On Wednesday 28 September Professor Emeritus Alan H. Nelson of the University of California, Berkeley took part in a discussion with Roland Emmerich (the director of Anonymous), John Orloff (scriptwriter), and Charles Beauclerk the Earl of Burford and a self-proclaimed descendent of Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford. The evening was hosted by Sony Pictures.
Alan Nelson is the world’s leading expert on Edward de Vere, and I thought you’d like to read what he said (slightly revised after a second viewing of the film)….
‘I begin with five thumb-nail biographies:
Christopher Marlowe of Canterbury; son of a shoemaker; scholarship student at Cambridge; author of Edward II and of Hero and Leander, a play and a narrative poem with strong homoerotic overtones. Dies aged 29, stabbed through the eye.
William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon; son of a glover; no university education; professional actor; share-holder in several theaters; author of nearly forty plays, of two narrative poems dedicated to the earl of Southampton, and of 154 sonnets, some of which are addressed to a “lovely boy”. Gains social status as a “gentleman” with a coat of arms; earns substantial income through his theatrical enterprises; dies a moderately wealthy and much-lionized man.
Ben Jonson of Westminster; step-son of a bricklayer (not a glass-maker, as called in the film); no university education; self-taught student of Greek; professional actor; poet, playwright, and raconteur; poet Laureate; struggles with money; lives and dies a much-lionized man.
Derek Jacobi of Laytonstone (think Emeryville, California, a bleak suburb of San Francisco), son of the keeper of a sweet-shop; talent for acting recognized even before admission to Cambridge University on scholarship; professional actor famed for playing Edward II; gains social status as a knight with title of “Sir Derek”; earns substantial income through acting on stage and in film; lives as a wealthy and much-lionized man.
Roland Emmerich; born Stuttgart, Germany, raised in Sindelfingen; son of a manufacturer of garden equipment; film director and script-doctor; owner and shareholder with his sister of Centropolis Entertainment. According to Wikipedia (12 September 2011), “His films have grossed more than $3 billion worldwide, more than those of any other European director. His films have grossed just over $1 billion in the United States, making him the country’s 14th-highest grossing director of all time.” Lives as a wealthy and much-lionized man.
What do these theatrical phenoms have to say about one another?
Shakespeare compliments Marlowe with a touching tribute for his early death:
Dead shepherd, now I find thy saw of might:
“Whoever loved that loved not at first sight.” (As You Like It 3.5.)
Ben Jonson pays the highest compliment to William Shakespeare:
I loved the man, and do honor his memory, on this side idolatry, as much as any …
Jacobi and Emmerich, each having so much in common with William Shakespeare as to be his 21st century reincarnation, gang up to kick their benefactor in the teeth. Simultaneously, they swoon at the feet of the 17th earl of Oxford, a second-rate poet who was born to his title and never lifted a finger to deserve it.
In the film, Sir Derek of Laytonstone, swathed in a rich cashmere scarf, arrives breathless from travel by private jet and New York taxi to inform his benighted American cousins that Master William of Stratford ‘never wrote a single word’. (Actually his most determined enemies must admit that he wrote at least two words, both in Latin, in addition to his name, as he signed his will.)
Roland Emmerich openly mocks William Shakespeare for obtaining a coat of arms, apparently forgetting that his friend Derek Jacobi also obtained a coat of arms through the very same institution – the theater. Emmerich similarly mocks Shakespeare for turning his theatrical activities into financial success, apparently forgetting that his own films have earned $3 Billion.
Ben Jonson comes off a little better than Shakespeare, for he sacrifices a mere 50% of his moral integrity, serving as a go-between rather than a principal; his final role is to conceal playscripts from the Cecil family – most obviously Henry V, which was already in print and could be purchased at your local bookstall for six pence
Jacobi and Emmerich validate their systematic character assassination with a story straight out of looney-tunes, in which Elizabeth the Virgin Queen produces so many bastards and loses track of them so completely that she ends up having a child by her own son. Maybe in their next film they can portray Abraham Lincoln as a secret agent of the Confederacy: such a plot would be equally true to historical fact. (By the way, Lincoln, who was born in rural Kentucky and had less formal education than Shakespeare, could not possibly have written the Gettysburg Address: my research shows that Robert E. Lee, who graduated second in his class at West Point, wrote it for him.)
Meanwhile Emmerich fails to tell you that the Earl of Oxford had no connection whatever to Shakespeare’s company, but had a theatrical company of his own which was openly supported by William Cecil Lord Burghley, who in fact loved theatrical entertainment; that Oxford had no historical connection to the earl of Southampton, but had a son of his own, Henry de Vere, who succeeded as 18th earl (but is left out of the film); or that Oxford sat on the very jury which condemned Essex and Southampton to death.
Though Vanessa Redgrave saves the film with her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth in her dotage, I find it appalling that arguably the most effective monarch in the history of England is reduced to a baby-making machine without a political thought in her head. The woman who famously declared “I will not make windows into men’s hearts,” who inspired her troops to resist the Armada with one of the most rousing speeches in military history, who ensured a peaceful transition by promoting King James of Scotland as her successor, and who spared Southampton’s life by her reluctance to carry out death sentences on her English nobility, is here portrayed as an ignorant sexpot who is mere putty in the hands of her hyper-intelligent male advisors.
The film’s celebration of incest precludes a celebration of the homoerotic, unless Oxford should engage in sexual relations with his own son alias grandson Southampton. The homoerotic is authentically suggested by the personalities of Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, the earl of Oxford, the Earl of Southampton, King James, the use all-male acting troupes, and a great deal of the best literature of the age, including Shakespeare’s second dedicatory address to the Earl of Southampton (in The Rape of Lucrece) and possibly some of his sonnets. Where is the homoerotic in the film? Nowhere, except for a few smutty gestures, as when Nashe (?) puts his hand on Dekker’s (?) knee.
In sum, Anonymous embraces a lunatic conspiracy theory while revealing an incomprehensible lack of sympathy for real people, including William Shakespeare, who is degraded against all historical evidence into an illiterate and venal clown, and indeed the murderer of Christopher Marlowe, who inexplicably survives his well-documented death in 1593.’
Methinks Herr Emmerich doth protest too much.