May 25th, 2014
(Fade to Oancitizen reading “Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?” and then slams the book shut.)
Kyle:(irate) Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. William Shakespeare wrote the plays attributed to William Shakespeare. William Shakespeare wrote thirty-seven plays including, but not limited to, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and like fifteen plays about guys named Henry.
Kyle [v/o]: On a related note, vaccines do not cause autism (word “PSEUDOSCIENCE” stamp over medical documents), Al Qaeda did cause 9/11 (Word “OUTSIDE JOB” over a photo of Osama Bin Ladden), Americans walked on the moon ( Words “NOT A SOUNDSTAGE” over a photo of Neil Armstrong on the moon), and the Queen of England is not a lizard person (words “REAL, CORGI LOVING HUMAN” over a photo of Queen Elizabeth II).
Kyle: But people still believe these things. And some people believe in this one particular thing, and Captain "Boom Everything" Roland Emmerich, believes in this one particular thing so much that he made a movie about it.
(Cut to clip of Anonymous; Ben Johnson (Sebastian Armesto) arrives at the Globe and interrogates William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) during rehearsal.)
Ben Jonson: Will Shakespeare!!
Shakespeare: Hello, Ben.
Ben Jonson: Fraud, charlatan, and counterfeiter of wit!! (wields his sword at Shakespeare.)
Kyle [v/o]: The basic premise of this movie is: Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, was an aristocrat from a Puritan household that disdained poetry, so he had his many plays published anonymously and credit was taken by a patsy named William Shakespeare, who was fat and stupid and dorky and he smelled bad and let's all throw rocks at him.
Shakespeare: This being … (stammering) What, I'm.
Kyle [v/o]: …And this asshole took all the credit from this handsome blond man with an incredible jaw line with the ability to talk like a smarty smart smart type person.
Edward: The sweet longings of a maiden, the surging ambitions of a courtier, the foul designs of a murderer, the wretched pleas of his victims. Only - when I put their words-- their voices-- to parchment are they cast loose, freed.
Kyle [v/o]: Oooh, isn't he dreamy?
Kyle: All hail Fake-speare!
Kyle [v/o]: This movie called Anonymous is a dramatization of the authorship question.
Kyle: The authorship question is basically, “who wrote the plays that William Shakespeare wrote? Was it William Shakespeare? I dunno.”
Kyle [v/o]: There are certain people who believe that Shakespeare's plays are so sophisticated, so erudite, and so brain-crappingly good, that a middle-class kid from the boondocks without a university degree couldn't possibly have written them. Why no one suspects the same of degree-less writers Maya Angelou, Truman Capote, Ray Bradbury, Mark Twain, and Charles Dickens is anyone's guess. Still, the belief goes that only someone with a vast education and a noble soul could design such masterpieces. They are so divine that even other poets can only sit in dumbfounded awe at their genius. Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Dekker, and Thomas Nashe here are all experienced playwrights but they all had to pick up their jaws off the floor after hearing about a play written entirely in verse.
(Cut to Nashe, Dekker, Jonson, and Marlowe in a pub drinking and looking over a manuscript of Romeo and Juliet on the table.)
Nashe: I could do it if I wanted to...
Marlowe: Do what?
Nashe: A play in iambic, in iambic pen...in-bic-pentameter. It's not that hard.
Jonson: Think you so? Have you ever tried?
Nashe: Of course not. But I could if I wanted...
Dekker: It wasn't all in verse.
Nashe: Ha! See?
Kyle: Alright, I need to explain how stupid this scene is. Jay-Z, Snoop Lion and the RZA all walk into a bar. Jay-Z says, “Hey, you guys hear about this new kid Kanye West?” The other two go, “Yeah, I've heard the name.” Then he goes, “Have you heard that he raps rhyming verse to a beat?” and the other two go, “Wa-a-a-ahh?!!”
Kyle [v/o]: Shakespeare's too perfect not to be made by a perfect human. It is literary creationism. Shakespeare's plays tend to be about royalty and noblemen; featuring things like tennis puns and mentions of falconry and were about things like Italy and Denmark and other such things that only someone of noble birth could have possibly known about.
Kyle: Of course, whoever wrote these plays thought that Padua had a harbor (The Taming of the Shrew), Bohemia had a coastline (The Winter's Tale), France had lions (As You Like It), and Ancient Rome had clocks (Julius Caesar).
Prologue (Derek Jacobi): His will famously left his second best bed to his widow. But it made no mention of a single book or manuscript.
