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Much Virtue in “If”

April 4th, 2011 20 comments

Now available in paperback from Grove Press, with a new forward by James Norwood, Professor of Humanities, University of Minnesota:

Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom: the True History of Shakespeare and Elizabeth

by Charles Beauclerk

Grove Press, 2011

Now is this golden crown like a deep well

That owes two buckets, filling one another

The emptier ever dancing in the air

the other down, unseen, and full of water.

What makes a history of Shakespeare “true”?  Charles Beauclerk’s story begins propitiously – he has the right man, Edward de Vere, and he knows that Edward de Vere drew from a deep, unfathomable well:

…the process of making images is largely unconscious, fashioned from the invisible components of the individual imagination, rather like an alphabet arising out of the unconscious of a new race.  … In this hinterland of the soul, where images hatch, we are very close to the heartbeat of motivation, of sensing why an author writes as he does.  (SLK, p. 156)

Remarkably, the author also knows his own part – and the part that every lover of Shakespeare’s poetry performs –  when we set out to transcribe and interpret these heartbeats:

We respond to him on a preconscious level – between the lines – almost as if we were co-creators, for the dynamic field in which his unconscious mind intersects with ours is intensely alive, making his work strongly akin to music.   (SLK p. 164)

This unconscious intersection with our will, powered by Shakespeare’s irresistibly mellifluous lines, is a form of magic.  We can’t help wanting to take his words in, to have them “by heart”, to release them on our own breath.  We are enchanted, and in this state, Shakespeare’s story – the one we read between the lines of his kings and queens and all their devastating follies – touches a part of us that makes us love him and want to protect him.

The facts of Edward de Vere’s troubled biography, placed alongside this poetry, vibrate through every synapse of the work, charging the lines, images and words with sparks of meaning.  By the light of these shooting stars, like the bewitching glow of Ariel’s “flamed amazement” on the topmast of our brave vessel, we read and listen for his heartbeat, instead of our own.

But are these new signals yielding a “true” history of Shakespeare?  Such a prodigious intelligence will not give up its mysteries to weekend stargazers.  Like Dante, Shakespeare dared to write his autobiography in colossal cipher.  Does Charles Beauclerk have the key to Shakespeare’s dramatic alphabet?  I think he has one vital part of it.  Towards the end of Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom, he tells us that “an essential quality of the plays themselves” is that “they are the life, not only of the dramatist, but of the times in which he lived.  Their fabulousness is their reality.” (SLK p. 325)  In other words – and I hope I do justice to what Charles intended here – Shakespeare’s plays and poems are fables.  They may be populated with what seem to be real people from de Vere’s life, but their “reality” has been transformed into something necessary to the poet.

The truth of fables is not a literal truth, that we can prove or disprove with historical documents, but a psychic one, transferred from the poet to the heart and mind of the true listener.  The fabulous subconscious story that Charles Beauclerk hears is in some ways the same story that Edward de Vere seems to be whispering in my ear, each time I go back and read The Collected Works of William Shakespeare cover to cover.  This tragic tale has five essential components:

1. Shakespeare’s works betray a very personal, hyper-sensitivity to the stain of bastardy.

2. He thought of himself as a Prince, but along the way he lost his kingdom.

3. His poetic gift compelled him to transform the dross and agony of life into a surrogate kingdom of the mind.

4. His dramatic portrayals of Elizabeth suggest a privileged but volatile relationship.

5. “Shakespeare’s desire for vengeance was real and one of the great motivating forces of the canon.” (SLK, p. 274)

Even when one disagrees intensely – as I most emphatically do – with some of Charles Beauclerk’s basic assumptions and theories, the great wonder of his “true history” is how much of what he draws up from below the mottled surface scum of the well remains pertinent.  One bucket – for supporting facts in the historical record, cautiously interpreted – is often the emptier, and dances in the air, but the other sinks deep, and fills with water.  Beauclerk is extraordinarily attuned to Edward de Vere’s personal transformations of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, with a keen eye for permutations of the Actaeon myth.  Here are a few examples of what you will miss, if in your aversion to Prince Tudor theory or insistence upon historiographical rigor you neglect to read Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom, as I almost did:

In another extraordinary resurfacing of the Actaeon myth, Tamora is compared to Diana, the moon goddess.  When Lavinia and her husband, Bassianus, come upon Tamora in the woods, the empress tells Bassianus that had she Diana’s power she would mete out the same punishment to him that Actaeon suffered at the hands of the goddess.  In the end, it is Lavinia who is fated to drink from this bitter cup, for like Actaeon transformed into a stag she loses the power of speech, and her delicate hands are turned into hooflike stumps.” (p. 273)

