“Anonymous” Screenwriter John Orloff: Name Dropping and Wrong

John Orloff, who wrote the screenplay for the badly titled Anonymous (as Eve points out, it should be Pseudonymousout-stupided the Huffington Post on their own turf, which is no mean feat. He took issue with the phrase “urban legend.” I agree. They should have used the phrase, “unfettered clacking bollocks.” I intend to use his little screed in future classes to teach logical fallacies. His letter went as follows:

I’d like to think current and past US Supreme Court Justices don’t believe in Urban Legends. Namely, Justices Stevens, Blackmun, O’Connor and Scalia all think there is reason to doubt the validity of the actor William Shakespeare having written the plays history ascribes to him.

Wow. Not a Shakespearean scholar among them. Ok, you’re name dropping, but the sad fact is that just because you don’t like to think about it doesn’t mean it’s not true. This is the appeal to personal incredulity. “I can’t believe that these smart people would believe an urban legend, therefore, Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare.”

As does historian David McCullough. As do authors such as Mark Twain (whose last book, “Is Shakespeare Dead” is dedicated to the issue), Henry James (who said he was “haunted by the conviction that the divine William is the biggest and most successful fraud ever perpetrated on an unsuspecting Public”), and Walt Whitman (to name a few).

This is a classic appeal to false authority. You could fart sonnets like an angel and still not have a rollicking clue about the reams of scholarship backing the mainstream view.

As do Shakespearean actors Sir John Gielgud, Sir Derek Jacobi, and Orson Welles (who directed and starred in several Shakespeare plays).

Yawn. Appeal to false authority. Sorry.

And Mark Rylance, who is not only perhaps the greatest Shakespearean actor of his generation, but a man who was also the Artistic Director of the Globe Theater in London for ten years. Think about that last name; the man who ran the Globe theater for a decade doesn’t think Shakespeare wrote a single word.

Wow. I’m willing to bet if I look in my university databases I’ll find he never had to publish a goddamned thing under peer review:

  • Academic Search Complete ( 0 )
  • Research Library ( 0 )
  • Project Muse ( 0 )
  • MLA International Bibliography ( 1 )
  • Essay & General Literature Index ( 0 )
  • Arts & Humanities Citation Index ( 0 )
  • Humanities Int’l Index ( 0 )

That single entry is in a book about the resurrection of the Globe Theater, and it does not address authorship. And it’s not you like are citing an independent authority, since he’s in the freaking movie. “Well, my friends think so,” is as unconvincing as, “My mom says I’m smart.”

And we can add Sigmund Freud in there as well.


An Urban Myth is something proven to be false. I’m not sure we’re there on this particular issue.

Well, I disagree with your definition of urban myth, but the burden of proof is not on mainstream academia. We don’t default to the position that you know your head from your ham hocks.

And how do you know that someone wasn’t scared by Eddie Murphy in an elevator?

Either way, I am reminded of Winston Churchill’s statement on the subject when he was asked about the Authorship Issue. His response? He replied he wasn’t that interested in Oxford because, in his words: “I don’t like to have my myths tampered with”.

He meant the Shakespeare myth.

He meant, “Get stuffed, bozo. I’m not interested.” It doesn’t matter how many amateurs you say you surround yourself with, you’re still sitting on the short bus. (Yes, the actors and directors have a skill set that is completely unrelated to scholarship.)

Your software is broken, kiddo. Don’t try to contribute to the Great Discussion, because you’ll only embarrass yourself.


28 Responses to “Anonymous” Screenwriter John Orloff: Name Dropping and Wrong

  1. Ken says:

    The important thing is to slip this into the next Republican candidate debate, just to watch them all freeze as they try to figure out what answer the audience wants to hear.

  2. Rich says:

    For what it’s worth, in the current issue of the Skeptical Inquirer (sorry, no link available yet), Joe Nickell has written an excellent piece titled ”Did Shakespeare Write ‘Shakespeare’? Joe’s conclusion is a definite *yes.* He writes: “Anti-Stratfordians start with the answer they want and work backward to the evidence – the opposite of good science and scholarship. They reserve the standards of objective inquiry, replacing them with pseudoscience and pseudohistory.”

