“Anonymous”: Overblown Conspiracy


Released: October 2011

Starring: Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, David Thewlis

History of period in focus: Life of Edward de Vere (1560s – 1603)

(I would like to dedicate this update to my friend Tony Funari, who did a post on Shakespeare author controversy some time ago and lent me a book for research on the film!)

Barring someone going back in time or digging up some kind of miraculous document we’ve never seen, nobody will ever be able to prove or disprove that William Shakespeare wrote or didn’t write his plays.  It’s impossible.  However, I tend to favor the Occam’s Razor approach.  What’s the simplest answer?  Shakespeare got a decent enough education to write, learned the trade of theater through his company, and there is little evidence of him as a man because he lived 400 years ago and a lot of documents have been lost to time.

There.  That’s it.  Conspiracies and theories and all the rest of it complicate things in a way that isn’t worth it and holy crap, does Anonymous buy into some conspiracy theory.

The idea that Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, really wrote Shakespeare’s plays is not a new idea in the least.  I think the argument is fairly compelling, although there are several reasons I ultimately reject it (which I’ll talk about).  The rest that the movie asks me to believe, though, seems farcical.  You mean de Vere had an illegitimate child with Elizabeth?  All right, I find it hard to believe Elizabeth would allow herself to get pregnant (although I don’t doubt that she did enjoy at least some sex), but that’s not extremely outrageous.  Oh, wait.  You mean she had multiple illegitimate children and one of them was de Vere and she committed incest with him and Essex’s rebellion was no more than a nasty trick played on a loyal guy by the evil Robert Cecil?

Wait a minute.  A conspiracy is all good fun, but five conspiracies?  The more unbelievable the plot gets, the more questionable it is that the first charge – that de Vere penned Shakespeare’s plays – could be true.  Although, William Shakespeare in the movie as a mostly illiterate buffoon?  AWESOME.

I dare you not to love this man.

Why Edward de Vere?

Historians have found some surviving poems and plays of de Vere and he was considered an accomplished writer at the time.  He was involved in court life, which would explain the scenes in the plays that seem to have an intimate knowledge of the way royalty worked.  He was raised in the house of William Cecil, Elizabeth’s chief adviser, further supporting his knowledge of court workings.  Furthermore, Cecil is thought to be one of the inspirations for Polonius.

The Earl of Oxford also had extensive traveling experience.  He had actually been to Italy and visited places that appeared in the plays.  He would have known the weather, the customs, etc. while as far as we can tell, William Shakespeare never left England.

He was educated by university and the language in the plays is undeniably bright and playful, making a full education the likely culprit for such refinement.

Apparently, if you look at the letters and other things that Edward de Vere wrote as himself there are similarities to lines and passages in Shakespeare plays that are either deliberate or a sign of the way he wrote and phrased things.

There is a whole skein more: people who really want this theory to be true have gone through multiple plays and found instances that related to something that happened in de Vere’s life.  Let’s look at a couple of these examples and you can determine for yourself if they are coincidence or buried fact.

The Merchant of Venice – The Earl of Oxford at been in Venice, so it makes sense he would know details that someone who had never been there would not know.  Such as the fact that baked doves were a not weird gift or that the Duke of Venice got two votes in the city council.

Romeo and Juliet – Oxford himself had an illicit affair with a woman named Anne Vavasour which started a series of duels between her family and the people who followed him.  One of these skirmishes injured Oxford and effectively “lamed” him.  I should also mention that the speaker in the sonnets refers to himself as “lame” on multiple occasions.

Hamlet – In addition to the Polonious as Cecil connection, we also have the fact that Oxford was at one point kidnapped by pirates just as Hamlet is kidnapped in the play.  If you look at the sources for Hamlet, the pirate attack is not included in any of them and must have been an original invention.  Furthermore, after his father’s death, his mother remarried rather quickly.

But wait, there’s more!  If de Vere died in 1604, how is it possible that multiple plays appeared after his death?  Some of the big ones referred to here are Macbeth and The TempestIt’s simple.  Those plays had already been written and performed on some level and after 1604 they were simply revised by other people and staged again.  How else can we explain Shakespeare’s silence on James ascension to the throne unless he was dead and unable to write about it?

