Was he or Not was he, that is the question – Anonymous Review

William Shakespeare. Unless you’ve been living under a rock your entire life, William Shakespeare is a name you’re familiar with. A name you’ve probably studied in depth in high school, a name associated to many plays you’ve read (Macbeth, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet) or many modernized movies you’ve seen without even realizing it’s a Shakespeare adaptation (10 Things I Hate About You, She’s the Man, Get Over It). Shakespeare was a legendary historic poet and playwright, often considered the greatest writer in the English Language. But was he also a fraud?

Last night was the prescreening of the movie Anonymous, which explores the controversial theory that all the works of Shakespeare were actually written by an Elizabethan aristocrat named Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford who used the power of theatre to speak to the people and create an uprising against the monarchy.


A literary prodigy,writing his first play (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) at age eight, Edward (Rhys Ifans) held a prominent place in court and was taken under the wing of the Queen Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave)’s advisor William Cecil (David Thewlis) after the passing of his parents.

The intention was to groom him to be an obedient component of the monarchy, but the strapping romantic continued to write his plays, fell willingly into the young Queen’s bed and defied all his responsible duties, causing more trouble than the court had bargained for.

With the Queen’s advisor Cecil on his death bed and his son, Robert, anxious to continue his father’s scheme to bring James of Scotland in as heir to the crown, Edward knew he had to do something to ensure that the Queen’s true heir, one of her many hidden bastard sons, found his place on the throne. He decides to use his plays as a device to speak to the common people and eventually coerce them into an uprising against the Queen.

Realizing he could not pen his own name to the plays, Edward approaches struggling playwright Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto), imprisoned for his own controversial play, and offers him his freedom if he puts his name to the plays and has them performed. A true poet through and through, Jonson sees this act as offensive and declines to sign his name, but stages the play anyway, naming an anonymous playwright.

The play is a huge success and the crowd demands to know who penned it. It’s at that point that an illiterate drunk actor by the name of William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) appears on stage and pretends to be the playwright. Shakespeare becomes the front man for Edwards plays and thus, the legendary Shakespeare is born.

The movie itself plays out like an authentic Shakespearian tragedy with plenty of scandalous love affairs, betrayals and twists. A strong, well acted British cast of relatively unknowns helps put real substance to the story, which was written solely on aged gossip and no actual historical evidence, and make the entire scenario seem plausible and believable.

Though it may not be for everyone, literary buffs with an appreciation for Shakespeare or period pieces such as this will find it an interesting watch. There is little action, but it’s the historical conspiracy that draws you in and the scheming characters who keep you enthralled. Not to mention the vindictive web laced with secrets and lies that tangles itself around all the key players.

Anonymous creates an intriguing take on a well known historical figure, leaving you wondering how much of the story was historically accurate and how much was fabricated for the sake of entertainment. And while the truth of the man behind the quill may be forever lost on the world, his words will forever resonate through the ages.

images from google images

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