Friday, 20 November 2015

The Film 'Anonymous' - but essentially Edward de Vere not Shakespeare!

Edward de Vere

The Film ‘Anonymous’ – but essentially Edward De Vere not Shakespeare!

I have just watched an amazing film - ' Anonymous'.

It is a well-known fact of course, that there is a body of opinion that argues that Shakespeare did not write all those great plays. When I heard it, I basically dismissed it as just being ‘sour grapes’.

However, several months ago I read a brilliant book by Jonathan Black, called 'The Secret History of the World'  (published by Quercus, London, 1988) which just turned so many of what are thought of as conventional wisdoms and historical facts, on their head. And we did a little research into some of it, and some of what Black says is certainly right, such as the fact that many important people in history have been Freemasons and members of secret societies. 

One of the things that Black argued was that Shakespeare did not write all these plays by himself; but instead that he was probably assisted and inspired by Francis Bacon. Black said that Shakespeare did not have the right and necessary background to write all those plays; or at least, certainly not by himself.

This got me thinking, especially as, on a personal basis, I have always had certain issues with Shakespeare, if the truth be told, but that’s something of another story altogether and perhaps for another day…

Anyway, we got involved with watching 'The White Queen' and 'The Tudors' and all this lead us to return to this Shakespeare theme. Gregory Rikowski found what looked to be an amazing and insightful film on the web: 'Anonymous' starring Vanessa Redgrave and Derek Jacobi; directed by Roland Emmerich and written by John Orloff, 2011. We bought it and have just watched it. Amazing! It just turns many of the conventional wisdoms about Shakespeare on their head. Even the 'Daily Star' said it was 'Stunning' and gave it 8 out of 10 and the Radio Times gave it 4 stars.

The film is based on a book and the author decided to look at things the other way round. Rather than trying to get the evidence to fit Shakespeare and the plays together (the way it is normally done), focusing for example on Shakespeare’s grammar school education and how that classical education helped to equip him to write the plays, he asked questions such as - 'What type of person is likely to have written these plays?'; 'What type of background are they likely to have come from?' 'Where might they have lived?" etc. Now, this immediately struck a chord with me. Since writing my own novels I have come to see that this approach is the more correct one, rather than just thinking that novelists and playwrights create their stories and fantasies purely out of, or at least, mainly out of ‘thin air’. Rather, they get much of their material from life. Now, what in Shakespeare's life gave him the material to write these plays? Well, not very much really, it would seem. This is the message that the film conveys.

But I thought the film would focus on Francis Bacon, but no, there was not a whisper about him at all. Instead, in the film it is Edward de Vere who wrote all those plays, and sonnets. Now, if you think about it, it really had to be one person, I think, because of the similarity in style throughout (you know, as opposed to the theories that say they were written by several people). Perhaps, others could have changed them a bit here and there, to make them 'fit' Shakespeare, but essentially I think it had to be the work and inspiration of one person. Again, I came to this conclusion from my own writing journey.

Now, the film puts the case that Edward de Vere is the most likely candidate to be this one person, for a variety of reasons; and it is a very, very powerful argument indeed. De Vere had the right aristocratic background and would have had an education and background that was well versed in history in general, the history of the monarchs in particular, the classics, Latin etc. He was part of the nobility. A number of the plays are also set in Italy and de Vere lived there for 2 years, thus giving him plenty of material, but there is no evidence that Shakespeare ever lived in Italy at all. And on the other hand, wherever would Shakespeare have acquired all this vast knowledge from? It just does not add up.

There is also another point: How could one man – i.e. Shakespeare, possibly have achieved so much in one life-time? Basically, we are told that he was a playwright; a poet; an actor; a businessman; an entrepreneur (setting up the Globe Theatre etc); a promoter of plays; a family man etc. etc. Now, Mozart in contrast, for example, was a brilliant composer but was hopeless with money, and no good at all as a businessman. But apparently, Shakespeare had it all. Come on!

And on top of that he was no ordinary playwright either – no, he knew loads about history, about various monarchs, he was familiar with the Classics, Greek and Latin, he had a lot of legal knowledge etc. etc. However, did he acquire all of this knowledge? The considered wisdom is that Shakespeare acquired it from his grammar school education. But however could he achieve all of that from school? He did not go to university of course. Also, he had such inside knowledge on so many topics. And on top of all of that, the playwright knew and understood just so much about the human condition.

Whilst Shakespeare’s actual background tells a different story. His father was illiterate and his 2 daughters were illiterate. In the film Shakespeare could read but could not write.  Also, he did not spell his name as ‘Shakespeare’ and his signature itself looks somewhat suspect. However, I find it hard to believe that he could not write – that seems rather extreme. If he could read (which he would surely need to be able to do, as an actor), then surely he could write? But I reckon that his writing style was quite basic, and certainly nothing like the beautiful writing style in all of those brilliant plays. Derek Jacobi in the film said that no manuscripts of the plays has ever been found in Shakespeare’s name, and there was no mention of the plays in his will.

So, it all really does not add up. Are we having ‘the wool pulled over our eyes’? – it certainly looks like it.