Kyle [v/o]: (mimicking the prologue) And where is his birth certificate?
Kyle: So, you know, his will didn't mention any plays because he didn't own any plays; the Playhouse has owned them. Man, that was easy.
Kyle [v/o]: Hell, this all goes out the window when you remember that plays have to be, you know, staged. The author, whoever he was, wrote parts for specific actors in a specific company that were designed to be staged in specific locations. And the nature of the play is changed with changes in cast and performance venues. So, basically, the author would have to have worked closely with the King's Men for years with deep personal investment and an understanding of their talents and limitations. They had to have been written by an actor in the company and not an anonymous nobleman sending in scripts in the mail, (mimicky) but how can falcon if not posh?!?
Kyle: (disappointed) I don't like this, in case you couldn't tell.
Kyle [v/o]: Regardless, the idea that Shakespeare couldn't have written Shakespeare has been held by some otherwise intelligent and sane minds. Sigmund Freud believed that the Earl of Oxford wrote them. Mark Twain believed that Sir Francis Bacon wrote them. If you saw Jim Jarmusch's newest movie, you'll know that he believes Christopher Marlowe wrote them, (clip from “Only Lovers Left Alive”) and that he was a vampire. I'm going to use the names that they've made up for themselves, (word appears on the screen) Anti-Stratfordians. Anti-Stratfordians being people who did not think that Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the plays. And apparently among their ranks are this doofus (Roland Emmerich).
(Cut to an interview with the said person.)
Roland Emmerich: Globally, Shakespeare matters after 400 years and I hope like my movie is part of, you know, um, interests. You know, like kind of people to go out there and see Shakespeare plays.
Kyle: Guten tag, Roland.
Kyle [v/o]: Not going to lie, Roland Emmerich made a crap movie. In other words, he made a Roland Emmerich movie, with all the trappings: cast of thousands, a huge government conspiracy, one lone hero who saw it all coming, he even destroys a landmark.
Kyle: The Globe Theatre, because the White House wasn't built yet.
Kyle [v/o]: But he is the last human being on Earth to tell this non-story. It's pretty well known that his bad science (2012) is more entertaining than his bad history (10,000 B.C.). Still, without his tried-and-true plot of something bad happens and everyone has to react to it, he has no story, he just has the idea of “this dude is awesome.”
Jonson: My lord, your voice is completely different than mine--
Edward: Voice? You have no voice! That's why I chose you!
Kyle: The soul of the age, ladies and gentlemen.
Kyle [v/o]: And he tells this non-story with a framing device of Derek Jacobi in modern-day New York, then jumping back in time to Ben Jonson being interrogated about Fake-speare, jumping back to Fake-speare himself in the process of becoming Fake-speare, then jumping another level deep to Fake-speare as a kid learning all the things one needs to become Fake-speare, and then jumps back again where Tom Hanks talks about the true true (clip taken from “Cloud Atlas”) and then again into limbo (clip taken from “Inception”) and he really has no clue what he's doing, does he? He's just jumping around location and time trying to woo an audience who doesn't know or care about the Earl of Oxford or Robert Cecil or the Earl of Essex or Thomas Nashe or any person in this movie who isn't William Shakespeare or Queen Elizabeth I.
Kyle: It's a paradox. You have to know the period to understand what's going on. And if you understand what's going on, you will hate what's going on.
Edward: The Tudor Rose, the most beautiful of flowers, do you not think?
Kyle: (barely containing rage) It is a symbol. The red and white Tudor Rose was a symbol. It is NOT and has NEVER BEEN a real flower!
Kyle [v/o]: Roland (says the name with a German accent) doesn't like facts. He does however like theories. Pretty much all of his films hinge not on anything human or relatable, but on theories about aliens building pyramids (Stargate), or Area 51 (Independence Day), or the Mayan 2012 prophecy (2012), or global warming (The Day After Tomorrow), which is unfortunate because it's the only one that is actually, you know, true. You are not helping. Roland seems to enjoy these little thought experiments. Although he has a tendency to caricature his designated conspiracy-nut characters in a rather unflattering way, making them greasy, nerdy loners who have little shitty animations about their wild, stupid beliefs.
(Clip from 2012)
Computer voice: …alignment of the planets in our solar system and that only happens in every six hundred and forty thousand years.
Cartoon T-Rex: Oh, not again.
Kyle: Ha, that is ridiculous! What kind of tin foil hat wearing loony would ever make an animation like, I'm going to play a thing now!
