Graduate students in English and students in Alexa Huang's and Holly Dugan's Shakespeare classes were treated to a pre-release screening of Roland Emmerich's controversial new film "Anonymous" on Tuesday, October 25 by Sony Pictures at the Regal Theatre Gallery Place in downtown DC. "Set in the political snake-pit of Elizabethan England," the film--with Shakespearean actor Derek Jacobi in the prologue--proposes that the Earl of Oxford Edward de Vere was the author of Shakespeare's plays. Along the way, the film dramatizes "cloak-and-dagger political intrigue, illicit romances in the Royal Court, and the schemes of greedy nobles hungry for the power of the throne were exposed in the most unlikely of places: the London stage."
Following the event, a roundtable was organized by Prof Huang on November 3 to combat the propaganda machine set in action by the film. In attendance were graduate and undergraduate students in English, Professor Jonathan Hsy, Alexa Huang, and Holly Dugan. Among the topics discussed were the social expectations and resistance of "geniuses," Hollywood's penchant for "conspiracy" and scandals, and--most importantly--how to set historical facts straight.
"Anonymous" calls to mind such films as Miloš Forman and Peter Shaffer's Amadeus. But there is one thing even undergraduates and non-specialist audiences do not buy. The film presented a very unconvincing picture of literary production. In the whole of early modern England, no one other than the Earl could write good poetry, and "Shakespeare," Jonson, and Marlowe stumbled over one another to beg (or threaten as the case may be) de Vere for an uninterrupted supply of manuscripts (which acts peculiarly as drugs). The film also misled the audience to assume that no other companies or performance venues mattered in Shakespeare's time.
The good thing that can come from "Anonymous" is that it can lead people to the real tour-de-force that is James Shapiro's fine book Contested Will (http://www.amazon.com/
Contested-Will-Who-Wrote- Shakespeare/dp/1416541624), Records of Early English Drama (http://www.reed.utoronto.ca/) , Early Modern London Theatres online (http://www.emlot.kcl.ac.uk/), and other vetted sources for further study.