Last weekend, I had the dubious pleasure of attending the world premiere of Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous at the invitation of a German TV journalist who wanted to interview me about the film. His painstakingly neutral report aired yesterday; thanks to artful editing, I can be seen and heard being far too nice about the film; thanks to myself, I take my place in an august line of English professors looking slightly silly on camera (tip of the hat to Emrys Jones).

The film is completely preposterous, as one would expect. It is, after all, a Roland Emmerich product: the work of a director more capable than most of taking any premise, ludicrous or not, to such extremes that even its proponents are turned off. Witness The Day after Tomorrow, which probably did more damage to the public understanding of climate change than all Republican politicians and talk-radio blowhards combined. So in Anonymous, too, the notion that the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare’s plays turns out to be the most reasonable proposition among a wealth of bizarre plot points and strange distortions and inventions. I wonder what the Oxfordian faction will have to say about it.

It’s not easy to talk about this sort of film as an academic without coming across as a total pedant: who cares that the film gets a few dates wrong if it’s still a good yarn? And normally, I wouldn’t. I rather liked Shekhar Kapur’s first Elizabeth, despite all the historical inaccuracies. I didn’t mind Shakespeare in Love one bit. I enjoy The Tudors, by and large (though I wish Henry had got fatter). And I thought the long lists of infelicities classics scholars issued when Gladiator came out were more than a little daft.

The problem with Anonymous isn’t primarily that it gets so many things wrong. It’s that it’s a boring story, first and foremost; and it’s that its makers are posturing as “courageous,” iconoclastic heroes of intellectual honesty, holding the Shakespeare establishment to task for its persistent lies, or at least its devastating simple-mindedness. In the Deutsche Welle interview, we’re told that “no-one dared to make a movie about” the authorship “controversy” until now, and Emmerich has been retailing that same line in press conferences as well, claiming that “only somebody like me, who’s … a bit of an outsider in Hollywood, … but also a person who’s very courageous, could have done this. I could not see an English director doing it, because they would be afraid.” Elsewhere, Emmerich argued that his film is just another “invention,” since it’s impossible in any case to make a “historical movie” that’s not in some sense made up; and yet, he claims that Anonymous is a more authentic “celebration of the writer William Shakespeare” than anything academics have to offer.

Now, Emmerich’s historiography — or really screenwriter John Orloff’s, since Emmerich’s “research” by his own admission seems to have been restricted to Google searches and a few DVDs — could be cast as radically skeptical: since Elizabethan England was a proto-Stalinist state (as Emmerich informed us during a debate at the English Speaking Union in June), no documents whatsoever, nothing in print or in manuscript, can be trusted; no-one, after all, could safely speak or write truthfully about anything in this environment, least of all about playwrights. Once you accept that premise, of course, absolutely any narrative can make sense, since all stories about early modern England then have equal validity (or lack all validity equally). Emmerich and Orloff certainly take the licence their philosophy of history gives them to impressive extremes, ignoring, basically, the entire archive of documented evidence for just about anything that happened in the sixteenth century.

Here is the story they want to tell — a story they present as more credible than that marketed, to allegedly great financial, political, and cultural profit, by the “Stratfordians.”

Playwrighting Bastard

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, was the first of many bastard children of Elizabeth I (who was 16 when she gave birth to him); he was also the father of Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton, another bastard son, in this case incestuously, of the Queen’s (and given that she was 40 years old at the time, probably also her last one). In between those two Earls, a 32-year-old Elizabeth also appears to have given birth to Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex, who in the film is being promoted by Oxford as Elizabeth’s successor.

At age 8, the young Oxford wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream and played Puck in a performance for Elizabeth; the child wrote other plays now falsely attributed to Shakespeare as well, but I can’t recall which ones. Poor Oxford is then forced to live in the cold, austere, brutally Puritan household of William Cecil, where he kills one of Cecil’s servants who’s hiding behind an arras in his study (“a rat!”) and is discouraged in his artistic endeavours. A trip to the continent and an unhappy marriage to Cecil’s daughter follow; then he becomes the Queen’s lover in the early 1570s, demands to be sent to fight in the Netherlands ten years before anyone else, gets the Queen pregnant (unbeknownst to him), is dispatched from court, and that, for a while, is that.

Decades later, in 1598, he wants to use his old plays, and a bunch of new ones, to arouse popular support for Essex and against the Cecils, whom everyone apparently loathes; so he seeks out Ben Jonson, who’s just been arrested for “Everyman,” and gives him one of his plays to stage under Jonson’s own name — Henry V. When Jonson hesitates to claim the play as his own, the illiterate drunkard, notorious fool, and bit-player William Shakespeare (not, judging by his accent, from Warwickshire at all) steps forward and takes full credit. Oxford continues to hand over plays; Shakespeare starts extorting the Earl to the tune of £400 a year and kills Christopher Marlowe outside the Rose Theatre when the playwright discovers the secret of dumb Will’s success. Eventually, in order to stir up popular discontent against Robert Cecil (a dwarfish hunchback), Oxford writes the brand new and never-before staged play of Richard III and has it performed on the eve of Essex’s uprising in 1601.

The plan is to get Londoners so riled up that they will march with Essex to the palace, where they will then peacefully persuade Elizabeth to name her bastard son (which one, you ask? Have you lost count?) as her successor. Oxford will await them at her majesty’s side. Accordingly, to curry favour with his old lover and to make her more pliable, he publishes a poem for her that same week in February of 1601: Venus and Adonis. It sells like hot cakes and is devoured by the Queen, too. Sadly, Jonson blows it. He tips off “the Tower” that everyone on the Bankside is aquiver with excitement about this new Richard III play, so “the Tower” blocks London bridge and shoots the rallying citizens to bits. Essex and his friends ride to Westminster on their own, where they are kettled in the palace courtyard and likewise shot to bits. Oxford falls into a deep depression (subtly symbolized by a sudden, three-year long winter); the Queen dies; he dies, too, but not before handing over King Lear to a tearful Jonson on his deathbed. Cecil has Jonson hunted down by a battalion of Tower goons who burn down the Globe (or is it the Rose?), but fail to destroy the manuscripts in the process. James VI comes down from Scotland and turns out to be a lover of plays; Robert Cecil is dismayed; end of story.

A Feast for Pedants

Now, I will admit that this is clearly not just a more compelling, but also a much more plausible story than the received account. I felt my livelihood slipping away as I was watching. “And yet,” as Derek Jacobi so eloquently pontificates in the film’s opening sequence. “And yet.” I’m not going to question Orloff and Emmerich’s grasp of Tudor history, since I find their vision of an English nobility dominated by Elizabeth’s secret bastards ghoulishly attractive. But I have a few highly pedantic objections to their version of literary and theatre history (imagine them delivered in the sort of panic-stricken shriek you’d expect from us harried Stratfordians).

Let’s start with a minor one. Our first glimpse of London’s playwrights in 1598 shows them as a catty bunch taking up a generous section of the Rose’s second gallery (consequently, a pretty well-to-do bunch): Dekker, Jonson, and a guy with a gut representing, as the IMDB informs me, Thomas Nashe. And Christopher Marlowe. In 1598. Marlowe makes fun of Dekker for the failure of Shoemaker’s Holiday and claims preeminence among historical playwrights. Which is funny, since Marlowe hadn’t written a history play in five years at that point, largely because he was murdered in 1593. And Dekker’s play wasn’t written until 1599 (a fact recorded in that famous and fraudulent monument to government conspiracy otherwise known as Henslowe’s Diary). But Marlowe’s ghost probably knows that and is just messing with Dekker’s head. Nashe also kind of hangs around for the rest of the film, even after his death in 1601, but Marlowe eventually has his throat slit, as you heard — though in Southwark rather than in Deptford. Why anyone would exchange as wonderfully vicious a plot point as a knife in the eye for a slit throat is beyond me, but that’s probably why I’m not a screenwriter.

Then there’s the question of venue. We see lots of playbills advertising performances of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, staging new Shakespeare plays at the Rose: Henry V, Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Macbeth (that one, as a gruff voice informs us, is “about Scotland,” and hence a piece of anti-James propaganda, never mind the whole Banquo thing). Which rather raises the question of where the poor Admiral’s Men had wandered off to, and who was paying Henslowe’s bills. Thankfully, Shakespeare eventually decides to build the Globe, putting my theatre historian’s heart at ease. Of course, one of the two theatres then burns down a few years later, ten years before the Globe really caught fire (and in an entirely unrecorded disaster if it’s the Rose that’s going up in flames).

How about a few dates? A 1558 Midsummer Night’s Dream has a certain charm, to be sure, but a Richard III, “winter of our discontent” and all, advertised as excitingly new in 1601 might have upset the handful of theatregoers who had already bought the printed text in 1597. Or the second edition of 1598. There is, of course, the additional slight problem that multiple witnesses spoke of a performance of Richard II, sadly lacking a hunchback, on the eve of Essex’s uprising, and the fact that this performance was used as evidence against the Earl and his conspirators at multiple trials in 1601. I suspect a transcription error. I also don’t quite understand how Venus and Adonis, a poem first published in 1593, and then again in 1594, 1595, 1596, and twice in 1599, though not in 1601, could have been sold to the Queen as a new and hot-off-the-press bestseller written (and published in print) specifically for her in February 1601. I suppose old Queen Bess really was a little out of it in her dotage.

The state in all its evil struck me as quite interesting, too. Always at the ready to arrest playwrights for dangerous performances, “the Tower” all the same doesn’t bother to read plays before they’re staged (it appears that the Master of the Revels is another one of those figments of the Stratfordian imagination). And neither are “the Tower’s” ears open to what’s going on in that far-off part of the world, the Bankside, unless Ben Jonson tells them what people are talking about. Some repressive state, that.

Finally, I enjoyed Orloff and Emmerich’s take on literary history. Here’s what happens when Oxford hands over Romeo and Juliet to poor writing-blocked Jonson:

Oxford: “Romeo and Juliet. A romantic tragedy in iambic pentameter.”
Jonson: “ALL OF IT? Is it possible?”
Oxford: “Of course.”

Once that stunner hits the tiring house, the actors can’t get over it either: an entire play in blank verse? How can it be? What immortal genius could possibly pull off that kind of stunt? Shakespeare himself runs around London reciting those gobsmackingly pentametric lines in disbelief. Apparently none of them took notice when the play appeared in print the year before, in 1597.

Meanwhile, in a dark corner, Oxford’s fellow noble Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset (surprisingly not a son of Elizabeth’s), freshly ejected from the annals of literary history, quietly drowns his sorrow in whatever nobles drink to drown their sorrow. I don’t know if Thomas Norton is getting sloshed with him. History tells me he died in 1584, but that may be a lie.

The Overreachers

All of my points are massively pedantic, to be sure. They really are. They also barely scratch the surface: I could go on being pedantic all day. Anonymous is a very giving film that way.

Instead, here’s a conclusion of sorts. On the one hand, the film and its ludicrous script clearly just don’t care about history at all. That’s a filmmaker’s prerogative. But why would Orloff and Emmerich then try to have it both ways? It rankles a bit to have to sit through egregious tripe like this only to be told that both author and director have a better understanding of Tudor England than the entire academic community of literary scholars and historians.

On the other hand, the film also stakes a claim for the particular nature of Shakespeare’s literary genius — a genius here identified as in fact Edward de Vere’s. And that claim is where Anonymous flies off the rails most spectacularly. It’s not enough for the filmmakers to take Shakespeare’s works as they stand, with their various debts and sources, the traces of other authors’ influences and so on, and identify those works as the Earl of Oxford’s creations. Instead, de Vere has to be an unparalleled child prodigy, and he singlehandedly has to invent an entire art form, the blank verse play, in 1598. And amazingly, he does it in a text that is not all in verse. Perhaps someone else wrote those dirty Mercutio scenes.

I have no idea what the point of this episode is supposed to be: that all other playwrights were bungling hacks? (Jonson apparently didn’t choose to mix verse and prose in Every Man In, but simply didn’t have the wherewithal to write it all in “iambic pentameter.”) Never mind Gorboduc (1561). Never mind that those gallery-seat-rich dramatists at the Rose, Marlowe, Dekker, and Nashe, wouldn’t have found anything remarkable in a blank verse line, having expertly bombasted them out for years. Never mind that the innovation on stage wasn’t verse, but prose.

Am I getting hung up on a stupid point? Yes. But it’s a stupid detail that shines a bright light on the sheer stupidity of this whole film. I disagree with the entire “anti-Stratfordian” hypothesis — I find neither the evidence against Shakespeare nor that for any other candidates the least bit persuasive. But I don’t think all Oxfordians or Baconians, or even Marlovians or Sidneyans (sp?), are stupid. Anonymous, on the other hand, is. It’s a pompous, ignorant, ill-informed, and clumsy film. Worst, it’s a film that thinks it has an important story to tell. It doesn’t. But I would say that, I suppose. I do, after all, have a book to sell.

107 Responses to People Being Stupid About Shakesp… or Someone Else

  1. […] of this kind of crap by giving the filmmakers my money), I’ll leave detailed criticisms to an English professor who has seen it. His critiques are more astute and more erudite than mine could hope to be, in any event. Einstein? […]

    • Brian says:

      Jeremy says: 25/10/2011 at 6:57 pm

      Einstein? Clearly a fraud.
      How could a mere clerk in a hick patent office have come up with the theory of relativity? That level of genius doesn’t just come out of nowhere.
      Clearly, it must have an aristocratic Prussian who couldn’t publish under his own name, but used Einstein, who was actually an ignorant bumbler.

  2. Brian says:

    And please forgive my typos and errors. Big fingers on a small iPhone keyboard.

  3. Brian says:

    Great review Fascinating “argument” i fully agree with the review and with many of the posters (the Einstein analogy is brilliant). Phil also makes great points. I would also add that one should look at the Nature imagery in Shakespeare. That is something that takes a sensitive and perceptive country lad spending years watching spider webs by a river to comprehend. The Nobles would never take that time for reverie. The metaphors and imagery there are way more resonant than simple boring politics.
    Also, I doubt a Noble would have anything approaching the populist sympathy toward the Commoners in the play. They are buffoons sometimes, yes, but most always loveably and always popular, and populist.
    The argument for Oxford always seems to come down to the elitist position of Politics, education and geography. Three things a clever young lad could figure out in a short time. Especially if he finds himself moving in these worlds: not inconceivable at the time. The world was not Washington vs Good Grief Idaho, it was Uptown vs Downtown. London was, compared to now, a small town.
    The Oxfordian arguments have always struck me as specious and revisionist.
    As the ads for Terry Gilliam’s Baron Munschausen stated: “It’s all true! We have the movie to prove it!”

  4. Anonymous says:

    […] won’t listen to the arguments proposed against them. On the other hand, I have seen some Stratfordians engage seriously in answering the arguments Oxfordians list as evidence for the correc…, explaining why and how the arguments fail, only to be met with ad hominem attacks on their […]

  5. Ian Munro says:

    Holger: Nice post! I’d been debating whether the movie was worth seeing, but your comment section has convinced me otherwise…

    • Paul Jackson says:

      I found it quite an entertaining movie. The recreation of London is staggeringly beautiful and the acting is often very good. The story is reasonably entertaining (albeit, of course, exceedingly unrealistic).

      I had NOT realized that people were actually claiming this was real history when I saw it. If you remove that absurd baggage from the film and treat it as a fictional tale set in an alternate universe then you’re likely to enjoy it.

  6. Phil Ryder says:

    Ah, well, I think … therefore I am. This famous statement,of course coined by The Earl of Afford (or should that be AffENford?) in his lost play Miss Marple III, for long wrongly attributed to Agatha Christie – a rather transparent nom de plume for Aphra (contraction of Agatha) Behn (contraction of beneficent = good = Christ = Christie – geddit?). Old Aphra was supposedly born in 1640, but of course she lived much earlier, and had an affair with Sir Affenfrancis-Bacon Marlowe … who, because he was (A) a respectable, intellectual courtier, (B) a varsity man, and (C) knew he would be dead by 1594, wrote 39 plays in the preceeding 10 years and arranged for the Pembrokes to release em at the rate of one or two a year, under the name of OXENFORD, right through to 1623, then publish the lot in one go; said Oxenford being also a courtier, and incurably POSH, was ashamed to be thought of as a great poet and playwright (WHY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!?????????????????), & insisted said plays be attributed to one Shagsberd, horse-minder and well-known Tosspot … (referred to by Oxbacolowe in the closing song of Twelfth Nit = Tosspots still have drunken heads innit).
    I know there’s no evidence for any of the above, but that don’t matter, do it? I agree, it wouldn’t stand up in court, any more than EVERYTHING averred in various blogs above by Messers Ray & Rowe.
    More seriously, what’s happening here is that various guys of a FAIRLY educated bourgeoise persuasion just can’t see how someone as ordinary and boring and, well, bourgeoise as themselves, could have written all that wonderful stuff; so it musta bin a CELEB, with more than a smidge of blue blood: not only are such folk educated and andsome, they av an innate superiority, like Brad and Angelina etc. due to said blue-ish blood, breeding, taste etc. Only such a chinless wonder his Earlship Eddy Izzenford, with all his innate wit, travel experience, time spent hob-nobbing with other big nobs etc., could have written so tellingly about royalty, big nobs etc. Once U accept such a self-evident truth, then mere facts & dates can just go out the window. Bit disappointed old D. Jacobi have taken up ye olde cudgel on behalf uv milord Oxiclean, probably he’s turning into Cadfael innit, finding things out that no-one else could! Derek bein an actor should know these fantastick plays uv their deep, acute, idiosyncratic characterizations and manifestations of superb dramatic and theatrical skill, couldna bin written by anyone other than a professional stage manager and player, who had a broad experience of life and society at ALL levels – ever actually acted in a Shakepeare play, Will ol’ chap? Jeff ol’ boy? (yeah, I said SHAKESPEARE).
    Final point. The realistic portrayal of ordinary ‘mean and base’ people, as in the Henry IV plays, Henry V, Measure for Measure, Richard THE THIRD, As You Like It, Macbeth, etc. etc. – especially in the matter of their vernacular language, could only have bin writ by some guy who in the course of his day to day life, spent lotsa time with such folk … yeah, I know what comes next – “Ah, well, Oxford must have done what Prince Hal did: hung out in disguise uv low-life folk sew he could see how they tick/understand um/write about um!!”
    Yeah right.

  7. Phil Ryder says:

    Mr. Ray admonishes Shakespearean scholars for ‘ignoring factual historical and literary realities’ in a blog entry riddled with un-factual, un-historical un-realities. Doesn’t he realize, that it don’t take a scholar to see through all this Oxfordian mumbo-jumbo; all you need is a bit of common sense.

  8. William Ray says:

    Dear Sir,

    Since you (flippantly?) asked for my Oxfordian standards of evidence, consider the following, Elizabethan Court-listed plays with the same plot and characters presented there long before William Shakspere of Stratford could have written them.

    You appear to base your distaste for the authorship inquiry on the failure of Oxfordians to use recognizable methods of determining evidence. Therefore please explain away the following too-numerous redundancies. Edward de Vere wrote Romeus and Juliet at age twelve. It later became Romeo and Juliet, and lines of it reappeared in Two Gentlemen of Verona.

    Hamlet replicates the early biography of someone whose father was poisoned and supplanted by a rival, his mother indecently quickly married to the poisoner’s adjutant, the ‘someone’ put into the custody of an official who then expediently went about marrying him off to his own daughter. Is it starting to look like Edward de Vere’s father, his father’s poisoner Leicester, his mother Margery Vere, his warder William Cecil, and Cecil’s daughter Anne?

    Two Noble Kinsmen is referenced above as a collaboration of Fletcher and ‘Shakespeare’. But it had a precedent: Palomon and Arcite co-written by Richard Edwardes and Edward de Vere, performed before the Queen in 1566 with her enthusiastic assistance. Jonson referred to it as Palomon. The subplot was added by Fletcher after Oxford died and the altered play published in 1634. Some of the same phrases written by the adolescent de Vere remained in the final version. (See ‘Shakespeare Suppressed’ by Katherine Chiljan for the details.)

    The court plays are on record. It is on record that Hamlet was referred to both anonymously and by Oxford’s secretary, Thomas Nashe in 1589, before Shakspere arrived in London, long before the ‘Shakespeare’ attribution in 1600-1.

    I list more redundancies below. Setting aside the over-educated claptrap characterizing this blog, the truth is you, individually as an educator and collectively as an institution, have made a serious status-quo-favoring error of ignoring factual historical and literary realities. There are de Vere connected precedents for Macbeth (The Tragedie of the Kinge of Scottes 1567), Merchant of Venice (Portio or The Jew 1578), Taming of the Shrew (A Pleasant Conceit 1577), A Comedy of Errors (A History of Error 1577) and many more.

    But that may do for recognizable methods of evidence–i.e., the near identity of plays by Edward de Vere to plays attributed to Shakespeare. Either ‘Shakespeare’ was the most outrageous plagiarer in history, or de Vere used Shakespeare as a pseudonym subscribing his revised plays, now familiar to us as part of the Shakespeare canon.

    I think you may be riding a three-legged horse and courteously pining that that the rival is not playing fair for riding a horse that can gallop. The Stratfordian chronology is circular reasoning–asserting a given result and then contriving a priori elements to make it so. I infer that you resent the evidence presented and me as the messenger who presents it. But I honor the truth and only wish to see it vindicated. You and your colleagues might do the same. For that you must open your eyes. The responsibility of intellectuals is after all to seek the truth and unmask falsehood. Otherwise you will have to defend falsehoods for a long time. No one will believe you then.

    William Ray

    • Holger Syme says:

      William, I’ll play, undeterred by your aspersions:

      – The idea that Romeus and Juliet was written by de Vere is fanciful. It’s certainly not a “fact.”

      – If you read Hamlet as a play in which Polonius wants Ophelia to marry Hamlet and is Hamlet’s guardian, and actually succeeds in arranging the marriage; and if you can prove that Oxford’s father was poisoned and by whom (another fanciful construct); then you might begin to have something like a loose parallel between someone’s life and the plot of a play. So what?

      – The idea that de Vere wrote the university entertainment Palomon and Arcite is entirely conjectural. Most of the text is lost. It’s also entirely uncertain whether this entertainment was in fact a source for Two Noble Kinsmen. The plot, obviously, isn’t original but an adaptation in both cases, of the same source. (Although for all we know the entertainment may have just the names in common.)

      – The court play titles are indeed on record, but the name of their author is not, and there’s no way you can argue, let alone prove, that de Vere wrote them. You can claim it, but that’s not evidence for or against anything.

      – There was indeed an earlier Hamlet play. I don’t know where Shakespeare was in 1589, and neither do you — it’s certainly possible that he was in London or on tour with the company that owned that Hamlet play. I doubt he wrote it, but we obviously don’t know. The one line recorded from that play does not appear in any of three surviving versions of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, so what evidence there is suggests that the surviving Hamlet version(s) are that most familiar of Elizabethan (and somewhat more rarely, Jacobean) plays: an adaptation of an older work of drama. What de Vere has to do with any of this is beyond me. The Nashe connection isn’t evidence of anything.

      – With one exception, none of the titles you list have any demonstrable connection with de Vere. Nor do any of the texts survive, so we have no idea if they did or did not have a connection with later plays, by Shakespeare or anyone else. “A Pleasant Conceit” is not even a title, it’s an 18th-century collector’s description of a text by de Vere, but it doesn’t survive — and we don’t know if it was a play, a poem, or a prose satire. The idea that it had any connection to one of the two Shrew plays is pure conjecture.

      In sum, you did not provide a single piece of anything approaching even circumstantial evidence. Thank you.

      • William Ray says:

        Sometimes when the soldier falls off his horse, it is a blessing. You can’t deny the totality of the evidence by saying each individual piece may possibly not be evidence. If those early Court plays were not by de Vere, recognized as the master playwright by the Court and Queen, who then would you suggest? Only he was praised as first among “Courtly makers Noblemen and Gentlemen of her Majesty’s own servants”. Certainly not Shakspere at age thirteen in 1577-8? Romeus and Juliet by de Vere is fanciful? Are the phrases retained and improved from it in Two Gentlemen of Verona and Sonnet 60 also fanciful?

        I am certain that if one parallel could be found in one play attaching to Gulielmus Shakspere, you would find that exceedingly convincing and acceptable as evidence. Painful to admit to a double-standard.

        But let us go then, you and I, as evening is spread out against the sky like a patient etherized upon a table. You are right that A Pleasant Conceit was not the later Taming of the Shrew. I got that wrong. A Pleasant Conceit is recorded on Twelfth Night 1580. it later became entitled Twelfth Night, not by subject matter, just the occasion. Taming of A Shrew, sometimes called Mind and Measure (1578) became Taming of The Shrew (1594). Remember Taming of A Shrew was first played at Oxford’s sister’s marriage to Willoughby. Hmm. Rape of the Second Helen (1579) became All’s Well That Ends Well. Masque of Amazons & Masque of Knights (1579) became Love’s Labor’s Lost (1590,98). A Moor’s Masque (1579) became Othello (1604). We will skip the 1580’s and ’90’s for this discussion. The list totals nineteen plays presented at Court. And you know they weren’t written or produced by Shakspere, because in 1580, he was sixteen and living in Stratford. Which under your construct means Shakspere/Shakespeare was the biggest copy-catter in the history of Western thought.

        It is difficult to argue about your rationalizations that try to pick apart Hamlet so that you can’t even see it as a family revenge tragedy, with enormous emotional feeling, such as one would derive from personal revenge and tragedy. Anybody who plays it knows personal impact. The author wanted revenge and plenty of it.

        You say it must be proved Leicester poisoned Earl John Vere. Why exactly? He was known as a ruthless poisoner who was suspected of killing his wife and murdering Sussex, who called him the Beast. But to you, there must be absolute proof Leicester was a poisoner. He was not mourned at his death. That he was the usurper of many of the Oxford estates is evidenced in writing, in a hasty will a few days before Earl John ‘died’. Otherwise Leicester and Cecil would have confiscated all of them and Oxford bequeathed none.

        The attempt to separate the play Hamlet of the mid- to late-1580’s and de Vere’s authorship is a vain hope. Shall we compare a line or two and you will notice an author to play connection. Histrio-mastix was an anonymous play, a comedy-farce, which contains a take-off from “what is this quintessence of dust?” It is “here’s the very quintessence of ducks.” It is dated roughly 1589, certainly after the 1588 Armada because of jokes about Spaniards and water-spaniels and ducks. Where does Shakspere fit into this, and isn’t the parody working from a distinctively Shakespearean turn of phrase? Attributing it to a FANCIFUL Ur-Hamlet won’t do. If you want to drop this one, there are eleven more “too early for Shakspere” stylisms, referenced by other writers of the era 1588-97, (before the ‘first’ performance 1600-1) whether to show they knew perhaps honored the play Hamlet or were taking advantage of phrases that had become commonplace by then. Nashe’s reference to “if you entreat him FAIR (Vere) in a frosty morning, he will AFFORD (Ox-Ford) you whole HAMLETS, I should say handfuls [Latin, in manibus habere] of tragical speeches.” Who was the “he”. Nashe explained. He was the English Seneca. Oxford was known as the English Seneca. The Latin pun habere was close to avere, to have, a foreign-language pun on Oxford’s patronymic. The play had not yet been printed. That was why Nashe joked that seekers would have to approach him personally for the manuscript of “speeches”. I don’t believe they were thinking of Shakspere. Do you? Nor did Kyd ever write anything like “quintessence of dust”, a precursor to the atom basis for matter, propounded by Oxford’s one-time secretary Nicholas Hill.

        The more you try to beat back the complex of correlations, the weaker your reasoning must become. For it has no fact, no line, no word to support it with the wrong man.

        To continue. The 1566 performance of Palomon and Arcite, definitely a crude work, but which contained language replicated in Two Noble Kinsmen and which Jonson referred to by name as Palemon in Bartholomew Fair (Act 4, scene 3)(1614). It contains specific topical language, that there had been deaths, which there had been, a staircase accident in the preparations and rehearsal at the Oxford University church just before the play night in 1566. There could be no recollection by Shakspere or by Fletcher of such a topical event. The reference had present meaning, respectful grief. “If this play do not keep…we must needs leave, our losses fall so thick.” Some fell, a few died. Your rationalization that it might have been a co-incidentally named play is quite weak, conjectural as they say, though in the double-standard world of Stratfordian Shakespeare, you demand irrefutable evidence from behind the barricades. Jonson didn’t think it was a contemporary play incidentally. Quarlous swears by ‘Arcadia’, probably Virgil’s Eclogue’s, and Winwife comes back with a vow by “the play Palemon”, referencing both the play and its source. What was that other play you are hypothesizing, besides Palomon and Arcite, derived from Chaucer?

        I do not make this a personal charge, because I know you are doing the best you can to defend and disperse, according to your present knowledge and arguing skills. My concern is wider than individual exchange. It is characteristic of an institutionally unstable theoretical system that only I challenge with facts and connections, and you beat back the advance, claiming despite considerable persuasive power they aren’t factual at all.

