Joan Smith: It's the aristo that was the Bard – or maybe the giant lizard

 

Share
Related Topics

Poor old William Shakespeare hasn't had much luck in movies. He didn't get his girl in the truly appalling Shakespeare in Love, and now he's about to be accused of not writing his own plays in a new Hollywood film.

Anonymous opens in the US next month and is directed by Roland Emmerich of Godzilla fame. It stars Rhys Ifans, whom I last saw as a sex-crazed DJ in The Boat That Rocked, as the Earl of Oxford – sorry, that should be "the 17th Earl of Oxford who is the true author of all these plays". That's what Emmerich says, anyway.

I'm already picturing Ifans morphing into a giant lizard and swallowing the upstart actor from Stratford while Vanessa Redgrave – for it is she playing Elizabeth I – urges him on.

Emmerich has tried to bolster his thesis about the Earl of Oxford being the plays' real author with the claim that Ms Redgrave shares his doubts about Shakespeare. I'm not sure it helps, given that the actress has previously supported loony causes, but there are discussion groups on the internet asking "Is Shakespeare a fraud?". I can't help thinking old William isn't currently anything at all, having been dead for four centuries.

The real problem with Shakespeare is that he just isn't enough of a celeb for modern tastes. The idea that someone pretty ordinary could have written the plays and sonnets goes against romantic notions about genius; it doesn't meet the demand that writers have to be tempestuous and tortured, in the mode of Hemingway or Lord Byron. If Shakespeare were around today, he would have reporters door-stepping him with questions about his marriage: "Have you had a row with Anne Hathaway? You haven't been seen together for some time."

Authorship and celebrity have become so entwined that it's anathema to suggest it wouldn't matter if we had no idea who wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare. I've learned a great deal from the biographies of some authors, but there are writers I admire, from the ancient world in particular, about whom I know next to nothing. Writers differ enormously in this respect, from authors who directly incorporate their own experience into their work to those who barely allude to it, and it's perfectly possible to enjoy a novel or play without knowing much about its creator.

Biographical details are relevant when they bleed into the work itself – think of the debates about T S Eliot's anti-Semitism, for instance – but it's not unusual to discover a chasm between someone's internal world and their everyday existence.

This species of pointless controversy isn't confined to literature. There are tediously frequent claims that someone has discovered the identity of the Victorian serial killer Jack the Ripper, and a common theme in these sensational "revelations" is the elevated status of the favoured candidate. Whether we're talking about a world-famous playwright or a serial killer, the names put forward tend to belong to aristocrats or people famous for something else; the eccentric American crime writer Patricia Cornwell has wasted a huge amount of money, for instance, trying to "prove" that the Ripper murders were committed by the Victorian painter Walter Sickert. It's a weird form of snobbery, excluding ordinary people from the ranks of the great and the good – and the very bad.

On second thoughts, I might go and see Anonymous. But only if it turns out that Shakespeare's plays were written by the giant lizard.





www.politicalblonde.com;

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Mr. Cameron is beginning to earn small victories in Europe

Andrew Grice
Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar  

The Only Way is Ethics: The paper’s readers and users of our website want different things

Will Gore
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick