Anonymous – A few thoughts (they’re not written by me though)


I headed off to the cinema today to watch Anonymous. An Elizabethan yarn that seeks to present the idea that Shakespeare was a fraud.

It’s 2 hours of fun, some great performances and a few twists and turns that keep you guessing. All in all a fun period piece. I loved seeing the Elizabethan world brought to life. I also think it showed us powerfully the devious and scheming world of the Elizabethan Epoch. Also the power of the playwright is shown, do they still have this power?

What of its controversial premise though? Not surprisingly it goes to a rather extreme end of the debate, and paints a portrayal of Shakespeare as a crude and illiterate actor. The focus of this film though is very much on the Earl of Oxford – as it purports that he wrote the plays, as it follows closely the Prince Tudor Theory (itself a derivative of the Oxfordian theory). The film offers nothing new to the debate, but I’m sure has brought it to a wider audience. It certainly got me to revisit my tomes and references on the subject, and as I did my Shakespeare module 4 years ago at college, I’m a bit rusty on the bard.

To me it is a fascinating idea, I know many feel it is elitist to propose that Shakespeare wasn’t educated enough to write what he did, but for me that’s not been a problem, as it is unusual (not impossible I hasten to add!) that Shakespeare could write such wonderful works.

Personally, I think the truth probably lies somewhere between the two. The fact that as far as we know, Shakespeare never was imprisoned even though some of his plays were highly political has always bothered me. He certainly had friends in high places to avoid a stay in the Tower. Also I’m sure he must have been given suggestions and informed of the histories by someone more schooled than him. However as an actor, I think Shakespeare had a superb understanding of what makes good drama and great plays (with the exception of Hamlet 😉 ) . That’s what I feel he brought to the table. As stated on this blog previously, I’m sure he collaborated more than we’re aware, with other actors and playwrights. None of this is to denigrate his work, in fact I think that is the hallmark of a shrewd and wise writer.

I enjoyed it, it’s not convinced me that Shakespeare was a fraud, but it’s certainly brought the Oxfordian Theory debate into the 21st century, which I’m sure will annoy many who wished to consign it to the 20th!


4 thoughts on “Anonymous – A few thoughts (they’re not written by me though)

  1. I won’t bore you with why it obviously was Shakespeare who wrote the plays but just to pick up a few points. Firstly, I think we have a very different idea of what could get you locked up than was the reality (by “we” I mean “I”, of course). To this day I’m still mystified why anyone would watch Richard II and immediately want to go and kill the Queen. Intellectually I know why, but I always feel sorry for him at the end. And he knew how to play the censors, mainly by setting contentious plays long ago and far away. Honest guv.

    Talking of history, most of his sources came from Holinshed’s Chronicles, which is where some of the howlers came from (like Richard III, based on Thomas More’s very skewed account), though obviously with a huge dollop of sucking up to the Tudors.

    As for his schooling, probably the most enlightening book I’ve read on the subject is Park Honan’s biog of Marlowe. The first part describes what a grammar school education was like in those days – all Latin and rhetoric from dawn to dusk, so people who think a provincial education was comparable to a modern, well, whatever, are completely wrong.

  2. Thanks Anna,

    yes I think Shakespeare should get credit for playing the censors, as it is a marvel he got away with it! Kudos to him!

    I’m glad you mentioned Marlowe as that’s a whole other theory right there! I’ll look it up.

    The Hollinshed’s Chronicles, good point, forgotten about those.

    I think you’d enjoy it actually, yes it’s fiction, but it does bring that world alive.

    I suppose what I’d like to see is a proper film on Shakespeare, yes little is know, but we can piece together something that is at least more factual!

    Shakespeare and Co by Stanley Wells looks like my next Shakespearean read.

  3. The Marlowe theory was the first one I ever came across, and it’s quite entertaining in its way, though obviously complete rubbish. I agree, a decent film would be nice, though I believe Anonymous hasn’t done very well at the box office so it’d need to be pretty special to get backing.

    One thing I always remember about Shakespeare was that, then as now, London was multicultural, a vibrant port, and Shakespeare hung out in inns, no doubt soaking up the stories of foreign parts, which travellers probably glamourised. Also, some actors travelled abroad with their sponsor, for example some of his company had been to Elsinore before he wrote that Danish play. Also, one of his mates from Stratford was a London publisher, so he had access to a lot of new source material for picking over for ideas. He wasn’t living in a bubble.

    His “bit” in Thomas More (one speech, but very powerful in a mess of a written-by-committee play) is believed to be in his hand, and obviously there are signatures. Who knows why Anne didn’t keep any letters? I don’t know. Maybe his correspondence just wasn’t considered important enough to keep immediately following his death.

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