        There should be no uncertainty that Shakspere wrote all the plays, except that all these contradictions and inconsistencies are never adequately answered from your side. Does wisdom not advise a strategic retreat to re-evaluate if you are unable to satisfactorily reply. The model cannot work. It is faulty. When error takes up housekeeping, truth becomes an intruder, ringing the bell louder and louder. Hence the communication gap. “So what?” is not going to increase your credibility. I’m sure you have the smarts to do better than that. Everybody does. But it requires a love of the truth, despite seductive attachments and loyalties, to begin.

        William Ray

        • James J Marino says:

          You say it must be proved Leicester poisoned Earl John Vere. Why exactly?

          Because you want to use that claim to prove something else?

          Because if you want to use something as evidence, you should be able to demonstrate that it’s true?

          Because, in general, when you claim that something happened, you should be able to prove it?

          I don’t think you need to be a tweedy academic elitist to expect that, say, an accusation of murder could use a little proof.

          • Steven Paulson says:

            Yes, Romeus and Juliet by deVere at any age is fanciful. Or rather, a complete invention for which there are no facts whatsoever. Alleging something is true is not evidence. Claiming fanciful theories are true is not evidence. That’s the problem: “totality” of bull is still all bull. And there is literally nothing factual in your connections to Oxenford and Shakespeare.

            Like wise, there is no evidence that Oxenford’s was murdered, or poisoned, by ANYONE, let alone actual evidence implicating Leiscter. Not a question of absolute proof, but a question of their being any evidence at all. Oxenford’s father made his will six days before his death, which is supicious of nothing so much as of a man who feels the icy hand of death slowly encircling his windpipe. Murdered? Nothing on the record. Poisoned? Nothing on the record.

            Anyway, everything in Hamlet existed long before Oxenford was born. Did Oxenford have access to a time machine and write the works of Saxo Grammaticus?

            I’ll leave the rather easy refutation of you unsupported suppositions to others.

        • Eric Johnson-DeBaufre says:

          Histrio-mastix was an anonymous play, a comedy-farce, which contains a take-off from “what is this quintessence of dust?” It is “here’s the very quintessence of ducks.” It is dated roughly 1589, certainly after the 1588 Armada because of jokes about Spaniards and water-spaniels and ducks

          These are the kinds of claims that Oxfordians love to indulge in but that contain not only substantial (read: huge) doses of speculation but deliberate suppression of facts.

          The text of Histrio-Mastix dates to 1610. That is a fact that no amount of speculation can change since there are records of its entry in the Staioner’s Register in October of that year.

          Dating its composition is another matter. For a long time the consensus was that the play was produced in 1599 (and generally late in 1599) Finkelpearl suggested a dating of the play to 1598/99, probably for the Christmas festivities. Although arguments for an earlier dating (to 1588-89) have been made, the breezy confidence of Ray’s assertion “It is dated roughly 1589” overreaches by a long shot–this is a minor view.

          Let’s indulge him, though–despite the lack of compelling arguments for this dating–and imagine that a play by the name Histrio-Mastix existed in 1589. What then can we say about its specific contents? Very little, I am afraid. Ray appears quite confident that this speculative 1589 Histrio-Mastix contained a parodic allusion to Hamlet, “And heere’s the very quintessence of Duckes” (sig. C2). His evidence?–the 1610 Quarto!

          Can anyone (anyone, anyone, Bueller?!?) spot the problem here? Ray conveniently suppresses all mention of the Quarto’s date since that opens up the possibility of any amount of textual revision taking place between the supposed 1589 composition of this play and its 1610 publication, and what Ray needs is a stable text containing precisely this phrase in his alleged 1589 Histrio-Mastix.

          All that we can say with any confidence, however, is that this line existed as a component part of the text of Histrio-Mastix in the 17th century–a boring and vaguely unsatisfying conclusion, I know, but genuine scholarship (especially textual scholarship) often proceeds with a certain amount of caution in order to avoid getting egg on its face. Not always, of course, but more often than Ray does above.

        • Holger Syme says:

          Ooh, a pile on. Some more:

          “If those early Court plays were not by de Vere, recognized as the master playwright by the Court and Queen, who then would you suggest?”

          I have no idea — we are spectacularly ignorant about early and mid Elizabethan drama. There are almost no records and hardly any plays were published. But your claim that de Vere was recognized as a “master playwright by the Court and Queen” is just an outright fabrication. He is mentioned as a courtly writer of comedies in the 1590s. We have no idea how court or queen felt.

          – That list of plays in your third paragraph? Not A SINGLE ONE of those survives. All we have are titles and court performance dates. You have no idea what those plays were like, what they were about, or who wrote them — how can you have the slightest inkling of what later plays they may or may not have influenced? And again, “a pleasant conceit” is not a title, it’s an 18th-century antiquarian’s description of a text written by de Vere, more likely a satire than a play. You just made up the idea that it was performed on Twelfth Night — there is absolutely zero evidence for this.

          – I’m not even going to bother addressing your “evidence” from Nashe. The notion that this sort of thing is more persuasive than title pages and court records is frankly laughable.

          – I’m behind the barricades? How? I think I’m pretty much in the open here. And I’ll tell you again that the P&A connection to Shakespeare is weak, but not, admittedly, as weak as the P&A connection to de Vere. The so-called verbal echoes of what happened in Oxford in 1566 are as silly as the notion that “afford” is an allusion to “Oxford.” Since almost all of the text of P&A is lost, I have no idea if TNK is a reworking of the university entertainment (unlikely) or a parallel adaptation of Chaucer — and neither do you.

          – Finally, William, I’d find your prose significantly easier to deal with if you could just leave out the evangelical purple patches. Cheers.

  9. moo says:

    I will be sure to remember that Michelangelo was too lowly a churl to have written sonnets, because he did not dictate,and worked for a living. PAINTING. And exactly what did Cecil do to the screenwriters of Hollywood, to be kicked around like this? Does anyone actually suppose Elizabeth was intelligent enough to avoid mixing her love-life (what little there was) with statecraft after her father made a shining example of what NOT to do for her?
    Between Mary Boylen and this nonsense, I’m at my wit’s end with this nonsense.

  10. kj says:

    All I have time for is a quick word about dates. Oxfordians often tell Stratfordians that they can’t use the dates of the plays to make conclusions. Oxfordians often use the dates of the plays (the dates they give to them) to make conclusions.

    Oxfordians can’t have it both ways, I’m afraid. If they say the dates are off the books, they’re not allowed to use them. If they want to use dates, I’m afraid they have to concede to over two hundred years of Shakespeare scholarship that has determined, with enormous effort, the dates of the play with much more accuracy than Oxfordians allow.

    I wonder if Jeff Rowe would tell us where Welles recanted the brief comment on Oxford he once made. I’m convinced that Jeff is right—the lists of those holding the Oxordian position always include Orson Wells and Leslie Howard—but neither of them ought to be on those lists.



  11. Phil Ryder says:

    Just to clarify the last three lines (above), I meant to say, OXFORD didn’t necessarily write anything in ‘The Passionate Pilgrim’; but because of the veiled reference to the orient Pearl, the latter probably DID write all of ‘The Passionate Pilgrim”, and everything else attributed to Shakespeare!

  12. Phil Ryder says:

    Oh God! Where do I start?

    Couple of obervations: an author’s life/biography is not necessarily reflected in her/his work. In fact the content & spirit of the work of an artist is frequently opposite to what’s going on, day to day, with the actual life. E.g. Beethoven was in a state of utter crap regarding his physical health and mental well-being when he wrote the 9th Symphony, which culminates in that optimistic shout, the triumphant setting of the Ode to Joy. I’m SICK of the naiivety of drawing direct parallels between (whoever’s) life & the content of the plays.

    As for the presentation of Richard III being some subtle reference to William Cecil – that’s just bloody daft. Do these Poxonyoudians REALLY think the Elizabethan playgoing public was ever so stupid as to lower itself so far down the ladder of credulity as to make such a connection?
    There I go – I dealt with justa cuppla points and I’ve already written more prose than the Pearl of Oxford – or do I mean the Earl of Poxford* – probably ever wrote. Oh, I don’t have any evidence for that, but apparently actual evidence doesn’t matter any more.
    One more thing I want to question: the silly notion that only a nobleman could have written about courtly politics and the sensibilities and preoccupations of the big nobs. Er … what about IMAGINATION? Give ear, and purpend: “And as imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name”. Bloody hell, did the Pearl of O. REALLY write that when he was eight??? Believing that really would be an imaginative feat! Talking of feet, here’s a footnote!
    * Pearl of Oxford – see above. WOW! I think I just discovered UNDENIABLE evidence that the 17th Earl really MUST have written the ENTIRE Shakespeare canon!! … as long as we accept that the Reverend Spooner actually lived in the 16th, rather than the 19th, Century, and gave Oxford the idea to hint at his lurking presence by employing Spoonerisms, – we see how he easily turned the title ‘Earl of Poxford’ – which the uncultured country bumpkin horse-minder turned bit-part actor Will Shagsberd was wont to call the noble earl when in his cups, as, apparently, he frequently was – into the Pearl of Oxford. In this persona, his shadowy presence can be detected behind the plays in the line from ‘The Passionate Pilgrim’: “Bright orient Pearl, alack, so timely shaded”!!!!! OK, Shagsberd didn’t necessarily write anything in ‘The Passionate Pilgrim’ – but what the hell. If you think that’s all a bit far-fetched, YOU’RE NOT AN OXFORDIAN.

  13. […] the very good website Dispositio by Holger Syme: he was originally interviewed by German TV about the movie and then discovered that the theatre in his home town was advertising ‘Macbeth by Edward De […]

  14. […] Emmerich’s new film is getting…”reviewed” is a deceptively neutral word for what’s happening to it in the press. Oh, also here. To celebrate, Emmerich released a short video about what a titanic, smug moron he […]

  15. […] any claim he may make to veracity. Indeed, when it suited his purpose (in a reply to this post by Holger Schott Syme—scroll down) the screenwriter, John Orloff, pointed to this very framing device as proof that […]

  16. […] People Being Stupid About Shakesp… or Someone Else […]

  17. J says:

    Thank you for the review! I do have one burning, if terribly un-academic, question: are the film’s dumb moments funny or simply bad? This will make all the difference in whether or not I rent it (with wine) later this year.

