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Home :: Archive :: 2010 :: October ::
Q: Academic Response to Anonymous
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0412  Friday, 29 October 2010

From:        Hardy M. Cook <
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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 
audience. 

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 
subject.

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.

Hardy Cook
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 
filmmaker: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2027553076/shakespeare-in-venice-
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]

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