Monday, November 7, 2011

Anonymous - The Shakespeare Attachment

The movie Anonymous seems to have hit a lot of people's buttons. I love the idea of it, the possibility (which I have heard argued before) that the man Shakespeare was a front for the real man with the pen - but when I mentioned I was going to see the movie, I had several people express outrage and insist that I not believe any of that garbage. To which I have two responses: 1) I don't believe everything I watch. I promise. 2) What would be the harm if I did?

Why does the man who wrote those plays need to be the man from Stratford-upon-Avon with a grammar school education who left his wife his second best bed? Shakespeare, as he is known to us now, is the pen name, the body of work. Why this attachment to the man? Why this need to connect what he did to a birthday and a rather vague and unimpressive personal history? If Monet were really a frontman for the real painter, would those water lilies be any less beautiful? Would he be any less Monet?

Do I want people giving someone else credit for my work? No, but I'm alive. Which, unless Shakespeare is a vampire living in Forks, is not something the Bard can say. Once I and all the people who knew me have passed away, my memory becomes whatever of my work lingers and the idea that people construct of me based on my words. It is my legacy not my self. So why does that legacy need to be bound to a particular body? It is speculation. Ideas. We will never know for sure if Shakespeare the man was also Shakespeare the playwright, but we still have all of his plays to enjoy and even if the man and the muse did match up in one body, we know very little about that body, so why the fuss? Why the attachment?

Is it because of his epic reputation? People who've never even heard of the histories and the political impact they had on sixteenth century England like to spout off "It ain't Shakespeare" as a slur. It's like there's perfect and then there's Shakespeare. This whole other level of flawlessness. He can do no wrong. God forbid you even suggest that some of his plays are less than brilliant.

But what is Shakespeare? Ribald comedies with rampant sex and innuendo and a happy ending with everyone paired off - so telling me my romance novel ain't Shakespeare, um... okay. And brutal slasher-style gore-fests (cough, Titus Andronicus, cough) - so telling Stephen King he isn't Shakespeare... really? Twisted, revisionist histories designed as propaganda - so telling Oliver Stone he isn't Shakespeare... um.... yeah. The sonnets - would they have been song lyrics today? The tragedies... the comedies... the histories... the sonnets... Is his versatility the reason he is Shakespeare (with a GIANT capital "S")? Or is it really the quality level that sets him apart? How many people actually enjoy reading or seeing Shakespeare anymore? How many people understand it?

I love Shakespeare, but I actually love his work, not his legend. I think his legend is kind of ridiculous. And I almost think the mythos of it detracts from real enjoyment. Because you have to almost start from the assumption that everything is perfect and an unsatisfying ending or unbelievable character reversal were there to make a point - because He would not have made a mistake. Or tried a risk that didn't pay off.

One thing every writer knows is that not everyone is going to love your work. No one is universal. Except Shakespeare? But even then, it isn't his work that gets a pass, it's his reputation. A reputation which somehow exists separate of both the man and his work.

If he were alive today, what would be be? An Aaron Sorkin? A Seth MacFarlane? Would he be a writer at all? We don't know. But we are basing so much passion on the idea that he was a poorly educated actor from Stratford-upon-Avon. Why? Because the Shakespeare mania fuels a tourist industry in a small English town? Because we need him to be a "man of the people" rather than an educated well-born man in order to satisfy our American self-made-man mania?

Why couldn't Shakespeare be a lord?

Are you protective of Shakespeare's persona? Can you tell me why?

**Side note: The movie premise was interesting, but I think they went a bit far with it. No, my friends, I did not believe the Earl of Oxford was really Shakespeare, but I don't think the movie was really trying to convince me. Their goal was to entertain (not unlike Shakespeare's goal) and that they did quite well. Very interesting film.**

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