Friday, November 4, 2011

Oh, what a piece of work are snobs

One film I am looking forward to seeing is Anonymous. It suggests that Shakespeare did not write the plays which were published under his name but that they were, in fact, written by a member of the English nobility, Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford. I must immediately stress that not only do I not subscribe to any theory that Shakespeare did not write the plays, I don’t give a tinker’s cuss whether or not he did. At the end of the day it is the plays that matter (not that I have read them all, which is perhaps the impression I am giving, or that I am in any way ‘passionate’ about the plays. I am merely pointing out the obvious: that who wrote them, why, when, where and what he - or, I suppose, she - was drinking at the time are not necessarily relevant). The director of Anonymous is Roland Emmerich, whose film The Day After Tomorrow, was as close to total bollocks as on can get on a rainy afternoon in mid-week with nothing on the telly. So on that score Anonymous is not particularly recommended. It has also been criticised for its thesis - that Oxford was Shakespeare - and for its preposterous ‘plot’, in which Shakespeare is something of a buffoon who is hired by the bashful Earl to masquerade as the plays’ author because he, a noble, can’t be seen indulging in theatrical productions. But all that rather seems to miss the point, so I was pleased to come across a review of the film a few minutes ago in the Daily Telegraph which simply describes the film as hugely enjoyable. It has Rhys Ifans as Oxford and Rafe Spall as Shakespeare, and both are always very good value. It is also said to be very good on using computer generated graphics to recreate Elizabethan London, and I do go for that kind of thing. (In fact, for me the one redeeming feature of The Day After Tomorrow was its special effects, although even those weren’t enough to stop me stopping watching the film halfway through at the point where Dennis Quaid, the ‘scientist’ drops all and is about to set out on a 200-mile journey through winter hell on earth in order to find his son.) Purists have also been getting very angry about the portrayal in the film of the young Good Queen Bess as a right old slapper who is incapable of keeping her legs together. Me? I’m just looking forward to watching an outrageous piece of old-fashioned entertainment.

. . .

For the record, I can’t see what all the fuss is about. Given that it is the existence of the plays that matters, I feel it is irrelevant whether or not they were written by Mr William Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon. What I do find rather irritating is some of the evidence put forward for suggesting that he is not the author (as opposed to evidence put forward for others being the author). So, for example, we are asked to scoff at the notion that the son of a mere glovemaker and wool trader who didn’t ‘go to Oxford’ could have been capable of such learning as the plays’ author seems to possess. Some even describe the historical Shakespeare as ‘illiterate’, but that seems particularly wide of the mark. We know that the Stratford in which Shakespeare grew up had a grammar school at which Greek and Latin were taught, and we know that his father, the mere glovemaker and wool trader, was comparatively prosperous and that it is likely he would have wanted the best education for his son, so although there is no direct evidence that Shakespeare attended the grammar school,
it is more likely than not that he did. But what most gets up my nose about the claims that the historical Shakespeare did not write the plays is the snobbery which surrounds them. This could be caricatured as it being impossible that such great works of art could have been produced by a lower to middle middle-class oik such as Shakespeare. The author of the plays has a good knowledge of military matters and would seem to have travelled a great deal in Italy. We don’t know (the critics say carefully) that Shakespeare ever fought in the army or went to Italy. The critics are, however, careful on this matter, because we know little about Shakespeare’s early life and it is not impossible that did acquire military experience and down a pint or ten of wine in Ravioli or wherever it was the young blades of the time used to go to squire the local talent and get their rocks off. The ‘it certainly could not have been that oik Shakespeare wot rote the plays’ gang are also rather put out that the man we know as William Shakespeare was something of a hard-headed businessman who co-owned a theatre and was rather keen to get whatever money he felt he was owed. Such a grubby money-making nature does not square, in their minds and hearts, with the kind of lofty, high-minded, sensitive and exquisitely sensitive type who wrote Hamlet, Coriolanus, The Tempest and the rest. So, dear chaps, sorry, but it could not have been Will Shakespeare from Stratford. To which I simply respond: why not?

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