“Hello, would you like me to seduce you with some poetry?”

Why not Shakespeare?

We really don’t know that much about William Shakespeare.  He was born in Stratford-upon-Avon.  He was educated (probably) at the local grammar school there.  His father had achieved the fairly prominent position of mayor before he had to withdraw from social life, probably for debt.

We know that Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway and had three children with her.  Then he sort of disappears and reappears in London as an established playwright as part of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.  He writes plays and is extremely popular.

He dies in 1616 and seven years later his friends, including Ben Jonson, produce a First Folio of his work for prosperity’s sake.

Why do we know so little about Shakespeare?  We know more about some of his contemporaries.  Christopher Marlowe leaps to mind as a particularly infamous person who dueled and quarreled his way into an early death.  We have dedications that Ben Jonson wrote outside of his theater work.  But there’s nothing of Shakespeare’s aside from his actual work.  No dedications, no personal letters, no diaries, no notes scrawled into the margins of books he loved.

Furthermore, a good number of other playwrights at the time were university educated.  Is a grammar school education enough to give someone the foundations they need to write these brilliant plays?  There’s no specific record that exists that shows Shakespeare’s enrollment in the Stratford grammar school.  It’s possible he never even went.

Surely, this man is a shadowy figure with next to nothing about him because he wasn’t a prominent playwright and someone else was writing plays under his name.  After all, writing anonymously was not unusual at the time and it wasn’t unheard of for someone to adopt a pen name.  It’s possible that de Vere wrote as William Shake-spear, using the hyphen to clue people into the fact that the author was really somebody else.

This is the face of lies. It’s like someone telling you that your puppy is out to kill you. Or that the Illuminati are real and Dan Brown was right.

Bardolatry and academic elitism

Here’s the thing: Shakespeare’s plays are good.  They are clever and witty and contain themes that still concern people today.  That does not mean Shakespeare was the best writer in the entire world and that he was an isolated genius who delivered these plays from on high.  Other playwrights at the time also produced brilliant witty works that we can still read and think of as hilarious and awesome all in their own right.

Shakespeare is totally overrated.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love Shakespeare plays, but the guy wasn’t the BEST WRITER EVER.  He has some plays that sort of suck.  He has some plays where it’s apparent that multiple passages were written by someone else which means he participated in the custom of co-writing at the time.  He and other playwrights constantly borrowed ideas and good lines from each other.  The theater community was tight knit and they borrowed from each other at will, working together to make the best work they could as quickly as they could.

If you read Shakespeare’s plays, they are completely rooted in the Elizabeth world.  You cannot get one scene into a comedy without running into stupid sexual puns.  The man wrote some intricate and meaningful verse, but holy cow did he love sex jokes as much as the next person.



No longer from head to foot than from hip to hip:
she is spherical, like a globe; I could find out
countries in her.


In what part of her body stands Ireland?


Marry, in her buttocks: I found it out by the bogs.

[…nationality jokes, etc…]


Where stood Belgia, the Netherlands?


Oh, sir, I did not look so low.)

The punchline in the above passage is that the Netherlands are like a woman’s vagina.  Come on!  That not terribly sophisticated.  I think too often we are fed this story as Shakespeare as this wonderful elite writer and then all of a sudden it looks like grammar school wouldn’t be enough to create such great writing.  Being a mere actor and writer wouldn’t give someone the sophistication to create brilliant works.

That’s snobbery, plain and simple.

Snobbery? Does this look like the face of snobbery?

By all accounts the grammar school in Stratford was respectable.  This is not the same sort of thing as a modern day elementary school.  Obviously someone leaving the sixth grade today could not write Shakespeare.  In Elizabethan grammar schools, however, the boys would mostly learn Greek and Latin by way of reciting passages from old plays and works.  Anyone with an education would be familiar with these works and that makes the Comedy of Errors less spectacular.  The plot is directly ripped from Plautus’ Menaechmi about a set of twins everybody confuses with each other all day.  Formal education would have stopped at about the age of 15, which gets him into high school range, at least.

