Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous

Roland Emmerich’s new film Anonymous is causing controversy in some quarters: this film proposes that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, was responsible for the plays ordinarily attributed to William Shakespeare.

A recent New York Times story summarizes the premise of Anonymous: “The film posits that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, played by Rhys Ifans, was the true author of the works of Shakespeare (an argument called the Oxfordian Theory) and was the incestuous lover of Elizabeth I (a twist known in academic circles as the Prince Tudor Theory Part II).”

As Emmerich said in a Chicago Sun-Times interview, “I had always heard some inklings that Shakespeare didn’t author his works. I decided the film should go the whole way and say he didn’t write the great works. After 10 years of research and after reading just about every book on this topic, I’m 100 percent a believer that Shakespeare was a businessman. He wasn’t a writer.”

Emmerich has also previously directed Godzilla, Independence Day, and 2012, among other titles.

Sony recently opted for an initial limited release of Anonymous, gradually rolling the film out to more theaters. Additionally, Sony Pictures is distributing lesson plans detailing the background of the Oxford theory (you can view PDF copies of the lesson plans for high schools and colleges).

The “Oxford theory” proposed by this film originates in J. Thomas Looney’s Shakespeare Identified (you can view an electronic text of Looney’s book here). Briefly, Looney’s argument was that the personality traits and biographical details of the author as apparently revealed in Shakespeare’s plays did not match the attributes known of Shakespeare’s personality and life, and that what we know of De Vere makes him a more likely candidate for Shakespearean authorship.

The UIUC Library owns a number of resources on the Oxford theory. and on the general question of Shakespearean authorship.

Other resources on Shakespearean authorship include the homepages for the Shakespeare Oxford Society and the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition (both anti-Stratfordian) – and, not to be confused with the latter, the Shakespeare Authorship Page, “Dedicated to the Proposition that Shakespeare Wrote Shakespeare.”


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