Also, there are the Cecils'; the family that had tremendous power and influence over Elizabeth I; they were the Queen’s advisors. Now, apparently Robert Cecil was a hunchback. Richard III in Shakespeare’s play was a hunchback of course. When I first watched Shakespeare’s Richard III I believed the simple message and thought that Richard III was a truly terrible person, going around killing everyone so that he could succeed to the throne. Then, after watching ‘The White Queen’ and reading all those novels by Philippa Gregory around the War in the Roses period I was convinced that this was completely wrong. Rather that it was the Red Queen in the background who was obsessed about getting her son, Henry Tudor on the throne, and would stop at nothing in order to achieve that aim (and so various people died, including the 2 princes in the tower). Indeed, she had some similarities to Livia, Augustine’s wife in Roman times, who was obsessed about getting her son Tiberius to be Emperor and would stop at nothing in order to achieve that goal. Many people were poisoned. So, Phillipa Gregory shows that some women in history were very intelligent and had a lot of power and influence in the background, even if we do not like their actions! So, the Richard III play was not simply about Richard III at all; but rather it was trying to get people to see the Cecils' for the corrupt and power-mad people that they were. This was the message in the film anyway.

Also, after all Henry VIII’s dreadful behaviour someone probably wanted to expose the awful corruption that was going on around the monarchy and their advisors, so felt driven to write the plays – Edward de Vere was in the right place at the right time and had the motivation to be able to do this. But of course, he had to disguise himself, and could not have them in the public domain under his own name.

I think that society, today, is too much in awe of Shakespeare; he is almost seen to be a Demi-God. Look at the Globe Theatre, for example (wonderful though it is). Clearly, whoever wrote all those plays was incredibly gifted and understood the human condition so well, on top of everything else.  But that does not mean to say that he was also a very good businessman, a good actor etc. The whole thing is very unhealthy and it exposes lots about the problems of British society.

I think I will be able to engage with the plays somewhat better and easier in the future now, with hopefully a better and clearer idea about their underlying messages and where they were likely to be coming from. So, the film ‘Anonymous’ has done me a great favour, if only for this reason! I will look at it all with somewhat different eyes now. I reckon there are lots of hidden messages in the plays which we cannot see because we are not looking at things straight. I will gradually get to watch the plays again, but through a different lens and are likely to have some further insights.


  1. It's nice to come across someone who thinks for themselves and looks to the evidence for the truth, not the conventional wisdom. There are some very good books on the authorship question which I would suggest:

    Shakespeare By Another Name by Mark Anderson
    The Mysterious William Shakespeare by Charlton Ogburn
    I Come to Bury Shaksper II by Steven Steinburg

    There are many others as well.

    1. Thanks for your comment Howard. Yes, the film 'Anonymous' is very powerful but I am now letting the whole thing bed down a little, and I am keeping an open mind. I am currently reading a book by James Shapiro called 'Contested Will: who wrote Shakespeare?'. Shapiro looks at Shakespeare, Bacon and Oxford but comes down on the side of Shakespeare. It is interesting to learn more about the author of the book 'Shakespeare Identified', J. T. Looney. The film 'Anonymous' was inspired by this book and was based on it. Also, to discover that Freud read the book and was convinced. However, the idea that De Vere was both Elizabeth 1's son and lover does seem a bit far-fetched, and this is one of the many points that Shapiro makes. Thanks for your book recommendations too. Perhaps, in time I will read some of these other books, and may even write another blog entry - have to see.

  2. Dear Howard,

    Well, I have gone on quite some journey with all of this. I am now, in essence, convinced that Edward De Vere did indeed write the plays. I bought and read ALL of the books that you recommended, and amazingly my husband read most of them too! We were enthralled. They were all so well-written as well. Thank you so much for giving me such good recommendations. The authors approached the topic from different angles, and that made us feel even more certain that it was De Vere. You know, ‘I come to Bury Shakspere’ focusing more on why it could not have been the Stratford man; Anderson’s book looking at the plays in more detail and marrying it up with De Vere’s life; and Ogburn spending more time looking at De Vere’s actual life. Together, they are extremely powerful – the trinity, eh! I also bought Looney’s book ‘Shakespeare Identified’ but found that the other books had really gone through his basic arguments, but in more detail. Still, all this is very much down to Looney first ‘discovering’ all of this, of course.

    I have also read some other books, to try to get a more rounded feel and perspective on it all – you know to avoid any chance of just jumping on the ‘De Vere’ band wagon, as it were. In terms of Stratfordian books, I have read all or parts of the following books:

    ‘Shakespeare: the world as a stage’ by Bill Bryson

    ‘Shakespeare and the Nature of Women’ by Juliet Dusinberre

    ‘English Drama Before Shakespeare’ by Peter Happe

    ‘Shakespeare the Man’ by A. L. Rowse

    ‘Contested Will’ by James Shapiro (looking at Bacon, Oxford (De Vere) and traditional Shakespeare but coming out on the side of the Stratford man. The debate between De Vere and Shakespeare is often referred to as the Stratfordians versus the Oxfordians, of course).