The movie’s contention that his father was “unquestionably illiterate” is probably not true.  How did he become a bailiff without any education?  It seems unlikely.

There’s a term coined by George Bernard Shaw (an awesome playwright himself) about Shakespeare: “Bardolatry.”  We idolize Shakespeare’s work and have raised him up to be this magnificent untouchable author that his unquestionably a genius.  That’s why kids read him in school and get bored to death.  Have you ever been hyped to death about a movie and then found it worse than you might have going into it without knowing anything?  Same thing with Shakespeare.  You see a million pop culture references to Romeo and Juliet and suddenly the play is boring.

The movie contributes to the idea of Bardolatry in spades.  Multiple times throughout the other playwrights look at his works in awe, amazed that he could ever write something so magnificent.  The fact that he hands over a play in iambic pentameter blows all their minds.  “Entirely in verse?” Ben Jonson asks in the movie, staring at de Vere like he might want to make out with him.

Oh wait.  They all wrote in verse.  Look at the other plays we still have from the time.  Large portions of them are in verse!

Take Ben Jonson, one of the playwrights in the film who is completely awed by de Vere’s verbal skill.  He wrote the play Volpone, which you might have read in high school or as an English major.  Be honest, could you tell the difference between this play and Shakespeare?  Probably not.

(For example:

   MOSCA: He has no faith in physic: he does think
     Most of your doctors are the greater danger,
     And worse disease, to escape. I often have
     Heard him protest, that your physician
     Should never be his heir.

     CORBACCIO: Not I his heir?

     MOSCA: Not your physician, sir.

     CORBACCIO: O, no, no, no,
     I do not mean it.

     MOSCA: No, sir, nor their fees
     He cannot brook: he says, they flay a man,
     Before they kill him.

     CORBACCIO: Right, I do conceive you.

     MOSCA: And then they do it by experiment;
     For which the law not only doth absolve them,
     But gives them great reward: and he is loth
     To hire his death, so.)

Looks to be in verse, doesn’t it?

This guy is more of a fox than Volpone. /nerd joke

I don’t know why the legend of de Vere scribbling away in solitude holds so much sway.  The Elizabethan theater community constantly borrowed from each other and worked together.  There is evidence that some of Shakespeare’s plays were co-written.  Hell, The Two Noble Kinsmen actually had John Fletcher listed on the cover page as an author along with Shakespeare!  Honestly, it makes much more sense to me that a man who worked with others, borrowed good lines and characters ideas from others, and lived among the people so he understood their particular brand of humor would write some good and popular stuff.  It makes less sense to me to dismiss all these moments of collaboration as people adding to de Vere’s plays after the fact or borrowing from what he had already done.  Shakespeare’s works might have been popular, but there were a lot of other popular playwrights at the time.  They were not completely overlooked.

One last thought here.  According to Bill Bryson:

Only 230 or so play texts still exist from Shakespeare’s time, including the thirty-eight by Shakespeare himself – about 15 percent of the total, a gloriously staggering proportion.

Maybe if we had more plays or fewer of Shakespeare’s, he would need seem so great to us as he is.

Why would he have to hide?

The movie posits that de Vere had to keep his writing a secret because it wasn’t a noble enough pursuit.  This was mostly thrust on the shoulders of the Cecil family, who were strict puritans and forbade him to do any of that nasty writing stuff.

First, congratulations to William Cecil for becoming a villain!  I have never seen this man portrayed as a total dick before, and I was a little proud of him for having reached horrible monster status.

Also, he’s a werewolf.

Secondly, de Vere was known as a poet and playwright in his own time.  He is mentioned on several lists as a respected writer who people knew and whose work got performed!  He was involved in the theater and had his own company he did patronage for, Oxford’s Men.  If people already knew him as a writer, why would he not attach his name to his work?  Why wouldn’t he have his own company perform his stuff?

Anne Cecil, his first wife died in 1588 after they had multiple children together.  His affair with Anne Vavasour was around 1581 and that’s when his son with her was born.  If she was the inspiration for Romeo and Juliet, it took him awhile to write it (unless, of course, he kept it in hiding for awhile).  As his wife Anne Cecil is hugely against him writing in the movie and complains when he begins to focus on it again, the fact that she died 10 years before the movie takes place makes that theory a little weaker.

