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Shakespeare in Code
October 24, 2011 9:08 AM   Subscribe

The forthcoming film Anonymous, which posits the Earl of Oxford as the true author of Shakespeare's plays, has scholars bemoaning the immense effort wasted over the years (NYT) pursuing bogus theories of Shakespearean authorship. On the other hand, one of the 20th century's greatest cryptographers got his start searching for secret messages from Francis Bacon in Shakespeare's plays.
posted by Horace Rumpole (122 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Shakespeare is finally getting the Oliver Stone/“Da Vinci Code” treatment

Done to death by slanderous tongue.
posted by three blind mice at 9:10 AM on October 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


Alas, it looks as if Shakespeare in Love is about to be out-stupided.
posted by Acheman at 9:12 AM on October 24, 2011 [9 favorites]


Shakespeare's plays were not written by him but by another man of the same name.
posted by DU at 9:13 AM on October 24, 2011 [13 favorites]


Alas, it looks as if Shakespeare in Love is about to be out-stupided.

I get not liking Shakespeare in Love, but I can't say I can understand a claim calling it "stupid." It was an extremely knowledgeable lark of a movie, the detractions against seem to have more to do with Saving Private Ryan than the film itself.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:15 AM on October 24, 2011 [7 favorites]


Nobody believed Tennyson when he said he made those gloves all by himself, either.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:16 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's me. I'm Shakespeare.
posted by dismas at 9:16 AM on October 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


Well, I wrote his plays, anyway.
posted by dismas at 9:17 AM on October 24, 2011


Oh god I nearly kicked the television when I first saw the trailer for this. Now a whole generation of nitwits are going to be unshakeably convinced that they're the only ones clever enough to see through the "Shakespeare conspiracy." Wake up, groundlings!
posted by villanelles at dawn at 9:18 AM on October 24, 2011 [20 favorites]


It's me. I'm Shakespeare.

I'm Batman.
posted by The Bellman at 9:20 AM on October 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've always disliked the classism in the Oxfordian position, so I'm glad that was mentioned.

Alas, it looks as if Shakespeare in Love is about to be out-stupided.

The writer mentions that Shakespeare in Love was a decent enough film for what it was. Its deviations from historical truth were fair enough for the sake of narrative strength.

Shakespeare's plays were not written by him but by another man of the same name.

I have it on good word that Shakespeare's plays were written by a man known to his contemporaries as "Weeleeam Shackispeeair".
posted by Jehan at 9:20 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh god I nearly kicked the television when I first saw the trailer for this. Now a whole generation of nitwits are going to be unshakeably convinced that they're the only ones clever enough to see through the "Shakespeare conspiracy."

I knew in my heart my fellow Metafilterers were going to feel this way but I am still SO GLAD to see it is true...f'in horrible idea for a movie that is bound to be f'in horrible. I just hope the film goes nowhere fast. My college Shakespeare professor told us if we wanted to waste time with this conspiracy theory we should drop his class. Loved that guy.
posted by sweetkid at 9:22 AM on October 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


The bloggers over at Skeptical Humanities has been doing a great job covering this issue - they actually started the blog back when they first learned that Anonymous was in production.

Justice Stevens was interviewed for Time (for one of their rather lighthearted "10 questions" segments). Stevens is a noted Shakespeare skeptic, and the rational he gave to Time was that he visited Shakespeare's house in England and the house didn't contain any books!

I hope very strongly that Stevens was being fatuous, because first of all it's absolutely ridiculous to think that the home of Shakespeare was so carefully preserved for all these years, such that we can use the contents of said home to draw any conclusions about the owner.
posted by muddgirl at 9:26 AM on October 24, 2011


Shakespeare's plays were written by Joss Whedon.
posted by kmz at 9:27 AM on October 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm a Marlovian myself. Not because I believe any of that crap; but just because I think the world desperately needs the plays of Shakespeare to have been written by a reanimated knife-fighting gay spy.
posted by steambadger at 9:29 AM on October 24, 2011 [15 favorites]


It's me. I'm Shakespeare.

I'm Batman.


I am Jack's... complete lack of surprise.
posted by Fizz at 9:30 AM on October 24, 2011


Shakespeare's plays were written by Joss Whedon.

This is a common misconception. Joss Whedon is actually immortal and travelling backwards through time. Once you realize that The Tempest is a coda to Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, it all starts making sense.
posted by griphus at 9:32 AM on October 24, 2011 [8 favorites]


I'm a Marlovian myself. Not because I believe any of that crap; but just because I think the world desperately needs the plays of Shakespeare to have been written by a reanimated knife-fighting gay spy.

THIS. On a bumper-sticker. Please.
posted by Fizz at 9:34 AM on October 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


Please, people. The Earl of Oxford died in 1604. You know what that means, don't you?

It means Oxford wrote everything up through Othello, and then Zombie Earl of Oxford wrote everything after that.

The death imagery in plays like Lear and The Tempest, are so vivid, so accurate, that no one could possibly have written it without having actually experienced death themselves.
posted by PlusDistance at 9:35 AM on October 24, 2011 [14 favorites]


Look at the bright side: it points to a whole new series of weekend marathons on the History Channel, now that that whole Nostradamus thing is played out.
posted by gimonca at 9:36 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Shakespeare's plays were not written by him but by another man of the same name.

I have it on good word that Shakespeare's plays were written by a man known to his contemporaries as "Weeleeam Shackispeeair".


