Gentle Readers, Patty of Brandy Parfums frequently contributes articles of interest to this blog. Her latest post is about Anonymous, the film about the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays, which recently opened in theatres.
Introduction – Instead of writing a traditional plot-spoiler review of Anonymous, which can be found in many newspapers and magazines, I’ve written what I think will be more useful – a short guide to Shakespeare authorship. Enjoy! – Patricia Saffran
A Guide to Shakespeare Authorship
Jane Austen knew Shakespeare’s plays well and based a number of her novels on Shakespeare’s characters and plot devices. Stephen Derry writes about these many references in his paper for the Jane Austen Society of North America, ‘Jane Austen’s Use of Measure for Measure in Sense and Sensibility.’ Derry begins his paper by saying -In Mansfield Park, Edmund Bertram declares that one is familiar with Shakespeare in a degree from one’s earliest years. His celebrated passages are quoted by everybody we all talk Shakespeare, use his similes, and describe with his descriptions.
Knowing of Jane Austen’s profound knowledge of Shakespeare should give those who love her works a keen interest in all things Shakespeare – and in this new movie, which brings the Elizabethan period to life. This is the first time a major movie studio has taken a leap, with an elaborate period production, costumes, and star-studded cast, to delve into the question plaguing scholars for centuries, as to who the author of Shakespeare’s plays really was.
The gamble has payed off, as this is a truly sensational
movie. It takes place during the succession of Queen Elizabeth I, and the Essex Rebellion against her – a period of turmoil and political instability. During this period, being the author of a play with politically loaded or satirical material was dangerous. Some authors chose anonymity………
Shakespeare authorship as an area of inquiry is not new. While making a list of the greatest Elizabethan poets, Henry Peacham in The Compleat Gentleman published in 1622, when the First Folio was being created, lists Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, first on his list and does not include Shakespeare at all. Many believe that this was Peacham’s way of hinting that Edward de Vere, not William Shakespeare, wrote the plays and poetry.
More recently, in the past 150 years, there have been many notable actors, writers, and Supreme Court judges who have questioned William Shakespeare as the author of the plays. Among them are Mark Twain, Leslie Howard, Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, Sigmund Freud, Charles Dickens, Walt Whitman, Henry James, J. Thomas Looney, Michael York, Sandra Day O’Connor, Harry A. Blackmun, and John Paul Stevens. Besides de Vere and William Shakespeare, the other main candidates to have written the plays are Bacon, Marlowe, and Neville.
A fantastic short video by the director of Anonymous, Roland Emmerich, summarizes ten reasons why it is implausible that the Stratford William Shakespeare wrote the plays. For some, the main reason is that unlike all other great authors of the period, no letters exist either to or from Shakespeare.
A new book coming out November 8th continues to examine the question of Shakespeare authorship – The Shakespeare Guide to Italy by Richard Paul Roe, paints the Stratford man who never left England as an improbable author of the many distinctively Italian plays.
Current scholars, and by extension many of their now journalist proteges, who defend William Shakespeare as the author of the plays, are extremely defensive and say there is no room for doubt. Time will likely make the world more receptive to exploring Shakespeare authorship, but for now Anonymous will inspire interest in this fascinating field. I highly recommend this film.
For more on Shakespeare and Shakespeare Authorship:
- A great debate is available on line between Professor Stanley Wells and Mark Rylance at this link.
- Jane Austen’s Use of Measure for Measure in Sense and Sensibility, Stephen Derry
- Henry Peacham on Oxford and Shakespeare
- Shakespeare By Another Name
- Shakespeare Authorship from doubtaboutwill.org
- The Shakespeare Guide to Italy
- Shakespeare Suppressed: The Uncensored Truth About Shakespeare and His Works, Katherine Chiljan
- The Man Who Was Hamlet
About the film:
Anonymous, the new movie about Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, as the true author of Shakespeare’s plays. With Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, David Thewlis, and along with those who actively support authorship studies, Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance. Directed and produced by Roland Emmerich, released by Columbia.