Anonymous 2: This Time It’s Anonymous

March 22, 2012

As many of you are probably aware, I have been terribly harsh to Shakespeare deniers, er, I mean independent Shak-spear scholars. The very first post on this blog dealt with the Shakespeare authorship controversey. In particular, I have been quite mean and snarky about Roland Emmerich’s film Anonymous, as well as the propaganda educational materials released in association with the film. I have even been known to suggest that the title is a silly misnomer: if Edward de Vere produced plays under the name William Shakespeare, then those plays were by definition pseudonymous rather than anonymous.

I now realize that my support of the hidebound traditional theory was based on trivial reasons, such as the mountain of evidence that suggests that the works attributed to William Shakespeare were written primarily by William Shakespeare, actor and son of a Stratford glover, and the paucity of evidence that anyone else was the main author. I can now admit how closed minded I have been (or “close minded” as the more open minded often say). I have been a pawn of Big Shakespeare; I just wish I had been one of its better paid shills.

Yes, that’s right–the conspiracy theory is true. All Is True. But it goes so much deeper than anyone realizes. Shakespeare deniers skeptics often ask how Shakespeare could have had the knowledge to write all those nifty plays and poems. But, my golly gosh, how could any mere mortal? And how was Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, able to continue to write plays after he died?

Is it possible that the Earl of Oxford was a time-traveling alien? Could he have written not just the works of Shakespeare, but many other literary classics as well? Why the hell not?

I have a “theory:”* as a member of the nobility, Oxford was, of course, a reptilian alien. I believe that’s actually requirement. “Blue blood” isn’t meant figuratively, you know. Unlike many of his little alien friends, he wasn’t really into piling up big rocks into pyramids or putting them in circles. He liked words–not alien words, which tend to involve a lot of z’s and k’s. No, bless him, he liked English in all its forms, so he traveled through time, scattering classics around like the others scattered big rocks.

What, you want evidence? Fine, here’s some evidence: the Ellesmere Manuscript is one of the most important copies of The Canterbury Tales (along with the Hengwrt Manuscript by the same scribe).

Who was one of the early owners of the Ellesmere MS? John de Vere, 12th Earl of Oxford, (not quite direct) ancestor of our friend the 17th Earl. Coincidence? I think not.

Clearly Oxford lived in the 14th and 15th centuries disguised as his predecessor. He wrote great poetry and used the flunky Geoffrey Chaucer as a front.  I mean, how could Chaucer, the son of a vintner, have known Latin, French and Italian? How could he have had knowledge of the astrolabe? Hell, the guy couldn’t even spell his own name–he spelled “Geoffrey” “Galfridum”!

But wait, there’s more! The 17th earl was briefly a pupil of Lawrence Nowell. And who the hell was Lawrence Nowell, you ask? Well, there were actually two cousins, both named Lawrence Nowell. One was a churchman, and the other was an antiquarian who at one time owned and added his name to the Nowell Codex.

The Nowell Codex is the Beowulf Manuscript proper (at some point it was bound together with a later MS, the Southwick Codex; the combined text is called British Library MS Cotton Vitellius A xv). How did the Beowulf MS get into Nowell’s possession? Oh, I don’t know, maybe he had a time-traveling alien pupil who gave it to him. Hmmmm? I mean, how could Anonymous, the son of a ??, have written Beowulf? Not only could he not spell his name, he didn’t even have a name! How could he have written the poem when we don’t even know if he could write?

It’s all making sense now, isn’t it? Well it would, if you’d just open your mind. I find that a chainsaw helps.

*”Theory”: Wild speculation or insane declaration, proclaimed loudly and drunkenly. Not to be confused with anything known to scientists or scholars as a theory.

Skeptical Humanities on The Token Skeptic Podcast

December 31, 2011

Even and I were recently interviewed by Kylie Sturgess, whose work we admire immoderately. Her podcast is The Token Skeptic, and the episode in question is about the film Anonymous:

We’ve worked with Kylie in the past. We were on a couple of panels together at this year’s Dragon*Con. She’s also the editor of the Young Australian Skeptics’ only recently published Skeptical Blog Anthology, and we have a piece in there. GO BUY IT NAOW! While it’s great that a lot of the big names are represented, they also give voice to a number of clever and insightful yet less well-known skeptics. An excellent snapshot of an important period in skeptical history, I think. Check it out!


