My official position on Anonymous. Which people have been clamouring for. (Well, I’ve been asked a few times).
The fact that Sony are distributing school materials based on the film is properly off. But English teachers (and their students, for that matter) are not stupid, plus syllabus change tends to bring them out in hives. I think we’re safe there.
As for the film – I think the Shakespeare ‘authorship controversy’ is a lot of hot air. It’s a thick stew of conspiracy theories and class prejudice, cooked in a low oven of unhealthy fixation and served by a Looney who really should have gone out into the fresh air a bit more or at the least changed his surname before publishing. I tend to hew to the ‘Occam’s Razor’ school of history, and frankly the notion that Shakespeare’s plays were written by a dude named Shakespeare – who pretty definitely seems to have existed, who was in London mixing it up with the right people at the right time, and whose name was associated with the plays by all the folks in the position to know who wrote them – holds all the water I require of my authorial identifications.
But I also believe fairly strongly that if a person wants to fictionalise the past they are welcome to fictionalise it, purists be damned. I don’t think it’s alright to present it as truth – shame on you for presenting it as truth, Mr Emmerich – but frankly if somebody wants to portray Shakespeare as a giant talking weasel from Jupiter in a piece of fiction I’m pretty much fine with it. Not wildly impressed (actually, the weasel thing would probably impress me) but forced by my own belief in the essential freedom of fiction to put up and shut up. It’s also OK, in my view, to present him in fiction as a bad person, even a fraud. We really do not need to treat the Bard with the reverence and protectiveness usually reserved for the remaining Beatles. You’re only going to properly piss me off – and I mean seriously, fatally, Uma-Thurman-in-Kill-Bill piss me off – if you start messing about with the plays in ways that don’t have anything do with with quarto variants and other such excellent bibliographic geekiness. Basically, if someone tries to argue that actually everyone should survive at the end of Hamlet because that’s what the Earl of Oxford would have wanted I am going to have to own a motherfucker.
The awesomeness of Shakespeare, and the weight of scholarship behind his identification as author, is going to win out here. Those of us who study and/or teach his works and/or his times may well have to spend a couple of months having dumb conversations with people who’ve taken the whole thing a bit seriously. But that isn’t going to kill us. Remember when The Da Vinci Code came out and people went on themed walks on holiday and came back and tried to convince you about all manner of shit involving church architecture? We all seem to have survived that just dandy. And at least they will be talking about literature, and history, and not about how much it costs to teach them and how we should just all stop doing it.
And the whole thing is still not as silly as Cardenio. Respected Shakespearian scholars – seriously. Stop writing your own ersatz ‘Shakespeare’ plays. Have a sit down, read some Middleton or something, and have a nice calm think about how much wonderful literature there is in the world.