Friday, October 28, 2011

The NYT Covers Shakespeare

A tempest from the academic teapots spills over into the larger popular culture with the movie Anonymous which brings forth a conspiracy theory that Shakespeare did not write the plays attributed to him.  The New York Times has three recent articles.  My favorite paragraphs predict my future.
Professors of Shakespeare — and I was one once upon a time — are blissfully unaware of the impending disaster that this film means for their professional lives. Thanks to “Anonymous,” undergraduates will be confidently asserting that Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare for the next 10 years at least, and profs will have to waste countless hours explaining the obvious. “Anonymous” subscribes to the Oxfordian theory of authorship, the contention that Edward de Vere, the 17th earl of Oxford, wrote Shakespeare’s plays. Among Shakespeare scholars, the idea has roughly the same currency as the faked moon landing does among astronauts.
Some high school students think both versions of Clash of the Titans accurately reflect Greek mythology, so I am really looking forward to dealing with a movie that purports to show facts.

I hope it's as bad as the reviews claim.  I also hope I can teach my students to write with the following verve and parallelism.
“Anonymous,” a costume spectacle directed by Roland Emmerich, from a script by John Orloff, is a vulgar prank on the English literary tradition, a travesty of British history and a brutal insult to the human imagination. Apart from that, it’s not bad.
Wry sarcasm never hurt anyone either.
First things first. The film’s premise is that the plays and poems commonly attributed to William Shakespeare are actually the work of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. This notion, sometimes granted the unwarranted dignity of being called a theory, is hardly new. It represents a hoary form of literary birtherism that has persisted for a century or so, in happy defiance of reason and evidence. The arrival of “Anonymous” has roused Shakespeareans more learned than I to the weary task of re-debunking — in the past two weeks The New York Times has published both an Op-Ed piece and a Sunday magazine Riff opposing the Oxfordian position — and to their cogent arguments I can offer only a small corrective. This is a Roland Emmerich film. (At least I assume it is, though I guess, in the spirit of the enterprise, I should be open to other possibilities. Joe Swanberg? Brett Ratner? Zhang Yimou? It all seems eerily plausible, once you start to think about it.)

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