New Shakespeare movie

A new movie about Shakespeare is out. The premise is absurd: Shakespeare’s plays were not written by William Shakespeare. Piffle, to that. Still, I saw the trailer and the CGI of Elizabethan London looks pretty good.

Joseph Pearce has a pretty good but not perfect book on the issue of Shakespeare’s identity and Catholic faith. To get it, The Quest for Shakespeare, click HERE.  He also has Through Shakespeare’s Eyes.

Another interesting, but not perfect, book about Shakespeare’s Catholicism is by Clare Asquith, called Shadowplay.  This focuses on language and images in the plays.  She stretches at times, but in the main her ideas are correct.

From the UK’s best Catholic weekly:

Anonymous should be ignored by all Shakespeare lovers

Conspiracies about the authorship of Shakespeare have fascinated for decades, but ultimately ‘only foolish snobs don’t believe in Shakespeare’

By Francis Phillips on Friday, 28 October 2011

Although this might seem a frivolous subject, I maintain that nothing that concerns Shakespeare can ever be considered frivolous. As readers probably know, there is a new film out, made by Sony Pictures and produced by Roland Emmerich, called Anonymous which allegedly “presents a compelling portrait of Edward de Vere as the true author of Shakespeare’s plays.” This, as Allan Massie points out, writing in the Telegraph yesterday, is utter nonsense. He comments, “Never mind that Oxford died in 1604, some years before Shakespeare’s last plays were written and produced…Never mind that nobody at the time attributed the authorship to anyone but he man from Stratford. Evidently they were all fooled, even Ben Jonson, a fellow playwright who knew William Shakespeare…”

This notion of De Vere’s candidacy only gained credence in 1920 when someone called J Thomas Looney produced the argument that only an aristocrat would possess the culture, knowledge and education to write the plays; a local lad from Stratford could not possibly have possessed the necessary sophistication etc. Massie puts this absurd idea in its place. Shakespeare’s literary sources for his plays are well-known and as his biographer Peter Ackroyd points out, he had the preternatural sensibility and imaginative capacity to transform what he read into the dramas that we know and love. As Massie puts it, playwrights and novelists “pick up bits and pieces of information and put them to use… Shakespeare had no need to have travelled or to have studied law, or been active in politics, to write the plays. Works of literature are made from memory, experience (which includes what you have read), observation and imagination…and if you have the last of these, a little of the others can be made to go a very long way.”

It seems that Looney has had his supporters, including Sigmund Freud. Now that Freud’s own preposterous ideas, such as the Oedipus Complex, have been exploded, it is time to put Looney in his place as a crank, snob and a conspiracy theorist. Of the film, Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro writes in the New York Times that “Mr Emmerich has made a film for our time, in which claims based on conviction are as valid as those based on hard evidence.” I am surprised that author Dan Brown hasn’t (yet) taken up this theme.

I blogged about this subject earlier in the year when Sir Derek Jacobi, acting the part of King Lear at the Donmar Warehouse, pronounced that, “legend, hearsay and myth have created [Shakespeare].” Well, Jacobi is only a thespian, if a very fine one; Looney, aside from his unfortunate name, was trying to escape the anonymity he richly deserved; and this new film, Anonymous, ought to be ignored by all Shakespeare lovers. As Massie observes, “Only foolish snobs don’t believe in Shakespeare.”

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  1. Random Friar says:

    St. Catherine of Sienna, illiterate as she was, managed to pick up quite a bit from her Dominican brothers. People who lack formal education or wealth are not dumb or non-cultural.

    Massie has it right, “Only foolish snobs don’t believe in Shakespeare.”

  2. Supertradmum says:

    Now that there has been more proof that Shakespeare was a Catholic and his family before him, there is more of an effort to discredit him. Michael Woods’ excellent Shakespeare’s Paper Trail and his In Search of Shakespeare are totally gripping, following the Catholic clues in Shakespeare’s life, plays, poetry, even which houses he bought-one possibly a safe house for Catholics in London. Remember the old idea that Christopher Marlowe wrote the plays? This is all so lame, like trying to disprove the Historical Jesus. Some scholars just do not have enough to do and the radical media wants to sell movies. I shall skip this one.

