new level of troll.

I wonder whether La Rouche is backing this....

John Branch said...

Some late remarks:

1: We've had truthers and birthers. It'd be nice to have a better term for the Oxfordians, but today I'm not up to thinking of one.

2: May we not suspect something in the air (or the water--maybe it's fluoride) that leads us increasingly toward these every-man-his-own-truth theories? It's a trend over a broad swathe of history, from, say, the revealed truth of the Christian church to the relativized truth of social constructivists, etc.

3: Talking about the film feeds the interest (the "controversy" as some would like to call it). Therein lies a dilemma: not talking about it may pave the way for easier acceptance.

4: I'd still rather see another production of Amy Freed's The Beard of Avon than this film. Except for one thing: the lighting and lighting. (Detailed account of its digital cinematography and candlelit scenes at