The most tragicall comedie or comicall tragedie of Anonymous

Globe interior - gorgeous

I’m a Stratfordian, which means that I have no doubt that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare: Occam’s Razor – there is no reason to question it. But I have to say, some time back there was a PBS presentation outlining the claim that Edward de Vere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, actually wrote the works attributed to one William Shakespeare, and that said Will was merely an actor plucked from the ranks to provide a face, an embodiment for the noble who had to remain (wait for it -) anonymous. It was most diverting. I enjoyed the argument – it was fun. It was all hooey, but it was fun. People have devoted years, if not lifetimes, to winnowing out references in the plays and poems which tie directly to Edward, and there’s an impressive dossier.

Of course, people have also devoted years, if not lifetimes, to “proving” that the plays and poems were actually written by Ben Jonson. Or Queen Elizabeth. Or, for all I know, the same aliens which built the pyramids.

As I said, though, the Oxfordian theory as presented there was very entertaining.

This flick had little to do with the Oxfordian theory. Truly, not a single piece of evidence that actually made me think was in evidence here. And, in fact, this was not an example of Oxfordian theory, I was surprised to discover. Apparently, within the discredited fringe group of Oxfordians there is a sect that is fringe to the fringe, discredited among even Oxfordians, who espouse something called the Tudor Prince – or Tudor Rose – theory. That was what this was. It leapfrogged directly over eccentric into lunatic.

I will say in all fairness that it was beautifully filmed. The long shots of London – the Globe, London Bridge, Elizabeth’s funeral – were stunning; that would have been worth seeing on the big screen if I’d been willing to pay money to see this. The costumes were wonderful; the sets were gorgeous; many of the actors were excellent. I did enjoy the depiction of the plays being first seen by an audience; whoever those behind the film think actually was the Bard, Bardolatry is alive and well in this movie.

Cinematography, costuming, art direction, Sebastian Armesto, Bardolatry … Yes, I think that’s all the good I have to say about this. For the rest, I have the notes I made as I was watching it.

He wrote. Midsummer. At the age. Of 12.

Bol – er. The word I actually used at the time is considered pretty rude, especially in England (which was why I used it at the time), so I will look to the late great Colonel Sherman T. Potter for help. So: Horse hockey.

“One of Elizabeth’s bastards” – “We must do as we have done before” …

Buffalo chips.

De Vere pulls Henry V off his shelf, then Julius Caesar, and Macbeth (!), and finally decides to give Jonson Romeo & Juliet as the first play – he has just finished Twelfth Night.

Bull cookies. (There is ample evidence that Macbeth was written specifically for James I.)

A Tudor mosh pit?

Sweet Nefertiti. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to cry or vomit at that moment…

A death behind the arras.

Pony pucks.

Will. Shakespeare. Killed. Kit. Marlowe.

That’s the funniest, most outrageously silly thing this piece of … work has propounded yet.

And at the end of the film the audience for the bookending production departs without a single pair of hands meeting in applause. Appropriate.

As an aside: I am extremely disappointed in Sir Derek Jacobi. The man who gave the world, among many others, my favorite Hamlet should not have deigned to be involved in this mess. And, too, if the complete lack of respect he was shown backstage is remotely realistic I’m appalled.

There are so many avenues I could chase down to demolish this movie – the fact that Ben Jonson wasn’t spending all his time hanging out at the Globe trying to sell Heminges his work, that there never was a slaughter of civilians on London Bridge (afaik), and – most glaring to me – that Kit Marlowe was not found in an alley … There are, in fact, so many that it’s hardly even worth it (but you know I’m going to touch on a few anyhow). That this was going to be a mare’s nest I knew going in. That in addition to a feeble attempt to discredit the historical Shakespeare it was going to be such a hash of misinformation about – to use their word – irrefutable history … I just don’t understand the intention behind the movie. It wasn’t historical. It wasn’t an exposé. It was, in some ways, a political drama, but about some alternate world – does that make it a fantasy movie? How can this be taken seriously as anything but pure comedy when it is so very wrong about so very many things (and when it goes so far over the top in depicting the actor Shakespeare as a stupid greedy sot)? I’m not even remotely a Shakespeare or Renaissance scholar, merely an enthusiast – I prefer the title “geek” (A, not The).  And all I can think is … if I knew as I watched that so many things were dead wrong and within an hour of the movie’s ending through very basic research that so many more were off, how must actual scholars have felt? There must have been heads exploding in theatres internationally – not because of the nutty “Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare” nonsense, but because of things like seeing de Vere’s wife Anne, nee Cecil, throwing Ben Jonson out of their house after de Vere’s death – when Anne died sixteen years before de Vere.