Or Edmund Wells. How about a Sale of Two Titties?
posted by phearlez at 9:39 AM on October 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm surprised this movie isn't being shown as a double bill along with that crouching-steampunk-tiger Musketeers abomination. Either way it's a been a bad season for classic literature at the movies.
posted by sardonyx at 9:40 AM on October 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Everyone knows Shakespeare's best stuff came from Morpheus.
posted by Wretch729 at 9:41 AM on October 24, 2011 [7 favorites]


I can't remember what recent conspiracy thread mentioned this, but somebody mentioned the hilariously blinkered quote from a Baconian: "If Francis Bacon didn't write Shakespeare's plays, who did?!"
posted by kmz at 9:41 AM on October 24, 2011


Justice Stevens was interviewed for Time (for one of their rather lighthearted "10 questions" segments). Stevens is a noted Shakespeare skeptic, and the rational he gave to Time was that he visited Shakespeare's house in England and the house didn't contain any books!

I hope very strongly that Stevens was being fatuous, because first of all it's absolutely ridiculous to think that the home of Shakespeare was so carefully preserved for all these years, such that we can use the contents of said home to draw any conclusions about the owner.


"Shakespeare's house in England"? I wonder what the guy was referring to, as I seem to recall that the only remaining house Shakespeare ever lived in is his birthplace in Stratford. Shakespeare barely lived in that town during adulthood, and spent the best part of his life in London. Even the home he later purchased in Stratford for his retirement has been demolished.
posted by Jehan at 9:42 AM on October 24, 2011


I'm surprised this movie isn't being shown as a double bill along with that crouching-steampunk-tiger Musketeers abomination. Either way it's a been a bad season for classic literature at the movies.

Weird they're making another Three Musketeers. Has the Michael York movie gone out of print or something? Otherwise I see no need.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 9:44 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


How did Emmerich rope Jacobi and Redgrave into this? Blackmail?

it looks as if Shakespeare in Love is about to be out-stupided.

I enjoyed Shakespeare in Love. Basically Shakespeare fan-fic, but Paltrow and Fiennes made it fun.

The real question I have about Anonymous is who came up with the stupid title will Queen E wear a Guy Fawkes mask how will Roland Emmerich kill millions before the last reel?
posted by octobersurprise at 9:46 AM on October 24, 2011


I have no reason to doubt that Shakespeare wrote the plays; but wouldn't it be better all around if he just released the long form Stationer's Register and ended the controversy once and for all?
posted by steambadger at 9:47 AM on October 24, 2011 [20 favorites]


How did Emmerich rope Jacobi and Redgrave into this? Blackmail?

Jacobi is a noted Oxfordian.
posted by steambadger at 9:48 AM on October 24, 2011


Next up will be a remake of Apollo 13 showing how the space program was actually conducted in a blacked out warehouse in Gardena with glow in the dark stickers simulating stars and a sandbox for the moon.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 9:50 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Does it really matter who wrote it? It's still entertaining. It could have been written by someone named Zaphod Beeblebrox. Just enjoy the plays.
I'm sure if you do a search on EEBO, you'll find a dissertation that posits this theory.
posted by Fizz at 9:50 AM on October 24, 2011


it looks as if Shakespeare in Love is about to be out-stupided.

Not sure that it's quite accurate to use the word "stupid" to refer to anything written by Tom By-God Stoppard.

"Frivolous," maybe, or "frothy". But a guy who can write an entire play about people discussing chaos theory, or someone who can plausibly connect James Joyce, Tristan Tzara, and Vladimir Lenin -- hell, someone who even knows who all three are -- should probably not be called "stupid."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:51 AM on October 24, 2011 [8 favorites]


Yeah, Shakespeare in Love is great. Did it deserve Best Picture over Saving Private Ryan? Eh. I can see arguments both ways. But the backlash again SiL was annoying and overblown.
posted by kmz at 9:53 AM on October 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


I have no reason to doubt that Shakespeare wrote the plays; but wouldn't it be better all around if he just released the long form Stationer's Register and ended the controversy once and for all?

Shakespeare is really a Kenyan who filmed all his plays on a sound stage in Hollywood, with the connivance of the Mafia, Cuban exiles, teamsters, the CIA, Greys, and Reptilians from Atlantis. We're only too stupid to see this because they've chlorinated the MMR vaccines to make our brains more susceptible to mind control rays from overhead powerlines and mobiles phones. Anybody who attempts to speak out will find themselves in a car crash in a Paris road tunnel or committing suicide in an Oxfordshire wood.
posted by Jehan at 9:57 AM on October 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


So this Earl of Oxford did it for the lulz?
posted by TwelveTwo at 9:59 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Shakespeare is really a Kenyan who filmed all his plays on a sound stage in Hollywood, with the connivance of the Mafia, Cuban exiles, teamsters, the CIA, Greys, and Reptilians from Atlantis. We're only too stupid to see this because they've chlorinated the MMR vaccines to make our brains more susceptible to mind control rays from overhead powerlines and mobiles phones. Anybody who attempts to speak out will find themselves in a car crash in a Paris road tunnel or committing suicide in an Oxfordshire wood.

Inside job!
posted by grubi at 10:00 AM on October 24, 2011


dismas: It's me. I'm Shakespeare.

No, I'm Shakespeare, and so's my wife!
posted by AzraelBrown at 10:01 AM on October 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


Jesus Christ, I'm so sick of people claiming to be Anonymous just to advance their agendas! Living in an IRL cyber-punk novel, etc.
posted by codacorolla at 10:01 AM on October 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


What a waste of time, energy and money. Instead of investing in original new movies by talented screenplay writers living today, we're shoveling it by the barrel full into crap like this (because, tellingly, we're obsessed even with taking credit away from long dead writers) and into "Stretch Armstrong: The Movie."
posted by saulgoodman at 10:03 AM on October 24, 2011


According to James Shapiro Sony Pictures is distributing lesson plans to teachers making a case for Edward de Vere.

