In theatres this month, the movie Anonymous explores the idea that the Shakespeare we know and love is, in fact, a fraud. Diehard Shakespeare fans beware: this movie turns the traditional notion of William Shakespeare on its head, but it’s not quite the slander of the author than you might be inclined to think
The movie begins fittingly with a stage, an audience and an orator introducing a play. He notes the curious fact that no manuscript was ever found in Shakespeare’s own hand and that, for a prestigious writer, the records of Shakespeare tell of a curious life — he retired to a small town to be a businessman. The narrator promises not a defilement of this great writer’s legacy but a tale of mystery, politics, romance and betrayal. And boy, Anonymous delivers!
As the actors behind the curtain rush to enter the stage there is a wonderful shift from play to movie. Suddenly viewers find themselves in 16th century London, following the lives of the gentry as well as the small collective of playwrights in the city. Luckily for me you don’t need to be a history buff to follow the characters. The film makes clear the identity of the Queen and her various Earls. Will Shakespeare, too, is introduced. He is portrayed as a thespian and somewhat of a greedy entrepreneur, who learned to read his letters but never learned to write them.
Who, then, wrote the magnificent plays for which he was known? The movie postulates that it was in fact a nobleman, with much training in history, geography and verse. But why was Will able to claim them? And what does this have to do with the main character, Ben Johnson, who went on to become the poet laureate of his time, and his relationship with the man behind the words? I would dearly love to tell you all of the fascinating twists and turns of the movie but those, of course, are major spoilers. You’ll have to take my word — this movie keeps historical facts in sight while offering enough intrigue to keep you on the edge of your seat.
In true Shakespearian spirit the movie ends with a bit of tragedy, mitigated somewhat by an uplifting scene highlighting the decent character of men. It’s been a while since I exited a theatre on a movie high, running through all of the best scenes with my fellow viewers. Anonymous far exceeded expectations. I should have known better than to doubt a story about the Bard.