This Week in Conspiracy (11 December 2011)

December 12, 2011

I sit here a sparrowfart away from death, but not even my impending demise will stop me from bringing you another week in conspiracy.

While it is perfectly obvious to everyone that Ben Jonson wrote all of Shakespeare’s plays, it is less known that Ben Jonson’s plays were written by a teen-age girl in Sunderland, who mysteriously disappeared, leaving no trace of her existence, which is clear proof that she wrote them. The plays of Marlowe were actually written by a chambermaid named Marlene, who faked her own orgasm, and then her own death in a Deptford tavern brawl. Queen Elizabeth, who was obviously a man, conspired to have Shakespeare named as the author of his plays, because how could a man who had only a grammar-school education and spoke Latin and a little Greek possibly have written something as bad as “All’s Well That Ends Well”? It makes no sense. It was obviously an upper-class twit who wished to disguise his identity so that Vanessa Redgrave could get a job in her old age.

My fave Pak conspiracy theory was from a respected journo: “But who is behind the theory about Pakistanis loving conspiracy theories?” @jemima_khan

Conspiracy Theory of the Week:

This is not really a conspiracy theory of the week. It just needed to be sectioned off from the rest of the round-up. You see, Luke Rudkowski went to the dentist. He was a sexist, horrid, pig-ignorant prick at all points:

  • LukeRudkowski: dentist was dumb but she was cute and for some strange reason was rubbing her boobs in my face. awkward, did that ever happen to anyone Original Tweet:
  • LukeRudkowski: the dentist tried to tell me that mercury is not bad for me, i told her to break a mercury thermometer and put it her month Original Tweet:
  • Luke Rudkowski Been radiated 14 times by this 1970s looking Machine. Anyway i can avoid it minutes ago
  • mrthatguydude Dave @LukeRudkowski – 10x the mind control. 25 minutes ago Retweeted by LukeRudkowski
  • LukeRudkowski Starting to think the dential industry is apart of the nwo eugenics plan. Lol but seriously radiation mercury and fluoride wtf 22 minutes ago
  • LukeRudkowski Luke Rudkowski Not a good sight when your sitting in a dentists chair 30 minutes ago

Yeah, I’m sure she wanted to get with the tinfoil wearing man-pig in her chair. LOL.


This Week in Conspiracy (20 Nov 2011)

November 22, 2011

It was a crazily jam-packed weekend for those of us at Skeptical Humanities, so this is a little late and a little short. On Saturday, Eve and I put on our thinking helmets (sometimes you just need the extra protection) and attended an event by paranormal enthusiasts. One of us will be writing about it soon, I’m sure. We were so tired at the end of the day, I think we missed our first skeptics in the pub event since…ever.

This morning, we were out again. I had been invited by the Alabama Freethought Association to talk about conspiracy theories. About 20 people showed up, and Lake Hypatia seems to be a sort of Mecca for southern atheists.

Speaking of Mecca, when we got there, an hour early (stupid time change), in one of the sitting areas on the lovely campus, we found a Koran under the bench. We pointed it out when our hosts arrived, and they brought it inside because someone might think that leaving it outside would be a desecration. That’s class, people. Learn from them.

Onto the week that was weak!

Conspiracy Theory of the Week:

That’s all for now, m’laddies. I’ve got lots more, but not a lot of time at the moment. So, keep your eyes open for more from this week in next week’s edition.


Spot the Looney: A lot of bad evidence=good evidence

November 10, 2011

I just got a new tablet computer. Yay! Of course, that means I’ve been downloading free books like a crazy woman. One of the first ones I downloaded was J. Thomas Looney‘s “Shakespeare” Identified in Edward De Vere the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford (1920). You can read it here, if you really want to. Looney was not the first to suggest that someone other than Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. Far from it; indeed, he borrows heavily from the Baconians. His work, however, is  the basis for the claims that Oxford wrote Shakespeare. That’s right, without Looney, there would have been no Anonymous.