  18. @Jeff Rolling on the floor laughing my ass off at your grasp of history! Yes, you Orksfordians have us Orthodoxians on the run. What fools these mortals be. 6 million words down to a million tiny pieces. LOL. Sorry Holger, but mockery seems to be the last resort to their humourless take on authorship.

  19. LadyHally says:

    I see that your a expert about Elizabethan Times and especially about The Stage and Shakespeare.. I was wondering if you knew any information about a Richard Edwards and if you could tell me about him..
    This is what I have found in my research;
    Though educated at Oxford to be a lawyer, Richard Edwardes never practiced law, and instead became a cleric in the Anglican Church. He was a poet and playwright of some renown, writing such rousing plays as Palemon and Arcite for the entertainment of (his supposed half sister) Queen Elizabeth. His passing was noted by a contemporary of the time as being a writer of the same class as Shakespeare.
    In 1566, Edwardes’ Palamon and Arcite was performed before Elizabeth I at Oxford when the stage fell — three people died and five were injured as a result. Despite the tragic accident, the show continued to play that night. Damon and Pythias (written in 1564, published in 1571), a comedy, is his only extant play. Ten of Edwardes’ poems appear in the first edition of the Paradise of Dainty Devices, though publisher Henry Disle says the poems are “written for the most part by M. [Master] Edwards.” Edwardes possibly compiled the manuscript on which the Paradise of Dainty Devices is based.

    This next info posted below was written by a Scholar of English literature with a specialization in Rennaisance English literature

    “Richard Edwardes was, indeed, a well known and admired poet, playwright, composer and songwriter at the time of the reign of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. He was one of her closest friends and as such his name is found on the List of the Queen’s Chamber and the List of the Royal Chapel. There is a painting of him standing with Elizabeth on the steps of St. Mary’s Church. He was the Master of the Children’s Choir under Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. He wrote Philaemon and Arcyte, a play with music in 1566 and many songs, among them, When Gripping Griefs, and others which he composed for voice and lute. He, also, composed liturgical music. Much of this music is available today as sheet music and some on CD. While some of his works may be lost others survive and can be read on line or in the many books published today about him, his works and his influence on the literature and music of his time. Other plays are Misogomus, and Palamon and Arcite. His most famous poem is Amantium Irae Amoris Redintegratio Est or Going to My Naked Bed (also can be read on line) which was published along with 9 more of his poems in Paradyse of Daynte Devices. It was even reported in the contemporary news what he wore at both Queen Mary Tudor’s funeral and Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation.” she stated that she believed that Richard was indeed the bastard son of Henry VIII as well.

    There is a legend that he is the bastard son of Henry VIII and Agnes Bluet/Blewitt..Agnes was his mistress while Henry was still with Queen Katherine of Aragon. It is said she was pregnant with The King’s Son and was able to avoid much of the gossip since she was not at Court..She lived at Greenham Manor which was near The King’s Hunting Lodge and this is where she conceived the Kings son.. Either way the fact that she was not at court helped in the secrecy, although Richard was referred to as the “Bastard” son of Agnes and Henry.Henry was noted as being very fond of the boy.. Henry provided a stipend for Richards childhood support, and guaranteed and paid for his education at Oxford. Richards mother, Agnes Blewitt, was allowed to add the Tudor rose to her personal crest.It is documented that Agnes did have a son named Richard, but only 2 sons, William and Henry are shown to be positively the sons of William Edwards whom she married when already pregnant or shortly after the birth of Richard.. Richard is said to have kept his Edwards last name out of shame for the indecency that his mother engaged in.Richard cannot be positively linked to William because records suggest that he was born from another man, King Henry VII

    Many think that adding Richard Edwardes as a son of Henry VIII is “Royalty Hunting” But if his step-father, the William Edwardes line is traced through to its early sources in Wales, it descends on a direct line through generations of Welsh kings to Coel Hen, the last Dux Brittorium, or King of All Britain, ca between 150 and 400 A. D.

    This is all the information I have been able to find.. I do have a copy of his poem “Amantium Irae” and I am really interested in what this scholar wrote about.. she wrote the information on a discussion board under Anonymous and I asked her about the painting in which Richard is in , next to Queen Elizabeth I , but she never went back to the site.. I would love to hear any info you may have on him.. Thanks so very much.. Your welcome to email me at my regular email as well.. Also I am not stating the parenthood of Richard Edwards as fact. I am only writing what I have seen and been told in this family legend.. It does make me wonder though when I saw this post from the Scholar of English literature,and her view was that Henry VIII was his father, it definitely made it more interesting and it seemed perhaps I should be talking to people who have a degree in or deep knowledge of the stage, poetry and Literature of this time period.. I do hope you can help.. This has been a ongoing debate and I would like as much information on Richard Edwardes as possible..Again I thank you in advance for any help you can give me.


  20. Holger Syme says:


    again, do your research. I can’t seriously argue with you on this level. As you must know, Richard III was one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays in print, published multiple times before the version that appeared in the 1623 folio. Which specific differences introduced in 1623 do you have in mind? What evidence do you have that either of the Herberts was personally involved in the printing of that volume? (There is no documentary evidence to support such a theory, but perhaps you have privileged access to private archives?)

    I agree that arguments based on composition dates are extremely tricky, and many debaters on both sides too often rely on this speculative kind of evidence. I don’t know when Richard III was written. I do know, however, with as much certainty as possible, when it was first printed, and that was before Robert Cecil had become the powerful presence he would become in Elizabeth’s final years (and especially under James I). Dating the play to the early or mid-1590s is further supported by the publication dates of 2 & 3 Henry VI (the latter of which obviously precedes R3) — they were both in print by 1595, with the former being entered into the Stationers’ Register by March 1594. Stylistically, too, it would be difficult to argue that R3 is anything other than a fairly early play, though that again is a somewhat more tenuous case to make.

    • Jeff Rowe says:

      The problem that I see with these arguments about dates, just in general, is we lose sight of the big picture. Namely, we lose sight of how often pennames were used at this time. We lose sight of how often the Earl of Oxford was mentioned as a great playwright, yet none of his plays are found under his name. We lose sight of the lack of a mention of the name William Shakespeare, in anyone’s diary or visits to King James’ palace, like Ben Jonson was given.

      Stratfordians main arguments seem to come from the fact that it’s their guy on the cover of the book and that there was a monument placed in Stratford Upon Avon, silently, sometime after everyone was gone.

      Those two main strengths are easily explained away, from an Oxfordian point of view, considering the seriousness of the desire to cover his name and the power that he and his descendants had in doing so.

      Thus, it puts you Stratfordians in the position of defending, rather than bringing forward a plausible scenario wherein the untravelled, uneducated William can whip off a million words from the point of view of a nobleman. Written in ink, perfectly chiseled into pentameters and tightly plotted perfect moments of tension, it’s more likely he wrote six million words and chiseled them down to a million. Thus, the fact that Oxford had secretaries is a very believable scenario for such an achievement and the fact that William had to work for a living makes it totally unlikely.

      Finally, there is a reason why the story of Oxford has risen and risen, over the years, even while being ridiculed and denied by ALL of the Shakespeare professors. So, defend all of the specifics you can cling yourself to, while the hurricane of truth comes whipping by to rip you from your post.

      • Steven Paulson says:

        Yeah, when all you have to do is come up with a THEORY for everything, it’s a pretty easy task to explain anything away. Coming up with facts is much harder. Which is why it is especially nice if your theory, like the Oxenfordian theory, inherently relieves you of any responsibility to come up with facts. No evidence whatsoever that the dedication of the First Folio to Pembroke and Montgomery was the result of their having paid for the publication – any more than the similar dedication to the same two Earls proved they paid for the Beaumount/Fletcher folio? Of course not! They had to remain silent! They very lack of evidence practically proves that they did it!

        Never mind that over fifteen years after the publication of the First Folio, after the deaths of anyone who could have cared, well into the reign of Charles I, Philip Herbert indicated that the reason the First Folio was dedicated to the two was because of their efforts to get unauthorized publications suppressed. He had to keep up the lie because… well, I’m sure you can come up with something. I suspect that’s why the Prince Tudor nonsense ha an appeal; despite its obvious silliness and manifest lack of anything like evidence it does give some reason for keeping the whole thing under wraps.

      • Holger Syme says:


        you can’t have a big picture without details; if you don’t start with the nitty-gritty stuff, all you have is fantasy and illusion.

        Why don’t you tell me “how often” Oxford was mentioned in those terms, when, and by whom. I’d certainly be happy to point out to you that Shakespeare was mentioned in the same sentence that lists “Edward Earle of Oxforde” as among “the best for Comedy” (in Francis Meres’ 1598 Palladis Tamia, the same book that also speaks of Shakespeare as “the most excellent in both [comedy and tragedy] for the stage,” while it says nothing about Oxford as a writer for the stage [note that not all plays were written for the theatre]).

        Contrary to what you claim, Shakespeare is mentioned a number of times in court records, once as a co-recipient of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men’s performance fee, and multiple times as a playwright (in 1604 as the author of Measure for Measure and Comedy of Errors and twice in 1605 as the author of Merchant of Venice). Jonson wrote court masques, Shakespeare never did.

        Finally, while it’s probably true that the majority of Shakespeare’s lines are spoken by noblemen, it’s not only incorrect to claim that all of them are, or that the plays as a whole represent the “point of view of a nobleman;” it also shows that you don’t understand how plays work (a failure shared by some Shakespeare scholars). Characters don’t represent authors; most plays, especially early modern plays, don’t have a unified voice. I also have no idea where you are getting your numbers from, or what you mean when you say that “William had to work for a living.” He did: he wrote plays for a living.