Jacobi is a noted Oxfordian.

I wasn't aware of that, but according to Shapiro's other piece in the LA Times more than a few people I would've thought too smart to be Oxfordians are.
posted by octobersurprise at 10:06 AM on October 24, 2011


Instead of investing in original new movies by talented screenplay writers living today, we're shoveling it by the barrel full into crap like this (because, tellingly, we're obsessed even with taking credit away from long dead writers) and into "Stretch Armstrong: The Movie."

*resigned sigh* Yeah, but it was ever thus. Especially so now that reality is kind of depressing and "entertainment" is more the order of the day.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:08 AM on October 24, 2011


I thought Shakespeare was written by a million monkeys on a million typewriters. Now THAT'S a movie I'd watch.
posted by spicynuts at 10:08 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


According to James Shapiro Sony Pictures is distributing lesson plans to teachers making a case for Edward de Vere.

Now they can really fuck off and die. It's a lucky thing Shakespeare was a white male, otherwise I'm guessing we'd have tons of textbooks "teaching the controversy" in school districts across the country. As it is this is like the creationist agenda without the political tinge, just being stupid for stupid's sake.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 10:14 AM on October 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


The Shakespeare controversy, which emerged in the 19th century (at that time, theorists proposed that Francis Bacon was Shakespeare), was one of the origins of the willful ignorance and insidious false balance that is now rotting away our capacity to have meaningful discussions. The wider public, which has no reason to be familiar with questions of either Renaissance chronology or climate science, assumes that if there are arguments, there must be reasons for those arguments. Along with a right-wing antielitism, an unthinking left-wing open-mindedness and relativism have also given lunatic ideas soil to grow in. Our politeness has actually led us to believe that everybody deserves a say.

The problem is that not everybody does deserve a say. Just because an opinion exists does not mean that the opinion is worthy of respect. Some people deserve to be marginalized and excluded.


I'm sure he's right about Shakespeare, but the following "some people deserve to be marginalized and excluded" is a weird conclusion to reach, in my opinion. The same line of thought could just as easily be applied to something that he holds as truth which isn't Shakespeare's legitimacy.
posted by codacorolla at 10:14 AM on October 24, 2011


I was thinking about posting this, but couldn't bring myself to: those of us who teach/act/work on Renaissance Drama have been aware of this coming for a while. There's good news and bad news. The movie itself is bad news, of course, but worse are the 'educational materials' Sony pictures is distributing to high school and college teachers: they can be found here (PDFs available for download). Framing this as 'teach the controversy!' is the same straw dog as the creationist 'controversy' -- there isn't one, and only Oxfordians think there is. But suggesting this to high school students is flipping criminal: lying to students is Not Cool.

The good news is the number of excellent scholarly and not-so-scholarly responses.

Hollywood dishonours the Bard from James Shapiro, an excellent scholar who wrote the best study of this issue, Contested Will.

60 Minutes on Shakespeare from the "Blogging Shakespeare" site on from the Birthplace trust. Funny, informative short recordings of academics, actors and others on various aspects of the work and life. Has Stephen Fry, Anthony Sher, and HRH Prince Charles, along with a number of academics who are rock stars in my world (Stanley Wells, Tiffany Stern, Lena Orlin, Graham Holderness, etc).

A Webinar, "Not at all Anonymous" by the same people.

And 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 Vereand got mad. Now he's going about this systematically, one myth at a time Shakespearean Mythbusting I: The Fantasy of the Unsurpassed Vocabulary.

Total disclosure: I'm a Shakespeare prof, a member of the SAA and the RSA, and Holger is a friend -- he teaches at University of Toronto, where I got my MA and PhD. I write about other Renaissance playwrights, mostly. The 'fauxothorship controversy' is a product of 19th century Bardolotry, presenting Shakespeare as an Unrivaled Genius sipping from the Pierian Spring in splendid isolation, rather than as one of a group of talented scriptwriters working in close collaboration and competition for the first real literary marketplace in Western Europe.
posted by jrochest at 10:15 AM on October 24, 2011 [25 favorites]


Nobody believed Tennyson when he said he made those gloves all by himself, either.

I also have this sneaking suspicion that Little Debbie is not actually solely responsible for all those taste-tempting snack cakes. It seems apparent that she has significant input from her mom and dad at the very least.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:19 AM on October 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Here's what Justice Stevens actually wrote:
In your opinion, who wrote Shakespeare's plays?
That's a very close question. I think there are good questions about a man who never seemed to have any correspondence with his contemporaries about the plays. When he passed, there were no eulogies to him, and when you visit his home and look around for evidence of a scholarly person, there are no books in the house.
Emphasis mine.
posted by muddgirl at 10:21 AM on October 24, 2011


Woody Allen weighs in.
posted by Bromius at 10:24 AM on October 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm far from having any real expertise on the subject, but I thought that Bill Bryson made a pretty good case against Bacon and for Shakespeare in The World As a Stage. Is there any real reason to doubt that particular piece of writing?
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:26 AM on October 24, 2011


I also have this sneaking suspicion that Little Debbie is not actually solely responsible for all those taste-tempting snack cakes. It seems apparent that she has significant input from her mom and dad at the very least.

SHUT YOUR LYING MOUTH, FOUL ANTI-DEBBIST
posted by grubi at 10:37 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh god I nearly kicked the television when I first saw the trailer for this. Now a whole generation of nitwits are going to be unshakeably convinced that they're the only ones clever enough to see through the "Shakespeare conspiracy."

