Oh, Roland Emmerich, Why Must You Do This?

Well, the summer movie season is rapidly coming into full swing, and I have my list of big-budget, computer-generated-special-effects-loaded, blockbuster mind candy all set. Topping my must-see list are X-Men: First Class (I am willing to give the franchise another shot after the disaster that was X-Men 3) and, of course, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (I am waiting for Molly Weasely’s line, “NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!”)

However, there is one film that I am dreading on a professional, academic, and, yes, personal level, Anonymous. What Roland Emmerich did to climatology with The Day After Tomorrow (2004) he is now doing to Shakespearean criticism.  Here’s the trailer for the film:

(It seems that Emmerich is adopting Edward de Vere’s candidancy for authorship.)

I am going to blog about this film when it comes out. But just to give a little bit of insight into this whole question about the authorship of the plays and poems we, i.e. scholars, ascribe to William Shakespeare, the controversy boils down to this: those anti-Shakespeare proponents don’t feel that someone with Shakespeare’s rustic background could have the knowledge to write his works. In other words, his plays and poetry reflect the mind of a person incredibly widely read in classical literature, familiar with nautical terms, an initimate knowledge of British history, and exposure to the world at court. The skeptics of Shakespeare’s authorship don’t believe that someone with his limited education and family background could write such literary masterpieces. The underlying motivation here is elitism.

To offer a relevant ancedote, I once was teaching Merchant of Venice at a Yeshiva, a private Jewish school. (Yes, the irony did not escape me at all.) Well, everyday, one of my students would always derail the discussion I was trying to get going by proclaiming, “You know, Shakespeare probably didn’t even write this play.” Years later, as I thought about this incredibly annoying student, I realized one of the reasons for people constantly bringing up this question again and again: it is an easy way to sound intelligent. As with the 9/11 conspiracists or the Birthers, to claim that Shakespeare didn’t write these plays and we have all been hoodwinked by a 400-year-old hoax makes one seem like s/he is in the know, has figured it all out. 

Allow me to say something to those Shakespeare conspiracy theory devotees: who cares! They are still great plays and poems!

About Anthony Funari

Hi, thanks for taking time to stop by my blog, Renaissnace Matters. So here's a little bit about me . . . I am student, scholar, reader, writer, teacher, and general enthusiast about the European Renaissance, a.k.a the Early Modern period. In May 2010, I graduated with my doctorate in English Literature from Lehigh University, focusing my dissertation on the literary reaction to the Scientific Revolution. I currently have an article in the recent issue of Early English Studies (EES). Also, keep an eye out for my forthcoming book through Palgrave MacMillan, Francis Bacon and the 17th-Century Intellectual Discourse.
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3 Responses to Oh, Roland Emmerich, Why Must You Do This?

  1. Gabs says:

    Oh, Roland Emmerich, you are a paragon of history. Remember when Tavington locked all those people inside the church in “The Patriot” and then burned it? Remember how historians said that burning a church would have been horror enough but how modern audiences needed to be “shocked” with the death of people as well?

    I, personally, am hoping for a couple of things from this movie, and am fairly confident they will come to pass. One: that Elizabeth I will turn out to have had sex with de Vere and probably other people as well. Nothing is sexier than turning the Virgin Queen into anything but. Two: Someone actually says something like, “We will call this author…Shakespeare!” Bonus points if somebody makes a joke or pun about the name. Three: Boobs popping out of dresses. Nobody ever actually going to church unless it is relevant to the plot. Washed faces.

    Hollywood, do not fail me.

  2. Howard Schumann says:

    Rather than get into a discussion of why the evidence for de Vere is much deeper than education and has nothing to do with elitism, I will just ask you to read the declaration “Doubts About Will”, signed by 2042 individuals including 366 academics.


    “Biography means a man’s life matters. It matters who Shakespeare was because it matters who we are. Every moment. ” – Sarah Smith

    • Howard, Thank you so much for directing me to this website. It is no way rebuts the thesis that I advanced in the post, but the website made for some very entertaining reading. I would suggest that you scrutinize more carefully the list of 366 academics who are said to have signed on to this declaration, since only 31 one are cited as having doctorates in English literary studies. This is hardly enough to constitute even a minority viewpoint in academia.

      Since you have done me the favor, please allow me to refer you as well to a source, James Shapiro’s Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare >. Again I am so glad that you took the time to read the post. Please check back when Emmerich’s film comes out; I am planning on a two-post discussion of the film and this controversy.

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