    Interestingly the article goes on to say, “In 1987 a moot-court debate on the Oxford-verse-Shakespeare controversy was held at the American University. It was presided over by three U.S. Supreme Court Justices: Harry Blackmun, William Brennan and John Paul Stevens. They found in favor of Shakespeare, and Justice Stevens pointedly concluded that ‘the Oxfordian case suffers from not having a single, coherent theory of the case.’” That fact that Blackmun and Stevens were convinced Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare appears to contradict Orloff.

    • Eve says:

      Stevens changed his mind–quite publicly and loudly, claiming the case had been proven “beyond a reasonable doubt.” His conclusion was based almost entirely on arguments from ignorance (we have no proof Shakespeare ever owned books; therefore, he never owned books, etc. It was shockingly poor reasoning). Even at the time of the mock trial, he was more sympathetic toward the Oxfordians than the other justices. There was another moot court case in front of some eminent law lords in Britain. They also ruled unanimously in favor of Shakespeare and, if I recall correctly, were absolutely scathing toward the Oxfordians.

  3. Pacal says:

    When they have a Scholar who knows the documentation and hasn’t worked backwards from conclusion to evidence; then I will think they have something worth saying.

    It’s interesting that the writer Bertram Fields a man who is to put it mildly supportive of revisionist history concluded that Shakespeare co-wrote with Edward de Vere because although his book mightidly strained to find that Shakespeare did not write the plays and that Edward de Vere did so, the evidence compelled him to admit that Shakespeare did write plays. So he rather reluctantly settled for Edward de Vere being a co-writer with Shakespeare. The book is Players: The Mysterious Identity of William Shakespeare.

    So even someone who was very attracted to a far out claim was forced to admit upon a half decently fair evaluation of the evidence that William Shakespeare wrote plays.

  4. andrewD says:

    Does it really matter who wrote the plays? They will remaine excellent plays even if Eve and Bob went back in a time machine and wrote them for William…( ooh a new conspiracy theory here)

    • Rich says:

      I believe what *is* important is that Eve and Bob are highlighting the pathological thinking being shown by folks; some who have or had a great deal of responsibility like Justice Stevens. Eve is correct in that Justice Stevens did change his mind and now thinks that the 17th Earl of Oxford wrote the plays. Scalia believes the same which gives me even more reason to question his rulings.

  5. Bob says:

    Anyone can be wrong, even Justices. That’s important. But what really motivates me is the utter disregard for evidence that people can exhibit. In the end, it’s not important who wrote the plays, but we do happen to know who wrote these by means of numerous lines of mutually confirming documentary evidence and history. At the same time, Oxfordians offer, “I don’t understand this” as their evidence and ignore what competent professionals have found. It’s a matter of having an appropriately strong respect for evidence, and high standards of evidence, a standard that scholars in the humanities do actually practice. Shakespeare denialism champions ill-informed hunches over evidence. That’s not how the big kids do it.


    • Eve says:

      “…but we do happen to know who wrote these by means of numerous lines of mutually confirming documentary evidence and history.”

      I would like to add…”and evidence from literary and linguistic analysis.”

  6. Bob says:


    Mkay. I thought that literary analysis would be under “documentary.”


    • Eve says:

      Fair enough, but when I think of “documentary evidence,” I think of the small mountain of documents that connect Shakespeare to his works (e.g. quartos of the plays that name him as author, other contemporary references to him as an author, etc.).

  7. Bradley A. Skene says:

    The real question here has nothing to do with the Oxfordian (I feel dirty when I use that word) evidence (which is nonsense), but why they make an existential decision to reject Shakespeare before looking for justification.

    Peter Gay suggest that in Freud’s case it was the projection of his own sense of his false social position as a Jew in Vienna. But in any case, the psychology of these people needs to be examined.

    And after a few of them were debunked in the comments, many of the people claimed to be Oxfordians probably need looking into to see whether the charge is even true or not.