Titus is a play that I know quite well, but this searing vision of Lavinia as a silent stag was a revelation for me.   Venturing into more heretical territory, Beauclerk offers a terrifying insight into the personal relevance of Shakespeare’s two published poems, Venus and Adonis and Rape of Lucrece:

Venus, who at the end of the previous poem flew off to Paphos, where she meant to “immure herself and not be seen,” is transformed into the chaste and cloistered Lucrece; and the boar-pierced Adonis becomes “lust-breathed” Tarquin, who in destroying the chastity of “the silver moon,” as Shakespeare describes Lucrece – i.e., in deflowering the goddess – brings down the monarchy.  Thus Adonis becomes both the flower and the serpent under it.  The flower that the goddess presses to her bosom is beautiful but deadly, rather like the asp that Cleopatra nurses at her breast.  Thus the Shakespearean hero-archetype embodies within himself both the redeemer (Adonis) and the destroyer (Tarquin)… (p. 176)

“Thus Adonis becomes both the flower and the serpent”: I had suspected as much, but have never had the courage to raise this topic for discussion in the usual Oxfordian chat-rooms and other venues.  In this, and in his recognition of Oxford’s vengeful nature, (quoted above), we seem to have witnessed the same disturbing basilisk, daring us to look in his eyes.  Beauclerk doesn’t flinch; his commentary on Falstaff is chilling in its penetrating accuracy:

Ultimately, Falstaff is imprisoned in his own kingdom of language, where wit takes precedence over feeling.  When he says that his womb undoes him, it is his womb of wit – his invention – rather than his great belly.  Though wondrously humorous, the fat knight seems to have almost no feeling toward others; he is too wrapped up in the great adventure on which his great wit is willy-nilly leading him.

Now for our differences.  They are many, but only one really matters:  Who were Edward de Vere’s true parents? Charles Beauclerk’s history begins with the tentative proposition that Oxford was the child of Princess Elizabeth and Thomas Seymour.  Note the word “tentative”, which I’ll get to in a moment.   My position is that Edward was John de Vere’s firstborn son, but not securely legitimate, as the historical records show.  The following brief essays, along with the file on the 1585 Depositions, outline the historical and literary basis for my alternative theory, that Joan Jockey may have been Edward’s true mother: John de Vere’s firstborn son; The Goddess of Justice; “Why dost not speak to me?”; “You bee a sort of knaves”, sayd Skelton; 1585 Depositions Concerning Oxford’s Legitimacy

When Beauclerk chose to build his story around the second Prince Tudor theory, surely he knew he was taking on a highly controversial and divisive premise.  Disarmingly, with strategically placed deployments of “if” and “seems” and “whether… or not”, he allows for our hesitations and doubts: when all is said and done, perhaps we will not find that he has proven his hypothesis: 

p. 41 “Whether she bore a child by Seymour or not…

p. 92:  “Thus, if Oxford was Elizabeth’s son…”

p. 101: “….like Hamlet he was, it seems, the son of the queen.”

p. 158: “And if his mother was the Virgin Queen…”

p. 224: “If Shakespeare was indeed the son of the Virgin Queen…”

p. 296: “Whether he was the queen’s son or not…”

p. 322: “… and Shakespeare, it seems, was the fruit of that trespass.”

p. 334: “…in Oxford’s case, if, as the evidence suggests, his mother was the most powerful woman…”

As Touchstone wittily puts it, “Your If is the only peace-maker; much virtue in If!”

Here’s an “if” in return: “If Edward de Vere knew for certain that he wasn’t John de Vere’s son, but instead, was the bastard son of Elizabeth Tudor and Thomas Seymour, how would he feel about the exchange?”  On page 86, Beauclerk writes:

Whatever comforts he could press to his bosom Edward de Vere knew for certain that there were those about him who saw through his “Oxford” mask; nor could he draw solace from the fact that the blood of the Tudors flowed in his veins, for his royal birth was far from being a political reality. [emphasis added]

But beginning on p. 231, under the sub-heading “Tudor-Celtic Mythology”, he exposes the less-than-glamorous roots of the Tudor dynasty:

The Tudors were Welsh landowners…  …In the Tudors we have a self-consciously created dynasty aware of their weak claim to the throne, who buttressed their credentials by tracing their line from King Arthur, the once and future king.  In naming his firstborn son Arthur and having him christened at Winchester Cathedral, Henry VII was deliberately invoking the chivalry and glamour of Britain’s semi-mythical past, a considerable irony in view of his own grasping, ungenerous nature and his relentless undermining of the old feudal nobility. (SLK, p. 232)