        • Jeff Rowe says:

          Waste of time. Big picture still stands: Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare is still obvious. Its obviousness still convinced Twain, Whitman, John Adams, Orson Welles…the list is endless of minds far superior to all of yours and mine. I’ll stand behind them. I’m publishing my ebook, called AS YOU DON’T LIKE IT, wherein I reveal the author himself illuminating the penname prank, within the play As You Like It. I’ve dedicated it to Stratfordians and mostly Stratfordian professors. It will stand as my response. You’ll pay 99cents to read it, the day the movie comes out or you’ll be the last to get the prank that the greatest genius in the history of mankind (he beats Einstein to the theory of relativity in the play As You Like It) used the name William to COVER his FOREST. The play takes place in the Forest of ARDEN, the only play in all of Shakespeare, where we meet a character named William, with no last name. Thus, the only chance the author has to identify the prank. Go read the play from an Oxfordian point of view and see if you can decipher it for yourself. It’s very simple. All you do is switch the names to their alternate or original meanings and the final four acts of the play reveal this very discussion. Good luck. I have given Dr. Syme my email address. When you get stuck, get in touch with me and my book will help you.

          • Steven Paulson says:

            Any list of smart people who have subscribed to Oxenfordian foolishness – which should not include Welles who recanted – merely underscores that EVERY OTHER REALLY BRILLIANT PERSON YOU HAVE EVER HEARD OF IS A STRATFORDIAN.

            Twain also believed Milton wrote Pilgrim’s Progress. Want to wrestle with that one for a bit, Jeff?

          • Holger Syme says:

            Now, see, Jeff, this is interesting: you make large claims, we offer concrete, archival, documented evidence that you’re wrong, and you come back with three answers:

            a) this discussion is a waste of time
            b) some famous people have agreed with the Oxford theory
            c) your interpretation of a play proves that the Oxford theory is right

            The first answer mirrors the reaction of most Shakespeare scholars to the authorship controversy. Your camp typically claims that we answer that way because we realize that our emperor has no clothes and are afraid to admit it. Do you?

            The second answer has no evidentiary value whatsoever. Who cares that a handful of authors bought into one notion or another? Being a brilliant writer or a remarkable creative mind has nothing to do with being a well-informed scholar. Great artists can be — and often are — pretty delusional. And since your next star witness will doubtless be Freud, the same applies to him: extraordinarily creative thinker and brilliant writer who was perfectly capable of being wrong. Having to decide whether I should rely more on a couple of well-known 19th- and 20th-century people’s opinions or on an archive of evidence from Shakespeare’s lifetime doesn’t strike me as a difficult choice at all.

            Lastly, your claims about As You Like It obviously sound absurd: the “Shakespeare beats Einstein” assertion is a symptom of precisely the kind of feverish obsession with Shakespeare’s supposedly all-encompassing genius that leads people into the quagmire of the authorship controversy in the first place. But even if you made a marginally convincing case for your interpretation of the play (and I can’t say the introduction you sent me holds much promise on that count), it would still be merely a case of literary interpretation, not evidence. It’s simply not possible to take a play, come up with a reading of the text, and then claim that this interpretation constitutes evidence on par with — or even superior to — the information available in official documents, private letters, and in printed sources designed to convey information (rather than give aesthetic pleasure, say). In the case of your camp’s theories, for instance, you know Oxford had three daughters — that’s evidence of the latter kind. But that doesn’t mean he wrote King Lear, and no interpretation of the play can ever compete, in terms of evidentiary value, with the documented facts. (And yes, of course much of the work historians do in archives also relies on textual interpretation of one kind or another. Counting daughters? Hardly.)

            • Jeremy says:

              Einstein? Clearly a fraud.
              How could a mere clerk in a hick patent office have come up with the theory of relativity? That level of genius doesn’t just come out of nowhere.
              Clearly, it must have an aristocratic Prussian who couldn’t publish under his own name, but used Einstein, who was actually an ignorant bumbler.

      • Mark Johnson says:

        Since others have already picked apart the entrails of your post I only have a few comments to make. I’d like to ask you to identify the names of all the other contemporaneous authors that you claim used pseudonyms and what were the “pennames” that they used.

        I’d also like to ask you why documents of the time that reference the author as Mr. William Shakespeare, Gent. [or some variant thereof] are not specifically and explicitly identifying William Shakespeare of Stratford as the author of the works. I know these are specifics, and you’d rather look at the forest and not see the timber [Ben Jonson’s for instance], but the only William Shakespeare of the time who was entitled to be addressed as Mr. Shakespeare and to be accorded the status of Gentleman [all in accordance with the grant of the coat of arms to his father] was our very own William Shakespeare of Stratford. That qualifies as direct, documentary evidence for the Stratfordian attribution. I realize that you believe such evidence is “easily explained away, from an Oxfordian point of view,” but please indulge me and explain this evidence away without using circular reasoning or invoking the deus ex machina of your convenient conspiracy.

        Finally, your grandiose statements as to how the tide is turning in favor of Oxford are nothing new:

        “It is clear for all that a new era of Shakespearian studies is about to open. The scepticism about the man of Stratford is spreading in spite of the resistance of the defence-quarters of the tradition. Quantity of beliefs long time accepted as dogmas are on their way out: the block is cracking.”

        – Able Lefranc “Under the Mask of William Shakespeare” 1918

        Cling yourself [sic] to whatever you want but until you can provide some actual evidence, your ship is going down like a tempest in a teapot.

  21. Oh Yes Oxenforde. Let the factoids we have speak.
    A man hated in his time. At least so his enemies said.
    Whereas Shakspere.
    A man loved in his time. At least so his friends said.
    Still doesn”t alter the plays and poems one whit.
    I suggest reading them, rather than about Eddie the Boar.

    • Jeff Rowe says:

      A man hated in his time? I love to see you Stratfordians cutting down the man whom you worship. It is truly the best joke in the world. Oxford is loving this. While you proclaim an illiterate man created the modern english language, you scowl at the world’s greatest genius. Funny.

  22. Jeff Rowe says:

    Just read up on the Earl of Oxford. Clearly, you have impressed a lot of people in the past with your knowledge of Shakespeare’s works. Obviously, you don’t know the man who wrote them. Who cares if the film supposes some things wrong. Stratfordians suppose the whole thing wrong.

  23. Portia says:

    Why is it that people want a professionally trained surgeon to operate on their brains but think a screenwriter’s “guess” is as good as that of a trained literary critic who has devoted most of his adult life to studying Shakespeare plays?

    It saddens me that there is such contempt for intellectual training but scientific or medical training – now that’s worthy of respect! (all, of course, deserve respect)

    • Jeff Rowe says:

      But if the Shakespeare training comes from Stratfordian professors (which is always the case with you people), then you miss half of the references that the Earl of Oxford has placed. Your training analyzes style and technique, but not the man. The MAN is the education, then read the plays.

  24. Ina says:

    I am overjoyed that I found your critique. I knew something had to be seriously off with this film when I read in another (more positive) review that Queen E was popping out children and no one the wiser.
    You have saved me both time and money, so thank you.

  25. Wow. John Orloff replied to your post! And badly. I hope he’s seen the roast at shakesyear too. Can’t wait to be sitting in the dark taking notes, shaking my head and holding back guffaws of laughter.

  26. bob says:

    Can’t believe so many morons believe shakespeare didn’t write his plays. But then again theres millions of morons who believe global warming is real. There is no evidence for either one. Do some research and stop believing what people tell you.

    • Holger Syme says:

      Too many Bobs to keep track of…

      In any case, Bob, I would have thought the climate change deniers would be the clearer parallel case to the Shakespeare conspiracy theorists. In both cases, the overwhelming majority of specialists agree, while people with little established expertise or few relevant credentials cry bloody murder about the academic or scientific consensus.

  27. Nora Williams says:

    Mr. Orloff: I would have corrected much more in your post than “carry=catty.”

  28. Holger Syme says:

    Dear John,

    anyone who had the privilege of watching you “debate” Alan Nelson last week might question your commitment to a well-mannered debating style.

    I know you won’t have time to respond, but I’d still like to hear where exactly I put forth the “thesis” that you wrote a documentary, or where exactly I call you ignorant — or where I say anything about the facticity of Richard III.

    I realize Roland Emmerich and you both like to defend your fanciful historiography by likening your work to Shakespeare’s. I find that comparison a little preposterous, but you’re clearly not suffering from a lack of self-confidence. I’d also question whether Shakespeare knew what was fanciful and what was factual in his history plays: he wasn’t a modern historian, after all, and had to rely on a small number of not especially reliable sources. Richard III, as you doubtless know, is more than a little indebted to well-established Tudor propaganda. I have no idea, and neither do you, whether Shakespeare knew just how skewed his sources were. You, on the other hand, have access to a huge archive and libraries full of well-documented research on the era you’ve set out to portray. Rather a different scenario, no?

    The “bookend” might have worked better if it weren’t presented by one of the most publicly visible Oxfordians around. Derek Jacobi, playing Derek Jacobi, talking like Derek Jacobi does not scream “myth” or “fiction” to my ears. “Film” or “play” does not equal “totally unreliable”: I would expect a play or a film on a historical subject to bear some resemblance to the history it seems to depict, and nothing in your bookends seems designed to let us know that we’re in for an entirely fanciful version of Elizabethan England. And in any case the aspersions you have cast on academic Shakespeareans in all your public appearances make it virtually impossible to read the film as anything other than an alternative to the “official” history. Your statements more than cancel out whatever fictionalizing effect the “bookends” might have had.

    And lastly, a genuine question: how did I get your portrayal of Oxford as Elizabeth’s bastard son wrong? Do you mean that the film just has Robert Cecil retail that story, and for all we know he might be lying? That’s not what Oxford’s reaction suggested to me, but what do I know.