    By the way, I spell my name two different way–the way one sees it when attached to figures in 19th century British sources (which seems ‘right’ to me, and the way it says on my birth certificate (which seems ‘wrong’). Somebody probably ought to look into that too.

  8. Bob says:

    Jew in Vienna? That makes…what’s the opposite of sense? 🙂 I see it as evidence that Freud was wrong about more than just how the mind worked in every way.


  9. Eve says:

    As for why people reject Shakespeare: Shapiro relates it to romantic notions of The Author–the Great Man spouting Great Thoughts (sorry for all the Upper Case Letters). The paucity of personal information about Shakespeare is a disappointment to such romantic notions. Consequently, you see Shakespeare-deniers talking sneeringly about his business interests, as if Shakespeare couldn’t be both a great poet and a good businessman.

    There is also the issue of snobbery: all the main candidates are either better born or better educated than Shakespeare (or both). Again, the Oxfordians (such as the late Charlton Ogburn) talk about what a nasty little money-grubbing middle class dolt Shakespeare was. As far as I can tell, Oxford was a complete and utter douchebag with few redeeming qualities, but somehow he’s just misunderstood, poor baby.

    Finally, I think that once the idea has been conceived, it just won’t die. So someone says Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare and cites a bunch of supposed ciphers and codes. Well, those get discredited and people lose interest. But the basic idea is still there: Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare. Hmmmm. So the next person comes along either with new “evidence” for Bacon or with a new candidate for who really wrote Shakespeare.

    A good conspiracy theory never dies. It just has its goalposts moved.

    • jroach says:

      That’s why you shouldn’t bother taking on conspiracy theorists on their own turf. It makes for nothing more than a bizarre travelogue to a culty cult, like Bob’s skep article.

      There was another authenticity conspiracy around someone in Korea http://stanfordalumni.org/news/magazine/2011/julaug/features/tablo.html

      It’s a compelling read but sad at the same time. What this kid did was fight back with his own records, which is like denying denialists. If I was him, or, say, Obama during the breathless days of the mainstream birthers, I wouldn’t have denied s***.

      Just put up your hands and say, “you got me *wink*”. Then they have no recourse but to go to court, and deal with a succession of judges, each of whom makes their pay by sniffing out bs.

      What federaljack and Alex Jones what is exactly what most CT victims give them: a debate out in the wild of the internet. Bottom line – go into caves looking for a fight and you’ll get a freaking troll.

      Best example, at the end of the Tablo article

      LEE FILED SUIT against 20 of his most virulent attackers. By October, the prosecutor investigating both his claims and the allegations against him determined that Lee was who he said he was. The prosecutor demanded that a Korean Internet site divulge the true identities of the 20 attackers. Whatbecomes, the leading agitator, was revealed as Eung Kim, a 57-year-old Korean-American businessman living in Chicago. Korean police asked him to report for questioning.
      “I posted in a fair manner, so I will not answer the summons,” he told them.
      The police then issued an international warrant for his arrest, which he has defied now for months. On the TaJinYo forum, Kim questioned whether defamation was an international crime and vented his frustration at being unjustly targeted. “I am so angry they are treating me like a suspect when they have not confirmed I am a criminal,” he wrote.

  10. John orloff says:


    first, the point was not to bring up the names to prove the issue, but merely point out this is not an urban legend. clearly the distinction was lost on you.

    secondly, your intellectual elitism is quite revealing. it doesn’t take a doctorate to be quite knowledgable about the few facts we know about Shakespeare.

    cheers, and enjoy the film!

    • Eve says:

      You are correct that it doesn’t take a doctorate to examine the facts, such as the very large number of documents that clearly identify William Shakespeare as the author of many of the works attributed him.

      I read your response to the Huffington Post quite carefully. I saw the points you made about urban legends. They are, of course, not true: being a Supreme Court justice does not make one immune from belief in urban legends. In addition, that is not all you said. You also said, "… Justices Stevens, Blackmun, O'Connor and Scalia all think there is reason to doubt the validity of the actor William Shakespeare having written the plays history ascribes to him." After naming several more names, you say of Mark Rylance, who just happens to be in your film, along with Derek Jacobi, "the man who ran the Globe theater for a decade doesn't think Shakespeare wrote a single word." Clearly, you are using these names not just to refute the "urban legend" label, but also to support the contention that Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare.