(Cut to a web-animated Anti-Stratfordian video; The title card reads “10 Reasons Why Roland Emmerich Believes Shakespeare is a Fraud.” The words “THIS IS AN ABSOLUTELY REAL VIDEO” slowly fade in.)
Roland Emmerich: The largest literary hand in history produced not a single hand-written note of William Shakespeare, strange right?
(Roland shoots his quill at the animated Shakespeare statue and it crumbles.)
Kyle [v/o]: Anyway, Shakespeare is posh-dude because poors can't art good.
Kyle: So, why does Roland believe this? Better question, why does anyone believe it?
Kyle [v/o]: It's simple, absence of evidence mistaken for evidence of absence. We don't know much about Shakespeare's personal life. Any letters he wrote were lost to history and the only sources about him that survived are very dull legal documents: ledgers, court records, theatrical inventories, other such unromantic things. Things that don't speak to the life of a poet.
Kyle: Well, yeah, no one looks good if you only read their tax returns.
Kyle [v/o]: For example, the documents showed that he, or at least his family in Stratford, had a side business selling malt, something the Romantics weren't wild about Shakespeare doing.
Kyle: (snobbish) A divinely inspired artist selling grain? How beneath him. No creative type has ever had the need to hold a side job to make ends meet. Artists live on experience and dreams.
Kyle [v/o]: Since we don't have much that speaks the artistic life of William Shakespeare, we started looking to his plays to speculate about his nature, like building a whole dinosaur just from a footprint and a pile of fossilized dung.
Kyle: Bad metaphor, I'm not Shakespeare. Anyway, the logic behind this roughly goes as follows.
Kyle [v/o]: We have a text called “Independence Day.” It is a story of an American president, an IT expert specializing in satellite technology, and an Air Force fighter pilot who hailed from America's three most powerful cities: Political capital Washington, financial capital New York, and cultural capital Los Angeles. Cities which are destroyed when an invading alien force kabooms them until there is no more anything. Working together, the president, the engineer, and the pilot successfully destroy the aliens and a multi-pronged attack on their forces.
Kyle: Since everything about this work's creator Rol-And Em-Mer-ich has been lost to the ages we can only speculate about his nature through the work itself.
Kyle [v/o]: The focus is on America, we only see American cities destroyed and it relies heavily on reductive stereotyping to illustrate the rest of the world and the ideological basis of the film is the lore surrounding the American holiday of Independence Day. Therefore, the director must be an American who has never been outside of the country. The writer has access to some very high levels of government, otherwise how could he have known about Area 51, let alone the inner workings of the American government. We can surmise that the author was in the Air Force since both its highest paid role and the fictional president himself are fighter pilots and it's their skills which defeat the enemy. You can also guess that for a time he worked in telecommunications, for here he shows his familiarity with subject to a great extent. Politically, the director must be a Republican, since the film was made during the Clinton administration and he clearly wanted to make his president a war veteran, unlike the draft-dodging Clinton. He is also clearly Jewish and quite possibly a little homophobic and he married a stripper with whom he had a son and a daughter and naturally a beloved dog. Also, he was a Mac user.
Kyle: In conclusion, I demand that this Jewish-American tech-savvy Air Force general to come forward with his two kids and his stripper wife and his dog and his MacBook Pro and tell us why Roland Emmerich's name is on his work.
Kyle [v/o]: It's pretty much the same here. In 1920, Sir J. Thomas Looney …
Kyle: His name is pronounced Low-ney. I'm disappointed, too.
Kyle [v/o]: … published the book that first named Edward de Vere as the true author of Shakespeare. He found de Vere in the 16th century compendium of contemporary poetry--And, yes, the guy did write poetry--and thought that he kind of read like Shakespeare and he had titles and there wasn't any evidence of him caring about money, yet. So, eh, he'll do. And as a bonus, his home life kind of resembled the plot of Hamlet. So, why not? Hamlet's an autobiography now. De Vere was Hamlet, his father died when he was young, he had an unhappy marriage, not unlike Hamlet's relationship with Ophelia, and his father-in-law, Sir William Cecil, was a trusted adviser to Queen Elizabeth I, not unlike Polonius, who got stabbed by Hamlet. In the movie, Christopher Marlowe realizes this and reports Shakespeare to the Tower for dramatic treason, metaphorically killing one of Elizabeth's most trusted advisers on stage. So Shakespeare, in retaliation, kills Marlowe to silence him. Because Christopher Marlowe watched Hamlet.
