Anonymous: Was Shakespeare a Fraud?

Thanks so much to Elizabeth Files visitor, Alexis, for telling me about this movie which is due to be released in the USA in the Autumn (Fall). “Anonymous”, from Sony Movies and 2012 director Roland Emmerich, asks the age-old question, “Who was Shakespeare?”, which has been debated for many years.

Did the man William Shakespeare from Stratford-upon-Avon really write the many plays and sonnets we associate with him? “No”, argue some notable scholars and actors who argue for the likes of the Earl of Oxford (Edward de Vere), Francis Bacon or Christopher Marlowe, but “yes” argue the Stratfordians. You can read more about the debate and the various theories in the following articles/websites:-

I can’t say that I’ve really looked into the subject and the only book I have read on the Oxfordian theory just did not convince me but I must say that I’m looking forward to Anonymous, which stars Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Elizabeth I, her daughter Joely Richardson as the young Elizabeth and Rhys Ifans as Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford. Here is what the SonyPictures You Tube channel says about the film:-

“Set in the political snake-pit of Elizabethan England, Anonymous speculates on an issue that has for centuries intrigued academics and brilliant minds ranging from Mark Twain and Charles Dickens to Henry James and Sigmund Freud, namely: who was the author of the plays credited to William Shakespeare? Experts have debated, books have been written, and scholars have devoted their lives to protecting or debunking theories surrounding the authorship of the most renowned works in English literature. Anonymous poses one possible answer, focusing on a time when cloak-and-dagger political intrigue, illicit romances in the Royal Court, and the schemes of greedy nobles hungry for the power of the throne were exposed in the most unlikely of places: the London stage.”

and here is the trailer:-

20 thoughts on “Anonymous: Was Shakespeare a Fraud?

  1. Does anyone find it hilarious that Vanessa Redgrave is playing Elizabeth? I just finished watching as Mary, Queen of Scots on Netflix last week!

  2. Hello Claire,
    I have been following this movie from the early stages, but only this week did I find out it had a tentative release date, and have only just seen the trailer, thanks to you!
    I personally think the Oxfordian authorship is highly likely, and have attended several academic talks on this subject, as well as done some reading. Everyone can agree to disagree on the authorship, but I think ANY candidate is better that “Will Shaksper” of Stratford-on-Avon! There is absolutley NO basis other than the name that he wrote these wonderful plays!
    The trailer leaves me feeling that the movie will be more of a literary thriller/conspiracy theory movie than a biopic, like it was originally marketed as. While I am not particularly thrilled about the “DaVinci code treatment” for this film, as we agreed on Twitter, anything with Vanessa Redgrave and Joely Richardson is sure to shine! Also, Rhys Ifans is fantastic, so I could not be more delighted about the casting choices.
    I must say, It is pretty impressive how they CGI’d the Globe Theatre and the city along the Thames in the trailer-It is enchanting to see a rendering of how London would have looked in the 16th century.
    I cannot even begin to imagine what the budget for this movie was!
    I have linked your two wonderful sites to my own at
    Semper Eadem,
    Ashlie (@ERITudor)

    1. Hi Ashlie,
      This movie does look intriguing and I have high hopes for it with Joely Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave being in it. I actually saw Joely Richardson in Macbeth many many years ago at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, she was just starting in the acting world and was playing one of the witches, how things have moved on for her!

      Like you, I wonder if it’s going to be Da Vinci Code-esque but however they treat the whole Earl of Oxford theory it looks like it is going to be worth seeing, with a stellar cast and wonderful CGI to bring the period to life. Must see this!

  3. This movie look intriguing, but I fear how far the Oxfordian theory will be taken. I’ve read several articles (whose name I cannot recall) stating the film will follow the outlandish theory of Oxford being Elizabeth’s child (with Seymour, no doubt), and in turn, they have a incestous love affair. Too far for me to take seriously. I need evidence to believe any of this.
    After reading Paul Streitz’s book on the Earl of Oxford being Shakespeare (and his ridiculous attempt at the Prince Tudor Theory) I cannot take the Oxfordian theories seriously. The absence of evidence is not proof of anything. Just saying!
    I’ve always though that the Earl fo Derby (a black horse candidate for Shakespeare) is a much better and more likely candidate.
    Regardless, I don’t really care who wrote Shakespeare’s plays, sonnets, etc. I am just glad someone (or many people) wrote them, and they still exist to be enjoyed.
    Just my opinion…

  4. I’ld read that Joley was playing Elizabeth but didn’t know which film. I had wondered about casting a fortyseven year old actress as Elizabeth before she was Queen but with Vanessa playing her in her later years it looks like it could work.

  5. I’ve seen the trailer and was immediately THRILLED! I knew of the Oxford theory and others proposed as well. I like to think Will Shakespeare really was Will Shakespeare because I think genius can happen regardless of class and education. I have not made a huge study of the theories but intend to after I see the movie–I wish we could get MORe movies made of these times!!

  6. Unless you have some hard evidence, then don’t bother me with conspiracy theories, You need proof to back up a claim as big as that one. I am sick of aliens landing in area 51, the whole crop circle story, Masonic theories – all without evidence. A good cast can not get me to spend $8 on a movie.