It's the same guy who made 10,000 BC. How many people have you met who are convinced that cavemen and wooly mammoth built the pyramids for the sake of space aliens?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:47 AM on October 24, 2011


Alas, it looks as if Shakespeare in Love is about to be out-stupided.

You take that back!

Else I'll have satisfaction.
posted by urschrei at 10:49 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


You should have been at my high school the day after Fox broadcast its special about the moon landing having been faked.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 10:50 AM on October 24, 2011


We are surprised by any stretching of historical fact by the director of such films as Universal Soldier, Stargate, and a slew of disaster movies like Independence Day, Godzilla (US), 2012, The Day After Tomorrow?
posted by asfuller at 10:53 AM on October 24, 2011


To expand a bit, seemingly plausible conspiracy theories hold a special appeal for people that full-on wackadoo the space aliens did it type of things don't. Knowing that the moon landings were faked or that Shakespeare didn't write the plays lets you feel smarter than people who care about those things. People love an opportunity to feel like they've got one over on somebody else (especially if that someone else is their English teacher.)
posted by villanelles at dawn at 10:53 AM on October 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


You should have been at my high school the day after Fox broadcast its special about the moon landing having been faked.

I'm convinced the Fox fake moon landing special was a test of exactly how well their propaganda apparatus worked. The subject was picked especially for difficulty: Can we convince a sufficiently large number of people that one of, if not the, best-documented events in the history of mankind never happened? And the answer, it seems, was a resounding yes.
posted by vibrotronica at 11:10 AM on October 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


In a couple hundred years, some people will believe J.J. Abrams didn't exist, and Joe Biden was the true author of his works. Ridiculous. But I will support any rumor that Michael Bloomberg wrote all of Joss Whedon's stuff.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:15 AM on October 24, 2011


I will support any rumor that Michael Bloomberg wrote all of Joss Whedon's stuff.

Oh-ho-ho, it's not a rumor, my fine friend! I have a pamphlet here which will explain the whole thing...
posted by grubi at 11:18 AM on October 24, 2011


Is Delia Bacon going to have a cameo, then? (There's a more interesting history of her in the excellent Banvard's Folly: Thirteen Tales of People Who Didn't Change the World.)
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:39 AM on October 24, 2011


I will support any rumor that Michael Bloomberg wrote all of Joss Whedon's stuff.

Fool! That's just what Whedon wants you to think!
posted by lodurr at 11:47 AM on October 24, 2011


The "Shakespeare didn't write the plays" position has always been one of pure classism in my opinion. The idea that a person who wasn't a noble during the Elizabethan era could have written some of the great literature of that era just doesn't sit well with certain elites and toadies of elites. They want a "better" person to have written the plays - "better," in this case, meaning somebody of noble birth and noble rank. On some level, it rankles them that a middle class dude from the suburbs wrote the great works of the English language.

Occupy The Globe.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:48 AM on October 24, 2011 [13 favorites]


So the Earl of Oxford spoke Klingon, then? Cool.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 12:01 PM on October 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


According to James Shapiro Sony Pictures is distributing lesson plans to teachers making a case for Edward de Vere.

I have my copy. I bound it in fabric I wove out of threads I pulled out of my own skin due to my Morgellons.
posted by xingcat at 12:05 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Shakespeare's plays were not written by him but by another man of the same name.

You mean the fishing reel guy? Or perhaps his father? The compleat angler indeed!
posted by TedW at 12:13 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


As for Justice Stephens' question about correspondence with peers: why would you need to correspond with them, when you all get buzzed in the same coffee houses? London was the world for these folks.
posted by lodurr at 12:17 PM on October 24, 2011


Alan H. Nelson had a nice take on this in a debate sponsored by Sony Pictures.
posted by GeorgeBickham at 12:22 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


We are surprised by any stretching of historical fact by the director of such films as Universal Soldier, Stargate, and a slew of disaster movies like Independence Day, Godzilla (US), 2012, The Day After Tomorrow?

Well, I'm surprised that he wasn't arrested.

/snark
posted by ersatz at 12:26 PM on October 24, 2011


I'm picturing a Joseph Smith/Oliver Cowdery dictation procedure. Bacon stuck his face into a hat and dictated Henry V to Shakespeare, who sat behind a curtain.
posted by Brocktoon at 12:31 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


The link from the OP about Elizabeth Gallup and William Kahn takes an interesting twist: They start out as Baconian conspiracy theorists, but late in their lives produce a "definitive" work on the Baconian theories that "demolishes" them.

I wonder if they'd have reached the same conclusion if they hadn't had a 30 year break working as government cryptographers.
posted by lodurr at 12:33 PM on October 24, 2011


I had no intention of seeing Emmerich's abomination in the first place, but I've also been expressly forbidden to see it by Mrs. Example, who fears an apocalyptic frothing-at-the-mouth rant in the middle of the movie theater from me followed by an explodey-head scene not unlike the one in Scanners.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 12:44 PM on October 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


Hey, this could be for Emmerich his Schindler's List, Titanic, or Unforgiven, but probably not.

