Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Anonymous (2011)

Vanessa Redgrave and Rhys Ifans in Roland Emmerich's "Anonymous"

"A vulgar prank on the English literary tradition, a travesty of British history and a brutal insult to the human imagination." - A.O. Scott, NY Times

"It’s that garbage again. Shakespeare ... a mere front for the brilliant Edward de Vere." - David Denby, The New Yorker

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Killer?

Someone else wrote the works of William Shakespeare?

Telling cute, made-up stories about Shakespeare is very lucrative. Tom Stoppard's rom-com Shakespeare In Love (1998) has as many grains of veracity as does Stephen Greenblatt's blockbuster fictional-historical Will In The World (2004) in which the author presumes to guess where the Bard was or may have been -- and what he thought -- throughout the period in which his plays were originally produced. But Roland Emmerich is an asshole. pretends not to rip the film for its premise, for being "not dumb enough." It is "portentous and didactic" where it should be "playful and clever."  You know, like Shakespeare In Love. You can always criticize something for being something other than what you want it to be, I suppose. However, to call it portentous is to miss, willfully or otherwise (see what I did there) that what may be seen as sincerely overdone is, in fact, the epitome of satire -- that kind in which the satirist never winks.

History Play; the lives and afterlife of Christopher Marlowe by Rodney Bolt is another such satire which does not let you in on the joke until the very end ... unless you are paying attention or exceedingly clever, like me. Presented as a sincere, well-researched and entirely accurate account of the life of Christopher Marlowe, you might even believe some of its claims ... unless you know one of the main sources, the library of one 'Julius Marx' is probably entirely bogus. Julius was the birth-name of Groucho Marx.

However, Bolt lets everyone in at the end, where he admits his prank with this final thought -- what we know about William Shakespeare of Stratford is very little, and with what we do know, anyone can make up any story they choose.

One thing I really enjoyed were all the little details in the Earl’s study, there for those of us who know a thing or two about the Bard. He keeps a falcon, and dessicated lizards (like some apothocary.) Oxford was, of course, an accomplished swordsman, unlike the actor William Shaksper -- one who can read, but not “form his letters” -- a drink-loving whoremonger.
The argument that only someone with a breadth of knowledge, afforded only to those with the leisure and wealth to support such pursuits, is branded as elitist to Stratfordians (the term doubters use for those who think Shakespeare is actually Shakespeare.) Anyone with drive and ambition can educate themselves, anyone may be born a genius, and those who are may self-educate themselves, and succeed.
It’s also an argument conservatives use to gut social programs and the public school system, but I digress.

Brian & Tim get busy on my work.

Great Lakes has commissioned me to write next year's outreach touring play, something thematically tied to Much Ado About Nothing. During the first few weeks of April I feverishly wrote a 45 minute prequel, describing the circumstances Benedick and Beatrice met, and events which form the basis of their relationship. Never written something so compact, so finished, so fast.

Last night we had a first reading and it went very well. I had been asked to write the entire thing in iambic pentameter -- there is a joke in Anonymous, playwrights arguing over whether it is impressive or easy to write in verse. I found it time-consuming, but not difficult. But then, I have access to a vast electronic database, Thesaurus.Com and rhyming dictionaries.

Unlike Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, but much like William Shakespeare of Stratford, I have never been to Italy. And yet, in my little play there are allusions to historic battles, based on true events, and references to art, architecture and geography about which I knew nothing before entereing into this endeavor.
     BENEDICK: There was a lad, and from his hat I’d say / That he was from Merano …
Yes, that was fun. I’ve never been to Merano, and have no idea whether their hats are distinctive or unique, but it’s colorful, right? You believe him because of this detail. And there is plenty in Shakespeare which is either geographically or anthropologically inaccurate or outright false, which is easily defended as poetic license.
But a man or woman can read books, and listen to the tales spun by sailors and other strange visitors, and craft from them, well … the greatest plays ever written, right? Again, I have never traveled to Italy, and never studied Italian history (well, not 16th century Italian history) but I was able to fake it good, right?
But I have the Internet. I can click a link and find precisely what I am looking for. Articles and maps and books and photographs and everything. In Shakespeare’s day, you needed to know which book you were looking for, where it was located, and which part to read. Absorbing the knowledge of Italian naval battles that Shakespeare would have required to write the single page I dedicate to them would have taken him days to hunt down and divine. It took me half an hour.

"Action Oxford"

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