The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0412 Friday, 29 October 2010
From: Hardy M. Cook <
Date: Friday, October 29, 2010
Subject: Q: Academic Response to Anonymous
As many of you may know, the film Anonymous <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1521197/>
is scheduled to be released on September 23, 2011. Anonymous is a large-budget film
for popular consumption from Sony Pictures with many established and up-and-coming
stars: Derek Jacobi as the Prologue, Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Elizabeth I, Mark
Rylance as Gloucester, Rhys Ifans as de Vere, and Rafe Spall as Shakespeare to name
a few. The film was directed by Roland Emmerich, who also directed Independence Day,
2012, The Day after Tomorrow, and Godzilla. Clearly, this "highly fictionalized"
production would like to be the Shakespeare in Love of the early 21st century.
I could see Orson Welles (you don't REALLY think he died in 1985) playing
Nostradamus and predicting that the TRUTH about Shakespeare, an alien robot, will be
revealed in the 21st century. Flash-forward, the truth seekers enlist the Will Smith
character, who steals an alien aircraft from the Roswell Air Force Base to nuke the
rough beast (Godzilla) slouching its way toward London to destroy the only remaining
documentary evidence that the Earl of Alpha Centauri actually wrote the works of the
robot from Stratford. Meanwhile, the Dennis Quaid character searches for additional
evidence in Venice, which is sinking into the sea from global warming, as the John
Cusack character escapes from London with the surviving evidence on the rising sea
in the replica of the Golden Hind, renamed the Ark of Truth, which is torn from its
moorings only a few hundred feet from that monument erected to the pretender,
Shakespeare's Globe, as Godzilla crushes the theater to the cheers of the film's
Clearly, my imagined plot strains credibility, but so do some of the statements
being made in the current midterm election in the US.
As many long-time subscribers know, I banned discussion of the "authorship question"
in December 1994, wearied from the acrimonious debate that began after an April 1994
posting of an anti-Oxford limerick cycle. I recount the history of this discussion
in my recently published essay, "Behind the Scenes with SHAKSPER: The Global
Electronic Shakespeare Conference" (College Literature 36.1 (2009): 105-20). I
observe in that essay that before April 1994, there was little mention of this topic
in SHAKSPER postings:
In the SHAKSPER archives, I cannot find an authorship-related posting before
February 27, 1991: an announcement by Mike Ellwood of a BBC radio program that
claimed that the scroll the Shakespeare figure on the statue in Westminster Abbey is
holding contains a cipher that Francis Bacon was the author. September 20, 1991,
witnessed an announcement of the competing articles in the Atlantic Monthly one by
Tom Bethell, advocating that the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare's plays, and
another by Irvin Matus, defending the traditional attribution to William Shakespeare
of Stratford-upon-Avon. More than a year later, Peter Scott announced the Frontline
program that examined the possibility that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford
wrote the plays attributed to William Shakespeare. A year after this, Anthony Hatch
asked if anyone had attended that mock trial in Boston in which Shakespeare's
identity was debated.
On May 25, 1994, I wrote that I was weary of continuing the authorship discussion
that began with the limerick posting. But the discussion continued, and on December
17, after compiling one of the longest digests in SHAKSPER's history, I admitted
that "I shall NEVER be convinced by any anti-Stratfordian argument -- I am too
reasonable a person to fall for another conspiracy theory. Similarly, I assume that
the arguments of Dave Kathman and others will never convince an Oxfordian to become
a Stratfordian. Thus, I see no point in continuing this discussion. To cut it off
would not be censorship; it would instead be blow for reason and would return a
semblance of respectability to this academic conference." Shortly, after this
posting, I banned discussion of the topic.
In my essay "Shakespeare on the Internet"
<http://www.shaksper.net/archives/files/Shakespeare-on-the-Internet.pdf>, a complete
revision of the one published in Sh@kespeare in the Media: From the Globe Theatre to
the World Wide Web. (Eds. Stefani Brusberg-Kiermeier and Jorg Helbig. Berlin; Bern;
Bruxelles; New York; Oxford; Wien: Peter Lang, 2004. 213-241), I write, "as a
responsible scholar and academic, cannot leave the subject of Shakespeare's life
without calling attention to one more site: The Shakespeare Authorship Page:
Dedicated to the Proposition that Shakespeare Wrote Shakespeare
<http://shakespeareauthorship.com/>. That William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon
wrote the works associated with him is _not an issue_ among the academically
informed." I find the information on this site to have the final word on the
At this time, I have no desire to reopen up the authorship discussion, but the
impending release of Anonymous raises an important question: how will we as
responsible scholars and academics respond to and address the issues that will arise
from the premier of this film.
Any discussion resulting from my question will be limited to it. I will summarily
ignore any off-topic submissions.
Editor of SHAKSPER
[Editor's Note: I have two other things I wish to mention in this Editor's Note.
First, I thought of proposing this topic after receiving a submission from a
subscriber pointing to a proposed feature-length documentary from an independent
nothing-is-truer-than-truth. Within the next month, the filmmaker is seeking $12,000
in pledges to finance her project. To date, she has raised $1,765.
Second, my apologies to subscribers for the long interruption in service on
SHAKSPER. I have been trying to stay ahead of my failing body parts in an effort to
be transformed into bionic Hardy. I look forward to another surgery in the future,
but for the present I am in a position to continue my work of editing and
distributing SHAKSPER digests on a more regular basis. I also hope to resume work on
some of my other long-neglected projects. I have, however, many postponed e-mails
and other life duties to catch up with first.
Thank you for your patience, Hardy]
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook,
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>
DISCLAIMER: Although SHAKSPER is a moderated discussion list, the opinions expressed
on it are the sole property of the poster, and the editor assumes no responsibility