Lastly, some experts have compared writing styles and suggest that de Vere’s poetry is actually not as sophisticated as Shakespeare’s.  This problem fixes itself if you say the only remaining stuff we have from de Vere is his early work and all the later stuff is under a pen name.  Still, wouldn’t it be hilarious if a university educated man wrote with less sophistication than a grammar school graduate?

My sneezes are in perfect iambic pentameter.

Elizabeth and the many children

This is the part where the movie falls apart for me.  I would like to give the film some credit for not coming up with this on their own (Roland Emmerich at least borrowed silly theories from other people instead of making up his own like Immortal Beloved does).  Despite this, I find it incredibly hard to believe that Elizabeth had at least three bastard children.

I do not doubt that she had one or maybe more lovers in her lifetime.  Her close friendship and relationship with Robert Dudley (later the Earl of Leicester) could have led to something.  She practically married him.  Furthermore, her favor for the Earl of Essex might have led to something.  Yes, the man the movie claims to be her son might have been her love interest.  Which would not be too out of the realm of creepy considering de Vere is also supposedly her lover/illegitimate child.

Why don’t I believe it?  It seems incredible to me that Elizabeth would have been able to have a bastard son at the age of 16 in secret.  She wasn’t queen yet and Mary would surely have been looking out for an excuse to shame her sister and prove why she was a better option for queen.  One illegitimate child while she was at the height of her power and able to have it in secret?  Maybe.  But remember, royalty was surrounded by people at all times.  I feel like there would be some evidence from a lady in waiting or a family who adopted the baby or rumors of her pregnancy or something.

Also, Elizabeth was an intelligent woman.  While she might have fooled around a little bit, she surely would not have allowed herself the risk of getting pregnant multiple times by men who were not married to her.  Her position as queen was tenuous enough as is without throwing morality into the mix.  It would have been far more in her interest to avoid getting pregnant at all costs and I feel like that is much more probable than multiple pregnancies and all of men who would rise up in court favor and power without her ever knowing that they are her children.  Really guys?

You’re my son, you say? Is it weird if I find that hot?

The Earl of Essex

There have been suggestions that Elizabeth was sexually interested in him, which makes the mother-son possibility creepy.  Probably not true.

Other than that, this guy was not a poor blameless victim lulled into treachery by the evil hunchbacked Robert Cecil.  He was sent to Ireland to lead campaigns and take over the land.  He wasn’t doing a good enough job and the queen told him so.  In 1599 she wrote to him and forbade him to leave Ireland without her permission, so naturally he got all his stuff together, left the care of Ireland with another guy and sailed back to London.


When he returned there was a whole intrigue with him.  Hugh O’Neill, a man Essex had been with in Ireland decided that he wanted to march on the queen.  As O’Neill and Essex had some secret conversation a bunch of people started to speculate that maybe Essex was in on the plot to overthrow Elizabeth.

Despite the fact that he had been put under house arrest, Essex decided his best case for defending himself would be a personal audience with Elizabeth, so he naturally broke the arrest and went to court to see her.  This, he realized was not the best idea, so he turned back.  But it was too late.  Robert Cecil had him declared a traitor and he was executed.

At this time, Cecil had gained considerable authority with the queen.  I should also mention that he and Essex hated each other and been jockeying for power for awhile.  So, who knows.  Maybe he did get screwed over a little.

Let the English/History major nitpick!

There are other things not true in this movie that I wanted to point out, even if I largely focused on the authorship question.  They are not all terribly important, but food for thought.

– At the age of 17, de Vere killed Thomas Bricknell, a servant at the house, while practicing fencing with another guy.  He was not hiding behind a curtain after trying to steal de Vere’s writings.

– Macbeth was almost certainly performed for James I after he became king.  It includes reference to him (the play takes place in Scotland and James was king of Scotland first) and deals a lot with witches.  James loved witches and had actually written a book on how to hunt them down.  It’s practically tailor made for him!  If de Vere died before James I became king, did he write the play guessing that he would?

