In the Los Angeles Times, a Shakespeare scholar and a screenwriter have come to literary fisticuffs over a new movie about the Bard of Avon. The movie
is Anonymous, Roland Emmerich's new film (likely to be somewhat less
special-effects heavy than his last
). It deals with the popular debate over the authorship of Shakespeare's plays. James Shapiro
Columbia English professor and author of Who Wrote Shakespeare? thinks the debate is rubbish, and that promoting theories about alternative authorship devalue what is most important about Shakespeare. Here's his argument, and
screenwriter John Orloff's slightly huffy response:
- What Made Shakespeare Greatest: His Imagination Shapiro
says the "conspiracy theories" the film endorses rely on a uniquely
modern misconception: that "most writing--of the past no less than the
present--is confessional or at least experiential, and that you had to
live it to describe it." Those who think the Earl of Oxford is a more
likely author of Twelfth Night than William Shakespeare are buying into
this shallow view of human literary capacity, formed through the recent
saturation of the book market with memoirs. Shapiro argues that even
"a quarter-century ago all this was unimaginable" and points to a number
of former Supreme Court justices' opinions favoring Shakespeare. Our "comfort level with conspiracy" has gone up, he
concludes, and no one should delude themselves about the damage of
Encouraging audiences to believe that the
plays are little more than the recycled story of a disgruntled
aristocrat's life and times devalues the very thing that makes
Shakespeare so remarkable: his imagination.
- Shakespeare (Whoever He Was) Will Remain Great John Orloff
contests Shapiro's assertion that the debate is ridiculous, and points
out that, though the Earl of Oxford did die before Shakespeare's last
plays were published, "in fact, historians do not know the precise
dating of any of the plays; they only make best guesses." He objects to
Shapiro disparaging the film before having seen it, and offers the
following rebuttal to the charge of "do[ing] a disservice to
I would ask Shapiro the following: Does
he really think so little of the 37 plays and 154 sonnets -- and the
genius who wrote them -- that he believes one film could possibly
destroy their 400-year-old legacy?
I would respectfully suggest no. That legacy is quite safe, whoever wrote the plays.
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