“Were I a king I could command content.
Were I obscure, hidden should be my cares,
Or were I dead, no cares should me torment;
Nor hopes, nor hates, nor love, nor grief, nor fears.
A doubtful choice – of these three which to crave:
A kingdom, or a cottage, or a grave”.
Edward de Vere (1550 – 1604) 17th Earl of Oxford
Is it a case of “Much Ado About Nothing” or will it be a case of ‘All’s Well that Ends Well’? It seems we all may need to develop an ability to ‘read between the lines’ to establish the truth about our longtime favourite bard, the indomitable Will Shakespeare. But what is the truth?
The premise of a risky new movie coming out in the American Autumn and Australian Spring is that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford during the Elizabethan Age was really the anonymous author of the vast portfolio of works attributed to Elizabethan playwright William Shakespeare (1564-1616), widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the most quoted author of all time.
Anonymous the movie focuses on a time when life was filled with cloak-and-dagger style politics and the many intrigues, illicit romances and the schemes of greedy nobles who were hungry for the power that surrounded the English throne in Tudor times. They were generally lambasted on stage at The Rose Theatre, which was built in 1587 at Bankside nearby the Thames River where brothels, gaming dens and bull and bear-baiting arenas and pits abounded. The Rose became the home to many of the plays written by the popular poet from Stratford-on-Avon William Shakespeare and his much admired contemporary, the almost mythical Christopher Marlowe an English dramatist and poet known for his mysterious death by stabbing. Shakespeare is said to have been heavily influenced by Marlowe’s work.
Watch the Trailer and Read On
Good Will Shakespeare wrote about history, he wrote about romance and, he wrote about tragedy. His ‘comedic’ plays featured morally dubious plots, certainly by the standards of our day. However none of the original manuscripts for Shakespeare’s plays survived so we have always relied on printed texts as our earliest sources of his plays with not much fact surrounding them. The First Folio edition of Shakespeare’s plays was produced in late 1623 after Shakespeare and Edward de Vere had both died.
The movie is sure to stir up a hue and cry from all those who believe the man from Stratford-upon-Avon did write the 37 plays, some 154 sonnets and sundry other poems accredited to Shakespeare and have them seething with rage.
In the past academics have always rejected alternative candidates for authorship, including de Vere. Putting it out there now would suggest it is time the public became involved in the decision. Apparently the Director of Anonymous Roland Emmerich, bought the rights to a script first sent to Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg by American Screenwriter John Orloff (Band of Brothers) back in the late 1990’s. He has wrestled about its production ever since.
The storyline and script for Anonymous came to light around the same time as the very popular movie Shakespeare in Love was being lauded for its acting and brilliance. So we can well understand his reticence and reason for shelving it, at least for a while. Whichever way it goes it is certainly a delicious opportunity to produce an outstanding movie, especially given the splendid cast of actors they have involved.
Welsh actor and sometime rock musician Rhys Ifans (1967-) revels in the enviable bad boy role of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. On an interview he gave last year he said he was as pleased as Punch because the movie would definitely ‘piss off ‘ a lot of academics, which he seems to have personally little regard for.
Rhys Ifans is a controversial contemporary figure himself and has made a number of public gaffs, while winning awards. This includes a 2005 BAFTA award for his portrayal of comedian Peter Cook in a film made for TV. He was also the popular DJ Gavin Kavanagh in the 2009 British gem The Boat that Rocked about Pirate Radio in the 1960’s, playing alongside the brilliant Bill Nighy. He performed in Shakespeare’s plays Hamlet and Midsummer Night’s Dream and is known to youthful audiences for his role as Xenophilius Lovegood in the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallow films. Recently he has also been cast as the villain The Lizard in the next movie in the Spiderman franchise.
Gathering together with him in the dangerous viper’s nest that was the court of Tudor England are renowned actor and political activist Dame Vanessa Redgrave (1937 – ). She is also relishing playing the all powerful Elizabeth 1 alongside her real life daughter Joely Richardson (Queen Catherine Parr The Tudors) who plays the young Princess Elizabeth.
David Thewlis is QE1’s much valued adviser William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley and Edward Hogg plays Robert Cecil his very capable son, the 1st Earl of Salisbury and Jamie Campbell Bower will feature as a young Earl of Oxford. Rafe Spall plays the popular Prince of prose, Will Shakespeare.
The film is narrated by one of England’s most esteemed Shakespearean actors, Derek George Jacobi. To set his own record straight he declared his own neutrality on the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays debate.
The story surrounding this theory about this author, Edward de Vere being the real writer of Shakespeare’s works goes back to 1920 when J. Thomas Looney, an English schoolteacher in his book In Shakespeare Identified proposed the 17th Earl of Oxford as a candidate for the authorship of Shakespeare’s works. His theory was based on perceived analogies between the Earl’s life and the techniques used to produce the poetry he wrote and published, as well as with Shakespeare’s actual plays and sonnets.