A word about the man’s name: it’s pronounced “loney” (rhymes with “pony”), so I won’t tolerate any childish “loony” jokes. Well, all right, but no more than a dozen or so.

I’ve only gotten through the first chapter, but the Introduction was extremely instructive. In it, I found this gem:

I do not maintain that any single objection, to what for convenience sake we must call the Stratfordian view, afforded by itself sufficient grounds for regarding it as untenable; for most of these objections have been stoutly combated severally, by men whose opinions are entitled to respect. It was rather the cumulative effect of the many objections which, it appeared to me, made it impossible to adhere with any confidence to the old view of things, and so gave to the whole situation an appearance of inexplicable mystery. (p. 3)

I reread that several times thinking, “he can’t really be saying what I think he’s saying. Surely not.” I even emailed Bob to ask “Is he saying what I think he’s saying?” Yes, that was the subject line. Eventually I came to the conclusion that he was indeed saying that no single objection to Shakespeare’s authorship has any real validity as they have all been “stoutly combated.” But put all these invalid objections together and–hey presto!–you’ve got yourself a reasonable argument. Wow. That’s almost exactly what critical thinking isn’t.

So, you may ask, what qualifications did Looney have in literary/historical investigation? Well, there’s this:

For several years in succession I had been called upon to go through repeated courses of reading one one particular play of Shakespeare’s, namely “The Merchant of Venice.” This long continued familiarity with the contents of one play induced a peculiar sense of intimacy with the mind and disposition of its author and his outlook upon life. (p. 2)

Ah. He read ONE play and felt he understood the author intimately. Makes perfect sense. More importantly, his lack of qualifications make him the right man for the job:

That one who is not a recognized authority or an expert in literature should attempt the solution of a problem which has so far baffled specialists must doubtless appear to many as a glaring act of overboldness; (p. 4)

I don’t know what “specialists” were baffled by the authorship question. I imagine if you asked the specialists of the day, “Who wrote Shakespeare?” They’d answer “Shakespeare.” If they looked baffled, it would probably be because they were puzzled that someone would ask such a silly question.

Looney continues,

…whilst to pretend to have actually solved this most momentous of literary puzzles will seem to some like sheer hallucination. A little reflection ought, however, to convince any one that the problem is not, at bottom, purely literary. That is to say, its solution does not depend wholly upon the extent of the investigator’s knowledge of literature nor upon the soundness of his literary judgment. (p. 4)

Well, I suppose that’s true. A person who is not trained in literary analysis and research could theoretically discover documentary evidence that proved that Oxford wrote Shakespeare, especially if that person was trained in historical research (which Looney was not). But Looney discovered no such evidence. All the documentary evidence (and there’s a lot of it) is on Shakespeare’s side.

This is probably why the problem has not been solved before now. It has been left mainly in the hands of literary men, whereas its solution required the application of methods of research which are not, strictly speaking, literary methods. (p. 4)

Suck it, experts! I’m not sure what Looney thinks “literary methods” are, but they do involve looking at historical context. He adds, “The imperfection of my own literary equipment…was therefore no reason why I should not attempt the task (p. 4).” It’s no reason why he shouldn’t make the attempt, but it may be a reason some of his conclusions are faulty: he looked at poems ascribed to Oxford and thought they fit Shakespeare. In fact, in many ways, the styles do not match at all. His opinion of actual experts is not high:

The common sense of the rank and file of Shakespeare students, when unhampered by past committals, leads irresistibly towards the rejection of the old idea of authorship: and only the doctors of the ancient literary cult hang in the rear. (p. 11)

Yay! I’ve always wanted to be in a cult. Wait, does this mean that if Stephen Greenblatt tells me to drink poison-laced Kool-Aid, I have to drink it? No, I’m a medievalist; I think I’m safe from Greenblatt’s evil cult-leader charisma.