– Ben Jonson had a fixed position with the Admiral’s Men by 1597 and in 1598 was listed by Francis Meres as one of “the best for tragedy.”  Far from the struggling young man he is in the film.

– Kit Marlowe was probably a spy for the crown, and a playful, impestuous person.  He had a quick wit and was quick to draw a sword.  I doubt he was killed by conspiracy and I doubt he was as much of a douche as he is in the film.

– James I might be considered gay by modern standards (although you cannot judge him as such back then because sexuality had not been defined in that way) but I sincerely doubt he was the wince-inducing lisping fool he’s portrayed as in the film.  Thanks for negative portrayal of LGBTQ characters, Roland Emmerich.

– How did de Vere basically show A Midsummer Night’s Dream at court as a young boy and then EVERYBODY FORGOT?

You wrote that – what’s it called? – so long ago and I remember…wait. Who are you and why are you kissing my hand?

– The stabbing scene in Julius Caesar is more or less portrayed as the end of the play.  It happens in Act II.  The play is not yet halfway through.

– When Jonson goes to tell the Master of Revels about this shocking new play, it makes no sense because the Master of Revels would have already known.  He had to approve of all plays that would be staged.

There you have it!  There are a million more things to say, but I’ll leave you at this and maybe come back and revisit the film if there’s enough more to say about it.  When you come down to it, the movie takes conspiracy a step too far.  I would buy the idea of Edward de Vere as Shakespeare more if all the other conspiracies didn’t get in the way.  Still, it’s pretty entertaining.  Like I said, the guy who plays Shakespeare is gold.

PARTING THOUGHT: George Arents, a well known book collector, decided that de Vere couldn’t have written Shakespeare’s plays.  How?  He had a collection of tobacco related works and letters.  Just a mention of tobacco would get it into the collection.  Arents said he would only buy a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio if it had one mention of tobacco in it.  No dice.  Shakespeare never wrote about it.  However! There are some of de Vere’s writings that reference smoking and tobacco.  Good enough for Arents to claim that de Vere couldn’t have written Shakespeare, or there would be some smoking in there.


Stanley Wells. Shakespeare & Co.: Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Dekker, Ben Jonson, Thomas Middleton, John Fletcher, & the Other Players in His Story. This is a great look into the collaborative world of Elizabethan theater and why none of those playwrights were standalone geniuses.

Bill Bryson. Shakespeare: The World as Stage. An attempted look at the “bare bones” of the Shakespeare biography.  Paring away all the crap he can.

Mark Anderson. Shakespeare by Another Name: The Life of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, the Man who was Shakespeare. Anderson gives his extensive reasoning as to why the plays must have been written by de Vere.  A fun look into conspiracy, if you like that sort of thing.

Stuff you Missed in History Class. The episode on George Arents for that little tidbit about tobacco and the connection to de Vere.


6 responses to ““Anonymous”: Overblown Conspiracy

  1. Nicely written article. Just a couple of questions as I too ruminate about this conspiracy theory.

    You say essentially that we need a smoking gun revelation to prove or disprove this conundrum. But many tough cases are solved through the accumulation of circumstantial evidence. I am not so inclined to dismiss the accumulation of evidence against William or for de Vere. It’s not that easy for me yet as I continue to research the topic.

    You say, “By all accounts the grammar school in Stratford was respectable.” Please cite your sources for this claim. And please give me some examples of other writers of the day who achieved the same success as Shakespeare and who had only a grammar school education.