A few more, which I either knew or found out within about an hour’s light research (meaning mostly Wikipedia):

It’s highly doubtful that de Vere was spending so much time hanging out watching the Lord Chamberlain’s Men when he had his own company of players, Oxford’s Men.

It’s highly doubtful that Ben Jonson was spending so much time hanging out watching the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, as he was usually writing for – and occasionally acting for – the Admiral’s Men at the Rose.

Thomas Nashe (here seen as the stout mug-bearing companion of Ben Jonson) might still have been alive to be hanging out at the Globe to see this purported Richard III, but probably not, since he died in 1601 at the latest and Essex (who did not, by the way, surrender in the palace courtyard) was executed in February of 1601.

Henry V - Bard-love

It’s highly doubtful that Thomas Dekker (here seen as the skinny red-headed companion of Jonson) was hanging out watching the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, especially later since he and Jonson hated each other, and he also was mostly working with the Lord Admiral’s Men.

Kit Marlowe, wherever he was hanging out before his death, was not found in an alley. He was killed, irrefutably by Ingram Frizer, irrefutably in a house in Deptford, and was not ever dumped in an alley for the peasantry to find, buzzing with flies. The background of his murder is in dispute, but the facts, for once, are not.

Oh, and that fellow Essex killed through the arras? From a thoroughly documented and well-written article on Wikipedia:

On 23 July 1567 the seventeen-year-old Oxford killed Thomas Brincknell, an under-cook in the Cecil household, while practising fencing with Edward Baynham, a Westminster tailor, in the backyard of Cecil House in the Strand. At the coroner’s inquest held the following day, the 17 jurymen, one of whom was Oxford’s servant, and another identified as Cecil’s protégé the future historian Raphael Holinshed, found that Brincknell was drunk and instigated by the devil when he ran upon de Vere’s foil, causing his own death. Cecil later recalled that he attempted to have the jury find for Oxford as acting in self-defence rather than Brincknell committing suicide.

Also, ” Under Cecil’s supervision Oxford studied French, Latin, writing, drawing, cosmography, dancing, riding and shooting.”

Oh, and as for being forced to marry Cecil’s daughter:

Oxford declared an interest in Cecil’s eldest daughter, Anne, aged 14, and received the queen’s consent to the marriage. She had been pledged to Philip Sidney in August 1569, and others had apparently sought her hand. Cecil was displeased with the arrangement, apparently having entertained the idea of her marrying the earl of Rutland instead. Oxford’s rank, however, trumped all else…

Midsummer - clearly the work of a pre-teen

And that’s as much time as I’m going to spend on correction.

If, as is posited here, some of the plays of Edward DeVere had already been performed at court (true) and then were later performed under “Anonymous” or “Shakespeare” – am I expected to believe that no one ever saw both? Hey – that Oxford kid wrote that fairy play when he was 12 – what are they doing showing it at the Globe as Shakespeare’s?

In Derek Jacobi’s Prologue – which was an interesting conceit, bookending the movie in the present, but underscored the artificiality – the point is hammered home that William Shakespeare’s father, wife, and the two daughters who survived him were all illiterate.  The point being, apparently that obviously he must be as well. Which is spurious logic; it’s a little akin to saying that because my father couldn’t type and neither can my mother and brother, why then I must not be able to either (she typed).

All I can say in conclusion is that it was a beautifully filmed movie and deserved not only the Oscar nomination for costume but one for art direction. If it was being watched with the sound off, it would be a treat. With sound on?


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10 Responses to The most tragicall comedie or comicall tragedie of Anonymous

  1. As one film critic put it, “Anonymous” is an intricate tale full of multi-dimensional characterizations, wonderful sets and costumes, unconventional perspectives, and a number of elaborately executed surprises. As such, it is a fascinating recreation of history that is entertaining, eyebrow raising and enlightening.”

    Though Emmerich has s aid that this is not the solution, but only one of many possible solutions, it offers a plausible answer to the mystery of why next to nothing is known about arguably the greatest writer in the English language, no letters or correspondence, no diaries, no manuscripts, nothing in writing except for six barley legible signatures..

    The film was not intended as a documentary about the case for oxford as Shakespeare. It is a fiction film that alters the chronology of events for dramatic purposes. Emmerich says that the film contains the “emotional” truth as opposed to the “literal” truth. Many films, however, such as “Shakespeare in Love” and “Amadeus” have done the same thing but there was no outpouring of hostility from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and the academic establishment when these were released because it didn’t threaten their reputation and livelihood..