Kyle: Hamlet was staged between 1599 and 1602. Marlowe died in 1593. (shrieks in anger while clenching his teeth)
Kyle [v/o]: The assumption that one has to live something before being able to write about something is nonsense and a very modern way of thinking. Yeah, sure, plenty of modern era authors use autobiography in their works. Mark Twain's time on Mississippi riverboats helped him realize the world of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, F. Scott Fitzgerald's tempestuous relationship with his wife Zelda lives on in the pages of The Great Gatsby, and Kurt Vonnegut's time as a World War 2 POW is written in vivid horror in Slaughterhouse-5. Of course, Mark Twain freed exactly zero slaves, F. Scott Fitzgerald was not a bootlegger, and Kurt Vonnegut was never abducted by aliens.
Kyle: But Shakespeare lived before biography was even a concept. Hell, he lived before biography was a word in the English language.
Kyle [v/o]: Even, if he did sneak in some of his own life, it would just be coincidental trivia. He wouldn't have thought to preserve his own experience in his fiction and no one else reserved his experience in life. In a time pre-biography, no one really thought to hold onto the letters or journals or private accounts of people, at least if they weren't royalty. And certainly not if they were nothing more than a recently popular but far from divine South Bank entertainer.
Kyle: Which is why, Roland, we don't have any evidence of his handwriting.
Kyle [v/o]: But it gets uglier. So, Oxford bangs Queen Elizabeth...
(Cut to Kyle inflammatorily and incredulously covering his face.)
Young Elizabeth: I am with child.
(cut back to Kyle in the same phase; he moans.)
(“Spanish Flea” plays)
Kyle [v/o]: The Virgin Queen was not a virgin. Also, FDR? (Cut to a picture of Fred Astaire with FDR's head Photoshopped on) Totally faking it. Yes, Oxford is so beautiful at wording that he un-virgins the Virgin Queen despite everything else we know about everything and, well, it gets better.
Robert Cecil: Elizabeth had several bastard children, Edward. She was sixteen for the first. The foundling of course has to be reared a nobleman. John De Vere, (The words “THIS IS WHAT ANTI-STRATFORDIANS ACTUALLY BELIEVE” fade in on the bottom of the screen) the previous Earl of Oxford, agreed to accept the task. He would teach you everything he knew about statecraft, marry you to his daughter, and, after Elizabeth's death, proclaim you heir. His own grandchild to follow you on the throne. But he couldn't possibly predict what kind of failure you would become! All to write...(music stops) Poetry. (beat) Nor could he predict that you would commit incest.
Kyle: (beat) Remember how I said that Freud believed in this?
Kyle [v/o]: ("Spanish Flea" plays again) In case you didn't follow that, Elizabeth had so many bastard kids she lost track of them and then she ended up schtupping her random bastard baby and having a super inbred double bastard plopped into the world.
Kyle: Okay, I thought we were only dragging one legendary genius' name through the mud but, NOPE.
Young Elizabeth: I can do what I want.
Kyle [v/o]: Her majesty Eric Cartman the First!
Kyle: So, like, why even bring this up? Because the Anti-Stratfordians hate your freedoms. I'm not even lying.
Kyle [v/o]: J. Thomas Looney was part of the Religion of Humanity, a humanist secular positivist organization, like, think the 19th century version of Scientology. Looney was basically an autocrat. He admired Elizabeth's top-down approach to government and so did a lot of Oxfordians. And because conspiracy theories have a tendency to try to make the world into something that conforms to their own prejudices, someone cooked up a theory that Elizabeth birthed a secret Prince Tudor. A boy who could have continued the Tudor line after Elizabeth's death. If only the world had accepted this man as the genius that he was. Not only the soul of the age but the savior of the monarchy. An inbred baby bomb that would've kept the slimy Scots off the throne and prevented all those pesky things that got in the way of the aristocracy like the Civil War, and losing the colonies, and democracy, and modernism. And the world would be brought into a glorious despotism under the Tudor Reign. (cut to clip of King Joffrey from Game of Thrones) All hail Prince Tudor.
Kyle: Of course, I don't think Emmerich believes all that. I don't think he really thinks with the implications of the theories he espouses, he just says them.
