10 Things I Hate About Anonymous
And the stupid Shakespearean birther cult behind it.
7. The “ghost playwright” problem. The fact that Oxford died in 1604 has always been troublesome for the Oxfordians, since someone calling himself Shakespeare continued to write plays until 1612. Most scholars agree that Shakespeare wrote a dozen plays, including some of his most profound later works—Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, The Winter’s Tale, and The Tempest—after Oxford was dead. Did Oxford somehow emanate them from beyond the grave?
Hey, no problem! Not a tough hurdle to clear if you feel free to make things up without a scintilla of evidence. (And just for the record, there is no evidence Oxford wrote any of the earlier plays, either). So let’s just say that Oxford wrote all those eight years’ worth of plays by “Shakespeare” before he died, and then have other members of the conspiracy parcel them out over the years to keep up the “Shakespeare hoax.” Voila! It explains everything but Oxford’s lost play about Lee Harvey Oswald. How could he have known? (Kidding.)
The movie can’t even get this part of the conspiracy theory straight. We’re given a scene at the end in which it’s poor Ben Jonson, a serious artist, utterly libeled beyond recognition by Anonymous, who saves Oxford’s unpublished plays from burning after his death. We see Jonson escaping with a partially burned stack of plays we’re led to believe would otherwise be lost but will be put on posthumously. But the play we see on top of the stack Jonson makes away with is Henry V, which was registered with the authorities in 1600, had been played, and was publicly available four years before Oxford’s death. So it wasn’t “rescued” at all. It was already all over the land. Little lies, big lies: What’s the diff to Anonymous? If there are any serious people among the Oxfordians, even they will be appalled.
8. The snobbery. The movie reflects the Oxfordians’ intellectual pathology: They are victims of the syndrome Freud called “the family romance.”
The “anti-Stratfordian” case—the idea that William Shakespeare of Stratford didn’t write Shakespeare—is based largely on what you might call “negative evidence”: The lack of any surviving letters written by Shakespeare or reference to his books in his will. There are gaps in Hitler’s biography as well, important ones, but as I suggested in Explaining Hitler, these gaps don’t constitute positive evidence in favor of urban legends such as the one that claims Hitler was descended from a Rothschild. I called such stories “the family romance of the Hitler explainers,” after Freud’s characterization of the fantasy that one is secretly related to royalty or aristocracy, and pointed out that a “gap” is not necessarily evidence of absence, but absence of evidence, which, in Shakespeare’s case, the passage of more than four centuries makes even more likely.
Freud used the term “family romance” to describe the wish of the neurotic patient to believe that his apparently humble origins conceal a conspiracy to hide from him or her the fact of an exotic, usually royal or noble parentage and the way his or her true legacy was stolen. It’s so obvious the Oxfordians suffer from this pathological snobbery when you read the disdain they have for the “glover’s boy of Stratford,” Shakespeare. The Oxfordians are projecting their own self-inflating neurotic “family romance” onto Shakespeare. Their belief somehow endows them with a feeling of superiority over the vast majority of “mere” common readers of Shakespeare. It’s a sign of their nobility that they recognize the noble who secretly authored Shakespeare. But Oxford is as likely a progenitor of “Shakespeare” as a Rothschild was of Hitler.
9. The poem the film might resurrect. Anonymous’ revival of Oxfordianism threatens to rejuvenate Donald Foster’s discredited theory about the so-called “Funeral Elegy,” the worst poem ever mistakenly attributed to Shakespeare.
Foster is the Vassar professor who many years ago clamied that a profoundly awful 600-line “Funeral Elegy,” long gathering dust in an Oxford (University) library, was written by Shakespeare. I was among those who spent years protesting the speciousness of this claim, until Foster finally was forced to drop it and concede that John Ford wrote the poem. The Oxfordians used to applaud the discrediting of Foster’s claim because the 1612 “Funeral Elegy”—written eight years after Oxford’s death—would tend to prove Shakespeare was not the long-dead Earl of O.
The film doesn’t mention the poem at all, but now I’ve learned that at least one Oxfordian is seeking to restore Foster’s discredited and abandoned claim in order to bolster the bogus Oxford theory. (Foster, to his credit, was careful to instruct the deluded fellow that he was not an Oxfordian.) I guess it goes to show how you can’t scotch the snake of stupidity; it just multiplies and multiplies and multiplies. That’s what I hate about this theory. It won’t stay dead. I just refuse to take seriously anyone who believes the same Shakespeare who wrote King Lear wrote the “Funeral Elegy.”
10. The failure of gratitude. The Oxfordians almost never tell you what they like about Shakespeare’s work, regardless of who he was. Or whether they like anything at all. I don’t think any (or many) of them get it at all. They’ve never contributed any useful exegesis I’ve seen. They only scan the words for Oxford code. It so sad, the continuing pathological crusade against a man who gave the world such a magnificent gift.
I have to ask the Oxfordians: If you have no gratitude, have you also no shame? Will you not repudiate this botch of a movie, which makes even your mendacious theory look like at “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”?
Ron Rosenbaum is the author of The Shakespeare Wars and Explaining Hitler. His latest book is How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III.