    ‘William Shakespeare’ by Michael St John Parker

    Then, I bought one book that focused on Francis Bacon:

    ‘Shakespeare, Bacon and the Great Unknown’ by Andrew Lang – but that was not very good. Not very well-written and no proper references.

    Then, a book suggesting that a lot of it was written by someone quite different – by Thomas Sackville. This book is:

    ‘The Apolcryphal William Shakespeare: Book One of A ‘Third Way’ Shakespeare Authorship Scenario’ by Sabrina Feldman.

    But this book seemed to be more of an academic exercise, with academics trying to make a name for themselves by suggesting it was someone different.

    (Cont on next comment - as it won't all fit into this comment!)

    1. However, it was only the De Vere books that were really engaging, powerful and convincing. The other books lacked authenticity and were not compelling reading. This is because the authors essentially had to ‘make a lot of stuff up’ and so they could not be so convincing and persuasive – I feel sure about this now. And I feel this even more keenly now that I am writing my own novels. Much of the material written by fiction authors and playwrights comes from the authors’ own experiences and background. I have recently been revisiting Charles Dickens and did not realise before, just how many of his novels are based on his actual life. Quite amazing really! The stories around debtors prisons (e.g. ‘Little Dorrit’ and ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’) being based around and building on the fact that Dickens’ father was in a debtors prison

      In addition, I love Derek Jacobi and he is convinced that it was De Vere too – just to put the icing on the cake. Derek Jacobi, through his wonderful performance as Claudius, in particular, in the BBC Series ‘I Claudius’, based on Robert Graves book, taught me just so much about the Roman Empire and its power struggles, its culture and its workings.

      I now feel that the time is ripe to move on and re-watch some (at least) of the Shakespeare plays, but through the eyes of De Vere being the writer rather than the Stratford man. I think that would now be more productive than continually reading around the subject (especially as many academics can make names for themselves by coming up with different ‘theories’, which can detract from the main game). I do not want to find myself just reading loads of books about various possibilities – I am much keener on trying to get to the truth!

      By getting to the truth many, many more people can enjoy the plays and also only then can we properly understand what they are about. This can also then be tied up with politics, culture, economics and history. This can then help us to understand our current political system, the English culture that we are now embedded into, our sense of history and the monarchy etc. It can all fit together. The plays are written from an aristocratic, pro-Feudal point of view, where the monarchy is valued. At the same time, the plays are not just straight historical dramas, but about different facets of the playwright’s life (this is what Anderson, in particular, convinced me/us of). With this in mind, I recently watched ‘Henry V’ (with Derek Jacobi being the Chorus). Looking at it through the eyes of De Vere being the writer of the play it all made a lot more sense to me. And Henry V came out very much as being the hero, recapturing France (even though it caused so much bloodshed). Also, Henry V had just so many of the beautiful and poetic lines and speeches. So, more anon on all of this (in all probability) …. It certainly is a fascinating and important subject.

    2. Ruth (& of course, Glenn), It's always exciting to me these days to meet a fellow-oxfordian! I wanted you to know that a group of highly esteemed scholars have written a rebuttal to James Shapiro's THE YEAR OF LEAR: SHAKEPEARE IN 1606. Edited y Mark Anderson, Alexander Waugh, and Alex McNeil. It is the latest in the Oxfordian body of research; you can find it on Kindle. It is another eye-opener, when you thought it would be hard to have another!
      (Also, the picture at the top of the pg is John de Vere, father of Edward. But hey, the whole father issue?) New eyes, new thoughts - it makes reading and seeing the plays that more exciting! Good luck with your ongoing voyage in this brave new world.....
      ~ Miriam

    3. Another book you might consider, if you have not already, is the powerful "Shakespeare by Another Name" by Mark Anderson - now considered the most important shakespeare biography of the last 400 yrs. The best exploration of de Vere i have ever read. As City Pages in Minneapolis wrote: "Prepare to have the earth move under your feet."

  3. Thanks Miriam. I didn't know about this latest book edited by Anderson, Waugh and McNeil. Looks really good! But it's only available on Kindle, isn't it, and I don't have one. It wouldn't be good for my eyes to have one, either. Hopefully, it will come out in a book format, at some point. I see that there are a lot of critical reviews of Shapiro's 'The Year of Lear' book though, which is good. I read Shapiro's other book, 'Contested Will' with an open mind (I wasn't quite so persuaded of the Oxfordian position at that point). But I didn’t find it a very engaging read overall (which now I realise it could not be, because it isn’t based on solid ground!). So, half way through it, I turned to the books that Howard Schumann recommended (see his comments on this blog above). I read all 3 of the books that he recommended, and one of them was Anderson’s book ‘Shakespeare by Another Name’, which as you rightly say, is a brilliant book. Finally, I have changed the pic of my blog now, to a painting of Edward De Vere that is in the National Portrait Gallery. Once again, thanks so much for your comments. It is a fascinating subject and I will write another blog about it all at some point, I feel sure.

  4. I have just had a look at your blog Miriam. It is absolutely beautiful.