of Shakespeare and Truth

Fakespeare movie

Monday morning I was quite ready for a break from the weekend. For the past month or so I’ve greatly enjoyed having Mondays off. I generally have to work to some degree on Saturday and Sunday with my family is not truly a day off so Monday is the catch all of relaxation. It’s a fun little thing for me, I legitimately do not have anything I HAVE to do, but I still feel like I’m playing hookie and that makes it all the more enjoyable when I go to see a movie at 11:35 am on a Monday morning (with all the retirees of Brandon).

I was excited this particular Monday morning that a movie I feared would not be playing in my neck of the woods had finally made its appearance at the theatre closest to my house. You can see from the poster over there to the left that the movie is titled Anonymous and it’s a conspiracy theory movie about the identity of Shakespeare.

Being a native English speaker I’ve had plenty of interaction with The Bard. In high school I not only read some of his major works but got the opportunity to visit his childhood home in Stratford-Upon-Avon as well as his wife, Anne Hathaway’s, farm. (Before you get too impressed they’re much like our State Fair’s Cracker Country… and they tell you about the cons of sleeping under thatched roofing). I’ve seen several movies about Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth I. At this point they’re very common as a motif. Modern society is much interested in the life of the Tudors and their contemporary peasants.

All this to say, I knew a little bit of the controversy of Shakespeare being who he was. Yet, I was never concerned (and today remain unconvinced) by this anomaly of talent springing from obscurity because talent, historically speaking, has a way of latching itself onto some of the least likely suspects. I mean 8 year olds churned out entire symphonies in our illustrious history, so to me a man like Shakespeare coming from nowhere works.

However, this movie sort of blew me away. It was a fantastic piece of cinematographic beauty. But are we surprised at all? The director is Roland Emmerich a man famous for making movies that blow the viewers out of the water (and also, in the case of 2012, cause them to yell mean things at him for being a conspiracy peddler). He may well have earned that title. And he orchestrated a fascinating case against Will Shakespeare. At the Anonymous movie website there’s a cute little video where Roland, armed with black quills, reveals his top ten reasons he believes the man from Stratford was not the same man to pen Shakespeare’s famous works. It’s a cool little website to play around on. You can see the possible relationships the characters share, which is really a sort of a tangled web of incest since Emmerich is not only set on debunking Will Shakespeare, but Elizabeth’s status as virgin queen, as well.

I read an article a week or so ago in which James Shapiro lambasts Emmerich and the rest of Hollywood for defaming Shakespeare. Mr. Shapiro wrote one particular line that greatly influenced my agreement with what he posits:

In dramatizing this conspiracy, Mr. Emmerich has made a film for our time, in which claims based on conviction are as valid as those based on hard evidence.

This is very truly a characteristic of modern (public opinion) justice. The courts are not often swayed by the lynch mob, which is a good thing, however in the minds of the public, and especially the grade school students that will be shown Emmerich’s documentary, Shakespeare is all but dismissed.

Wikipedia, shoddy research, and influence from Showtime & HBO’s dramatic programming informs a lot about the internet age’s knowledge. We have access to SO MUCH EASIER to information than ages past, but it’s difficult to develop a standard, a plumb line, that allows the reader/seer to determine what is true.

People have always been skeptical of the truth of history. Unfairly, things are most often recorded by the “winning” team and the voices of the oppressed or ill-educated are ignored in historical tomes. The search for truth is a noble pursuit. I am curious though to what extent skepticism is fruitful. We’ve already seen people with major platforms claiming that The Holocaust was a hoax. Re-writing history is a trend of late, something my grandfather complained about when I saw him at Christmas last year. It’s dangerous territory. And I find myself asking: to what purpose?

Are the power of The Bard’s words diminished if they came from a noble? Are they any less impressive? What does it matter if the “Soul of an Age” resided in a peasant from a small town or a noble thriving in London?

One element I did greatly enjoy from Emmerich’s movie was de Vere’s insistence about the power of the written word. He claimed that words would win Elizabeth over. That they could sway the opinion of a kingdom. This is something very important to keep in mind whenever we open our eyes and move them across the page or the screen.

(p.s. has anyone else noticed my new tendency to be longwinded in these blog posts now that NaNoWriMo is upon us? I’m so good at procrastinating…)


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