One amber suburban-American morning I interrupted my British Literature teacher, just as he had “shuffled off this mortal coil’”as Hamlet in Act III, Scene I, to ask whether he thought Shakespeare had actually written Shakespeare. “Have you ever had a secret?”, he asked in response. “And did you ever tell anyone that secret? And did it transpire that what you had told no longer remained a secret?” Contented with his point that it is the very nature of secrets to be exposed, I happily left the authorship discussion and never looked back. That is, until now.
Recently there has been a bit of a bothered debate about dear Will’s authorship, for which Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous released in late October has acted as an absurd social catalyst. The film itself is fantastical and sprinkled with inaccuracies, which is all well and good, except there is a palpable sense that it was intended to be appreciated as a legitimate explanation (check out this trailer).
…upholding his aristocratic reputation…
The film’s premise, as supported by Emmerich and script-writer John Orloff, as well as by some of its lead actors including RSC legends Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance, proposes that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford gave away the credit of his literary genius for the sake of upholding his aristocratic reputation.
Besides the fact that this particular theory was formulated by the 90 year old ramblings of J. Thomas Looney (what’s in a name?), the clearly unstable founder of the cultish anti-democratic and pro-feudal Church of Humanity, I am begged to ask the question: does identifying authorship really matter?
I personally believe that William Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets were written by William Shakespeare himself. But what I really believe in, above anything else, is foolish sprites and fair Verona, Regan, Goneril and Cordelia, damn’d spots and shedloads of iambic pantameter. In essence, the timeless plays and sonnets themselves, not the man behind the quill.