Although biographical hackery is an classic Hollywood tradition.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:59 PM on October 24, 2011


I'm glad you mentioned Amadeus. Not you specifically CB, because I understand your point, but the folks who claim it butchers Mozart's actual life... I have to laugh because it's a story told by the infirm Salieri who suffered from dementia. Therefore the film is not fact, it is an unreliable narrator story. The mistake is assuming it's true.
posted by CarlRossi at 1:14 PM on October 24, 2011


Emmerich apparently sees a common thread running through 2012, Godzilla, and Anonymous:
Well, I like big ideas. That's probably what combines Anonymous with my other films. You know, "What if Shakespeare was a fraud?" Or, "What would happen if finally, in one big storm, we get the bill for all the bad things we've done to the environment?" Or, "Godzilla comes to New York." All big ideas, in a way, and you can say them in one sentence. And because of that, they catch me, and I know that's worth a movie, because in a movie, you need something like that. At the end, you have to have a poster and a short 15- or 30-second TV spot, so that's that.
Somehow, I don't think this is what Mr. Shakespeare meant when he wrote {supposedly}, "Brevity is the soul of wit".
posted by Doktor Zed at 1:19 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


CarlRossi, maybe it's staging, but for me, the unreliability of Salieri as a narrator isn't supported in the script. (& yes, i have seen it on stage.)
posted by lodurr at 1:29 PM on October 24, 2011


"Amadeus" is based on a work by Pushkin, the specific intent of which was to show how the genius is dragged down by the spiritless. In like manner, Shakespeare is being dragged down by the Oxfordians.
posted by No Robots at 1:38 PM on October 24, 2011


Alan H. Nelson had a nice take on this in a debate sponsored by Sony Pictures.

That's a nice piece by Nelson, but, Christ, those comments are snarling gibberish. I haven't seen the like since I stopped reading birther blogs. I guess conspiracy nuts all look the same regardless the tree they fall from. Taking liberties with history to produce a fictional story doesn't bother me (Shakespeare did it) and I might've paid to see this movie just for the sets, costumes, and Vanessa Redgrave. But I won't give a dime to help Sony Pictures whip up the loons. Next time Emmerich and Sony Pictures are looking for a "big idea," I expect they'll call up David Irving and make a movie about that poor, misunderstood Mr. Hitler.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:50 PM on October 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Look at the bright side: it points to a whole new series of weekend marathons on the History Channel, now that that whole Nostradamus thing is played out.

Could be fun, at least.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:54 PM on October 24, 2011


CarlRossi: The hackery isn't just of Mozart, but of Salieri. While he did die while institutionalized with dementia, the grudge was an invention of Pushkin and the confession a conceit of Shaffer. Salieri spent the last decades of his life conducting Mozart and teaching the next wave of Romantic composers after all. Pushkin, in this case, was just popularizing a political conspiracy theory, not unlike another example of historical hackery for dramatic effect.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:58 PM on October 24, 2011


The idea that a person who wasn't a noble during the Elizabethan era could have written some of the great literature of that era just doesn't sit well with certain elites and toadies of elites

I'm irritated by the idea that a nobleman and not Shakespeare wrote the plays because:

1) It's snobby. Genius can come from anywhere and many of Shakespeare's accomplished contemporaries had similarly humble backgrounds.

2) He didn't need an elite education because he stole most of his stories from earlier histories and plays. Not that there's anything wrong with that: talent imitates, genius steals.

3) He made a lot of shit up and got a lot of stuff wrong.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:19 PM on October 24, 2011 [7 favorites]


Hey, as long as we're discussing crazy ass conspiracy theories, let's not forget the whole "Lennon and McCartney weren't musically educated enough to have composed the Beatles songs - they were all written by German professor Theodor Adorno:"
Theodor W. Adorno was the brains behind the 'Beatles' as he held the rights to the music and eventually his estate sold those rights to Michael Jackson.

Adorno a classical musician wrote their music and it was all filtered down through Paul who could not read a note of music by the way. In fact the only half way real musician in the band was George Harrison. John was a poet who could strum a few chords and Ringo a hack drummer at best. George often wondered why they never wanted to use his songs. Oh and as an aside, Paul ended up being Knighted, and you don't get Knighted unless you have done as you were told and made your masters proud.

The Beatles were introduced to the public as a means to spread youth culture which led to the spreading of the 'New Age' culture and this was all geared to setting up a nylistic culture that is all to present today. It's called divide and conquer but this gets into a whole different 'Pandora's Box' if you will. Things are not what they seem."
There's a bunch of insane ramblings about this alleged conspiracy across the Internet. Presumably, in 400 years, somebody will make a movie (or whatever the equivalent of movies is in 2411) about the sinister German behind all of the Beatles songs as a method of mind control and a bunch of moronic imbeciles will flock to see it.

Because, you know, lower class people can't create great art. They *had* to be controlled by the royal family, the illuminati and the German university system.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:36 PM on October 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm not a Shakespeare scholar but I read about some interesting research a couple of decades ago--it's probably advanced more by now. They found that there were certain uncommon words in Shakespeare's plays that, after appearing for the first time in one character's speech, would thereafter be more common in the speech of all the characters. The reasonable explanation was that the author himself was acting certain roles and after using those words night after night in performance, he unconsciously started to use them more. Plenty of evidence too (Hamlet) that the playwrite was very familiar with the acting profession. The Earl of Oxford was not going to be on stage in front of groundlings acting every night.
posted by Schmucko at 2:38 PM on October 24, 2011


let's not forget the whole "Lennon and McCartney weren't musically educated enough to have composed the Beatles songs - they were all written by German professor Theodor Adorno:"

*Spits water all over computer* WHAT? Oh my gosh that's really a thing.

And I thought the Shakespeare conspiracy was wackadoo.
posted by grapesaresour at 2:58 PM on October 24, 2011


Next they'll be telling me that William Shakespeare didn't invent the level-winding fishing reel.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:01 PM on October 24, 2011


Plenty of evidence too (Hamlet) that the playwrite was very familiar with the acting profession.

