A Note on “Anonymous,” ie that new movie sort of about Shakespeare, kinda


You’ve all probably gathered by now that I work in theatre. I admin for a large theatre, I direct and dramaturg for smaller theatres, I write theatrical pieces (sometimes, in my quieter moments), I used to act, I’m on the board of a clown company, I’m delving further into the world of physical theatre, I read a lot about theatre, and I think a lot about theatre. And I’ve been doing many of these things since the tender age of 6.

Since I am so heavily involved in theatre, and since it’s one of the first things people learn about me, I’ve been hearing a lot about this new movie called “Anonymous.”

And I would like to put any suggestion that I go see this movie to bed by saying that I refuse to see it.

I’m not rebelling against being a theatre person who sees movies about theatre or supports meta-theatre, although I really don’t. The last movie about theatre I liked was “Stage Beauty.” And I didn’t enjoy “Shakespeare in Love,” although having a spinoff like “George Lucas in Love” pretty much justifies it’s existence.

I’m not rebelling because it’s another movie about Shakespeare, although I don’t think he should be the sole idol of 16th century drama.

I’m not rebelling because of the violence or sex or the insult to Queen Elizabeth I. Come on, I loved the first season of “The Tudors,” and let’s be honest, there was nothing historically accurate about that except some of the costumes and some of the names.

I’m rebelling against this movie because it is downright insulting.

Why is “Anonymous” insulting?

It’s insulting to average people.

To quote Wikipedia about the plot’s inspiration: “Anonymous advocates[…] and dramatizes the Prince Tudor theory variant of the Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship, a literary and historical fringe theory proposed in 1920[…] which contends that the works of William Shakespeare were in fact written by an Elizabethan aristocrat, Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.”

Basically, the Oxford theory of authorship declares that common people in Elizabethan England were too stupid to come up with good ideas ever, so all of Shakespeare’s plays must have been written by someone from the upper classes. Because, you know, only upper class people read, write, and are sensitive and interested in culture.

This movie is a slap in the face to my personal values. It’s based on an assumption which is very easily falsifiable with a Google search: What was education like in Elizabethan England? The very first website I pulled up (elizabethan-era.org.uk) gives us all of this information:

Elizabethan Education – the Petty Schools, also known as Dame Schools
The most elementary level of education was conducted for boys aged between 5 and 7 at what was called a ‘ Petty School ‘. … At the ‘ Petty School ‘ or ‘ Dame School ‘ the boy’s education would consist of being taught to read and write English, learn the catechism and also learn lessons in behaviour. These were considered the most important elements of Elizabethan Petty School education and what must be taught during childhood.

Elizabethan Education – the Grammar Schools for boys aged 7 to 10
Between the ages of 7 and 10 … the boys first learnt the rudiments of Latin with the assistance of the Tudor text-book known as Lily’s Latin Grammar – using the horn-book and the alphabet as a tool and the basis of Elizabethan education. This short introduction to grammar and education, compiled by William Lily, had been authorised by Henry VIII as the sole Latin grammar textbook to be used in education and schools. In 1558 a child’s speller was written in England as spelling consistency gradually emerges. This period of Elizabethan education would have followed a set routine

Literature including the works of the great classical authors and dramatists, such as Ovid, Plautus, Horace, Virgil, Cicero and Seneca

At 14 the boys would leave Grammar School to attend University

[emphasis aaaaall mine, with lots cut, but you should go read the whole thing]

So, basically, reading, writing, and literature were the most important aspects of Elizabethan education. And this, for a small fee, was offered to anyone. It’s not free public education like what we have now, but anyone of the lower merchant class would have been able to afford to send their children, and it was pride in one’s status that originally educated Shakespeare, along with thousands of other talented children, a handful of whom grew up to be great writers and thinkers of their time.

The Oxford theory also leans too far into the camp of deifying Shakespeare. Have these people ever read Titus Andronicus? Or MacBeth? Or some of the more gruesome passages in King Lear? Or A Midsummer Night’s Dream? Sex, violence, and a freakin’ live band. Also, lots of slapstick comedy. Elements of live performance that have, and still are, considered “low class” or “common” or “not real theatre.” Shakespeare wrote stories he would have wanted to see on stage, which involved a lot of fighting, insults, clowns, torture scenes with vivid descriptions (or sometimes shown onstage, shocking!), horns, codpieces, practical jokes, and general pandering to the audience. Yes, he had great moments of clarity into the human soul, but perhaps that was because he wasn’t the equivalent of a trustfund pseudo-hipster-wannabe angsting about petty things — he was more like the average Hollywood screenwriter, trying to make a living, trying to be entertaining and interesting and innovative, and also trying to keep his job by keeping his ratings high.

Shakespeare was not a murderous fraud. Shakespeare was a really popular writer who later because canonized through English nationalism after the crowning of Charles II. Shakespeare was avidly hated by his contemporaries — those of us in theatre have all heard Ben Jonson’s infamous nickname for Shakespeare, the “upstart crow.” Shakespeare was just a man, maaaaaaaaan.

And to have some elitist filmmaking asshole claim that Shakespeare was dumber than dirt and the real writer came out of the 1% is so, so, so painfully insulting to anyone without much money who is trying to do something with their lives. To claim that only the rich are noble and intelligent goes against many of this country’s supposed values (boot-strap myth, anyone?), and goes against much of human history.

Fuck that movie, I’m not watching it.

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