I know so little of the legend of William Shakespeare. I guess he wrote about a million words, of which I can recite about .0000001% of, if that. “To be or not to be.” “It is the east and Juliet is the sun.” Anonymous paints a picture of a trio of men – a playwright, an actor and an Earl – caught in a circle of political and romantic intrigue over two generations during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign. It’s an interesting time, when actors and poets were treated as the lowest of the classes and considered by the pious to be practitioners of the occult. Nowadays, they’re treated as the voice of the common man. (Praise be to Janeane Garofalo and Billy Bob Thorton.)
The set design drew me to this movie. London is shown in all it’s cold, muddy despair, with streets filled with vendors and whoring wenches. The hallways of castle and manor alike possess a stillness of a quiet and gloomy England, where the threat of upheaval and insurrection stand nearby, awaiting the calculated signal to strike at a moment’s notice. The theater in the round is both quaint and grand by way of audience interaction and booming performances.
There is an arranged marriage and the suggestion of inbreeding, the stuff of everlasting monarchs and the usual means by which power changes hands. But it is desire and love which provide the substance that makes for the creation of a million words by one man. The power of the quill is entertained and entertaining. Contrast that time to our own, where everyone is blogging, tweeting, etc., billions of words a day and creating a sea of blather, and you might view Shakespeare’s contribution to the English language as immeasurable.
But who was Shakespeare? I don’t think anyone, including the makers of this movie, knows his true identity anymore than that of Jack the Ripper. And how strange that we attribute so much of our language to someone who we cannot identify beyond a certainty. We might just as well refer to Shakespeare as God. The only difference is God demands recognition, whereas the real Shakespeare went to the grave without it.
To deliberately remain anonymous for all eternity is the makings of either a coward or a saint. But would a coward write in such verse that which would captivate the hearts and minds of so many future generations? But would a man of God challenge the throne, ordained by God, with words that might upset the balance of power among the classes? A troublemaker? A political activist? A social reformer? A community organizer? As I said, I know so little of the legend of William Shakespeare.