  7. While the Prince Tudor Theory is unlikely, the claim of Oxford (Edward de Vere, 17 th Earl of Oxford) as the author Shakespeare is not. De Vere’s Life is Hamlet’s and in many of his other plays and sonnets. The source of his knowledge of Italy is from his stay, 1575/76 there, with Venice (Merchant!) as his base.Shy (Lok) a real figure he knew and dealt with. The real conspiracy is that there was a front man needed, William Shaksper, from Stratford, who himself left no literary trail – as everybody knows, probably could not even write..(his father and daughters were illiterate). If you bother to read more: with many book references. ‘Hard evidence’ for something that needed to remain a secret in Elizabethan times is hard to find, but there are many ‘smoking guns’ and a tremendous amount of circumstantial evidence – if you are willing to accept, Lisa Davis, that the Stratford Man’s being Shakespeare was a myth (To the actor Lesley Howard on stage, refusing a copy of J. Thomas Looney’s ‘Shakespeare Identified’ as the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, Winston Churchill remarked: :” I don’t want my myth tampered with”) or read:, if you will. Dimensions are added to your understanding of the plays once you know about the difficult and conflictuous life of DeVere, courtier of Elizabeth, married to Burhley’s daughter Anne (Ophelia) who gave him (cf Lear) three daughters. There is more, but only if you are interested..

  8. Hi Lisa Davis. You raise the issue of a lack of “hard evidence” in the Oxfordian theory. Fair enough. So what hard evidence is there for William of Stratford as the author of the Shakespeare canon? Suppose the First Folio attributed the plays to the Earl of Oxford. To what hard evidence would you point to make the case that it was Stratford William who really wrote the plays? And conspiracies? Shakespeare’s plays are full of them! Cheers.

  9. This movie is likely to step dramatically not only into 16th century England but into the modern institutional paralysis about facing evidence Elizabeth’s ministers suppressed the inconvenient author of the Shakespeare canon, which led to the original authorial ambiguity and eventual belief in a quite unlikely author. The academic community has by and large made it taboo to doubt the received story and consequently twisted its reasoning into a pretzel making insubstantial myth look factual. Now the artistic wing of American and English culture has dramatized the original history, so far as we know it. The evidence for incest is thin. The evidence for Shakespeare aligning with the personality, education, philosophy, genius, and political struggles of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, is strong. The enormous error in figuring out the history makes a good story in itself. But first the drama of the beginnings. It opens in late October.

  10. I saw Anonymous in March this year. It is absolutely awesome. Best film I’ve seen since 1996’s Trainspotting.
    I will go and see it again. I hope they haven’t edited too much out. It was 3.5 hours when I saw it.
    The theory behind it is fascinating (except it goes to far with its Oedipus-theme) – and the best the Bill Shakspere supporters can retort with (Simon Callow) is that the Edward de Vere believers are just snobs. What an out-of-date and faintly amusing riposte.
    What undermines old Bill from the obscure hamlet of Stratford is the complete absence of evidence that his closest friends and family had even an inkling that he wrote anything. His son-in-law, a local doctor, mentions some minor local worthy as a well-known poet but never once boasts he is married to the daughter of the “soul of the age”!

  11. I came to read this article but couldnt because you have this stupid pop ad with out a way to close sitting in the middle of the page. USER EXPERIENCE FAILURE!!!

    1. Sorry you had problems with the site. The pop up has a close button and is only there when you first visit so if you refresh or come back to the page you don’t see it again.

  12. I remember asking my father about this very question when I had first heard the different theories. My father was a political author and journalist and his answer was simple…does it really matter what the name of the author was, the amazing thing is that there was only ONE author. It always stuck with me.

  13. I honestly don’t lean one way or the other as far as the theories go. Does it really matter that much to condescend and belittle those who do not agree with you and providing vague allusions to textual research to elevate yourself? No. As far as I am concerned Shakespeare should not be appreciated or judged by a literal personage that cannot be pinpointed within the annals of recorded history. Shakespeare is first and foremost and embodiment of literary genius, and icon of poetic beauty, and a master of his craft who has left us wonderful texts that have yet to be matched in their eloquence and wonder. Whether or not those words were composed by a body carrying a the title or earl or not doesn’t really make a difference in the long run. Would anyone’s opinions of Hitler change if it was proposed with good reasoning that he was a fall guy? Doubtful.

  14. I saw “Anonymous” the day after it opened. It wasn’t what I expected. I won’t go into details of how I thought the movie would play out. But I must say, it was awesome!! It was a wonderfully talented cast and I recommend that everyone go see this movie. And also, to keep an open mind. The fact is, there is no evidence that Shakespeare did or did not write these plays, poems and sonnets. I enjoyed seeing it from the perspective of the Earl of Oxford that he might be the one who was the true author. Although it really doesn’t matter who wrote the plays, Will Shakespeare will always go down in History as the author. But, I still find it interesting that he (Shakespeare) did not leave one book, or diary, no manuscripts, no letters, etc to his family or friends in his will. A man of such literary stature, I find that quite strange. And because of that reason, it intrigued my interest that it is possible he didn’t write the plays and could have been a front man to the Earl of Oxford. A great movie!!

  15. The Oxfordian theory has two things going for it. Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet both existed before Shakespeare could have written them, and William of Stratford would never have been allowed to satirize so many high born individuals as he does in the plays, showing that he knew way more about the Cecil family than an outsider would. I agree with the group authorship theory, because no other man has ever had that large of a vocabulary.

  16. As a scholar and poet, I suggest that anyone who believes this should go at once to an anthology of Renaissance poetry and see how much poetry the Earl of Oxford is credited with! More important, such people need to compare his style and talent compared with that of Shakespeare’s. Serious thought will prove that Oxford cannot possibly have written Shakespeare’s work. Moreover, nobody ever thought of such a thing at the time. There is no reason Shakespeare needed a university degree to write his masterpieces. He could–and did–find the materials he needed to writer whatever he wanted just by reading the literature of his day. He was no different than Lincoln or my grandfather, both of whom were as well educated as any lawyer of his day. My grandfather used to say that you can learn anything you want to if you work at it and without a college degree.

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