    • Jeff Rowe says:

      So, if a play or a movie is not wanting to be taken as “documentary,” it should qualify itself? Maybe the opening credits should say “this is not based on a true story. Not all of it, anyway.” The job of the dramatist is to heighten emotion, while keeping it REAL. If you think Shakespeare keeps it REAL, then tell me why he depicts Richard III as deformed, a gimmick that is totally made-up.

      • Holger Syme says:

        we’re going round in circles, and I really wish you, John Orloff, and the other Oxfordians would bother reading my post before responding. It would make for a more productive conversation. As I’ve said in the post and in my comments, I wouldn’t care about the film’s historical accuracy if the filmmakers weren’t quite so outspoken about how wrong “Stratfordians” are, and how much more accurate the Oxfordian version of the story is. If you make that kind of claim, you need to live up to it.

        As for R3, again: read what I wrote above, and do your homework. Check Shakespeare’s sources, inform yourself about the Tudor Myth and the role of the figure of Richard III in that enabling narrative, and then reconsider your question. Geoffrey Bullough’s Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare has for over 50 years been the best place to start this little investigation, which I’m sure you’ll find enlightening. One spoiler: the idea that Richard was “crookbacked” goes back to at least 1491, and was part of virtually every source Shakespeare’s play can be linked to.

        • Jeff Rowe says:

          Interesting. I’ll have to read it. However, if you’re telling me that Richard III’s opening monologue is not directed at Robert Cecil, it’s going to take more convincing than that. Being deformed is one thing, but the way the author pokes fun at the deformity and relates it to his sex life, while having a real deformed power-seeker as the “power behind the throne” (Cecil), screams the Earl of Oxford’s revenge.

          • Holger Syme says:

            Jeff: that’s the difference between hunting elusive allusions in works of literature and actually looking at the evidence. Richard’s physical shape was a complete staple of historical writings about the king from before William Cecil was born, let alone his son. The association between physical appearance and moral character was commonplace. When the play was written, Robert Cecil had not yet risen to the prominence he would later command, and the same is presumably true of the first three parts of the first tetralogy. (I realize the claim that R3=Cecil is not an inherently “Oxfordian” argument, and believing in the identification has nothing to do with one’s position vis-a-vis the authorship debate; I find the link extremely weak, at least if we’re talking about how and why the play was written. That a play’s reception might change over time is obvious, and I suspect a “crookbacked” character would indeed have had different connotations in, say, 1605 than in, say, 1595.)

            In any case, I don’t understand at all exactly how Richard III is supposed to “poke fun” at Richard’s deformity, or what Richard’s sex-life (to the extent that that is in any way a concept early modern writers could have identified) has to do with Robert Cecil.

          • Jeff Rowe says:

            There was no reply button below your “reply,” so I’m replying to my own reply, but really replying to your reply below my reply.

            My reply? Come on with the dates. Are you kidding me? As soon as Stratfordians mention dates of writing and dates of publications prior to 1623, they are slapped in the face by the FIRST FOLIO. It was published seven years after Shakespeare’s death, most likely by the ‘incomparable’ Herbert brothers, one of whom was married to Susan De Vere. Thus, any amount of re-writes and gimmicks that the real author planted would have cleared almost any censorship (especially the Robert Cecil one)and the joke about his brother-in-law would come forward when his real story was found out. The whole penname prank is displayed in the play As You Like It, which also was not heard of until 1623.

            I am impressed with how much you know about the era and the Earl of Oxford’s plays, but discouraged that you just don’t ‘get it.’

  29. John orloff says:

    apologies. iPhone auto corrections. carry- catty

  30. John orloff says:

    no, actually I unfortunate haven’t the time to respond as needed. if I were to respond to every review to everything I write, I’d never have time to write. plus it would take actual effort to be as carry as you, and I prefer my debates to be well mannered.

    in any event, obviously I disagree with your basic thesis that we attempted a documentary and apparently blissfully ignorant– or apparently stupidly so– of facts.

    we made a drama, much as Shakespeare did I’m his own time.

    we even visually state it in the bookends– that the film is a “play”. apparently that was lost on you.

    as was the fact that we make no claim that Oxford is elizabeths child. I’m rather shocked you understand dramaturgy so poorly, but consider yourself an expert of some sort?

    I’m also fascinated by whir era comment about Richard iii not presented as fact, but our film is. again, I direct you to our bookends, and would enquire where Shakespeare’s disclaimer is found in Richard iii– PR any of the histories, save perhaps Harry V and chorus….

    • Steven Paulson says:

      Why is it that Oxenfordians always, when the argument starts to go against them, fall back on the “you people are so RUDE!” – or in this case “carry” – “so I’m not going to debate you!” argument? No matter how rude and catty they themselves have been.

    • Edward G. Nilges says:

      Orloff, I assisted the real life John “A Beautiful Mind” Nash. Ron Howard took liberties with Nash’s life. He underplayed the contribution of the mathematics professors who bear-led Nash to my office so I could assist him with software during a critical moment of his recovery. Because in a movie it is hard to show the effects of aural hallucination without creepy voices as in a horror film, Ron Howard made Nash’s delusions visual.

      But what part of “minimalism” don’t you understand, fella?

      Starting roughly with Shakespeare’s own History plays, a “history play” that is not a documentary has always taken “just enough for the city” liberties with the truth. Oldcastle was the historical Hal’s companion, Shakespeare made him Falstaff when Oldcastle’s descendants complained.

      But Shakespeare got something you seem utterly tone-deaf to, right, and this was the emotional and moral contour, topology (if you will, if it’s not the proverbial pearl before the proverbial swine) right. Henry IV did feel illegitimate and guilt-ridden, and so the play opens with “So shaken as we are, so wan with care”. Henry V learned demotic English as opposed to the over-refined Norman French/English of the court from boon companions and so, to his father’s relief at the time of his father’s death, was not an ape of idleness nor a precious aesthete like Richard II.

      Whereas you invert the whole backstory of the plays, apparently (for I’m damned if I’ll watch your film) by making it Carriavagesque, a circus of conspiracy. You’ve never asked yourself how the very spirit of Shakespeare’s plays could have emerged from a criminal conspiracy, and such has never emerged from your little Hollywood…which destroyed Welles.

      Your film, somewhat like a much better film (Leaving Las Vegas) is screenwriter self-hatred, for Shakespeare was a proto-screenwriter and because he had some decency, like Nick Cage’s character in Leaving, YOU had to DESTROY him.

      I hope you can look at yourself in the mirror, Orloff.

  31. Finn says:

    In ‘Shakespeare in Love’ we saw Shakespeare running everywhere. Through the streets, across the market place, there was no stopping him! We all thought we knew a lot about Shakespeare but how many of us knew he was also an Olympic athlete? So it’ll be interesting to see in this new movie how fast a runner de Vere is. I’m betting Shakespeare could run the arse off him, which should solve the authorship issue once and for all. (Not that there is an authorship issue).

  32. Chris H. says:

    Ok, this is really childish, but I fixed the movie poster:

  33. Chris H. says:

    Doesn’t the name of the film give the game away: Emmerich and Orloff are doing it for teh lulz.
    It’s more disappointing that Emmerich didn’t use his disaster-movie chops to incorporate the 1580 earthquake.

    And for all the filmmakers’ assumed bravery, what with Jacobi, Rylance and others, Oxfordianism is rampant in the ‘classy’ British acting tradition (not to mention a chunk of the US Supreme Court).

  34. Carrots says:

    Perhaps the funniest thing about all of this is seeing people from the bloated trillion-dollar monster industry that is Hollywood pretending to be little scrappy rebels, taking on the down-at-heels, barely funded behemoth that is academic Shakespeare studies.

  35. John Orloff says:


    I take it you didn’t like the film very much?


    Your prerogative of course.

    Though the irony of a “review” taking myself to task for historical inaccuracies, but then makes many of your own about my film, is not lost on me.

    Take your characterization of Romeo– you conveniently omit the very next lines in the film– the one where Dekker says it’s not all in iambic… and Nashe says “even easier”!

    But such details don’t quite jive with your thesis that Roland and I are unaware of anything in Elizabethan England.

    I look forward to your review of Shakespeare in Love– you remember, the film that shows the truth of Shakespeare being inspired by Gwenyth Paltrow to write Romeo, rather than Porto’s Romeus and Juliet….

    Good luck! Respectfully…


    • Holger Syme says:

      Really? That’s your response: that I didn’t catch every word of your script on first viewing, while taking notes and being distracted by my shaking head?

      Funnily enough, your point doesn’t really address my criticism either. What I objected to was the idea that anyone, especially Jonson, would have been astonished, surprised, or even mildly bemused by the notion of a verse play in 1598/9. That idea seems to be fundamental to what you were doing with those scenes, and it’s obvious nonsense. But if I misunderstood, I’d be delighted if you would correct my misperception.

      Also note that I didn’t say you or Mr Emmerich were completely unaware of Elizabethan history. I said you were ignoring it. Rather a different thing.

      Finally, yes, I (fondly) remember Shakespeare in Love. I wouldn’t have mentioned it in the review otherwise (though I remember Gwyneth Paltrow as an actress in it, not as a character…). It was a deliberately tongue-in-cheek work of fiction. If Anonymous presented itself the same way, I’d still have found it annoying, but I wouldn’t have gone on about it at such length. But it didn’t, which is why I did.

      All that said, thank you for the comment. I’d actually be genuinely interested to hear more. I take it going this far into the realm of fiction was a deliberate choice, and I’d love to hear why you made it. It would have been a more obvious decision to simply tell the standard Oxford-wrote-Shakespeare tale — why not do that?

    • Elysabeth says:

      Mr. Orloff,
      If you knew anything about Shakespearean acting, you would know that iambic pentameter is one of the easiest rhythms to learn lines in. Prose is a pain to learn and as Elizabethan actors had very little time to learn lines due to the number of different plays that they were required to perform in a month (take a quick peek at Henslowe’s Diary… PLEASE)the revelation that the iambic play was in fact not all iambic would have been cause for disgruntlement, not pleasure. Foiled again my fine fellow!!

