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Emmerich’s Anonymous: Earl of Oxford Was the Real Shakespeare

Posted on the 26 October 2011 by Periscope @periscopepost
Elizabeth gets down and dirty with the Earl of Oxford in 'Anonymous', a film that puts Oxford as the author of Shakespeare's work. Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Entertainment

Elizabeth gets down and dirty with the Earl of Oxford in 'Anonymous', a film that puts Oxford as the author of Shakespeare's work. Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Entertainment

There have been various far-flung theories that attribute the work of William Shakespeare to people other than the bard from Stratford. People have claimed Shakespeare was actually (among others) Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon, Queen Elizabeth I and the Earl of Oxford, Edmund de Vere. Belief in the last of these as the author of Shakespeare’s plays has given rise to the fanatical “Oxfordian” school of thought (see message boards, conspiracy books and threats against eminent Shakespearian professors everywhere), which counts Sigmund Freud and Orson Welles in its legions. Seeing themselves as lone wolves in a sea of ignorance, they insist that the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare’s plays. Now there’s a movie backing the Oxfordian viewpoint.

Roland Emmerich-directed Anonymous starts with the eminent Shakespearian actor Sir Derek Jacobi informing us that Shakespeare never wrote his own plays before whirling us back to the 17th Century where a beleaguered Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto) is cornered by guards trying to burn down the Globe theatre and questioned by Robert Cecil (Edward Hogg), an agent of Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave). Through much intrigue and retro-fitted history, we learn that the Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans) penned the plays, that they were enjoyed by Elizabeth, and then attributed to an illiterate drunkard, William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall), though Jonson also tries to claim that he has written them. The film has provoked minor outrage in Shakespeare’s native Stratford-upon-Avon and Paul Edmonson in The Guardian’s Theatre Blog has insisted that “there is not a shred of evidence for the Earl of Oxford’s nomination” and that it is provoked by “an unattractive mix of ignorance, jealousy, snobbery, and intellectual theft.” But what about the movie — is it actually any good?

‘Rather good’Though Damon Wise gave the film a modest three stars in The Guardian, he heaped praise on Emmerich’s movie — he says it’s “meticulously crafted and often well-acted”, and praised Redgrave especially. Sure, Wise conceded, the script is “heavy in confusing plotlines”, but the film is “sincere.”

Beautiful, well-acted but woefully historically inaccurate. The setting “feels absolutely right” claimed Kirk Honeycutt in The Hollywood Reporter, who saluted the “superb” acting. Despite the “glorious fun” he had while watching the movie, he did become a little vexed with the constant historical gaffes.

Very well acted but lacking in plot. “The film as whole isn’t as interesting” as the theory adjudged Variety’s Robert Koehler, who also praised the performances by Redgrave, Ifans and all the supporting actors. However, Koehler found the music underwhelming, was bothered by the constant switches and found the Shakespeare-Jonson argument is “tiresome”.

The Oxford theory is ridiculous, as is the film. The New Yorker’s David Denby criticised the confusing plot, but was annoyed above all by the theory behind the film. A film with such a terrible premise just can’t be good opined Denby: “the more far-fetched the idea, it seems, the more strenuous the effort to pass it off as authentic”.

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