Shakespeare Denialism: The Roland Emmerich Study Guide

The very first post on this-here blog was inspired by news of the upcoming Roland Emmerich film, Anonymous, an action-packed, incest-filled, conspiracy-fueled Elizabethan thriller that suggests that Edward de Vere was the real author of the works attributed to Shakespeare. He was also the son of Elizabeth I. He was also her lover. Ew.

If you have been waiting with bated breath for the release, your breathing will soon return to normal: Anonymous will be released later this month. Huzzah.

While some skeptics have been having conniptions about the film, others have wondered what the big deal is. After all, it’s just a movie. Of course, so was Oliver Stone’s JFK, but like Anonymous, it was also propaganda for a genuine conspiracy theory. Anonymous features several prominent Shakespeare denialists, like Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance, who will no doubt use the film’s release to promote their conspiracy theories, and since they sound more intelligent and less crazy than other conspiracists, like 9/11 truther Charlie Sheen, people will perhaps pay attention to them. After all, they’re Just Asking Questions.

Promotional materials for the film are also in the form of denialist propaganda. Emmerich has produced a video in which he presents ten reasons to doubt Shakespeare’s authorship. Most of his reasons are based on arguments from ignorance and have been refuted repeatedly (no letters, no school records, no mention of his works in the will, etc.). He also mentions that in an early illustration (1656) of Shakespeare’s monument in Stratford, Shakespeare appeared to be holding a bag of grain rather than a quill and parchment. Emmerich implies that the monument was changed to suggest that Shakespeare was a writer. He doesn’t consider the possibility that the illustration was just inaccurate.

For a number of reasons, this argument seems stupid. Even if Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare, by the time the monument was built (sometime between Shakespeare’s death in 1616 and the publication of the First Folio in 1623), Shakespeare was quite widely known for writing Shakespeare. Portraying him as a writer made sense. Portraying him holding a sack of grain seems a bit silly, unless it was meant to be an oh-so-subtle hint by someone in the know. Moreover, when the monument was actually restored in the eighteenth century, it was noted that the bust and the cushion (which supports Shakespeare’s hands, the quill and the parchment) were made from a “single piece of limestone.” The alteration would involve changing the sack to a cushion and entirely recarving Shakespeare’s lower arms–at a minimum. That’s a clever bit of alteration.

Despite the stale and silly nature of the arguments, Youyoung Lee of the Huffington Post finds them “powerful” and says that Emmerich “makes some pretty solid points.” Apparently screenwriter John Orloff found that praise insufficient and objected to Lee’s use of the term “urban legend.” The Huffington Post kindly printed his objection, which consists entirely of false appeals to authority. It should be noted that none of the authorities he pompously cites are or were Shakespeare scholars.

But wait: there’s more.  The film’s producers and educational marketing firm Young Minds Inspired (more here) have produced a study guide to accompany the film.* The “target audience” is “students in English literature, theater and British history classes.” It has been sent to college instructors who have been encouraged to copy the brochure and share it with colleagues. The first objective of the guide is “to encourage critical thinking by challenging students to examine the theories about the authorship of Shakespeare’s works and to formulate their own opinions.” That sounds great, but, of course, it’s just more JAQing off. While feigning objectivity, the brochure supports Shakespeare denialism.

The brochure says that authorship question has intrigued academics and inspired debate among experts for centuries. It doesn’t mention that there is, in fact, no real debate among actual experts. The denialist slant of the brochure is quite clear on the “References and Resources” page, which overwhelmingly favors Oxford-as-Shakespeare sources and gives scant attention to real Shakespeare scholars, such as James Shapiro, author of Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare. The brochure authors toss Shakespeareans a couple of bones: Samuel Schoenbaum’s Shakespeare’s Lives and E. K. Chambers’ William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems. I wonder if they think the latter is a denialist work or assume readers will think that it is.

While it is infuriating that conspiracist propaganda is being marketed as study material it is equally outrageous that a film advertisement is being palmed off as an educational guide. In the section on “How to Use this Program,” teachers are assured that “It is not necessary to see the film to complete the activities,” yet all the pages but the first feature the words “Uncover the true genius of William Shakespeare. See Anonymous–in theaters October 28, 2011″ in big, red, all-cap letters at the bottom. The first page is headed “Anonymous” and the brochure is followed by an enormous poster for the film.

Furthermore, the instructions for the follow-up activity for Activity 2 begin, “After the students have seen Anonymous…” so it is necessary to see the film to complete Activity 2. The instructions for Activity 3 include the words “Before seeing the film Anonymous…,” so it’s necessary to see the film to complete Activity 3. There are only three activities.

So, no, Anonymous is NOT just a movie: it is a huge propaganda machine that wants desperately to sway viewers and students. Oh, and I know that this is nitpicky, but I don’t get the title. Perhaps I’ll understand after I (cringe) see the damned thing, but surely it should be Pseudonymous. I want to make the sequel, Anonymous 2. This blood-and-guts, sexy action romp will argue that Anonymous was not the real author of Beowulf.

[spoiler alert] The real author was…the Earl of Oxford, who, it transpires, was (is?) a time-traveling reptilian alien. I mean, he’d have to be, right? He’s connected to the royal family after all. [/spoiler alert].

*Bill Blakemore of ABC.com provides an interesting analysis of the study guide.

ES?

Update: James Shapiro has written an article on the film for the New York Times.

