The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 22.0297 Thursday, 10 November 2011
Date: November 9, 2011 2:31:54 PM EST
Subject: Re: SHAKSPER: Anon,; Woodstock
Re. Anonymous, teachers are always on the lookout for useful lesson plans, exercises, activities, and such, all the more at the high school level since the teaching workload is so much greater. (I say this as a university teacher who taught high school for several years.) I remember, for instance, that Sony also produced a Teachers Guide to the Michael Radford Merchant of Venice starring Al Pacino (http://www.sonyclassics.com/merchantofvenice/SONY-VEMI-04/TeachersGuide.pdf). This was marketing too, of course, but I don't see anything wrong with it. For one thing, you're not likely to use the guide if you don't use the film (and there's lots good about the film). For another, one might similarly describe all the editorial bells and whistles in various Shakespeare editions as a kind of marketing – i.e., use this edition, because it comes with X, Y, and Z. If Sony wants to encourage students to read, enjoy, and learn about Shakespeare, more power to them.
On the other hand, I don't think there will be much to fear from Anonymous, study guide or no. For one thing, it's not a film of one of the plays, so it's far less useful in the classroom. Any teacher would have to take time to add it to the syllabus as an extra, since it wouldn't directly supplement the study of Hamlet or Julius Caesar (or anything else). I also think the film has been so thoroughly trashed by the reviewers, at least in terms of its content, that none but the most hardened anti-Stratfordians will consider using it. Even apart from the authorship question, the history in the film is totally fraudulent. Roland Emmerich and his writer seem to have the same attitude to history as Shekhar Kapur, director of the Cate Blanchett Elizabeth films. They just make it up, or rearrange it to suit their needs.
One might, of course, argue that this is what Shakespeare himself does in the Histories, but then nobody argues that because Queen Margaret is alive in Richard III, she really didn't die as the standard histories record. There's a difference between the writing of entertainments and the writing of history. (Historians make things up too, as did More for his Richard III, but that's bad history that will hopefully be corrected by better.) In short, Anonymous may be fun for a Saturday afternoon (though I actually think it's rather dour and longwinded), but it's hardly of any use in the classroom, with or without a study guide.