    • Bob says:

      “first, the point was not to bring up the names to prove the issue, but merely point out this is not an urban legend. clearly the distinction was lost on you.”

      Clearly you are a stranger to yourself, for exactly the reasons that Eve mentions.

      “secondly, your intellectual elitism is quite revealing.”

      You’re damned right, I claim to be elite. Expertise is a genuine thing and sneering at it doesn’t make you any more right. Expertise, had you ever met it, would have told you that not only must you know about the evidence that clearly refers to Shakespeare as the author of the plays, but you must also be able to understand that evidence in context. You need to know what secretary’s hand is and what the spelling conventions of the time were, for instance, and why it is so hard for the modern eye to decipher. Then you will understand why genuine experts can’t even be expected to waste time on your claims when you say on the basis of a signature that Shakespeare either had difficulty writing his own name or spelling it. Really. The children of Renaissance scholars point and laugh at you in public. It’s that bad.

      Your disdain for expertise reflects poorly on you and doesn’t bode well for the movie. Rejecting expertise out of hand is to embrace ignorance. That’s not good enough for some of us.


  11. Clay says:

    If you would care to develop an educated opinion you could read some fairly new (and some old) Baconian evidence you can visit either of these sites:


  12. Bob says:

    Yeah, Eve. After all, it’s been published on the prestigious internet.

    Clay, you need to come up with a theory that explains the stuff at the beginning of the Norton Shakespeare, the historical evidence that we have. What’s your new evidence?


  13. Pacal says:

    Regarding John Orloff’s remarks:

    I’m trying to understand how the “fact” that prestigious people believe something means it is not an urban legend. That strikes me as a non-sequitor arguement. Intelligent prestigious people can believe urban legends.

    I also noted the faux populist arguement about elitism. That is another non-sequitor, aside from being propagandistic.

    I note that John Orloff says nothing about the “klassy”, incest squared incest porn plot of this movie.

    As for the “few facts” about Shakespeare. Well your ignorance is showing.

  14. jroach says:

    From Wikipedia
    Emmerich has stated that he never enjoyed Shakespeare, which he was required to read at school, where none of it stuck, and says he picked up what he knows of Shakespeare from watching movies.[26] He knew little of either Elizabethan history or the authorship question until he came across John Orloff’s script, after which he ‘steeped’ himself in the theories by reading discussions on the internet at Orloff’s suggestion.[27

    To a guy who hangs out with Roland Emmerich the mouth breathers at ATS would be deemed “elitist”.

  15. […] deniers, and we’re happy to help. Also, John Orloff, the screenwriter of Anonymous, left a smudge in the comments on my post about his indignation at the […]

  16. […] the anti-intellectual slant of Shakespeare-deniers (expressed by a comment on this post from screenwriter John Orloff), this one is rich.  As Emmerich says, “no records prove that […]

  17. I’ve always found it puzzling that US Supreme Court justices are supposed to have special authority in questions like the authorship (non)issue. The common law distinguishes between triers of fact and triers of law for a reason — historically, lawyers are supposed to judge legal issues, juries judge whether the facts of a case have been establishes beyond reasonable doubt. When does the Supreme Court ever assess facts rather than legal arguments?

    • Eve says:

      True. The moot court hearings in the US and UK were fun little demonstrations, I guess (and both found unanimously in Shakespeare’s favor). I know there have been similar mock trials of Richard III (insufficient evidence to convict him of killing the princes in the tower, if I recall correctly). But ultimately, a law court is the wrong venue, even if you assume judges and justices have some sort of special ability to assess evidence as well as legal precedent. Their knowledge of constitutional law doesn’t magically qualify them to judge historical, literary and documentary evidence.

  18. Anonse Radom says:

    Anonse Radom…

    […]“Anonymous” Screenwriter John Orloff: Name Dropping and Wrong « Skeptical Humanities[…]…

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