Literature, Poetry, and Books
In his latest motion picture, Anonymous, apocalyptic film director Roland Emmerich brings to the big screen a conspiracy theory so lunatic that it is widely dismissed by the vast majority of scholars and historians in the world. His tale of William Shakespeare being a sham, the great bard's works written by some nobleman instead, should be treated with just the same incredulity as some of Emmerich's other blockbusters, 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, and 10,000 B.C.
While the authorship of Shakespeare's plays was never questioned during his lifetime or in the centuries following, a small number of individuals have begun to question that he actually wrote his great works within the last hundred years. They insist that the son of an illiterate glove-maker from some bumpkin village is incapable of showing us the ambition of Julius Caesar, the love of Romeo and Juliet, the intrigue of Macbeth, and the tragedy of King Lear. How could someone from such a humble beginning know royalty well enough to bring to us Hamlet or Antony and Cleopatra?
Though the conspiracy theorists insist that someone like Shakespeare could not have written the plays, the answer as to who did is still up in the air, splitting the Shakespeare-deniers into various camps. The dozens of potential alternatives include Francis Bacon, Miguel de Cervantes, Walter Raleigh, Jesuit priests, King James I, Queen Elizabeth I, and Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford whose candidacy Anonymous supports. The reason that there are so many potential alternatives is because there is no actual evidence that Shakespeare did not write the plays himself, thus making it difficult to declare outright that someone else must have.
The Oxfordian theory is based on a 1920 publication by J.T. Looney, "Shakespeare' Identified," which tells an unproven tale of how the Earl of Oxford was not only Queen Elizabeth's son, but her lover as well. In this fantastical explanation of events, the Earl of Oxford had to give up credit for his plays and poems because a nobleman could not degrade himself to join the lowest possible level in society--that of actor and playwright.
Why indulge in this delusion when there is no evidence to support it? Is it really that much easier for people to believe in such a conspiracy than to accept the genius of a common man? Is it so hard to believe that human beings, regardless of circumstances, are able to rise up from nothing to greatness? Are not men able to understand things without necessarily having experienced them firsthand? There is something rotten about beating up on a man's legacy centuries after he has been taken by that fell sergeant, death, no longer capable of defending himself against such slanderous conspiracy. His words and genius will live on, but we owe the Bard respect for what he was able to accomplish. Let us be honest about the legacy of he who wrote these masterpieces.
Anonymous will surely be an entertaining and well-written film, with tremendous visual effects, intricate costumes, and decent acting. It may even have the great benefit of pushing people to revisit the works of Shakespeare, and get close once more to tragic Othello or knavish Puck. However, people should watch the movie with the same kind of incredulity as when they watched Emmerich's The Patriot--a film that tried to capture much of the detail and narrative of the time period, and laid forth some of the feelings and ideas of the American Revolution, but which was nonetheless a made-up story based in unserious history.
William Shakespeare was a genius, and held a greater command of our English language than anyone before and after him. He understood the human mind, heart, and soul, and knew not only how to make people laugh and cry, but how to get them to consider great and noble things. A Hollywood blockbuster will not be able to discredit this genius; it cannot take away what he gave us. But, in today's conspiracy-loving society, it can plant a poisonous seed of disbelief in certain minds. We must do what we can to protect the memory of Shakespeare and his legacy. Allow people to admire the fact that he, a simple peasant from an illiterate family, was able to rise to such genius and beauty. To rob people of the idea of such possibility does a disservice both to Shakespeare and humanity in general. Taking that away would be the most unkindest cut of all.