Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Right up there with the conspiracies and mysteries that forever seem to beguile our collective imaginations---such as who exactly killed JFK or the more recent ones concerning 9/11---there remains one that goes back four centuries: Who was the true author of the Shakespeare plays and sonnets? Many still believe it was the historical bard from Avon, and why not, because even the son of an illiterate can be a genius, or was it a noble in the Elizabethan court, such as Edward, Earl of Essex, whose history, travels, and background easily fit the profile some academics believe is needed to have produced these masterpieces. Newer theories even posit that the plays were written by several men, working together, as was common amongst playwrights of almost every era. No matter, say I, though the conundrum is delicious and enticing, for what was bequeathed the world is so beautiful that it ultimately doesn't matter and thank God the gifts were somehow preserved. And only a few of the common folk, even dedicated actors and scholars, will spend that much time ferreting out more facts. Short of finding an actual manuscript in the hand of one identifiable person, the mystery is likely to forever baffle. But that does not prevent writers and amateur detectives from continuing their labors, nor does it preclude screenwriters and directors from tackling the issue as well. There have been some wonderful film efforts: indeed, I really fell for Shakespeare in Love (1998), a rather lighter-hearted traipse that entertained quite well. But tonight I was introduced to another angle of the story, beautifully told (even if I question many of the conclusions and historical details) with verve and wonderful acting, that I was impressed and well entertained. Roland Emmerich's Anonymous (2011) is a delight and I highly recommend it, no matter where you fall on who Shakespeare actually was. The movie is even more about the political intrigues within the ruling class. Vanessa Redgrave was marvellous as the elder Queen Elizabeth, and her daughter Joely Richardson was perfect to play the younger woman. I thought Rhys Ifans was excellent as Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, as was Sebastian Armesto, Edward Hogg, Rafe Spall, and the rest of the cast in theirs. I loved the costumes and sets, and the story itself was smooth and convoluted enough. I know---purist and historians will cry bloody horror at the inaccuracies, but if one can just suspend some belief and enjoy the tale, they will be happily rewarded. Although there is little here that would shake a youngster's mind, a few uncomfortable questions will be raised if your kids understand exactly what is portrayed. If it widens interest in the historical search for truth, so much the better. What is really grand is that the movie celebrates Shakespeare and shows just how important he was to his time, and how powerful words can be.