Mistaken cinematic identity


Anonymous

Starring Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, David Thewlis; Directed by Roland Emmerich

Anonymous is an elaborately-staged, robustly-acted and elegantly-costumed film that dramatically depicts the controversial speculation that Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, was the actual author of Shakespeare’s plays. The film authentically transports us to this time and place capturing the look and feel of London and the theater scene, and the palace intrigue of the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

Viewing this film as a literal proposition will no doubt create consternation among those who find such questions of authorship preposterous. However, viewing it as akin to a Shakespearian play of its own — complete with mistaken identities, the power schemes of the monarchy and its court, and the passions of lovers and artists — can provide its own entertaining rewards.

Still of Rhys Ifans and Xavier Samuel in Anonymous.
Photo by Reiner Bajo – © 2011 Columbia TriStar Marketing Group, Inc.

The following play about the movie touches on this tension. But, unlike the film’s questions about authorship, I can assure you, dear reader, this work is written by me replacing some of the words of Hamlet (Act 3, Scene 1), Romeo and Juliet (Act 2, Scene 2), and Julius Caesar (Act 3, Scene 2) — with apologies to William Shakespeare, or Edward de Vere (the Earl of Oxford), or whoever the heck wrote these plays and sonnets.

Enter the FILM CRITIC, who stands near a desk at center stage

To see, or not to see: that is the question:
Whether ‘tis bolder in the eye to witness
The slings and arrows of “scandalous” filming,
Or to take sides against a sea of purists,
And by opposing thwart them? To lie: to cheat:
No more; and by cheat to say I bend
To heart-ache and the thousand displeasing knocks
This film is heir to, ‘tis a revelation
Devoutly to be seen. To buy, to seat;
To seat: Perchance to glean: ay, there’s the fun;
For in that seat of plush what views may come
When we have succumbed to this literal coil,
Must give applause. There’s the respect
That makes calamity of so wrong views;
For who could bear the quips and scorns of mine,
The opponents’ wrong, the proud critics’ hubris,
The joys of movie love, the film’s display,
The illumines of acting, and the turns
That patient watching of the worthy takes,
When foe himself might a quietus make
With a fair mocking? Who would follow there,
To grunt and swear about a cheery sight,
But never dread of seeing such a light,
The undervalued entry of which shorn
No naysayer returns, muzzles the shrill,
And wakes us further for these thrills we crave
Than cry to others that they know not of?
Crass guesswork can make cowards of us all;
And thus the Oxford hue of true rendition
Is slyly oeuvre which the handsome cast did brought,
And entertainments of great pitch and movement
With this regard its critiques turn awry,
And win the praise of this one.

FILM CRITIC climbs a vine to a balcony at stage right

‘Tis but thy name that is the enemy;
Thou art Oxford, though not a Will Shakespeare.
Who’s Will Shakespeare? it is nor hand, nor work,
Nor word, nor trace, nor any other part
Belonging to a bard. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a film
By any other name would still be sweet;
So audience would, were it not Ed de Vere call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which it owes
Without such title. Ed de Vere, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take in viewers.

FILM CRITIC disappears from balcony and reappears from a door under balcony and walks to some roman columns at stage left

Friends, patrons, cinephiles, lend me your eyes;
I come to enjoy this film, not to pan it.
The essence of the Bard lives within it;
The good is oft portrayed in its tone;
So let it be on screen now. This humble critic
Hath told you this film is ambitious:
If it weren’t, it’d be a grievous fault,
And cleverly hath this film answer’d it.
Here, under palace intrigue and much jest —
For this film is a homage to the form;
So is it all, all akin to the form —
Come I to write for this film’s formula.

FILM CRITIC moves back to table at center stage

More relative than this: the film’s the thing
Wherein we'll catch the essence of the king.
[And by “king” is meant, of course, one William
Shakespeare!]

FILM CRITIC exits stage left, the curtain falls and the lights come up

This play (and play on words) was written by Doug Young, the clever wordsmith who is The Statesman’s film critic.