Anonymous (2011)

Rated PG-13. Our Ratings: V- 3;L -2; S/N –4.. Running time: 2 hours 10 min.

Pleasant words are like a honeycomb,
sweetness to the soul and health to the body.

The words of the mouth are deep waters;
the fountain of wisdom is a gushing stream.
Proverbs 16:24’ 18:14

Who wrote “Shakespeare” This pompus actor of little talent, or this high-born man of books and letters?

© 2011 Columbia Pictures

Director Roland Emmerich’s take on the authorship of the plays attributed to William Shakespeare is a historic political thriller that will appeal to viewers prone to conspiracy theories. This well made and acted film, filled with colorful costumed actors and splendorous sets of Elizabethan London, will no doubt find its place alongside Oliver Stone’s JFK in the collection of true believers that nothing in the world is as it seems, but is the result of shadowy, anonymous figures conspiring behind the scenes. However, if those who know their English history far better than I are right, any high school or college student who uses the film as a source for a paper on English history will wind up with an “F.” Like a Shakesearan play, the film begins and ends with a present day commentator introducing the drama, this time a scholar played by Derek Jacobi taking the stage and claiming that William Shakespeare’s father, wife and daughter could not read. Reeking with a sense of class consciousness, the following drama traches us that only those bornof the manor with silver spoons in their mouths are capable of creating anything of lasting beauty. Taking this theory and applying it elsewhere, we should then question the authenticity of Frederick Douglas’s works—who is the real author (white of course) of the great work by this ex-slave? And who was his ghost writer when he went on the lecture circuit? Ah, there must be a movie there too!

According to this complicated conspiracy theory Edward De Vere, the Earl of Oxford, is the real author. Orphaned, he was raised by Robert Cecil a member of the Puritan wing of the Anglican Church who thought literature was the work of the Devil. As he grew older Oxford (Rhys Ifans) found that he possessed a passion and a talent for writing plays that explode out of his mind like lava erupting from a volcano.But he was roundly criticized by Cecil for having an interest in the theater.

Thus as a nobelman De vere’s name could not be associated with the theater, lest disgrace befall his family. Because the audiences are asking to see the author at the end of the plays he first tries to recruit Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto) to claim authorship. Johnson already has a reputation as a poet and playwright, but he is reluctant. As the plays are produced and become popular with audiences, the demand for the author to step forward becomes overwhelming, and so the man everyone regards as a bad actor emerges from the wings, strides through the actors taking their bows, and declares that he is the author, much to the consternation of the Earl and Johnson. In subsequent scenes Shakespeare appears as a pompous fool with little acting talent and just barely literate.

According to this complicated theory Edward De Vere, the Earl of Oxford, is the real author. Orphaned, he was raised by Robert Cecil a member of the Puritan wing of the Anglican Church who thought literature was the work of the Devil. As he grew older Oxford (Rhys Ifans) found that he possessed a passion and a talent for writing plays that explode out of his mind like lava erupting from a volcano.

Thus as a nobelman De vere’s name could not be associated with the theater, lest disgrace befall his family. Because the audiences are asking to see the author at the end of the plays he first tries to recruit Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto) to claim authorship. Johnson already has a reputation as a poet and playwright, but he is reluctant. As the plays are produced and become popular with audiences, the demand for the author to step forward becomes overwhelming, and so the man everyone regards as a bad actor emerges from the wings, strides through the actors taking their bows, and declares that he is the author, much to the consternation of the Earl and Johnson. In subsequent scenes Shakespeare appears as a pompous fool with little acting talent and just barely literate.

Almost overshadowing the above plotline is the intrigue indulged in by members of the royal court. It is late into the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and because of of her age and ailments everyone is concerned about the succession. With no legitimate offspring, and the possibility that a mere Scotsman, King James, might ascend to the English throne, various families scheme to position themselves yo influence the outcome. The Queen’s cunning and ruthless chief adviser William Cecil (David Thewlis), and then, when he dies, his son Robert Cecil (Edward Hogg) lay snares that will spell triumph for their ambition and tragedy for some who are closest to Elizabeth and the Eral of Oxford. The action jumps back and forth in time, with two actresses and actors playing the Queen and other characters, so at times I was confused as to who was who.

I have no idea how valid the claim that the Earl of Oxford is the true author—others have contended that it was Christopher Marlow, Sir Francis Bacon, and the Earl of Derby William Stanley. Whatever you believe about Shakespeare, this is a gripping story to watch, with its costumes, sets, and magnicent vistas of London Strees and harbor. Scenes in which the audience stands (the commoners, that is, the nobility sitting in their private boxes high above the riff raff) watching such plays as Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Richard the III are a delight. Indeed, it could be said that the best parts of this less than authentic film are those excerpts, whoever wrote them.

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