To Be or Not to Be Shakespeare
The theory that William Shakespeare (1564-1616), an actor and grain dealer from Stratford-upon-Avon, was not actually the author of the plays attributed to him has been kicking around for centuries. The so-called anti-Stratford case has had no dearth of celebrity supporters, from Mark Twain and Sigmund Freud to the Shakespearean actors Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance -- both appearing in Roland Emmerich’s disappointing new film on the subject, Anonymous.
The skepticism about Shakespeare’s authorship rests largely on two pillars: the paucity of written evidence tying him to the plays (or anything else) and the fact that his education, travel and life experiences were apparently so limited. Far more likely, the doubters say, for these sophisticated works, with their references to courtly customs, foreign languages, the classics and European geography, to have been penned by another notable writer of the Elizabethan Age – the philosopher Francis Bacon, for instance, or the playwright Christopher Marlowe.
At the moment, the most popular “Shakespeare” -- for those who reject Shakespeare himself -- is Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604). The aristocratic de Vere was a poet and playwright with the requisite background and education. Conspiracy theorists also point to similarities between his family history and the relationships in Hamlet and other Shakespearean works.
At its most fanciful, the Oxford hypothesis includes the “Prince Tudor” theory, which suggests that de Vere was either Queen Elizabeth’s son or her lover or both -- and that he sired a son with her. Anonymous adopts this far-fetched idea with a vengeance, and then proceeds to muddle it further with sloppy storytelling.
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