Orloff [the writer of the movie --N.] brushes off such criticism of his movie as a knee-jerk response to an “academic subversion of normality.” “When you learn it’s not fact, it’s a bit unsettling,” the screenwriter said. “Why not question everything you’ve been taught?”Well, yes, in that situation I can see how that would happen, although as far as I know Orloff hasn't begun questioning the moon landing or the traditional dates of Ancient Egypt's Second Intermediate Period.
The studio plans to concurrently release Last Will. & Testament, a documentary about the authorship debate, through First Folio Pictures (a production shingle whose president is none other than Roland Emmerich) and has been providing materials to educators that encourage teachers to “make this thought-provoking new film part of your class plan.”And this worries me. I think teaching class materials based on Anonymous is a bad strategy: it's giving kids an inaccurate and incomplete picture... because Anonymous didn't go far enough. It's true that conventional views of Shakespeare are completely false. But not in the way most people think. Let me elaborate.
* * *
When I heard about Roland Emmerich's Anonymous, I was excited. Finally, a movie that wasn't afraid to take on conventional scholarship and challenge long-held beliefs about Shakespeare. But then I saw a photo of Shakespeare from the movie:
Apparently the film thinks so little of Shakespeare that he doesn't even know which direction to bow in
I'm sure you see the problem here.
You see, Anti-Stradfordians (people who don't believe Shakespeare wrote the plays) often say that we don't have any evidence that Shakespeare ever read a book, and that we don't have anything that shows he wrote the plays besides copies of works that were allegedly by him and had his name attached to them on the cover somehow, and some obviously mistaken contemporary accounts.
But that brings us to an urgent, basic issue that needs to be sorted out before we can begin questioning identities:
Did Shakespeare ever wear pants?
Think about it. We have no proof that he did. In the representations of Shakespeare that are most likely to be accurate, do we ever see any pants?
Take the Droeshout engraving from the First Folio. Here's Jonson's brief endorsement of the depiction, printed on the page facing it:
So according to Jonson, who would know what Shakespeare looked like, the engraving is a fairly accurate representation.
And this fairly accurate representation does not show any pants.
Jonson also wrote a poem for the First Folio under the title
To the memory of my beloued,
MR. VVILLIAM SHAKESPEARE :
what he hath left vs.
From thence to honour thee, I would not seeke
For names; but call forth thund'ring Æschilus,
Euripides, and Sophocles to vs,
Paccuuius, Accius, him of Cordoua dead,
To life againe, to heare thy Buskin1 tread,
And shake a stage : Or, when thy Sockes2 were on,
Leaue thee alone, for the comparison
Of all, that insolent Greece, or haughtie Rome
Sent forth, or since did from their ashes come.
Triumph, my Britaine, thou hast one to showe,
To whom all Scenes of Europe homage owe.
He was not of an age, but for all time !
1A buskin is kind of like a sandal-ish boot, with the toes exposed but the rest of the boot all laced up. It is usually associated with Athenian actors, who wore buskins when acting in tragedies.
2Socks were worn by Greek and Roman actors in comedic works and were actually a kind of shoe.
Notice how Jonson mentions the footwear but conspicuously avoids mentioning the pants. That's because Shakespeare wasn't wearing any.
Okay, so one engraving doesn't show any pants, and Jonson delicately side-steps the issue. Fine. Maybe it's just a coincidence. What about the other likely representations of Shakespeare?
Let's look at the Cobbe portrait, a recent (and controversial) entry into the "possible portraits of Shakespeare" field:
Okay, now what about the Chandos portrait, accepted by a majority of scholars as a true portrait of Shakespeare?
Are you beginning to see a pattern here?
And now let's look at the monument of William Shakespeare:
How suspicious: Shakespeare's bust doesn't include his lower body. I wonder why that could be?
This is so incredibly strange that we must concede that there can only be one explanation: Shakespeare wasn't wearing pants, which meant that the area below his torso could not be depicted in a sculpture meant for public viewing. Pubic viewing, on the other hand... (har har har, I'm hilarious)
Finally, let's see what Shakespeare's will has to say about this. This is this source of one of the anti-Stratfordian arguments: Shakespeare doesn't mention owning any books. But, as I said at the beginning, what about his clothing? Here's what the will has to say about that:
Item, I gyve and bequeath unto my saied Sister Jone XX.li. and all my wearing apparrell, to be paied and delivered within one yeare after my deceas [...]Again: no pants.
I think it's clear that Emmerich's Anonymous is only loosely based in fact and should not be taught in classrooms. If Emmerich was really serious about the Shakespeare authorship question, he should have made sure that for every scene featuring Shakespeare he was shown completely naked from the waist down. I can only hope that one day there will be an anti-Stratfordian who is open-minded enough to accept the obvious fact of Shakespeare's trouserslessness, but so far all have dismissed it as a fringe theory, refusing to take a look at the actual evidence. It's almost like there's a conspiracy to quash Shakespeare's naturist activism.
It's going to be a long battle, but I'm confident that the truth will prevail.
(I'd like to thank Bill Bryson for first pointing out the "Shakespeare-had-no-pants" theory, although he's wrong about Shakespeare not owning shoes, as we have seen)
NEXT ON THE NIMBLOG: An interview with Cracked.com's John Cheese!