As an English Literature graduate, I am fairly well acquainted with the man we know as William Shakespeare. But it wasn’t until I saw a student production of Much Ado About Nothing this Friday night that the curiosity got the better of me and I decided to see Roland Emmerich’s film Anonymous, which explores the alternative, and well known theory that the works of Shakespeare were not written by the man from Stratford.
Anonymous is written very much in the same vein as Shakespeare In Love, and it makes for great entertainment. We get to enjoy the excitement of the contemporary Globe experience, state of the art graphics depicting Elizabethan London, plenty of the ever present political intrigue, and I might add, a delightfully camp James I. The film depicts a plausible enough culture in which playwrights such as Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe and Shakespeare himself mingle as contemporaries, and become embroiled in the plot to present plays to the world, whilst concealing their true author – the Earl of Oxford, wonderfully played by Rhys Ifans. Unfortunately that was where my suspension of disbelief ran out. That the Earl was one of Elizabeth’s illegitimate sons, and that she also unwittingly fathered another child with him, is something I find a bit more difficult to believe (it’s all very Oedipal). The film descends into something of a romp through every Elizabethan rumour, myth and conspiracy, suggesting them all to be true, and offering a very warped history indeed. I feel that whilst alternative authorship theories can and should be examined, this somewhat indulgent film should be taken with a pinch of salt.
With regards the all star cast, Vanessa Redgrave will undoubtedly join the ranks of the great Hollywood portrayals of Queen Elizabeth I. She carries on the real personalism with which Cate Blanchett played the queen, but by playing her in much later life, she lets us see the old lady underneath the pomp and elaborate dress. Having her daughter Joely Richardson play the younger queen in flashbacks is a nice artistic touch from Emmerich.
I do not hold the strong opinions that many Shakespeare scholars do. I feel that so little is known about Shakespeare the man that his works are all we truly know and love him for. It would be no great loss to find out that that the real author was some other figure. Whether it was the Earl of Oxford, Francis Bacon, or indeed Elizabeth herself – the person who penned the plays is the true literary hero; the real Shakespeare. The man from Stratford may be a mere figure head – like the unknown soldier of literature. Irrespective of the authorship, the complete works still remain the finest pieces ever written in the English language, and that is something which can never be disproved.
Anonymous is at cinemas everywhere now.