      • Holger Syme says:

        Right — and more formal verse forms are possibly even easier. The other thing about blank verse, to my mind, is that it’s easy to fill in the blanks: if you’ve forgotten some of your part, you know more or less how many syllables you’ll need to supply. Prose is much less predictable and thus much more dangerous…

    • Syntinen says:

      I’ve been repeatedly astounded ever since Shakespeare in Love was released that – even though Stoppard and Madden did everything short of holding up a placard behind their stars’ heads reading “This film’s a JOKE, people!” – so many people thought it purported to be a true story; but the revelation that you apparently think so too is truly treasurable. Did the panning shot around Will’s garret lingering on the coffee mug saying “A Prefent from Stratford-upon-Avon”, not shake your belief in the seriousness of the literary history on offer? Did Will’s weekly sessions on the couch of a “priest of Psyche” not instil some doubt? The boatman’s line “I ‘ad that Christopher Marlowe in the back of my boat once”? No? Ever thought of flipping burgers for a living?

    • Edward G. Nilges says:

      To John Orloff

      Ay, but yet
      Let us be keen, and rather cut a little,
      Than fall, and bruise to death.

      – William SHAKESPEARE, Measure for Measure, Act 2 Sc 1

      So Orloff puts the boot in, Orloff has the ball
      Orloff on the way to the Bank is lorfing at us all
      He’s gonna make his little pile on residuals and DVDs
      Lighting fools to dusty death in front of their TVs!

      And to the great Orloff a mistake about his script
      Is bad scholarship and enough for him to get ripped!
      Little Jocko is as important as Gugliemio Shake a Speare
      And of such lese majeste we all should live in fear!

      Dig it, Joe (may I call you so?), it is one thing to cut a little
      And another to fall, and bruise to death.
      Any film based on history may depart by jot or tittle
      But not choke Truth unto her dying breath!

      But I’m sure it’s a way for you to make hay,
      And not to pay insignificant academics and teachers
      As script doctors, and other such moochers and meechers:
      A guy like you hates such underpaid preachers
      Without Porsche or Beamer
      Who don’t eat at Sardi’s but instead cook their pathetic dinner in a contemptible little rice steamer.

      Orloff, you’re the one percent
      And that’s why you deny Shakespeare:
      As the middle class little people sink in shoes of solid cement
      It’s our capability for creativity that you fear.
      You despise us all and the makarys of this Blog
      But I’m afraid it’s you who are lost in the Fog.

      Edward G. Nilges 19 Feb 2012. Moral rights have been asserted by the author, so don’t get gay with me

  36. Mark Johnson says:

    Earnest: Let me be frank. It made me smile to read you. Are the academicians somehow trembling in their own wake, why is the emperor wearing not clothes, and who has realized this strange fact so vehemently?

    • Earnest says:

      Mark Johnson: Please do not feel so unique as I often make others (as well as myself) smile with what I say and write. My comment was directed toward the author of that very excellently written and entertaining review of Anonymous.

  37. Earnest says:

    Tedious academicians are surely trembling in their wake as they grudgingly realize their emperor wears not clothes. Never-the-less, you realize it with such vehemence. It makes me smile to read you.

  38. Giulia says:

    Oh, five stars review.
    Honestly, I haven’t seen the movie yet, but your review made me shiver. I’ll try to watch it tonight, but it was not release in my country yet (i’m not sure it will, actualy).
    I would respect an Oxfordian movie if it had sense of historical facts, but simple flaws, like dates, are just impossible to swallow. I’ll come back with a better opinion after watching it. But, thank you so much for this wonderful review.

  39. mark says:

    Sounds like a “Black Adder” marathon is needed to wash away the nasty taste.

  40. Richard Nathan says:

    The review in the Guardian claims the film has Oxford in rhw film “All art is political, otherwise it would just be decoration.”

    If that statement is really in the film, it shows that Emmerich and Orloff understand neither art nor politics.

  41. Your book looks fantastic. Your post about Anonymous arrived just as I finished a blog based on the scenes i’d seen. I’m a big time pedant when it comes to the biography. The fact that they made it Richard 3 and not 2 is wierd. Marlowe, Dekker and Nashe in the cast tipped the main time frame for me to be early 1590’s. I laughed aloud at several of your comments and still want to see it as I have seen his other films, with a sense of Schadenfreude. The enjoyment of somebody suffering, banana skin style.
    Now I’ll read the other comments.

  42. Annie says:

    Gramercy, sir, for the wonderful review so neatly exposing the ignorance of this puppet show. Your words need be spread!

  43. Holger Syme says:


    I’m still not interested. Though I’d love to see you define those “standards of evidence.”

    • Steven Paulson says:

      Never met an Oxenfraudian yet who had anything like an understanding of the concept of “standards of evidence”. From a legal or historical standard.

  44. William Ray says:

    You refused to display a previous comment I wrote because you didn’t want your blog turned into a contentious Shakespeare-Oxford debate. Now that you have used mucho words and energy dismissing a poor movie, I assume my words are relevant on the matter. As art, nothing; as history, distorted; as an intellectually courageous attempt to get closer to the actual truth, it is wholly admirable, certainly more than the entire Shakespeare establishment has achieved in its puffed-up professionality and refusal to apply the standards of evidence to their own theory of ‘Shakespeare’s’ genesis. Now you come along and line up with the prevaricators and status quo followers. Nothing is going to stop the discovery of what happened in the officially Gloriana era, certainly not a torrent of words from entrenched but discredited Authority.

    William Ray

  45. […] blowing the lid off the Shakespeare conspiracy (as Professor Holger Schott Syme reminds us in this superb post) but his movie is hardly going to constitute an argument for the Oxfordian cause. Anonymous is not a […]

  46. Carrots says:

    So, Bob, didn’t get as far as paragraph 3, huh?

  47. Bob says:

    Wow. Pedantic is one word. Myopic could be another. I’m looking forward to your review of SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE… Where to begin with historical inaccuracies? A totally made up plot based on no historical fact… The queen coming to the Globe… I’m sure you wrote pages on it. Or Elizabeth– how about that ancient Burghley? That one is surely worth an essay, no? Or maybe The Bridge on The River Kwai? You know… historically, THEY NEVER BLEW UP THE BRIDGE. Essay? Um, no. But when one dares to suggest the Bard is a fraud, we should dedicate paragraphs to a film director’s insignificant dating of plays… That you have no idea when they were written to begin with! your guess is as good as
    Orloff’s. Speaking of Richard III, essay on the hunchback (that you know Richard never had), or perhaps an essay o the murder of the boys in the tower? Whoever wrote such historically inaccuracies for the sake of good drama should really…. What? Be ashamed of himself? I look forward to your passion brought to these issues…

    • Holger Syme says:

      Dear Bob,

      thank you for not reading what I wrote.

      The one point worth addressing in your comment is the dating of plays. You’re quite right that I don’t know with any certainty when what was written. But we do know with some certainty when books were published (as long as we believe any documentary evidence).

      As I said in a tweet right after I saw the film, I don’t mind historical inaccuracy as long as there’s a payoff. That’s why I loved Inglourious Basterds. But neither Tarantino nor David Lean (River Kwai) were dumb enough to claim that they were presenting a more accurate picture of historical events than the academic establishment. Similarly, historical accuracy hardly is the point of Shakespeare’s history plays. Emmerich and Orloff, on the other hand, go out of their way to lecture people, so they’re asking for the pedant’s probe.

    • Bob Grumman says:

      Your response is moronic, Bob. Stoppard was playing with details of history, Emmerich has completely and insanely overturned history.

      • Edward G. Nilges says:

        Wow, is this the Bob Grumman of H-LAS?
        He writes with pith and he writes with class
        Obviously some of my sterling example
        Musta rubbed off on him, and on his aunt and his uncle.

    • Steven Paulson says:

      Well, Bob, I don’t recall Stoppard and Norman holding a presser to argue that Shakespeare actually invented Romeo and Juliet, or David Lean rolling out Wilson and Forman (or if you prefer Boulle and an interpreter, surprised you missed that trick) to argue that the underlying history behind their movie was true. Quntin Tarantino has never argued that Hitler actually died in a Paris theater fire. Orloff and Emmerich are arguing that the theory they proffer is true. I have no problem with Orloff and Emmerich altering history to make an entertaining movie (haven’t seen it yet and am giving the benefit of the doubt). It is when they try to convince the world that the underlying story is true that it becomes a duty to point out that they are not respecting the history they attempt to unsettle.

  48. Doug Bruster says:

    I enjoyed this very much, Holger–thanks for writing it up.

  49. James Cappio says:

    Nope, it really is Richard III, for a reason Professor Syme has mercifully left out; putting a hunchback on stage is supposed to evoke the hunchback Robert Cecil and inflame the groundlings against him and in favor of Essex, which harks back to the theory that Polonius is modeled on William Cecil. The movie shows a production of Hamlet with Polonius obviously made up as Cecil, performed at court in Cecil’s presence; one has to wonder what Emmerich and Orloff think Oxford could possibly be thinking, especially when he tries to get away with it twice. But objecting to the factual errors in Anonymous is like complaining that Jeff Goldblum’s Mac couldn’t possibly have hacked the alien computer in Independence Day . . .

  50. kj says:

    Fabulous review. Thank you very much!

    One additional point about the invention of blank verse in 1598. The film itself seems to indicate that Midsummer Night’s Dream was written and performed in 1558–thirty years earlier. I suppose scansion hadn’t developed fully enough at that point for anyone to notice its iambic pentameter. Or perhaps the occasional rhymed couplet threw everyone off.

    And forgive me for thinking there was a typo in your post. When you wrote “Richard III,” I thought you surely must have meant “Richard II,” as the story about that play’s connection to the Essex uprising is legendary. I must have underestimated Emmerich’s ignorance.

    Thanks again for watching the film and reviewing it. It keeps me from having to do either.


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