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Did Shakespeare Actually Write His Plays?

New Film ‘Anonymous’ Suggests Edward De Vere Wrote The Plays Credited To Shakespeare

Above: Rhys Ifan stars as Edward de Vere in "Anonymous," Roland Emmerich's new film suggesting that Shakespeare did not write his plays.

Aired 11/1/11 on KPBS Midday Edition.

For centuries, people have been debating whether William Shakespeare actually wrote the plays credited to him. The new film "Anonymous" (opened October 28 throughout San Diego) suggests that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, an Elizabethan courtier and patron of the arts wrote the plays. Here to debate this and to provide their reactions to the films are a pair of members from the San Diego Shakespeare Society.

Transcript

For centuries, people have been debating whether William Shakespeare actually wrote the plays credited to him. The new film "Anonymous" (opened October 28 throughout San Diego) suggests that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, an Elizabethan courtier and patron of the arts wrote the plays. Here to debate this and to provide their reactions to the films are a pair of members from the San Diego Shakespeare Society.

Conspiracy theorists complain that the plays reveal too much detail about distant places and affairs of the court and too sophisticated a style to have been written by someone of Shakespeare's education and social standing. So there has been considerable speculation as to which Elizabethan might have actually been the author of Shakespeare's plays, perhaps Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe, or Francis Bacon. The new film "Anonymous" suggests that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, an Elizabethan courtier and patron of the arts wrote the plays.

Here is the trailer to the film that is currently playing in theaters.

The Shakespeare Society is currently gearing up for their Nov 9th Musicale "Shakespeare and All That Jazz" which features the 1957 Ellington suite "Such Sweet Thunder" starring Delfeayo Marsalis, nationally acclaimed jazz trombonist.

GUESTS:

Dr. Kim Keeline, Ph.D. in English literature from USC with a specialty in plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. Publicity Director for the San Diego Shakespeare Society.

Vanessa Dinning originally from UK, acted in many Shakespeare plays professionally. Former Artistic director of San Diego Shakespeare Society. Leads workshops on Shakespeare (the plays themselves as well as playhouse practice and theatre going in Shakespeare's London) in conjunction with Shakespeare's Globe in London. Now a San Diego resident, works for San Diego Opera.

Comments

Avatar for user 'Byronik'

Byronik | November 1, 2011 at 3:47 p.m. ― 3 years, 3 months ago

We know so little about the Shakespeare who lived in Stratford. But, what we do know about him doesn't jive with the work attributed to him. We know he didn't pay to have his daughter attend school. Could this really be the mind that created Portia in The Merchant of Venice?

And how could this grammar school boy know so much without owning a bunch of expensive books? Not one of those survives today, also no letter nor any record of his being presented at Court.

The conspiracy theorists are the ones who manage to suspend their disbelief that the historical Shakespeare wrote the works attributed to him.

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Avatar for user 'Bardologist'

Bardologist | November 1, 2011 at 4:58 p.m. ― 3 years, 3 months ago

Byronik, I strongly disagree w/ you. I don't expect to change your mind. However:

We know quite a bit about W.S., especially when compared w/ other playwrights of time. Legal documents, multiple refs to him by writers, works printed during his time, tributes written at death, a godson who talked about him yrs after he died, etc. Don't know every details we would like but documentation of his life is as good or better than most middle class person of his time, as much as Marlowe, Jonson, & others who wrote for playhouse.

Shak. had a very good education. He would have learned Latin, major classical writers, etc at that school. Plenty good for the plays.

The plays were presented at court. His acting company performed at court. His acting troupe was sponsored by Lord Chamberlain which made them official members of his household & able to wear his livery & serve his home. They became sponsored by King James I so they would have had good court access at that point as well. From the dedications to his poetry, clearly had patronage from nobles, as well.

As for books, schoolmate Richard Field was printer in London (in fact, one who printed Venus and Adonis, other poems, the sonnets) & this same printer printed editions of major sources of the plays. We know they knew each other and lived near each other. If WS did not write the plays, wouldn't old schoolmate who prints his poetry notice this?

Of the wills of time period, for scholars, priests, & others w/ books, they did not mention books more than 90% of the time. Was part of the household & was covered in the inventory. Inventories rarely survive, unfortunately. This is what happened with WS. Lack of mention of books is not proof of no books.

Main arguments of Oxfordians:
1) a nobleman is a better candidate due to his education
2) Oxford's life parallels the plays
3) some connections to Southhampton & others connected to plays
4)Unhappy w/ "problems" with William of Stratford's history (some of which you touched on)

The problem with these three points:
1) other playwrights of the time have similar backgrounds to Shakespeare and write great plays--it's just that Shakespeare has continued to be loved while many of these others (who wrote very good works of similar ability/strength) plus W.S.'s education is actually a good match.
2) the Oxfordians make the plays very autobiographical and argue that W.S. didn't have the background to discuss these things. That's like saying the only way Gene Rodenberry can have written about space is if he were an astronaut. It's called writing fiction! He read, he listened, he talked to people--and the plays show a lack of knowledge about foreign lands and other things you'd expect from a man with W.S.'s background.
3) yes, Oxford has connections to these people but Shakespeare's connections to them are there too and knowing people doesn't mean he wrote the plays.

Sorry to go on so long but I just had to respond....

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Avatar for user 'kulkanajaw'

kulkanajaw | November 2, 2011 at 8:27 a.m. ― 3 years, 3 months ago

Whoever wrote Shakespeare's plays is Shakespeare by definition. But more to the point--this movie is entertainment. Was Richard III truly a humpbacked murderer of children? Was the wife of the real Macbeth a scheming murderess? Was Henry VIII as wise and as good a king as Shakespeare makes him out to be?

Shakespeare took liberties with personalities of real, historical people in order to entertain his audience. Why shouldn't the makers of this movie be able to do the same?

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Avatar for user 'Bardologist'

Bardologist | November 3, 2011 at 6:53 a.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

I agree with you, kulkanajaw, that Shakespeare took liberties with history. This movie also does, as do most fictions. I don't think that is the issue here, though.

The issue is that the writer, director, and others are using the film to promote the Oxfordian theory of authorship (there are educational packets made to go with the film for schools, they've gone to debates and done lectures, etc.) but the film itself plays with history so much that hardly any fact we know about the time or the events depicted in this film are accurate.

They can't eat their cake and have it too. They can't have it both ways.

Either the film is a fiction and not part of an Oxfordian argument because they changed so much of history, or it is part of a serious argument and the changes they made to history are a flaw in the argument. They are approaching it as part of an argument so we have the right to point out the inaccuracies.

The fear is that too many people know little about the history of the time and will believe this is real. I don't want that. I'd rather they know that the Earl of Oxford was HEAD of the group which condemned Essex to death. That's right--in the movie he is old, sick, and frail and desperately trying to save Essex and Southhampton. In real life, he was head of the jury which convicted them. That's quite a difference.

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Avatar for user 'Bardologist'

Bardologist | November 3, 2011 at 6:59 a.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

Just to clarify, the whole point I'm making is that it IS fiction. Pointing out the historical inaccuracies is a way of saying, this is just a piece of fiction. It is NOT history.

People can go for the plot (although it is a bit of a mess--a bit convoluted, jumping back and forth in time, and some audience members found there were a lot of people to keep track of) and the gorgeous sets, costumes, and CGI.

They should not, however, go for the idea that this is somehow part of history (except of some parallel world of Elizabethan England when almost everything we know about it is different).

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