“Was Shakespeare a fraud?” That’s the question the promotional machinery for Roland Emmerich’s new film, “Anonymous,” wants to usher out of the tiny enclosure of fringe academic conferences into the wider pastures of a Hollywood audience. Shakespeare is finally getting the Oliver Stone/“Da Vinci Code” treatment, with a lurid conspiratorial melodrama involving incest in royal bedchambers, a vapidly simplistic version of court intrigue, nifty costumes and historically inaccurate nonsense. First they came for the Kennedy scholars, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Kennedy scholar. Then they came for Opus Dei, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Catholic scholar. Now they have come for me.
Professors of Shakespeare — and I was one once upon a time — are blissfully unaware of the impending disaster that this film means for their professional lives. Thanks to “Anonymous,” undergraduates will be confidently asserting that Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare for the next 10 years at least, and profs will have to waste countless hours explaining the obvious…
No, I haven’t seen it, and don’t intend to. I mean, I saw “The Da Vinci Code,” and I’d like to have that time back. I also read Foucault’s Pendulum, which was essentially the same thing (grand, paranoid conspiracy, involving the Knights Templar, reaching back into ancient times). That one really disappointed me, because I had enjoyed The Name of the Rose.
Bottom line, what does it matter who wrote those plays and poems? Whoever it was was probably the most brilliant writer of English ever, largely responsible for the linguistic and cultural hegemony of the Anglosphere. But so what if it was Will Shakespeare or Joe Blow down the street? What’s in a name, yadda, yadda? It’s not like the actual person can enjoy our adulation today. We can’t shake him by the hand or anything. He can’t make any money out of it. Having that name, and that visage, associated with the works suits fine. And since no one will ever know that it was someone else — even if we found a document with a royal seal attesting to it, that could be a fraud itself — what’s the point?
Would it matter that Julius Caesar was actually someone else using that name? No. Gallia would still have been divisa in partes tres. (Latin scholars, help me out — I suspect that “divisa” is wrong with “would have been.” And to me, that matters.)
It remains most likely that
They may have come for Opus Dei and gotten away with it, but they’re not coming for me, not again.