It's been a long-standing urban legend that Shakespeare didn't actually write his own work, but now a new film brings this theory to the big screen.
In advance of his movie "Anonymous," out in theaters October 28th, director Roland Emmerich spouts off ten powerful arguments against the Stratford-upon-Avon scribe's authority as the author of 36 plays, 154 sonnets and two poems. In true Emmerich fashion -- he of catastrophe movies "Godzilla," "Independence Day," "2012" -- the movie's thunderous trailer presents Shakespeare as an elaborate ruse and hyperbolizes 16th-century England, with beheadings, sordid affairs, and a confused-looking Vanessa Redgrave thrown into the mix. My middle school English teacher may have a heart attack, but that's besides the point: Emmerich actually makes some pretty solid points throughout, the most powerful of which are presented in the video above. We've ticked off the most convincing.
- Born to illiterate parents, Shakespeare went on to possess the largest English vocabulary of any writer in history. Yet his two children, Susanna and Judith, couldn't read or write.
- The largest literary hunt in history produced not a single hand-written note by Shakespeare.
- Shakespeare makes grandiloquent references to Italian cities, French court life, and the manners and etiquette of foreign lands -- a third of his plays are set in Italy -- but no documented record exists of him having traveled outside of England.
- His last will makes no mention of any books or manuscripts, leaving the impression that he did not care about what happened to his life's work after death.
- Shakespeare retired in his late 40s and promptly returned to Stratford-upon-Avon, where he never wrote a single poem or sonnet again.
Curiously, Emmerich also makes the point that "writing comes from the heart... call me a romantic, but I believe great artists are inspire by our life," leaving us to ponder what giant earth-shattering events transpired in this disaster-loving director's own life.
UPDATE: OCTOBER 16th, 5:14pm. "Anonymous" screenwriter John Orloff wrote in to dispute our usage of the phrase "urban legend" and offer his own argument against Shakespeare, which we've copied for you below.
I'd like to think current and past US Supreme Court Justices don't believe in Urban Legends. Namely, Justices Stevens, Blackmun, O'Connor and Scalia all think there is reason to doubt the validity of the actor William Shakespeare having written the plays history ascribes to him.
As does historian David McCullough. As do authors such as Mark Twain (whose last book, "Is Shakespeare Dead" is dedicated to the issue), Henry James (who said he was "haunted by the conviction that the divine William is the biggest and most successful fraud ever perpetrated on an unsuspecting Public"), and Walt Whitman (to name a few).
As do Shakespearean actors Sir John Gielgud, Sir Derek Jacobi, and Orson Welles (who directed and starred in several Shakespeare plays). And Mark Rylance, who is not only perhaps the greatest Shakespearean actor of his generation, but a man who was also the Artistic Director of the Globe Theater in London for ten years. Think about that last name; the man who ran the Globe theater for a decade doesn't think Shakespeare wrote a single word.
And we can add Sigmund Freud in there as well.
An Urban Myth is something proven to be false. I'm not sure we're there on this particular issue.
Either way, I am reminded of Winston Churchill's statement on the subject when he was asked about the Authorship Issue. His response? He replied he wasn't that interested in Oxford because, in his words: "I don't like to have my myths tampered with".
He meant the Shakespeare myth.