Britannia commands her legion of upstart crows to chase away the predatory, aristocratic falcon. Get him, boys! Fetch me a feather or two for my idiotic hat!
Huh? Well, this week I watched the film Anonymous, and -- entertaining as it is -- I have not seen such a ridiculous confection of tendentious nonsense since, oh, Braveheart, say. The film is a dramatisation of the so-called Shakespeare Authorship Question, given a spurious dignity by the presence of those very strange people, actors Vanessa Redgrave, Derek Jacobi, and Mark Rylance. It plays fast and loose with historical facts in order to bolster the claim that the plays were written by the 17th Earl of Oxford, and not by some self-made nobody from the Midlands. Oh, and that Elizabeth I had at least three illegitimate children by different fathers. Obviously.
The "anti-Stratfordian" thing seems to be motivated entirely by snobbery. How could such a person -- the son of a glover, if you please! -- possibly have written those plays? It's very strange: I mean, does anyone question whether Thomas Cromwell could really have been Henry VIII's chief minister, because he was a low-born chancer from Putney with an unknown, undocumented past (including some murky years spent abroad), or suggest he was just a stooge for some aristocratic genius lurking in the background? It's baffling. Besides, the whole point of Shakespeare was always that he was a "natural" genius, who didn't write stilted, aristocratic verse, or creaky "university" plays, hidebound by their own ostentatious learning. As Beaumont wrote to Ben Jonson:
Plus Shakespeare does get things wrong, often because he leaned too heavily on the contemporary equivalents of Wikipedia. Jonson got a big laugh from Will's belief that Bohemia had a coastline (Winter's Tale -- "exit pursued by a bear", and all that) and was quite dismissive of such "learning" as was on display in the plays. Jonson himself, of course, was the adopted son of a bricklayer, and although famously learned was not university-educated, and a bit of a jail-bird. As far as the more established writers were concerned, Will Shakespeare (or Shagsper, as anti-Stratfordians prefer) was a mere actor who had dared to try his hand at playwriting, an "upstart crow, beautified with our feathers". Well, some crow, some feathers...
Here I would let slip
(If I had any in me) scholarship,
And from all learning keep these lines as clear
as Shakespeare's best are, which our heirs shall hear
Preachers apt to their auditors to show
how far sometimes a mortal man may go
by the dim light of Nature.
No, if it's an entertaining, speculative film about Shakespeare you want, I recommend Shakespeare in Love. It's a rom-com romp, with an absurd but very Shakespearian cross-dressing plot, amusingly self-aware of its own deliberate anachronisms yet steeped in Shakespeare and theatrical history, and with a sparkling script by Tom Stoppard. And a bit with a dog for the groundlings.
Hmm, Stoppard... Yet another of these nobodies (an immigrant, if you please!) with no real education to speak of, and yet a suspiciously substantial body of work. Which raises the question: who really wrote Jumpers, Travesties, and all those all other clever, witty plays about matters the autodidact and journalist "Stoppard" could not possibly have understood?