    You find it hard to believe that Elizabeth could have had many sexual encounters resulting in children, and even incestuous affairs. I don’t and I take history as my source. Think about JFK. The pristine image his people created while he was bedding down anyone in a skirt. Franklin Roosevelt also we find out was having affairs. As did Eisenhower. And this is just in the 20th century. People in power do these kinds of things, they also like to create an alternative storyline for public consumption. I will not automatically dismiss the idea that Queen Elizabeth had sexual affairs that resulted in children just because her handlers crafted that ideal virginal image for her. That image was part of a shrewd political move to keep Spain and France off balance. Also, you should read some unbiased accounts of psychiatrists, Stratfordians all of them, who are amazed at the running themes of incest in the Shakespeare plays. I’m just saying this is all part of the cumulative evidence that I examine along my journey. Also, there’s an interesting account of Cecil being Elizabeth’s confidante when she was 16 and potentially able to hide a birth and appropriate the changling to some high-ranking earl and then to remain in Elizabeth’s close circle for the rest of his life. Blackmail? Maybe. But we know how shrewd Cecil was, so I do not automatically dismiss this possibility just because I’ve been fed the historical account of the Virgin Queen.

    And you say Elizabeth was too smart to allow herself to get pregnant multiple times. Well, for one, think of her family life. Her father was Henry VIII. That’s enough to say dysfunction, and where there is dysfunction, there are smart people doing stupid things. Also, think about modern times. John Edwards running for president gets his videographer pregnant. And then spends hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to cover it up. He’s got the world by the balls! Powerful people do stupid things, just like all of us do.

    It’s interesting your claim that Shakespeare is over-rated. Yes, some of his plays have real problems as far as dramatic structure goes. But all of his plays, and his poems, display an intellect that is steeped in the classics, steeped in the law, steeped in botany, music, and other specific areas of intellectual knowledge. I’ve noticed that people like to think of Shakespeare as some fully formed prodigy without a trace of learning in his work. Perhaps what you think of as “bad” Shakespeare is actually “early” Shakespeare, and we should forgive him for learning his craft. The academic notion of Shakespeare supports the notion that he burst on the scene in 1593 with Venus and Adonis with no footprints in trial and error. This may be true. But I find it hard to believe. It makes more sense that Shakespeare was writing for years before Venus and Adonis, honing his craft. Where are these works? Where is the correspondence from young Will to other poets and writers? Where is the correspondence from older Will to other poets and writers? It’s an interesting gap in the historical record which keeps me from giving up on the Shakespeare authorship controversy.

    You say, “Maybe if we had more plays or fewer of Shakespeare’s, he would need seem so great to us as he is.” Have you asked yourself then why it was decided to publish the First Folio? And why Shakespeare’s two poems, his first two published works with his name on them, were not included in the First Folio? I’ve read an interesting account attributing the FF publication to a shrewd political move by James I to quash the idea that the plays had anything to do with actual royal personages and to associated them with William of Stratford. I’m only saying that there is a lot more research out there to keep one totally engaged in discovering the truth.

    Yes, it’s possible to read articles that point to William, and it’s possible to read articles that point to someone else. There are several niggling things that interfere with the William of Stratford idea, but one of the bigger ones for me is why no one said a word in 1616 when he died. No poets of his day expressed any kind of funereal grief at losing one of their own. Yet, similar paeans were written for other lesser poets of the day.

    I apologize that I didn’t respond to all your points. It wasn’t my intention to do so and I didn’t intend to cherry pick certain ideas over others. I just wanted to repond in an honest heart felt way to your insightful essay.
    Chris Kaiser

    • Hey Chris –

      I’ve often debated whether I should include citations throughout my posts instead of just listing them at the end. Ultimately, I figure that my blog is for entertainment and nobody should be using me as a source, so I go for a slightly less academic bent. That’s why sometimes my evidence isn’t supported. That said, I got the bit about Stratford being a good grammar school from the Bill Bryson biography I worked through. I have also read some about school in the Elizabethan era from Stephen Greenblatt (you can find him all over the place, he writes a bunch about Shakespeare). Unfortunately, I just returned Shakespeare & Co to my friend so I can’t look up everybody’s education status. I will say that I know Kit Marlowe and Ben Jonson both had university educations. I will also say that with a grammar school education, it’s plausible to me that Shakespeare could have joined a theater community as an actor, learned from the brilliant people around him, and read a good deal of plays by performing in them. It’s not entirely incredible that a bright person could learn through reading and those around to him to produce good plays. I wish I could give you some more names here, so sorry.