But Looney’s comments on literary cults and literary men are typical, not just of Shakespeare-deniers, but also of conspiracy and fringe theorists the world over: you can’t trust experts; they are too invested in the “official story.” Either they are too stuffy and closed-minded to see the Truth, or they are actively suppressing it. Ancient alien proponents, 9/11 truthers, Holocaust deniers–they all sing the same tune.

A look at Looney’s biography may help explain why he needed to find a different author for the Shakespeare works. He grew up in an evangelical Methodist household, but he later became a leading light in the positivist Religion of Humanity. They placed great, almost worshipful, emphasis on Great Men (and women), even proposing to rename the months after important thinkers. From Looney’s point of view, Shakespeare-the-poet was a Great Man, but Shakespeare-the-man didn’t fit the bill, so he had to find someone else. Why he picked a murderous profligate, I don’t know. According to Looney’s Wikipedia page, his family claimed to be descended from the Earls of Derby, one of whom, William Stanley, the sixth Earl, is another candidate for the “real” author of Shakespeare’s work.

In assigning a “Great Man” to the Great Work, Looney thought he was performing another Great Work.

The transference of the honour of writing the immortal Shakespeare dramas from one man to another, if definitely effected, becomes not merely a national or contemporary event, but a world event of permanent importance, destined to leave a mark as enduring as human literature and the human race itself. (p. 1)


This Week in Conspiracy (7 Nov 2011)

November 7, 2011

We survived CSICon, and the audience survived my epic spiel (which was never certain). I met some pretty fab folks and enjoyed myself mightily. Eve did too. But just because we played hooky for a few days doesn’t mean that I could help but see the crazy stuff that streamed in on my mail, twitter, and reader feeds.

Let get it on.

This Week in I Made More as a Graduate Student than Anonymous Has Pulled In

I’m pretty sure that Anonymous is losing money hand over fist in the American market. This is as it should be.

And the other crazy:

Twit of the week:

This came from the @poopy_poo, who is the soul of the age: “@davidicke I hope all your 13,000 followers will be attending wembley next year mr Icke, very excited to be coming :-)”


Review of “Anonymous:” The Essex Rebellion Was an Inside Job

November 7, 2011

So, we finally saw Anonymous. To begin with, the traffic sucked, the popcorn was disappointing and the soda machines refused to give me an adequate diet Coke (machine 1 was a mix of diet Coke and some red Hi-C-like substance; machine 2 mostly just gave me carbonated water). I suppose I can’t blame Roland Emmerich and John Orloff for these problems, but I’m not feeling generous.

One of the previews was for “William Shakespeare’s Coriolanus,” directed by and starring Ralph Fiennes. Shakespeare is listed as a writer on the IMDB page. Edward de Vere, seventeenth earl of Oxford, is not.

Anonymous begins with Shakespeare-denier Sir Derek Jacobi entering a modern-day theater (that sports “Anonymous” on its sign) and beginning to recite one of Ben Jonson’s poems in praise of Shakespeare in big-time over-the-top fashion. Then he stops and questions Shakespeare’s identity. He first lists the works attributed to Shakespeare, including “thirty-seven plays.” Almost all scholars now count thirty-eight plays. Why no love for Two Noble Kinsmen? Perhaps because it was written long after Oxford’s death?

All these plays, sonnets and miscellaneous poems and “not a single manuscript in Shakespeare’s hand.” Except–quite possibly–Hand D of Sir Thomas More, of course (which, naturally, Sir Derek doesn’t mention). All we have, says Sir Derek, are six barely legible signatures, each one spelled differently. We’ve been over this one repeatedly. See the fourth reason that Roland Emmerich is an idiot.

Shakespeare was the son of a glove-maker and had a grammar school education. Sir Derek doesn’t draw any conclusions from this, but the snobby implication is that it is unlikely that such a person could write the works attributed to Shakespeare.

