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'Anonymous' provokes skepticism from Shakespeare experts

October 27, 2011 |  9:00 am

Vanessa Redgrave and Rhys Ifans in Anonymous

Times reporter Rebecca Keegan writes in Thursday's Calendar section about "Anonymous," the new movie from disaster-flick auteur Roland Emmerich, which revives the age-old Oxfordian theory of Shakespearean authorship arguing that Edward de Vere was in fact the man behind the Bard's masterpieces.

The movie, which opens this weekend, has already provoked a good deal of skepticism -- and not just from moviegoers who are wondering why Emmerich, the director of CGI-bonanzas "Godzilla" and "Independence Day," has decided to tackle the Elizabethan era. Some scholars are troubled by the movie's speculative interpretation of history and are taking their criticisms public.

Keegan spoke with Emmerich as well as screenwriter John Orloff. She also interviewed Michael Witmore, director of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., and James Shapiro, a professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, who condemned the movie in a piece in the New York Times.

In the U.K., the Guardian reported this week that the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has mounted a campaign against the movie by temporarily removing the Bard's name from road and bar signs across Warwickshire, the county where Shakespeare was born. The trust, which is an educational charity, wrote on its website that the "authorship conspiracy is much ado about nothing" and that they are trying to highlight the impact the film could have on rewriting history.

"This film flies in the face of a mass of historical fact, but there is a risk that people who have never questioned the authorship of Shakespeare's works could be hoodwinked," wrote Paul Edmondson, the trust's head of knowledge and research, on the website.

Earlier this month, the New York Times ran a op-ed column from Shapiro attacking the movie.

"Not a shred of documentary evidence has ever been found that connects de Vere to any of the plays or poems," wrote Shapiro, who teaches at Columbia's English department.

"A lot of facts — theatrical and political — are trampled" in the movie, he wrote.

"Anonymous" stars a number of Shakespearean stage luminaries who apparently had no problem with the film's content -- or at least not enough of a problem to turn down a paycheck. The cast includes such stage veterans as Vanessa Redgrave, Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance.

Last week, The Times reported that Sony Pictures changed its plans to open "Anonymous" nationwide in the U.S. after pre-release surveys indicated that the movie was poised to have a weak first weekend.

Instead, Sony will release the movie in just 250 cinemas on Friday.


Disaster-flick auteur Roland Emmerich takes on William Shakespeare

'Anonymous': Hollywood takes on the Shakespeare debate

-- David Ng

Photo: A scene from "Anonymous," with Vanessa Redgrave as Elizabeth I and Rhys Ifans as Edward de Vere. Credit: Reiner Bajo / Associated Press