Not just in Hamlet, either--there's a bit towards the end of As You Like It where Touchstone comes on stage and delivers some longish dialogue about about "I have
had four quarrels, and like to have fought one".

It's a mildly amusing bit satirizing the Renaissance code duello, but its main reason for existing is to cover a costume change. Rosalind exits nine lines before Touchstone gets started, still dressed as the boy Ganymede, and she re-enters dressed as herself four lines after Touchstone's line "Your If is the only peacemaker; much virtue in If". Rosalind's actor has roughly seventy-five lines in which to get backstage and (at least in Shakespeare's day, not necessarily in a modern staging) wrestle with all the intricacies of 16th/17th-century women's clothing.

I could geek out about this stuff all day. Just ask Mrs. Example.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 3:06 PM on October 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


It is my understanding that Shakespeare was most definitely an actor as well as a playwrite, which is one of many reasons I find the "no common man could have written these, but Oxford had to write anonymously because no noble would out himself as a playwrite" line of reason so frustatingly bullshit.

Basically: no matter how "low class" it was seen at the time, you simply cannot make it as an actor if you cannot read. Before anything else, it is the most fundamental skill you must have.

Beyond that, there is the elitist-driven oxymoron of the proposition itself, upon which factual inaccuracies can hang like ornaments on a Christmas tree, the most notable being that Oxford did, in fact, write plays under his own name. If playwriting was an ignobel pursuit, why would he hide only his greatest works? It's like when people claim that Kevin Smith wrote Good Will Hunting or that Truman Capote wrote To Kill A Mockingbird. (Mind you, I'm not trying to denigrate Capote there, but as great as his other works are, they are not as iconic as To Kill a Mockingbird. Additionally, hopefully Ben Affleck's accomplished work as a director will soon put to bed the idea that he sat on a couch drinking beer while Matt Damon wrote GWH, a perception which seems to have arisen from the fact that Damon just seems more legit.)

And then we get to the Italy thing, which drives me up the wall.

I, at least, have never gotten the sense from Shakespeare's plays set in Italy that he had any knowledge of the place beyond stereotypes and scene-setting. Italy was seen as a place of firey emotions and exotic beauty unlike that to be found in England. In the popular knowledge it could be the proper setting for stories of a different type of scandal than London could.

Romeo and Juliet exposes no particular, much less personal knowledge of Verona or Mantua. It does, however, allow for a story of tempestuous love among teenagers from warring families which would be out of place in the British Isles. Moreover, Shakespeare had his audience to consider. He was patronized by the Court, and was writing a highly cutting tragedy pointing at short-sighted authority figures for causing the suicides of their children, who only wanted the freedom to love one another. In the Elizabethan Age, how much leeway would he have for this story by setting it in a place universally, well, Catholic?

(This is to say nothing of the fact that Romeo and Juliet is a classic "gear-shift" story. Aside from the opening narration, everything up until the death of Mercutio is pure comedy of the style of the time. Making a comedy out of warring families and street-level violence would have worked much better if the setting were removed from the home of the audience.)

A good analogy would be found in The Mikado. Gilbert & Sullivan's musicals were often satirical of the ruling class and specific authorities, but none so biting as The Mikado, which W.S. Gilbert chose to set in Japan, allowing his satire to cut deeper than it could being set in England. Gilbert had never been to Japan, but only to an exhibit of Japanese culture in London.

Anyway, I'm glad I don't need to convince anyone here about the ridiculousness of this, but I never knew before today that the issue was class-based. That makes sense, and is good to know.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:10 PM on October 24, 2011 [7 favorites]


Also, Frontline did an interesting piece on his identity about 20 years ago - turns out there's a real paucity of information on the guy.
posted by onesidys at 3:14 PM on October 24, 2011


And some silly fun from Cracked about the words Shakespeare either invented himself or personally popularized. (Note, I cannot speak personally to the historical accuracy of the claims, but the article comes across as being both knowledgable and very much from Cracked.com)
posted by Navelgazer at 3:18 PM on October 24, 2011


turns out there's a real paucity of information on the guy

It's almost as if he lived and nearly 400 years ago!
posted by muddgirl at 3:21 PM on October 24, 2011


(PS Playwright, not playwrite.)
posted by Jehan at 3:27 PM on October 24, 2011


There's not a lot of information about a fair number of Tudor artists before they achieved patronage. Thomas Tallis apparently rose through the ranks of church organists. William Byrd likewise is fairly obscure up to the point where he starts working with Tallis. Most of Marlowe's biography is rumor and speculation. The major Elizabethan painters either grew up in the family trade, or apprenticed to another painter. Most people of the age just didn't leave a paper trail.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:31 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


*Spits water all over computer* WHAT? Oh my gosh that's really a thing.

Not only is that "Beatles didn't write the Beatles" thing a thing, most of the folks that seem to support it eventually attach it to "the gay agenda."

you simply cannot make it as an actor if you cannot read.

Well, truth is, literacy wasn't an essential skill for one of Shakespeare's actors:
The Globe Theatre was known to produce “eleven performances of ten different plays” in just two weeks. It was essential to beat the competition for attracting vast audiences and this was achieved by an extremely rapid turnover of plays. Rehearsal time was therefore limited. On many occasions the Globe Theatre Actors only got their lines as the play was actually in progress. Parts were often only allocated on the day of the performance. Sometimes the actors didn't even get any lines. Working with a method called "cue acting " which meant that there was a person backstage who whispered the lines to the actor just before he was going to say them. This rapid turnover led to another technique called “ cue scripting ”, where where each actor was given only his own lines. The complete scene and content of the play was not explained to the actors until it was actually being performed. These techniques allowed for zero rehearsal time, thus enabling a fast turnover in terms of new productions at the Globe Theatre and a huge portfolio of different roles.
The ability to listen and memorize the lines as quickly as possible (or, barring that, the ability to get enough of the gist to paraphrase the intent of the lines - or, barring that, the ability to improvise in an entertaining manner) were probably more important than the ability to actually read.