  3. Mary Jane says:

    I took a course on Shakespeare in grad school, and from what I remember of that class there is evidence that suggests Shakespeare and his family were Catholic. This can even be seen in some of his plays – Shakespeare pokes a bit of fun at Queen Elizabeth in one of his plays, and who but Shakespeare could have gotten away with that?

    Hamlet – my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays – is also very telling because Hamlet is of course studying at the university in Wittenburg…and sucumbing more and more to a Protestant way of thinking. When he returns home to Denmark after his father’s death (murder), he is returning back to his Catholic roots…and sees that they still have a firm hold on his family’s household. His father appears to him (supposedly his father is in purgatory) and tells him of his murder…so the story continues, but throughout the play, while Hamlet feigns madness in order to escape the growing suspicions of his uncle that Hamlet actually knows about the murder, Hamlet is fighting with his inner self — does he, or doesn’t he believe in hell? In Mortal sin?

    Anyway…yes, only foolish snobs don’t believe in Shakespeare. :)

  4. Athelstan says:

    Well, somewhere up there, Joe Sobran is smiling.

    The Oxfordians don’t give up easily. They have an explanation for every improbability or inconsistency. As is always the case with conspiracy theories, a lack of evidence is always taken as proof of the truth of the theory. And the fact remains that there is not one shred of direct evidence tying de Vere to the plays or sonnets of Shakespeare. It’s all circumstantial. We have more proof that Shakespeare was a Catholic (and what there is is fairly equivocal) than we have that de Vere wrote one word of the plays.

    And what we do have is more evidence than we have for, well, Christopher Marlowe. I guess Marlowe gets a pass because he went to Oxford, and/or because he’s second fiddle to Shakespeare for Golden Age writers.

    Those who’d like a succinct summation of the case for why Shakespeare (not Oxford) wrote Shakespeare should visit the Shakespeare Authorship page: I almost wish I could hand out flyers for it at the box office when this thing opens.

  5. Southern Baron says:

    Call me a foolish snob but authorship is really murky in this period, and because of the way plays and texts were produced in Shakespeare’s day, not every word in the canon may have come from his own pen. This isn’t a knock on Shakespeare the man or his possible Catholicism. It’s just a historical reality: in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the “author” wasn’t always the same as the “writer” as the “author” was ultimately the guy claiming responsibility, the guy the censors would harass if there was anything amiss. Frequently texts were produced as collaboration, and altered by third parties, etc etc. I suspect that the majority of Shakespeare is indeed Shakespeare but we shouldn’t be bothered by the idea that some things may have been written by somebody else. Why do we presume this insults Shakespeare? To Shakespeare it would have been business-as-usual. Even today screenwriters may get full credit even if the director basically rewrote the script.

    Again, lest I get blacklisted here: this is not a knock against Shakespeare-the-man or Shakespeare-the-Catholic but simply an acknowledgment of the world in which he worked. Least of all does it belittle the grandeur of his work and the value we derive from it.

  6. Southern Baron says:

    By the by, I don’t presume that this context *proves* anything, and I know others are far better-read in this debate than I am, but we should just remember the world in which he worked. I’d also like to add that many of the anti-Shakespeare people don’t seem to grasp this, either, wanting to prove that some other lone author did it instead. Sometimes the history-of-the-book people go too far but *their* general argument is that the lone author is a product of Victorian romanticism. Just putting the cards on the table…

  7. Southern Baron says:

    By the by, I don’t presume that this context *proves* anything, and I know others are far better-read in this debate than I am, but we should just remember the world in which he worked. I’d also like to add that many of the anti-Shakespeare people don’t seem to grasp this, either, wanting to prove that some other lone author did it instead. Sometimes the history-of-the-book people go too far but *their* general argument is that the lone author is a product of Victorian romanticism. Just putting the cards on the table…

  8. AvantiBev says:

    Derek Jacobi is “only a thespian”???? Ah, yes, another acceptable prejudice (all actors and actresses are air heads) has reared its head. Francis Phillips when speaking of “foolish snobs” just look in the mirror!