Shakespeare’s daughters were “irrefutably illiterate.” Emmerich mentions this in his ten reasons Shakespeare is a fraud. I had a niggling suspicion about this, but since Susanna and Judith’s literacy has nothing to do with the authorship of their father’s works, I lazily ignored it. In the comments, Fretful Porpentine pointed out Emmerich’s error. Here is the signature of Susanna Hall (née Shakespeare). So, Sir Derek was irrefutably spouting a lie. Oh, but little facts don’t stop Shakespeare deniers. Apparently her signature is “painfully formed,” and she uses three different versions of the letter “a.” Thus she, like her sister, was functionally illiterate. Now since, as Fretful Porpentine notes and even Anonymous admits, reading and writing were two separate skills in Tudor England, this is highly dubious. If Susanna could write her name, she could read. One website contrasts the handwriting of Susanna and her father with that of her husband, John Hall: “His signature is what one would expect from a man who wrote in a clear Italian hand. Would that his father-in-law’s signatures had had such clarity and consistency.” John Hall wrote in an italic hand. Clearly, he was highly literate. Susanna and Shakespeare wrote in Secretary Hand. Clearly, they were functionally illiterate boobs.

Finally, Sir Derek brings up the will, which doesn’t mention Shakespeare’s plays or books. See reason 10 here. So, Sir Derek proposes to offer us a different story. At this point the film moves into the past. I should point out that I took copious notes, but even at the best of times, my handwriting is pretty horrible. That’s right: I am functionally illiterate. When I’m writing in a darkened movie theater, I am even more illiterater (see?).

The cinematography is rather beautiful, especially the scene of Elizabeth’s funeral procession. The facial hair is also extremely impressive. Also, the movie makes no fucking sense. It moves backward and forward in time, but Ben Jonson stays the same age and other characters age at significantly different rates. In particular, Elizabeth and William Cecil, Lord Burghley, seem to age at roughly 3 times the rate of everyone else. This is confusing.

In an early scene, when the queen is very old, she is told that she is to be presented with a play written by “[pregnant pause] Anonymous.” She’s thrilled because she loves plays and “[pregnant pause] Anonymous.” I suppose this is the justification for the film’s title (rather than the more appropriate Pseudonymous). Except it doesn’t make any fucking sense. The play in question is Midsummer Night’s Dream, which, it transpires, Oxford wrote for the court when he was an adolescent. He also played Puck. Everyone at court knows he wrote the play. There was nothing hidden about it. It seems Oxford wrote a whole bunch of plays for court in his youth, including the Prince Hal plays. Again, none of this is hidden, so there is no real reason to refer to him as “[pregnant pause] Anonymous.”

At some point, Oxford attends a public performance of a Jonson play with Southampton (who, we will eventually discover, is his son by Elizabeth; Oxford is also Elizabeth’s son [ick], as is Essex). Shakespeare is AWI (Acting While Intoxicated). Christopher Marlowe has the hots for Southampton. Playwrights Thomas Nashe and Thomas Dekker are essentially non-entities: one’s fat and the other’s skinny, if that helps. All the playwrights, including the highly educated Marlowe, have noticeably less educated-sounding accents than the court characters. All the playwrights seem to be untalented hacks compared to the Incomparable Genius that is Oxford. Marlowe’s a conniving dick; Jonson is kind of a sniveling weasel, although he has integrity and a genuine love of great poetry (i. e. Oxford’s).

Perhaps now is the time to mention how excessively unpleasant all the characters are. Elizabeth is petty and solely driven by emotion. When she discovers that she is pregnant by [her son] Oxford, she declares that she will marry him, even though he is already married: “I LOVE HIM!!!! she screeches, in all caps). She seems utterly useless at statecraft, no more than a pawn of the Cecils. The Cecils (William,  Lord Burghley, and his son Robert) are practically mustache-twirling villains (they plot to murder Oxford, Essex and Southampton; when that fails, they connive to make it appear that Essex and Southampton are in open rebellion against the queen. That’s right, the Essex Rebellion was an inside job). They are also poetry/pleasure-loathing Puritans (“plays are the work of the devil,” says Burghley), a characterization that is simply incorrect, as far as I can tell. Southampton and Essex are pretty and uninteresting (the same is largely true of Oxford as a young man, but he is more actively unpleasant).

