Wrong With Authority, Episode 9 – ‘Anonymous’
This time, Jack indulges his unhealthy obsession with Anti-Stratfordianism, and forces James, Kit, and Daniel to watch Roland Emmerich’s 2011 self-funded passion-project Anonymous.
Anonymous; 2011; d. Roland Emmerich; w. John Orloff; starring Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, Joely Richardson, David Thewlis, Rafe Spall, Jamie Campbell Bower, Mark Rylance, and Derek Jacobi; distributed by Columbia Pictures.
It lost about 15 million dollars.
Based on the wackiest version of the longstanding conspiracy theory that the plays of Shakespeare were secretly written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, Anonymous is both less entertaining and less plausible than the rest of Emmerich’s films, including the ones about aliens and giant lizards.
It was ‘controversial’ at the time, in the sense that everyone who knew anything about Shakespeare both ridiculed and denounced it, especially its attempts to market itself via ‘information packs’ provided to schools.
In the process of telling his dreary, plotless, and confusing shaggy dog story, Emmerich encourages some of the finest Shakespearean actors of our time to make utter fools of themselves. Not that some of them need all that much encouragement. The whole thing manages to be simultaneously totally insane, quasi-fascistic, and profoundly dull… which is quite a feat, in its way.
None of us were terribly impressed, it’s fair to say. But, in between Jack galloping off on his hobby horse for uncomfortably long stretches of time, we also delve into some of the interesting history and politics concerning Shakespeare, Anti-Statfordianism, and conspiracy theories generally.
Jack has written a lot about Shakespeare in general here.
Here are some books which are either about, or touch on, this issue:
The Genius of Shakespeare by Jonathan Bate. Has an entire fascinating chapter on the ‘Authorship Controversy’. The rest of the book is periodically excellent too.
Contested Will by James Shapiro. Brilliantly discusses the ‘Authorship Question’, not so much in terms of its actual claims (though Shapiro does address them) but rather as a phenomenon in itself, populated by fascinating people and deserving of study in its own right. Shapiro develops many insights about scholarship, history, literature, and politics.
Shakespeare, In Fact by Irvin Leigh Matus. A legendary work of factual analysis. Forensic, witty, and merciless.
Here’s the Bill Bryson book James refers too. Boasts an amusingly irritated final chapter on the ‘Authorship Question’.
Shakespeare Beyond Doubt, Eds. Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson. A compendium of essays commissioned by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust as part of their assertive response to Anonymous. Scholar after scholar examines every aspect of the issue. The definitive single-volume demolition.
The SBT also created this bite-size pamphlet – Shakespeare Bites Back: Not So Anymous – summarizing the main issues at stake. Free to download here.
Speaking of online resources, here’s the Shakespeare Authorship Page. Lots of links to lots of articles and essays.
The lecture excerpted in the podcast is part of a series by eloquent Shakespeare scholar and former actor Peter Saccio. Here’s the full section from which the excerpt is taken.
Leaving sanity behind, here’s the infamous Frontline documentary to which Daniel refers.
(Be aware, anything and everything about Shakespeare on YouTube is infested with Anti-Strats peddling their bile and bibble.)
July 14, 2018 @ 11:28 am
Kyle Kallgren did a great video essay on this topic for one of his Shakespeare months and covered a lot of similar ground, very informative.
That said, the idea of a Forrest Gump-esque comedy about a bumbling fraud being set up to play the role of Shakespeare is incredibly, intensely enjoyable. I would totally watch that movie.
July 14, 2018 @ 12:12 pm
I found Bryson’s book very amusing, as his work usually is. He makes a very common sense point that that the we know very little about most average people in the the Tudor/Stuart period. The only reason we have the six signatures and a cross-reference to, say, the Mountjoy case, is because of obsessive research. We have equally as many gaps for Greene, Jonson and most of the King’s men. Far fewer modern writers feel the need to make Jonson a subject of conspiracy theories. Marlowe comes close, but let’s be honest, fewer people know who he was.
I find it fascinating that the true authorship question even exists. One guy, about whom we know frustratingly little except a body of plays and poetry, “obviously” couldn’t be the author. It must have been some other guy about whom we know very little. Except, usually, that the other guy was posh. The fact that anyone cares enough to make a case at all is snobbery writ large, a belief that a middle-class bloke of average means from a Midlands market town obviously could not be a poetic talent.
(I claim no special knowledge in this area.)
July 14, 2018 @ 11:37 pm
The amusing thing about anti-Stratfordians compared to most other flavors of truther is that they invert the usual dynamic of the popular conspiracy theory. Usually it’s the Man (the Jews, if it’s a right wing conspiracy theory) who are pulling the wool over our eyes, trying to keep us down by hiding the truth. But for anti-Stratfordians, the Man is (for the first and only time in all of history) being unfairly denied credit for something by a commoner. We are the ones keeping the Man down. (Or, in the versions where [Insert Favored Author Here] is himself responsible for the deception, the Man did a jolly good job of tricking us plebs and we should all applaud his noble and modest act).
Of course, that doesn’t make for a very good underdog story, so there’s also a conspiracy of well-heeled academia who willfully refuse to see the truth.
July 16, 2018 @ 3:33 pm
My favourite aspect of anti-Strat silliness is the self-collapsing logic of the basic premise: “This lowly yokel had none of the right educational credentials to have written these erudite plays, so therefore someone must have chosen him as a suitable front-man to pretend to have written them!”
Truth is often stranger than fiction, whereas a con has to be plausible.
July 28, 2018 @ 10:37 am
hadn’t gotten around to listening to your podcast yet, but I will now. One of the things that made me laugh out loud (in shock!) was the fact the film-makers had seen it as necessary to get Derek Jacobi speechifying to us about the ‘reality’ of things – I had until then no idea he was an anti-Stratfordian and it did have the effect of undermining my love for him a bit.