    I find it odd that any supposed Shakespeare lover would be so dismissive of the actors among whom Shakespeare worked and was inspired.

    A Chi town Actress proud of the vocation and brains God gave her.

  9. Scott W. says:

    Meanwhile, the lovely but mispent Mila Jovovich is fresh from turning The Three Musketeers into something that looks more like watching a video game than a movie: Poor Dumas…

  10. albinus1 says:

    Simon Schama has a terrific article in the latest Newsweek tearing into the premise behind the movie.

    One of my favorite objections to Shakespeare’s authorship is that “only someone connected with the court could give such a realistic depiction of court life.” But, how do we know that the depiction of court life in the plays is realistic? That is, what basis do most of us have for comparison? Most of us get our ideas of late medieval court life from … the plays of Shakespeare.

    For all that, Schama points out that Shakespeare and his company gave dozens of performances before Elizabeth and James, so he wasn’t exactly unacquainted with what a court was like. And, of course, there’s little in his portrayals of court life that he couldn’t have gotten from the available literary sources we know he used, such as Plutarch and Holinshed.

  11. The “lone author” is one thing; but the “lone poet”, the “maker”, is an entirely different thing. And having read a fairly hugeish amount of Shakespeare, my experience is that you can’t easily confuse the man with anybody else writing poetry or prose in the day. He always sounds like himself in whatever genre he attacks, just as Chaucer sounds like himself and nobody else.

    OTOH, although I think the whole Oxford controversy has a lot less evidence behind it than the “Sherlock Holmes is Moriarty’s crimelord rival” theory, it’s been part of the fun for readers for a good while now. (Although of course Sherlockians only pretend, whereas Oxfordians and Marlovians, et al, apparently really believe this stuff.) So I suppose it’s only fair that movie watchers get in on the fun, and thus prepare readers for the theatre bits of The Eyre Affair.

  12. Dumas (Pere) loved history, but he also loved getting money, from adaptations or otherwise; and also like a videogame was the house that he spent all his cash on. So steampunk Musketeers are obviously the result of an alternate world Verne/Dumas teamup.

  13. thefeds says:

    “Only an aristocrat could have possessed the culture, knowledge, and sophistication…”  Let’s not forget that Shakespeare was a product of the classical liberal arts education that we so seldomly see these days. Not to mention that as a Recusant Catholic, this is compelling evidence that Wm. Skakespeare attended the English College in Rome. A young Catholic man, educated in England and Rome, unsophisticated, untraveled? Mr. Looney was indeed aptly named. Funny, I hadn’t seen Dan Brown’s, Ron Howard’s, or Tom Hank’s names associated with this new movie.  Maybe that’s why they called it anonymous…

  14. Scott W. says:

    but he also loved getting money, from adaptations or otherwise

    fair enough. Does that mean this movie will suck less?

  15. James Locke says:

    Just FYI, the Oxfordian theory on Shakespeare is actually pretty well regarded by a minority of Shakespeare critics. Personally, I think it is all rubbish too, but still, it is not so absurd like the usual Hollywood gimmicks and inventions. (Think Kingdom of Heaven)

  16. Gabriel Austin says:

    There are [were?] those who believed that Francis Bacon wrote the Shakespearian plays. Chesterton commented that he could see as good a reason to believe that Shakespeare wrote Bacon.

  17. cothrige says:

    Dumas (Pere) loved history, but he also loved getting money . . .

    Very interesting, but irrelevant. Dumas had nothing to do with it. Oxford wrote that too of course.

  18. chcrix says:

    Those who are not familiar with his writings really do owe themselves a visit to these items from the late Joe Sobran.

  19. trespinos says:

    I don’t know. Nemo dat quod non habet is quite a strong principle to uphold. Joe Sobran pushed his speculations a bit too far, but on the main point, I suspect we’ll all discover on the other side of the veil that he and Derek Jacobi were right.

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