Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford—supreme playwright?

"They do protest too much, methinks."
Anonymous is not the first book or film to contend that Shakespeare did not write the plays that have come down to us under his name. It does, however, have the distinction of being one of the most riddled with errors. Some of them were pointed out by Stephen Marche in the New York Times:
In an early scene, Shakespeare’s contemporary Christopher Marlowe watches a new play, “Henry V,” which supposedly happens on the same day that Lord Essex departs for Ireland. But Marlowe died in 1593, while Essex left for Ireland in 1599. When Marlowe is killed, Ben Jonson confronts Shakespeare with the crime, saying that he “slit [his] throat,” but Christopher Marlowe was actually stabbed above the eye, according to the coroner’s report. Simple chronological or factual fudges, you might say — sure, but there’s more. The theatrical censor responds with shock to the idea that in Shakespeare’s version of “Richard III,” the king is portrayed as a hunchback. But Shakespeare did not invent that idea. In the influential “History of Richard III,” by Thomas More, written around 1516, Richard is “little of stature, ill featured of limbs, crook backed, his left shoulder much higher than his right.” And so on. In the film, Shakespeare’s fellow playwrights are all amazed that “Romeo and Juliet” is in iambic pentameter, but by the time “Romeo and Juliet” came out, drama in iambic pentameter was the standard; the first extant English play in iambic pentameter was “Gorboduc,” by Norton and Sackville, in 1561.
The craziest idea in “Anonymous,” however, is that Edward de Vere wrote a version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” 40 years before its performance at court, putting the composition of the play somewhere around 1560.....  To put the issue in a contemporary framework, it’s one thing to say that somebody other than Jay-Z wrote “The Blueprint”; it’s another to say that this clandestine Jay-Z wrote “The Blueprint” in 1961. You can’t write a hip-hop masterpiece before hip-hop has been invented. And you can’t write “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” until English secular comedy has come into existence.
The movie is doubtless great fun if one grants it a willing suspension of disbelief. Readers interested in the whys and wherefores of the history of attribution would be better served by James Shapiro's book Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?, which we have in hardback for a few farthings (so, as Iago said, you can "keep money in your purse").


  1. Anonymous is the first large scale production that offers great insight into how the myth of the uneducated "genius" from Stratford arose. Though you may point out historical inaccuracies in the film, Emmerich, citing "Shakespeare in Love" as an example, has said that the film contains an “emotional truth” rather than a literal one because “the drama is the primary concern.”

    I doubt seriously whether "Shakespeare in Love" led you to write an article bemoaning its historical inaccuracies.

  2. Interesting stuff! "Anonymous" does, indeed, sound a little out there. Also, HUGE points for making a Jay-Z reference (quite the wordsmith as well). That has to be a first!

  3. Oh, let me try that "emotional truth" jazz on my next term paper!

  4. Mr. Anonymous - I would leave the "emotional truth" stuff for your first movie or novel. It works better that way

  5. Lack of knowledge, in particular historical knowledge, characterizes the insouciant rejections of an inquiry into the identity of perhaps the most striking artist in Western literature. If you don't want to know anything, you perpetuate the ignorance created exactly so that you would not seek to. Sui generis assertions allows no questions. But artistic creation is the work of men and their experience-informed imaginations. James Shapiro's 'Contested Will'is a shameless ad hominem tract written to shut up the inquiry. Obviously shameless ad hominem attacks do not stop people from seeking the truth. It will not be stopped. Since the life and thought of Edward de Vere very closely parallels the plays and poems of 'Shakespeare', a blatant pseudonym, and since Shakspere of Stratford is ridiculed in several of those plays, there must be more to the story. The author does not ridicule himself. An illiterate but clever opportunist was not the author, but such is the narrative, twisted and warped though it has become by the priests of culture. If there is any integrity left in the educational and publishing system, the inquiry will go on and succeed. Meanwhile, the artistic wing has already fired a salvo across the water. That may show you not everyone is a self-willed fool.

  6. I love this blogsite! Where else can one read a fact-based critique be answered by an evasion that concedes historical inaccuracy and a follow-up that resorts to name-calling of absent parties? The assertion that Shakespeare did not write Shakespeare is an interesting theory, but probabilities and likelihoods are not proofs, and swans are occasionally black. But do carry on, boys--I may yet be persuaded by a charming voice!

  7. They brand me as unlettered, unschooled
    Unworthy even of mine own words!
    Tis a bitter gall indeed, but near a blessing
    Compared with that great insult that is being here,
    Boxed and buried, bound to watch
    My children fatherless, my wife smiling furtively at the vicar.
    Truly, next to this, how little seems the maggots' bite,
    Whether they teem beneath the earth,
    Or strut about in light of day.
    DeVere!-- In his hour a useless fellow,
    Now proves some use at last, for controversy
    Doth make immortals of us all.