Fresh from counting the take of his other box office bonanzas—Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012—Roland Emmerich has gone from creating disaster movies to launching a movie disaster. Called Anonymous, this is a conspiracy fantasy based on the idiotic notion that Shakespeare was not the author of his literary masterpieces, which were instead penned by the Earl of Oxford.
Oh, sure, millions of dollars have bought Emmerich the best in moviemaking elementals: a striking recreation of the Shakespearean-era Globe Theatre and other sets, fabulous state-of-the-art computer-animation scenes, elaborate Elizabethan costuming, and other extravagances, including excellent acting by the likes of Vanessa Redgrave (as aging monarch Elizabeth I) and her daughter Joely Richardson (as the young queen). Such might earn the movie a good review—if one ignored the content, but that amount of psychological dissociation would be too much for me.
All such fantasies about someone other than the man from Stratford-upon-Avon having written the great works attributed to “The Bard” begin with the elitist notion—expressed or implied—that only an aristocrat could have written “Shakespeare.” Then a woman named Delia Bacon—who believed (wrongly) she was descended from Sir Francis Bacon—convinced herself there were buried secrets and messages concealed in texts that pointed to a clandestine society of writers headed by Sir Walter Raleigh and with Bacon as guiding light. Subsequently, various “Baconians” became convinced of Bacon’s authorship, followed by others who touted Christopher Marlowe, and still others who advocated the seventeenth Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere, today’s inadvertent Shakespeare impostor. In all, some 70 candidates have been proposed—including even Queen Elizabeth herself.
The Oxfordians again follow in the footsteps of Delia Bacon (who died insane at age forty-eight) and other cranks who search for secret messages they imagine are “concealed” in various texts. If one analytical approach doesn’t yield a suitable message, they try another. For more on this proliferating foolishness, see my cover story—”Did Shakespeare Write Shakespeare? Much Ado About Nothing”—in the November/December 2011 Skeptical Inquirer.
Now, in Anonymous, producer Roland Emmerich and writer John Orloff have capitalized on the mania, providing the Oxfordian “theory” with a political context—the Essex rebellion against Elizabeth—filled with cloak-and-dagger complexities. They manage to defame many, including the “Virgin Queen” herself (who is given illegitimate children, one of whom she takes as a lover) and, of course, William Shakespeare, who is cast as a licentious, deceitful poseur. The latter is a characterization that Emmerich and Orloff—who show an almost pathological disregard for historical truth and the consequences of utterly perverting it—might have drawn from themselves.
Rating: One-half wooden nickel (out of four)