Kyle [v/o]: Sure, superficially, it's harmless. We don't know much about Homer, but we can still appreciate The Odyssey. Why can't it be the same for Shakespeare? I've talked a lot about our relationship with the text, but do we really need a relationship with the author? Who cares if it was written by an aristocrat or a glover's son? Can't we simply enjoy the work?
Kyle: And I'm honestly all for that. Death of the author. I would love to live in a world where I could separate the creator from the creation.
Kyle [v/o]: I'd love to live in a world where “Dancer Taking a Bow” wasn't painted by a vicious antisemite. (Edgar Degas) And Imagine wasn't written by an inveterate wife-beater (John Lennon) and Annie Hall wasn't directed by a monstrous child rapist (Woody Allen).
Kyle: I would love to live in that world, but these people don't want to believe Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare because he doesn't have a bachelor's?
(Cut to a scene where Shakespeare is having sex with a prostitute. Francesco walks in to see the action.)
Kyle [v/o]: Pah, that illiterate low-life bangs prostitutes, unlike this man (cut to de Vere) who has done nothing bad with his dick ever.
Kyle: Here's a thought, maybe Emmerich doesn't believe Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare because Emmerich can't see himself as Shakespeare.
Kyle [v/o]: At a few points in the movie, we get a montage of the various plays that Fake-speare wrote and, well, look at how they're staged.
(cut to the film's production of Henry V)
Henry V: God be with you all.
(The "hut" which is a round tower on top of the stage, contains several small cannons manned by stagehands. They shoot blank cannon shots.)
Kyle: Hmm, special effects extravaganzas full of broad comedy for the unwashed masses. Reminds me of a certain director.
Kyle [v/o]: Also relevant, Roland Emmerich was quite rich growing up. His father made a fortune founding a gardening tool company and Emmerich spent his youth traveling to Europe and America living fat off his father's wealth. He went to film school, made some well-received shorts and then barged into Hollywood as an artist that had not known genuine hardship. Making a living, attempting to connect with the populace that he can only understand through broad ugly stereotypes and so his Shakespeare is an elite artist talking down to the groundlings. I think, deep down, he only believes in Shakespeare trutherism because he wants the truth to reflect himself. Roland Emmerich wants to believe that he is Shakespeare.
Kyle: Go ahead, laugh. No seriously, laugh, like right now. Loud, long and clear. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! I want to hear you through the Internet laughing right now. Roland Emmerich sees himself as Shakespearean. Is that not hilarious? Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! Now stop laughing. Because guess what? We all want to see ourselves as Shakespearean.
Kyle [v/o]: Because strip everything away and you realize that we have no Shakespeare. He does not exist. His personal effects lost to history, the stories of his character missing in the Archives, his works, his works are all we have and his works are quite simply everything. His 37 plays, 154 sonnets, his epic poems cover so much of history, of philosophy, of folklore, human character, that Harold Bloom once called him the world's only universal writer.
Kyle: No wonder he's quoted by everyone.
Kyle [v/o]: And because of his breath, we can conceive of his plays in every possible mode: As bombastic and hip (Romeo + Juliet), as casual and breezy (Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing), as brutal and fascist (Ian McKellan's Richard III), as soft and fantastical (Derek Jarman's The Tempest), as sleazy and pornographic (A Midsummer Night's Cream), as youthful (Ten Things I Hate About You), as ancient (Titus), as futuristic (Forbidden Planet), as European (Olivier's Henry V), as Asian (Throne of Blood), as African (The Lion King), as American (West Side Story), as low-brow and common and, yes, as noble and authoritarian (Anonymous). Jacobi starts the movie by mockingly using this phrase.
Prologue: Our Shakespeare, rise ... Our Shakespeare... For he is all of ours, is he not?
Kyle: OUR Shakespeare, but what more perfect phrase can be used?
Kyle [v/o]: Shakespeare is our Shakespeare whether you think he was a man from Stratford or not. Emmerich's Shakespeare is a privileged mass entertainer because Emmerich is a privileged mass entertainer. Just as Whedon's Shakespeare is a breezy communalist as Jarman's Shakespeare is a mad alchemical hermit.
Kyle: As my Shakespeare is … I'm not sure who my Shakespeare is, but I know that he's mine and yours as well.
Kyle [v/o]: But as this month comes to a close, maybe you have a close idea of who your Shakespeare is.
Kyle:I think I'm going to do this next year (slowly smirks).
(Credits, scored to "Brush Up Your Shakespeare", by Michael McCormick and Michael Mulheren; Lindsay Ellis is credited as "Emmerich Expert Emerita")