None-the-less, your point still stands; an actor (literate or otherwise) would be exposed to the entire history of the world (as written by playwrights) and a dizzying amount of vocabulary over their career. One could argue that they would be, thus, a little more educated than most of their peers - certainly educated enough to write plays.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:55 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


My reaction when I first heard about this film earlier this summer was that it was going to do for English teachers/professors what The Matrix did for their colleagues in philosophy.

My spousenated one, el_lupino, started teaching philosophy before The Matrix came out. When he would teach the brain in a vat thought experiment, his students all thought it was patently ridiculous to say that they might be a brain in a vat, merely having simulated experiences. The semester The Matrix came out, it became the polar opposite. Ever since then, you can hardly convince them of the remoteness of the idea.
posted by jocelmeow at 4:09 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's me. I'm Shakespeare.

No! I am Sparticus Shakespeare!
posted by -harlequin- at 5:24 PM on October 24, 2011



It is my understanding that Shakespeare was most definitely an actor as well as a playwrite, which is one of many reasons I find the "no common man could have written these, but Oxford had to write anonymously because no noble would out himself as a playwrite" line of reason so frustatingly bullshit.


And by default, most plays of the time were published anonymously anyway - had the Earl of Oxford wanted to publish anonymously, he certainly wouldn't have needed a pen name.

I'm loving all the theatre nerd/Shakespeare-scholar rage from my former theatre colleagues that's filling my social media walls over this movie, though.
posted by sawdustbear at 5:49 PM on October 24, 2011


Have you guys read the synopsis for "Anonymous" over on Wikipedia? Apparently the Earl of Oxford is the bastard son of Queen Elizabeth, and "his poetic genius seduces his mother when he is a young man." And then he fathers his own brother and son on her.

Words... fail me...
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 6:03 PM on October 24, 2011


kmz: I can't remember what recent conspiracy thread mentioned this, but somebody mentioned the hilariously blinkered quote from a Baconian: "If Francis Bacon didn't write Shakespeare's plays, who did?!"

That would the page that suggest it might have been Francis Brisket or Isaiah. And awesome blog post, thanks for directing me to it!

posted by Bovine Love at 6:24 PM on October 24, 2011


If onlyI could close an i tag....
posted by Bovine Love at 6:24 PM on October 24, 2011


On the subject of Justice Stevens' comments on Shakespeare...

Why the fuck do I give a shit what a LAWYER who has done, oh, about zero research on the subject has to say about Renaissance literary history?
posted by Saxon Kane at 8:09 PM on October 24, 2011


So I just watched the Anonymous trailer and I'm now mostly pissed at Radiohead for allowing their music to be used in it.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:23 PM on October 24, 2011


For what it's worth, I don't object to alternate universe fiction where historical figures are re-imagined for dramatic purpose. Heck, that's all of Shakespeare's history plays.

I object to the actual real life people who live in a mental alternate universe where facts are ignored in favor of pet theories.
posted by Joey Michaels at 10:29 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I understand the outrage, but shouldn't we be just as outraged at the inaccuracies in the portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network?
posted by Apocryphon at 10:35 PM on October 24, 2011


Zuckerberg can refute The Social Network.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:59 PM on October 24, 2011


Zuckerberg /= Shakespeare
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:01 AM on October 25, 2011


And by default, most plays of the time were published anonymously anyway - had the Earl of Oxford wanted to publish anonymously, he certainly wouldn't have needed a pen name.

If he published under a pen name, he would have been publishing pseudonymously.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 3:24 AM on October 25, 2011


For what it's worth, I don't object to alternate universe fiction where historical figures are re-imagined for dramatic purpose.

You may enjoy Harry Turtledove's Ruled Britannia, then. It takes place in an alternate history in which the Spanish Armada succeeded in invading England. Shakespeare is the main character, and he gets commissioned by the Spanish to write a play about the life of Spain's King Philip II, who's about to die. At the same time, he gets commissioned by a group of Englishmen to write a play that will inspire the English to rise up and overthrow the Spanish, and if he's found out, he'll be tortured by the Inquisition at best.

Several other historical people are characters in the book, including Marlowe, Will Kemp, and Lope de Vega (as a Spanish officer--in real history, he actually was aboard the Armada). It's a good read. Check it out.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 4:05 AM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I never knew before today that the issue was class-based.

There are a lot of snobs among the anti-Stratfordians (and particularly among the partisans of Oxford) -- but I'd hate for my fellow mefites to walk away thinking that was all there was. In my experience, most Shakespeare conspiracy nuts are cut from the same cloth as oh, say, net.libertarians, or tabletop war gamers; they're eccentric, very smart, and terribly bored by the mundane. There's also a healthy sprinkling of people who just want to know a secret so they can feel superior to the sheeple, and a not insignificant number of garden variety batshit crazies. And then there are the snobs, mostly older American anglophiles; not a small faction, but just a faction, nonetheless. It's a whole big crazy-quilt world out there among the Seekers of Truth; the only hard and fast rule is that you have to say "Shaxper".

