Shakespeare by Anonymous


Friday, October 21, 2011

The movie Anonymous directed by Roland Emmerich opens this week. Except for the heavy use of computer-generated images, it's nothing like his previous disasteramas — The Day After Tomorrow, Independence Day and 2012.

But that's not why Anonymous is controversial: the ads show the silhouette of an Elizabethan man holding a quill pen, with the tagline, "Was Shakespeare a fraud?"

As long as there have been professional Shakespeare scholars, there has also been a minority of Shakespeare skeptics — people who believe that another writer used the byline of William Shakespeare, an actor and businessman, to protect himself. Some of the skeptics have been heavy hitters, including Mark Twain, Sigmund Freud, and Orson Welles; in our time, leading Shakespearean actors Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance have also raised the question. The alternative candidate for authorship is Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford — a court playwright and consummate insider of Elizabethan politics. (He was on the jury that sentenced Elizabeth's cousin and rival Mary, the queen of Scotland, to death.)

For those who believe the Earl of Oxford wrote the work — they are known as OxfordiansAnonymous is an opportunity, but a dangerous one. It will expose millions of people to the authorship controversy. But it takes wild liberties with settled historical facts, which doesn't make the Oxfordian case look respectable.  

Studio 360's Mark Anderson is the author of a book on the subject, "Shakespeare" by Another Name. He thinks the real author of Shakespeare has a biography that's downright Shakespearean. He took his case to Derek Jacobi, Roland Emmerich, and one of the few Shakespeare scholars who will even speak to a skeptic.

    Music Playlist
  1. Trailer Music
    Artist: Anonymous
    Album: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
    Label: Sony Pictures
  2. In the Deep Shade
    Artist: The Frames
    Album: For the Birds
    Label: Overcoat Recordings
    Purchase: Amazon
  3. No Glamour for Willi
    Artist: Television
    Album: Television
    Label: Capitol
    Purchase: Amazon
  4. Falling
    Artist: El Ten Eleven
    Album: It's Still like a Secret
    Label: Fake Record Label
    Purchase: Amazon


Mark Anderson

Comments [11]

Robert Groves from Stamford, CT

I personally find the whole debate fascinating and quite frankly I'd be disappointed if the "truth" were ever conclusively discovered because mysteries and conspiracies can be so much fun. However, I do have to take exception to one part of Mark Anderson's comment - "But the historical facts behind the scholarly tradition of post-1604 Shakespeare plays are made up of airy nothing."

I'm not a professional scholar or student of literature or anything, but it seems to me from the vast amounts of reading I've done that there actually are historical events occurring as late as 1610 which could be legitimately interpreted as inspiration for The Tempest.

Besides that, I find it intriguing that most of the Oxfordian argument comes from a lack of evidence - no library, no evidence of schooling, etc. So in effect there's more "evidence" that proves Paul McCartney is dead that there is that proves Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the plays.

Nov. 02 2011 12:31 PM
12-String Frank from Staten Island, NY

Stratfordians often take issue with the fact that DeVere died in 1604, and more Shakespeare plays were being performed after the Earl's passing. If I go with the movie idea that DeVere selected someone to be the "author" of his plays, then I can speculate that the person who was taking the credit under the name "William Shakespeare" did indeed try to write some plays of his own.

BUT these are the mediocre plays like Timon, Cymbaline, Pericles, Winters Tale, Henry VIII, etc. These plays do not hold your attention the way the great ones do. Why is that? Why do they show that he may not have been a such a great writer after all?

Any Shakespeare paperback provides a list of years of when the plays (were performed) and poems (were published), not when they were written. Some great plays like MacBeth, King Lear, and Anthony + Cleopatra were dated (1605 - 1607) after DeVere's death. These plays were probably all ready by the time of DeVere's end. But when the well had finally dried up, the person playing "Shakespeare" was in a dilemma. "Now what do I do?" he thought. "OK, so I'll write my own plays" he says. With the exceptions of Coriolanus + Tempest, they are not so good. Also, the plays written in collaboration John Fletcher (Two Noble Kinsman + Cardenio) are hardly ever discussed or performed. Why? Because no one cares. The guy who had the talent to write them was in the graveyard. In fact, Ben Jonson's works were better than these. But hey, his reputation is saved when his friends Heming + Condell compile everything into the Folios. Shakespeare is remembered; DeVere is forgotten. History.

