KATHMANDU: Controversy rises from time to time about who Shakespeare was. This is the suggestion being that the name was given to a barely literate buffoon when the real playwright was the Earl of Oxford, Sir Francis Bacon, the 6th Earl of Derby or Christopher Marlowe. Anonymous argues the case for Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.
Very few commoners of his time are as well-documented as William Shakespeare. If he had been an ordinary playwright, there would be no controversy over their authorship. But he was the greatest of all writers in English, in some ways the engine for the language’s spread around the world, and one of the supreme artists of the human race.
Because of the ingenious screenplay by John Orloff, precise direction by Roland Emmerich and the casting of memorable British actors, you can walk into the theatre as a blank slate, follow and enjoy the story, and leave convinced — if of nothing else — that Shakespeare was a figure of compelling interest.
The character of Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) is drawn a notch of two above the village idiot. Witless and graceless, there is no whiff of brilliance about him, and indeed the wonder is not that this man could have written the plays but that he could articulate clearly enough to even act in some of them (about which there seems to be no doubt).
Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans), however, seems the very template of genius. His manner, his bearing, his authority, his ease in the court of Elizabeth all conspire to make him a qualified candidate. He was so well-connected with the crown in fact that the movie speculates he may have been the lover of the young Elizabeth (Joely Richardson) or the son of the older Elizabeth (Vanessa Redgrave). Not both.
The film also plunges us into the rich intrigue of the first Elizabethan age, including the activities of the Earl of Essex (Sam Reid), whose plot to overthrow the queen led to the inconvenience of beheading. Incredibly, for a film shot mostly on German sound stages, Anonymous richly evokes the London of its time, when the splendour of the court lived in a metropolis of appalling poverty and the streets were ankle-deep in mud. It creates a realistic, convincing Globe Theater, which establishes how intimate it really was. The groundlings could almost reach out and touch the players, and in the box seats, such as Oxford himself could witness the power of his work, which was credited to the nonentity
All of that makes Anonymous a splendid experience: the dialogue, the acting, the depiction of London, the lust, jealousy and intrigue. But I must tiresomely insist that Edward de Vere did not write Shakespeare’s plays. Apparently Roland Emmerich sincerely believes he did. Well, when he directed 2012, Emmerich thought there might be something to the Mayan calendar.
In a New York Times article, the Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro has cited a few technicalities: (a) de Vere writes and stars in A Midsummer Night’s Dream when he was nine years old, and (b) “he died in 1604, before 10 or so of Shakespeare’s plays were written.”
Why then does this question arise from time to time? I feel it’s because of the distance from then to now and I believe that there is such a thing as ‘scholar speak’ where in Ivy draped university students who have chosen Shakespeare as a thesaural subject must dismiss other contenders to the title of the genius of William Shakespeare and only then may they proceed with their thesis then it’s easy.