    If you are interested in evidence for Oxford as Shakespeare or the Prince Tudor Theory, I would recommend the following books:

    “Shakespeare by Another Name” by Mark Anderson
    “Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom” by Charles Beauclerk
    “Shakespeare and the Tudor Rose” by Elisabeth Sears.

  2. stewartry says:

    Thanks for the comment. Once again, I acknowledge that this was not a documentary; however, I’m still flabbergasted that if this was intended to present a “plausible” answer to a mystery that isn’t really a mystery, the choices were made to intentionally falsify history. It has certainly been energetically marketed as “the answer” – to schools across the country (at least), which makes the historical idiocies even more horrifying. And which heavy “Shakespeare was a fraud” marketing makes any feeble “oh, we weren’t trying to convince anyone” arguments a bit disingenuous. Errors or outright falsehoods in the facts do not lend credibility to the presentation. I have no connection to the viewpoint of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust or the academic establishment, but my hostility – well, no, “barley” hostility: contempt, more like – for this movie springs from the apparent willingness to pervert history to support a weak premise. I have nothing but wonder for anyone who wishes to believe that the plays and poems of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, or Ben Jonson, or Queen Elizabeth, or my beagle Daisy; I have nothing for contempt for anyone who cannot support their theory without creating lies about surrounding events.

  3. stewartry says:

    Having now trashed an abusive comment left on this post, I find it interesting that the response I’m receiving is a) from the fringe element represented by this film, b) very defensive, and c) offensive. Once more, none of this is helpful to the cause. Just so you know.

    Oh, and I shouldn’t forget d) – poorly written.

    ETA: trashed two abusive comments. Next?

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  6. Joe John Jones says:

    The astounding coincidences and parallels between some depicted events in Shakespeare’s plays and the actual events in DeVere’s life are at least worth mentioning as phenomenal coincidences. DeVere’s esteemed position as playwright, poet, actor, courtier, and wit are documented in the historical record. The access DeVere had to early Shakespearian source material and his connection to the queen and knowledge of court are all astonishing. His biography and writings contain so many Shakespearian themes it should boggle the mind of anyone genuinely open to intelligent inquiry. The access he had to information, education, and events are all worth researching. To not research these things and then brush this theory off as some sort of wacky fringe lunacy is just plain wrong and a tad defensive. To look at the flimsy biography of the Stratford man and say you have no doubts is just strange. What does it matter which party actually wrote the plays? It really shouldn’t be life or death for you or me, it shouldn’t be a matter of defending our respective versions of Shakespeare Clause but in fairness it would be nice to see a Stratfordian at least mention that there are INCREDIBLE coincidental events within DeVere’s story, training, and life that should justify a detailed consideration that we don’t know for sure what really happened. If you are going to dismiss DeVere please detail that you have researched this topic, otherwise you may sound like another frightened fundamentalist defending your sky god. THE TRUTH WILL OUT(eventually). In the mean time try to be somewhat open and flexible in the face of the unknown.

  7. stewartry says:

    Congratulations – it takes some balls to come to my blog and tell me I haven’t done any research.

    I have. I never claimed to be any sort of expert – and, also, I don’t owe you, very rude one-time (I hope) commenter, any proof.

    I think the DeVere theory, along with all the other anti-Shakespeare theories, is rubbish. Kind of fun, but rubbish. And you can’t deny that the majority of people supporting it give every appearance of deep mental instability (which is to say they’re crackpots). That doesn’t help your case.

    Who wrote the plays is not life-and-death. What is serious is the level of intensity the crackpots bring to bear on a moot situation – that’s what concerns me.

    Merry Christmas. And good luck with that sky god thing.

  8. Joe John Jones says:

    Those comments were not meant as insults, just for food for thought. As far as crackpots go I guess you can add Charles Dickens to the list but since you’ve researched the topic you already knew that. Your response was insulting, you’re lucky that someone took the time to post on your site but don’t worry it won’t happen again.

  9. stewartry says:

    You come and attack me on my blog and say I’m lucky … So … I should count you among the crackpots, then? No, please don’t let it happen again. (That was sort of what I meant when I said “hopefully one-time commenter” – take a hint, sir.)

  10. stewartry says:

    Oh, and Dickens? You mean the man who believed in the Cock Lane Ghost? Whatever was I thinking…

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