To be or not to be the author of 37 plays, 154 sonnets, and numerous epic poems. That is indeed the question posed by ANONYMOUS, the new historical drama opening in theaters nationwide this Friday, October 28th. Set in the political turmoil of Elizabethan England, the film dares to challenge the authorship of the works of William Shakespeare. BWW sat down with cast members Joely Richardson and Rhys Ifans, as well as the film's acclaimed director Roland Emmerich and screenwriter, John Orloff to get their thoughts on this most intriguing theory.
"Well it's not our theory, its an old theory," began ANONYMOUS screenwriter John Orloff. "People first started questioning the authorship of William Shakespeare about 150 years ago. Some of the early people who didn't think Shakespeare wrote the plays were Mark Twain, Henry James, Sigmund Freud - Walt Whitman became obsessed with it. Interestingly, a lot of writers. I don't think that's coincidental. Writers understand how you write and know that we tend to write what we know. We write from experience."
In fact the great American wordsmith Mark Twain wrote an entire book expounding upon his belief that William Shakespeare was not the author of the plays. "Twain's point was that he himself couldn't have written about the Mississippi with any authenticity had he not been a Mississippi boat pilot. He couldn't have known these people, he couldn't have had these experiences," Orloff continued. "His thesis was ‘No way could you convince me, Samuel Clemons, that that boy from Stratford could write about all of these noblemen and the intricacies of court and the metaphors of falconry and lawn bowling and tennis, if he weren't that person, if he didn't have those experiences and knowledge of medicine and law."
Orloff points out that the law references in Shakespeare's plays are so intricate that it would require a profound knowledge of 16th century law. "For a couple 100 years, people thought William Shakespeare must have been a lawyer. We don't think that anymore because there's no record of him going to any law school." Taking it one step further he argues, "There's a reason why four US Supreme Court Justices don't think William Shakespeare wrote these plays. "
If not Shakespeare, then who does deserve credit for what is often considered "the greatest expression of humanity in the English language"? According to the film's theory, the acclaim belongs to one Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. Documented evidence shows that Oxford came from a well-connectEd English family. He was a soldier, a scholar, a venture capitalist, a world traveler, a patron of the arts, and perhaps most telling, a playwright and a poet.
Actor Rhys Ifans portrays the Earl in the film and has a strong hunch that de Vere may indeed be the man to exalt. "Reading Shakespeare's work, you have to accept that whoever penned these plays would have had to have been world travelled, would almost certainly have to be a multi-linguist and would, without a shadow of a doubt, have to have had unique insights and knowledge into the workings and political dynamics of the very secretive Elizabethan Courts. Edward de Veer fits all those boxes. William of Stratford, on the other hand, does not. "
Regardless of what you chose to believe, Ifans strongly contends that the film serves an important purpose. "All I'm convinced of is that whoever wrote these works is a genius. I think it is our duty as actors, directors and spectators to question the possibilities as to who wrote these because that can only illuminate the plays. We owe it to him or her or them to answer this question. It would be a crime not to."