Oct. 30 2011 10:10 AM

This was a fantastic, intelligent and well... relaxed look at a controversal film that is causing some peptic moments in many different circles. Mark Anderson is a delight as an author and gracious as a host of his own blog and facebook page. His knowledge of the authorship question, as it's called is wide and balanced. I thoroughly enjoyed this piece, and look forward to being a new fan of this program. Thank you for spicing the piece up with moments of Sir Derek Jacobi! Brilliant!

Oct. 24 2011 01:14 PM
Hank S from North of New Orleans

"Shakespeare profession", "wish fulfillment", and learning where Italians come from, this alone was worth the price of admission, and that was just Nelson. Mark Anderson's "2 hours" comment might have been a lighthearted quip but I know it is a fabulous idea. It is a great pleasure hearing Mark's reasonable voice rise above the recent tumult. This hits the mark: informative, fair, entertaining -- a class act all around. We need more of it! Is this possible?? Final thought: Many speak of clever but few recognize it -- one man's inveterate borrower is another's man's invertebrate brontosaur. Keep up the good work!

Oct. 24 2011 04:55 AM

Kim Bee, forgive me, but the "inveterate borrower" would had to have undergone a complete brain transplant from that genius, Edward de Vere! His being "wickedly clever" just doesn't account for the all of the esoteric knowledge exhibited in the canon. You'll have to come up with something much than that!

Oct. 23 2011 11:19 PM
Alice E. from Easthampton, MA

I wouldn't mind if Mark went on for two hours, though I know that doesn't work for radio spots. The force of the de Vere case is the sheer volume of data that supports it, with no clear smoking gun. This spot does a good job condensing a lot of that data, with a nod to the Stratfordian view via Alan Nelson. Good variety of viewpoints and lack of hysteria, unlike the New York Times's coverage.

Oct. 23 2011 09:31 PM
psi from

Excellent show. Keep up the great work. That NYT article is pathetic. Talk about not being fit to print.

Oct. 23 2011 07:22 PM
Sue B from Fairfield County, CT

There's also a book by John Mitchell (1996, Thames & Hudson) called "Who Wrote Shakespeare? with a whole host of possibilities, including de Vere. The most devastating chapter is how unlikely it was that the man for whom we have historical documentation as "William Shakespeare" could have written these plays. A man with no library, with apparently limited education.... the evidence against is substantial. Were this viewed as a hypothetical case study of "John Doe" who wrote "learned treatises", as opposed to the Bard and his Oeuvre, I think many more would admit the sheer implausibility.

Oct. 23 2011 02:28 PM
Kim Bee from Astoria, NY

I can just as easily imagine Shakespeare using the events from de Vere's life for material. Shakespeare was an inveterate borrower. de Vere had his own playing company. Using a rival's life stories strikes me as wickedly clever.

Oct. 22 2011 04:50 PM
Mark Anderson

The New York Times has a piece in its Sunday magazine this weekend (10/23) that SLAMS Anonymous and the Oxfordians because, the writer says, Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford died in 1604. But there were plenty of Shakespeare plays, they say, written after 1604.

Which would be a devastating critique. If there were any substance to back up the claim.

There is of course a longstanding critical **tradition** of dating the Shakespeare plays like the Tempest and Macbeth to sometime after 1604.

But the historical facts behind the scholarly tradition of post-1604 Shakespeare plays are made up of airy nothing.

Not to diminish the clear and apparent rage that fuels the NYT's broadside. But on this point, the old grey lady needs a correction.

Oct. 21 2011 12:22 PM
Cheryl Eagan-Donovan from Boston, MA

A new documentary film, NOTHING IS TRUER THAN TRUTH, based on Anderson's bio SHAKESPEARE BY ANOTHER NAME, is currently in post-production. The film focuses on the fourteen months when de Vere traveled in Italy and Europe, gathering the material for what would become the Shakespeare canon. For more information on Edward de Vere as Shakespeare, go to

Oct. 21 2011 08:00 AM

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