8 Responses to Shakespeare Denialism: The Roland Emmerich Study Guide

  1. Pacal says:

    Since this movie has at least part of the Prince Tudor incest crapola. I.E. Elizabeth sleeps with whoever gives birth to Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, who she later sleeps with also. I wonder does the movie have the full Prince Tudor incest couplings? If I remember correctly. Edward de Vere and Elizabeth have another kid, a son, who later Edward de Vere sleeps with. (The mysterious S. of the Sonnets.)

    EEEEEEWWWWWW!!!! doesn’t begin to describe it. To be silly was everybody involved in this chanting “Incest is best”, or ” the family that @#$#$ together stays together”? This reads like someones sick incest porn fantasy.

    Does anyone who proposes this sort of stuff even for a moment bother to consider the contemporary context. For all the apparantly lavish attention to detail the movie seems to miss by a long shot contemporary context.

    For example Elizabeth I lived in a wide open court, sourounded by hordes of ladies in waiting, so that her ability to conduct a secret love affair was minimal. Further her position as ruler was from the beginning was precarious and remained so for quite some time. In terms of conducting love affairs she could expect vastly less tolerance than a man. Finally getting pregnant out of wedlock would almost certainly destroy her position. And just how could she keep that a secret? Of course this is not factoring in the factor of incest to boot.

    Aside from some tittle tattle there is no evidence that Elizabeth I ever got pregnant much less had a child or two. Neither is their any evidence of any sort of affair even of the platonic type with Edward de Vere, unlike Elizabeth’s almost certainly Platonic affairs with Robert Dudley and the Earl of Essex.

    Finally what of Elizabeth I her self? Well given that she was a Bible believing Protestant and quite straightlaced the idea of her commiting incest seems a little hard to believe. In fact her whole personality seems to indicate someone who would NOT endanger herself for carnal / sexual passion / satisfaction. I strongly suspect that her repeated declarations that she was a virgin are correct.

    From the point of view what we know about Elizabeth I, this behavior seemply makes no sense and is not taken remoutely seriously by any biographer of Elizabeth I.

    I note there seems to be no evidence that Edward de Vere was ever considered by anyone Elizabeth I’s child during his lifetimetime or apparantly until the 20th century.

  2. Eve says:

    The Prince Tudor theories really are batshit. I believe Anonymous suggests that Oxford was Elizabeth’s son and then sired Southampton with her. As far as I know, it doesn’t suggest any hanky panky between the two earls (although that means they have to gloss over the reference to the “master mistress of my passion” in Sonnet 20).

    I have no idea if Elizabeth really was a virgin queen, but the idea that she bonked anything in her court with tights and was continually popping out babies (whom she later bonked) seems a bit far-fetched, to put it extremely mildly. And to be clear, some versions of Prince Tudor do suggest that she was the lover and/or mother of quite a lot of courtiers.

    I suppose it works for a sexy blockbuster or, better yet, a soap opera (All Thy Childer), but it does stretch credulity when presented as history. I hope that movie-goers realize the literary argument of Anonymous is just as silly as the sensationalist bits.

  3. Pacal says:

    Yeah I guess it would work has a soap opera parody. It is indeed batshit insane.

    People tend to examine the Prince tudor stuff from the point of view of if Shakespeare was Shakespeare or the Earl of Oxford. I’ve noticed very little attention to the idea from the point of view of Elizabeth I and her court. Given what we know about the court of Elizabeth I and the context of said court and Elizabeth I’s position in said court. The whole Prince Tudor multiple incest pairings is frankly very hard to credit.

    So Emmerich leaves out Edward de Vere boffing with the Earl of Southampton or “S”, no doubt because Homosexuality might upset some viewers but multiple, compounded incest won’t????????

    I think I will now scream.

  4. G Squared says:

    Seeing Kevin Pereira on G4’s Attack of the Show interview this guy and buy into his ravings only shows what a sorry state the intelligence of this country has fallen into. Sadly, a lot of idiots who don’t know better — and a lot of lazy minds who should know better — will take this film to heart. That’s too bad. Of course, most of the people who will watch this celluloid abortion probably never read any of his plays, and if it weren’t for Roland Emmerich and Sony Pictures, they probably never would have cared. The majority of them probably never will read any of his plays anyway. I know this is mean, but I can’t be nice about these people. After all, this is the guy who brought the world 2012. Enough said.

  5. [...] “While some skeptics have been having conniptions about the film, others have wondered what the big deal is. After all, it’s just a movie. Of course, so was Oliver Stone’s JFK, but like Anonymous, it was also propaganda for a genuine conspiracy theory. Anonymous features several prominent Shakespeare denialists, like Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance, who will no doubt use the film’s release to promote their conspiracy theories, and since they sound more intelligent and less crazy than other conspiracists, like 9/11 truther Charlie Sheen, people will perhaps pay attention to them. After all, they’re Just Asking Questions…” – Skeptical Humanities, Shakespeare Denialism: The Roland Emmerich Study Guide [...]

  6. I hearby embrace the phrase “celluloid abortion”.

    RJB

  7. [...] Noted nutjob Roland Emmerich had his day in the conspiratorial sun with Anonymous.  The 2011 film claims that Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford, penned Shakespeare’s plays. Most of his “evidence” has been repeatedly refuted..no letters, no school records, no mention of his works in the will, etc.  He also mentions that in an early illustration (1656) of Shakespeare’s monument in Stratford, Shakespeare appeared to be holding a bag of grain rather than a quill and parchment. Emmerich implies that the monument was changed to suggest that Shakespeare was a writer. He doesn’t consider the possibility that the illustration was just inaccurate. (Source) [...]

  8. [...] Humanities also challenges the movie presenting fiction as fact: “So, no, Anonymous is NOT just a movie: it is a huge [...]

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