And then there’s Shakespeare. He is a drunken, unscrupulous, moronic, conniving, self-aggrandizing, semi-literate (can read but can’t write), inarticulate, barely coherent, petty, malicious, blackmailing, murderous (kills Marlowe for threatening to expose him) little toad. It’s hard to imagine anyone more unappealing. Yet, somehow Oxford manages to be worse. I suppose what makes Oxford so thoroughly reprehensible is the filmmakers’ attempts to make him seem a paragon of, well, everything. Oxford certainly seems to think he’s wonderful. Toward the end of the film, he admits that he’s failed at pretty much everything. But it’s not really his fault, you see. It’s the Cecils’ fault. Also, it’s because of his single-minded devotion to his poetry. The only thing he didn’t fail at is the one thing he didn’t do (write Shakespeare’s poetry). He points out that he had been one of the richest peers in England, but at the end of his life, he is impoverished. Why? Because of his devotion to his Muse. How the fuck much did parchment cost in Elizabethan England? Oh, also he claims Burghley stole his inheritance. Whatever. When he witnesses a performance of Henry V, he silently mouths the St. Crispin’s Day speech and weeps at the beauty of his own words. Barf.

Anyway, after seeing the Jonson play, he has an idea: he can use the public theater to spread his ideas and, somehow, win a kingdom for his son. In this, of course, he fails miserably. Oxford wants Jonson to produce the plays under his (Jonson’s) name. Oxford can’t be seen to write plays in his position (except for all those plays he’s already known for writing; sure, they were written as court entertainments, but you’d think someone might notice some similarity. Nuppers).

Oxford assures Jonson that his plays will make him the richest and most popular playwright in London. He’s modest like that. Jonson doesn’t really want to do it. He has integrity, you’ll remember, and he wants to be known for his own work. But for the sake of the wonderful plays, Jonson agrees. Shakespeare, of course, has no integrity, and when the crowd begins chanting “playwright, playwright” after Henry V, Shakespeare leaps forward and takes credit, to Oxford’s horror: “An actor, for God’s sake.”  Jonson, of course, was also an actor for a time (in real life), but in the film, he tells Shakespeare that playwrights don’t have time to act. Tell that to Nathan Field.

Oxford’s next play is Romeo and Juliet. He announces to Jonson that it’s in iambic pentameter. “What, all of it?” exclaims Jonson, “Is that possible?” Everyone’s amazed that it’s completely in verse. It’s not, of course. And A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was ostensibly written decades earlier, is also predominantly in verse (in reality, the two plays were probably written close together in time, along with Richard II). There were plenty of plays before Shakespeare that were in iambic pentameter, as well. The first English drama in blank verse was Gorboduc or Ferrex and Porrex from 1561.

Some other stupid things: I’ve hinted that there are some problems with the chronology of the plays. Here are some more: Hamlet appears to be written shortly after Romeo and Juliet, and Marlowe is still alive when it is performed. He sneaks off to tattle to Robert Cecil about it. Everyone explicitly makes a connection between the character of Polonius and Lord Burghley. Later, Jonson will similarly tattle about Richard III (which therefore must have been written after Hamlet), though he agonizes over what he’s done. Richard III is supposed to satirize Robert Cecil, who was apparently somewhat hunchbacked. The film suggests that Richard was never portrayed as hunchbacked before the play.

This tendency of rival poets to go around accusing Shakespeare/Oxford of writing seditious plays is, of course, preposterous. Edmund Tilney held the position of Master of the Revels. He was the official censor, and all plays had to be approved by him. If the plays were as obviously seditious as the film suggests, Tilney would never have approved them.

Oxford writes Richard III specifically to achieve…I have no idea what…in his struggles against the Cecils and his plots to promote his son. His plan backfires spectacularly, and the Cecils use it to manufacture the Essex Rebellion. In fact, shortly before the rebellion, some of the conspirators paid the Lord Chamberlain’s Men to perform Richard II (that’s 2nd, not 3rd) at the Globe. The play was not new at the time. Augustine Phillips, a member of the company, testified at Essex’s trial.

There are more things in the movie that are stupid. So many more. But thinking about it makes me sad and stabby, so I’ll leave you with this brief précis of stupidity.

But remember,

The Essex Rebellion Was an Inside Job!


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