At the time it was also very provocative, supplanting an earlier popular longtime theory that involved English philosopher, statesman, scientist and lawyer Francis Bacon as being the author of Shakespeare’s works. Many learned academics and brilliant minds ranging from authors Mark Twain and Charles Dickens to Henry James and Sigmund Freud have over the centuries debated Will Shakespeare’s legitimacy for the works published under his name.
Some people have even devoted their whole lives to protecting authorship of what are regarded as some of the most renowned works in English literature. On the flip side of the coin many have not been able to believe a boy, about whom little is known who came from a rural village in England could produce such literary masterpieces. To put the case in point they believe it would have taken a really well educated man, one who moved in the highest social circles to produce such memorable prose and plays that would be able to survive the test of time.
Recently in 2009, when the film was already in production another English professor wrote an article in the Los Angeles Times acknowledging support for the Earl of Oxford theory. He claimed ‘Emmerich’s film was just one more sign that conspiracy theories about the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays have now gone mainstream’.
To make the movie Elizabethan London was recreated with more than seventy hand-built sets. This included a full scale replica of London’s favourite period theatre, The Rose.
Anonymous is all about Kings, Queens, and Princes. It’s a tragedy that contains all of the elements found in Shakespeare’s plays. Incest, love, illegitimacy and overall, love combined with tragedy, which is many people’s real experience.
Edward de Vere was a courtier, lyric poet, sportsman and significant patron of the arts, in particular musicians, actors and writers. He was involved in military campaigns and fought during the Armada invasion.
He was a ward of the Queen because his father died before he came of age. She placed him in the household of her Secretary of State the extremely wise and caring Sir William Cecil, who was also Master of the Court of Wards.
Under Cecil’s guidance and supervision the young Earl of Oxford studied French, Latin, writing, drawing, cosmography, dancing, riding and shooting. He became a distinct early favourite of Queen Elizabeth 1 who revelled in having men dance to her tune.
He however refused to dance even for her before the French ambassadors, because he ‘would not give pleasure to Frenchmen‘.
Edward de Vere travelled widely on the continent going to France, Germany, Italy, Greece between 1574-75 and under the Queen’s favour, carrying introductory letters bearing her name and signature to influential foreign monarchs and dignitaries.
He was captured by Pirates, but escaped to tell the tale.
His personal life was a scandal, his first wife who was Cecil’s daughter, gave birth to her own daughter but declared publicly it was not her husband’s and so he left her. He had an illegitimate son by one of the Queen’s Maids of Honour and they were both imprisoned in the Tower for a time while the child tragically died.
He then reconciled with his wife and had another three daughters who all survived infancy and married into the peerage. By his second wife, Elizabeth Trentham, the Earl of Oxford had his only surviving legitimate son and heir, Henry de Vere, who later became the 18th Earl of Oxford.
Among others Edward de Vere was at Fotheringay Castle in Northamptonshire for the trial of Mary, Queen of Scots. He played a part in having her brought before the Commissioners to answer to her crimes against the state.
When he was weary of court life he left it and spent a great deal of time involved in dealings regarding his numerous debts by disposing of his equally numerous estates.These required extensive legal arguments and arrangements for settlement.
He was involved in many fruitless attempts to fix his perilous financial situation with petitions, including applying unsuccessfully to farm the tin mines of Cornwall.
He was especially noted for his literary and theatrical patronage in his day and had a high reputation as a poet amongst his contemporaries.
Edward de Vere’s own verses were published first in the 1576 publication of The Paradise of Dainty Devices. This was followed by inclusion in The Arte of English Poetrie (1589), The Phoenix Nest (1593), England’s Helicon (1600) and England’s Parnassus (1600). In 1622, Henry Peacham (The Complete Gentleman) would list Edward De Vere as the first among his list of poets of the Elizabethan period.
A stream of dedications to the Earl of Oxford attests strongly to his brilliant intellectual reputation. They include some thirty-three works, six of which dealt with religion and philosophy, two with music, and three with medicine.
He also maintained whole companies of boy actors and men players during the years from 1580 to 1602, while holding a lease on the Blackfriars Theatre and being patron to a company of musicians. ‘
Although none of his own plays survive they were obviously of such a quality de Vere was cited by Francis Meres (Palladis Tamia, 1598) as being “the best among us for comedy.”
Rhys Ifans in an interview said the movie goes a long way in setting out a very convincing argument for Edward de Vere as the author of Shakespeare’s works. So it appears the jury might be out for a long time debating whether it is ‘to be or not to be’ and deciding whether or not Shakespeare was really only a pen name that was used in a delicious game of royal politics?
Carolyn McDowall, June 2011 © The Culture Concept Circle
#Hank Whittemore, US Scholar and promoter of Edward de Vere as ‘Shakespeare’ click here