      You make a fair point about past affairs. I definitely think that Elizabeth was not a virgin. Her created image as Gloriana and the splendid Virgin Queen were definitely politically constructed, no doubt. However, I would point out that the affairs you list are by men. It’s easier to keep an affair underwraps as a king because you do not have to deal with the physical consequences of the affair. I think it’s unlikely but not impossible that Elizabeth had a child on the sly. What I do question is the multiple children angle. I’m going to pretend to be an expert on Elizabeth, but as queen she would have been constantly surrounded by people. I think if she disappeared on progress every few years (and not just the standard progress but a long, isolated one) there would be rumors. I think if everyone thought Essex was Elizabeth’s son (as de Vere in the movie states) we would have multiple written rumors about it and that more popular presentations of Elizabeth would include the children angle. As it stands I am not aware of these rumors or of her disappearing for big gaps of time. If you have any information to the contrary, I’ll take a look!

      I think the point I was trying to make with overrated Shakespeare is that his early works aren’t as good. I personally love “A Comedy of Errors” but it definitely has weaknesses that are not present in later works. Of course I forgive him as a learning author! It’s further proof that the man did not start out by writing the best masterpieces in the world. I think we need to look at these older works and appreciate their flaws and how Shakespeare improved over time so that students are no longer presented the idea he is the best writer in the world. I might make the argument that his correspondence with other authors is located in his plays and in other writers’ plays as they did borrow dialogue and themes from each other and it is pretty apparent some of the plays we have by Shakespeare are co-written. On the other hand, you’re right. We don’t have any letters traded around. It’s part of what has created the author controversy.

      I’m not sure what your point is about the First Folio. I think mine was that it’s possible all copies could have been lost before the present day and if we were only left with a handful of plays would we still esteem them as highly? The things that were not included could have been for a number of reasons – some of which I’ve seen are because they were co-written. I usually take the publication of the First Folio at face value: that Ben Jonson wanted to honor his fellow playwright’s works by putting them into a volume.

      I hope that addresses some of the stuff you were wondering about! Sorry if I didn’t get to the point you wanted me to. It’s fair if you think there’s enough circumstantial evidence to point one way or another but I think barring actual confirmation someone will always be able to point out the flaws in someone else’s argument. It’s what historians do! They can never agree on anything.

  2. Misleading statements on this topic are repeated so often that they become accepted as truths– such as the supposedly splendid curriculum of the Stratford Grammar School. The grip of a familiar narrative is powerful, and we’re at risk of unconsciously sorting through the evidence for what fits, dismissing what doesn’t fit.

    Whether it qualifies as the proverbial smoking gun or not, de Vere’s Geneva Bible deserves much more attention than it has received. 88% of verses echoed six times in Shakespeare are marked in it. During the past 4 years, I’ve found a ton of previously unknown literary sources for Shakespeare’s poems and plays in the 21 psalms de Vere marked in the musical version of the Psalms bound at the end of his Bible; the translators were Sternhold and Hopkins. Shakespeare scholars had completely overlooked this translation, though it looks like it was the one that most influenced “Shakespeare.” Eight of my articles on this topic are at http://www.oxfreudian.com

    Richard M. Waugaman, M.D.

  3. Thanks so much for this review! I really appreciate that you obviously do thorough research. I’ve been curious about this movie, and now it’s good to know the historical ins-and-outs before I do actually watch it. I have always been intrigued with Shakespeare’s little known background and the mystery that surrounds it. Can’t wait for your next reviews!

  4. Melbourne on my Mind

    Uh, hi. I found your blog while looking for screenshots from Gladiator for a post I’m publishing tomorrow, and I’m kind of in love with it now. Your blog, that is, not Gladiator. Although also Gladiator, because it’s brilliant.

    ANYWAY… About James I and lisping. I remember reading in a book when I was a kid (entirely possible that it was Terry Deary’s Slimy Stewarts from the Horrible Histories series!!) that he had a medical condition where his tongue was too big for his mouth, and it made him lisp and drool everywhere. SUPER attractive, huh? I’ve not seen Anonymous (yet!), but just wanted to mention that maybe it was some attempt at historical accuracy rather than a negative portrayal???

    Fellow history nerd, out. 🙂

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