|"They do protest too much, methinks."|
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 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").
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.