Shakespeare exposed

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Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford and Bard of Avon
  • Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford and Bard of Avon

Anonymous opens this weekend. That’s the new movie from Independence Day auteur Roland Emmerich, taking off on the Oxfordian theory—the idea that it was the 17th Earl of Oxford and not the “Stratford man” (i.e., Shakespeare) who wrote Shakespeare’s plays. Originated, interestingly enough, by a guy named Looney (though he pronounced it LOHney, much as Gene Wilder’s character in Young Frankenstein insists on calling himself FrAHnkenstEEn), the theory holds that Shakespeare was too common and provincial to have come up with the plays that have defined Western culture for the last four centuries. It had to be somebody who was rich, well-traveled, hyper-educated, and on intimate terms with the royal court. A member of the 1 percent, as it were. Francis Bacon, Queen Elizabeth, and lots of others have been suggested. Even Christopher Marlowe, who’d have to have faked his own death to qualify. But the earl, Edward de Vere, has emerged as the favorite.

Now I don’t imagine that Emmerich and his screenwriter in this instance, John Orloff, give a rat’s ass who wrote Shakespeare’s plays. This movie runs a variation on the clever trope Emmerich used for 2012 (and before that, for the passage in Independence Day where it’s discovered that there really are aliens at Area 51), which is to take some harebrained bit of pop mythology and pretend it’s true. At the very least, the conceit makes for good publicity. I must’ve seen a half-dozen stories about Anonymous today, all saying how “blasphemous” the Oxfordian theory is.

Well, it’s not blasphemous. Just kind of annoying. I don’t like it because it’s based on nothing but the elitist notion that regular people don’t do great things. Still, I’ve got to admit there’s plenty of precedent for the idea that genius flows best through blue blood. I mean, where would we all be if Kaiser Wilhelm II hadn’t come up with the theory of relativity? Or Prince Charles hadn’t recorded the white album? I’m personally preparing a study that will blow the lid off this James Joyce-wrote-James Joyce thing. I’m pretty sure Edward, the Duke of Windsor did it. Just consider: he abdicated in 1936, and Finnegan’s Wake came out in 1939—three years later. ‘Nuff said.

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