Of course, I might have a slightly biased view. I dabbled for a spell on the Marlovian side, and our boy was a cobbler's son; so no snobbery there...
posted by steambadger at 5:29 AM on October 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why the fuck do I give a shit what a LAWYER who has done, oh, about zero research on the subject has to say about Renaissance literary history?

Stevens and Scalia and a few other lawyers apparantly did a "mock trial" on this topic. I'm not surprised that a supreme court justice, over the years, develops the idea that he is The Decider.

So I just watched the Anonymous trailer and I'm now mostly pissed at Radiohead for allowing their music to be used in it.

Doesn't EMI hold the rights to those recordings? I don't think Radiohead has any say over it any more - since they signed with another label EMI doesn't have to keep them happy. I could be wrong though - music licensing eternally confuses me.
posted by muddgirl at 5:59 AM on October 25, 2011


shouldn't we be just as outraged at the inaccuracies in the portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network?

You're free to be outraged over anything you want. As for Anonymous, most of the outrage I see is over the efforts of Emmerich and Sony Pictures to push their conspiracy theories on the public as historical truth, not over the inaccuracies of their ridiculous movie.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:01 AM on October 25, 2011


I'm sorry, it's just after JFK is made, I don't really see what's worth outrage if the film is masterfully made. The men are long dead. And if The Social Network can get away with portraying a person who's alive in less than worshipful terms, then clearly any public figure is not beyond the scope of cinematic (mis)interpretation. Though if it's a poorly-made film, blast away, certainly.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:20 AM on October 25, 2011


Hmm, I don't recall Aaron Sorkin distributing study guides to programming classes discussing the "real facts" behind his film, but maybe I slept through that news cycle.
posted by muddgirl at 11:54 AM on October 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Did you even read what I wrote? The outrage that I see—maybe you see something different here—isn't over the film at all. What I see is outrage over efforts by a director and an actor and a company to sell ignorant conspiracy theories as historical truth. It has nothing to do with how "worshipful" their movie is and everything to do with the efforts to convince people of its truth.

if the film is masterfully made.

Well, Emmerich has as least as good of a chance at that as Michael Bay.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:56 AM on October 25, 2011


I'm mystified that people label this as a conspiracy theory and don't see rather it as a fascinating discussion of alternative views. Nothing material is at stake here (except some academic careers possibly)
posted by canoehead at 12:47 PM on October 25, 2011


It's labeled as a "conspiracy theory" because proponents like Jacobi continually claim that there is a vast academic conspiracy to keep Shakespeare on a pedestal, for the good of their jobs.
posted by muddgirl at 1:09 PM on October 25, 2011


I'm mystified that people ... don't see rather it as a fascinating discussion of alternative views.

Yeah, Emmerich's views are "fascinatingly alternative." In the same way that astrology, 9/11 trutherism, birtherism, creationism, the Restore America Plan, and Holocaust denialism are all "fascinatingly alternative."
posted by octobersurprise at 1:20 PM on October 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


...which, of course, is ludicrous because the plays will still exist no matter whether Shakespeare wrote them or not. If there is suddenly irrefutable proof that somebody other than Shakespeare wrote the plays, I think most of academia will be surprised, but will keep on trucking.

This isn't Vietnam. This is academia. There are rules. Saying "I believe it to be so" isn't sufficient evidence to to overturn 400 years of historical research. The anti-Shakespeare authorship types are using faith based reasoning, ignoring evidence that doesn't fit their theories, and are contorting existing scholarship to support their favorite pet theories.

Scholarship isn't helped by treating the ravings of lunatics or obsessive pedants with axes to grind as legitimate alternative theories.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:20 PM on October 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


A lot of people already think that the Social Network is showing things as they ACTUALLY HAPPENED, for whatever that's worth, even though a lot of it is patently untrue, and for gosh sakes it's a movie. But I've met people who will cite things from it as the actual story. Weird.

So the reason this is a terrible thing is that people will believe it's true (if the movie takes off) and start saying things like, "oh you know there was NO SHAKESPEARE" ( I have already heard this starting up) and that's ridiculous for all the historical and academic reasons already mentioned.
posted by sweetkid at 1:32 PM on October 25, 2011


I have to say that the Adorno-Beatles theory is one of the most awesomely ridiculous conspiracy theories I've heard.
posted by klausness at 3:03 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I remember my first brush with the anti-Stratfordians. It was an episode of "You Can't Do That on Television." I believe it was Alasdair who told Moose that he had discovered the true author of Shakespeare's plays: Mr. A. Nonymous.

I think that may be more plausible than the plot of Emmerich's film.
posted by Saxon Kane at 6:25 PM on October 25, 2011


klausness: I just spent the last 30 minutes reading up about the Adorno-Beatles theory. The people associated with the theory on the sites I went to went from mildly amusing morons, to rabidly delusional far right Christian libertarians, to terrifying borderline violent TIMECUBE types, and finally to straight up neo-Nazis. Yikes.
posted by Saxon Kane at 6:50 PM on October 25, 2011


It was an episode of "You Can't Do That on Television." I believe it was Alasdair who told Moose that he had discovered the true author of Shakespeare's plays: Mr. A. Nonymous.

Did a bucket of green goop fall on him?
posted by octobersurprise at 7:59 PM on October 25, 2011


Did a bucket of green goop fall on him?

I don't know.
posted by sweetkid at 8:02 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not surprising, but man John Orloff is a fucking wanker.
posted by kmz at 6:11 AM on October 26, 2011


The Adorno-Beatles theory is making me ridiculously happy right now. I think Adorno would be SPINNING IN HIS GRAVE and weeping furiously though, so it's just as well he'll never hear of it.
posted by Acheman at 6:43 AM on October 26, 2011


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