Anonymous: the Shakespearian Authorship question…


The latest film to be doing the rounds at the cinemas is the new Shakespeare film Anonymous, and I use the term ‘Shakespeare film’ loosely. While browsing some old copies of the ‘London Review of Books’ with a friend of mine, we stumbled upon one copy with an article named ‘The Modernism of Shakespeare’, before proceeding into a disagreement about his existence. or rather his claim to authorship. As in my arguments about the existence of Jesus, I do not disagree that Shakespeare ever existed, only that what he was claimed to have done is somewhat debatable. Given that my research topic is on authorship, it seems only fitting that Shakespeare come into it sooner or later. Some books I have read on the subject are Who wrote Shakespeare? (1999) by John Michell, Case for Shakespeare: the end of the authorship question (2005) by Scott McCrea, Poacher from Stratford: a partial account of the controversy over the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays (1958) by Frank W. Wadsworth, and Shakespeare and his authors: critical perspectives on the authorship question (2010) edited by William Leahy. The Michell reading in particular lists the various positions and acknowledgments Shakespeare was attributed to have had, including being a master of poetry, well versed in, among other things, militaristic knowledge, biology, sports, technology, literature (obviously), science, politics, philosophy and the list goes on, painting the portrait of a super man. While it is not impossible to have someone so educated (though I’d still argue its legitimacy), these books really open up the debates around Shakespeare and the authorship question, something that has been of interest to both critics and historians for years, long before Anonymous asks as its tagline: Was Shakespeare a Fraud? Whether the man was a fraud, or whether it was that his authorship was based on collaboration rather than singular genius is still the subject of much contention. And while the latest film to centre itself on the theme of Shakespeare is still predominantly a Hollywood film, made for money, I am glad at least that it features this side of the debate, rather than the romanticized Shakespeare in Love (1998). Hopefully it will get people thinking more about the historical inadequacies involved in the case of Shakespeare. It is a relief to be viewing this side of things after the high school curriculum was flooded with most of the plays attributed to Shakespeare. While I don’t deny the literary merit of the plays, whoever wrote them, the way in which we approached them was severely limited and narrow-minded.

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