Lest we forget, neither Edward Oxenford nor William Shakespeare ever wrote a play about Henry VII, whom Francis Bacon tells us severely undermined the 13th earl of Oxford’s power, in an apocryphal tale that sounds very much like one of madcap Ned de Vere’s bibulous inventions.  Continuing his deconstruction of the Tudor Myth, Beauclerk writes:

The Tudors, in the grandiosity generated by their lineal insecurity, embraced the notion that they were the promised descendants of Arthur…

Once on the throne, [Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond] played up the romantic image his deeds fostered in people’s minds.  In truth, the Tudor dynasty was founded upon conquest (and the killing of a king).”   “Despite his insistence that this was a reconquest, which avenged the original Saxon invasion, a deep insecurity accompanied the dynasty through its 118 years of rule. (p. 233)

Life for [Henry VIII] was theater; his every act invited a fanfare.  Yet all this show masked a deep insecurity, which became more conspicuous as his reign ripened. (p. 235)

As pater patriae (father of his people) and supreme governor of the Church of England, Henry VIII invested the monarchy with a revitalized, almost mystical sense of its sovereignty, yet he was an imperialist in outlook.  … His veneration for the traditions, music and architecture of the Catholic church sat uncomfortably with his desecration of the monasteries, and his love of chivalry and the joust contradicted his protracted attacks on the old feudal nobility. (p. 236)

Would the 17th earl of Oxford and Lord Great Chamberlain of England, whose ancestors came in with William the Conqueror, have drawn any solace from losing his de Vere blood in exchange for that of the insecure Tudors?  I don’t think so.

In my reading of the evidence, both historical and literary, the earl of Oxford drew his sustaining identity from his claim to the ancient Vere line and their affinity.  Their historical triumphs and quarrels were part of his legacy; their family traits were in his genetic makeup.  If Nick Bottom’s “mythic DNA is the Minotaur, the monstrous son – half man, half bull – of Minos, King of Crete” (SLK, p. 202) then so too is this strain running in the veins of the man who signed himself Edward Oxenford.  When he gazed upon the faces of the effigies that once graced Colne Priory, he was seeing his grandsires and grandams, and the faces of his own future heirs.  As we read in Chapman’s eulogy of Oxford in The Revenge of Bussy D’Ambois:

…he had a face

Like one of the most ancient honour’d Romans

From whence his noblest family was deriv’d.

These were his people. If we lose sight of this, we lose our first and best contact with Edward de Vere and how he became “Shakespeare”.  He loved his honor as a Vere; he owned his shame as a Vere; he wreaked his vengeance as a Vere:

…when Gloucester sees a beggar in the storm, he thinks a man a worm, and at that moment his son Edgar comes into his mind.  Edgar, the outcast son, is the worm (worm in French being ver).  When Cleopatra arranges to die in her monument, a clown enters with an asp – or worm, as he calls it – hidden in a basket of figs. (SLK p. 372)

“He that has a house to put’s head in has a good head-piece” (III.ii. 25-26)

.

Say, is my kingdom lost? why, ’twas my care
And what loss is it to be rid of care? ~ Richard II

I agree with Beauclerk that Shakespeare’s plays and poems bear witness to the pain of having lost a kingdom, but in my view, (derived in large measure from the political understory of the Howard family in Titus Andronicus) that kingdom was more likely to have been in opposition to the Tudor line than a part of it.  On his own, Edward de Vere had three earthly kingdoms somewhat within his grasp, all of them lost by 1591.  The first was a Plantagenet alliance through marriage to one of the Hastings girls, which Beauclerk mentions on p. 71: “It looks as though John de Vere had taken it into his head to arrange a royal marriage for his teenage charge…”  The second was Oxford’s impetuous and near-treasonous support for his first cousin Thomas Howard, who lost his head over the hare-brained temptation to wed Mary, Queen of Scots.

The third lost kingdom, as Beauclerk notes, was the ancient seat of the Oxford earldom: “Then in December 1591, …Oxford surrendered the heart of his de Vere inheritance by alienating Hedingham Castle to Burghley in trust for his three daughters.  It was an abdication with rich consequences for literature, if King Lear is anything to judge by.” (p. 330)  But why would a prince of the realm and poet who boldly tells the queen’s chief minister “I am that I am” have any need for a paltry scepter?  Why would he be so foolish as to desire all the mundane distractions and obligations that turn a golden crown into a dull and heavy lump of lead?  The true kingdom that Oxford strove mightily to maintain in his own sovereign control was that of the mind:

As James Kirsch says of Hamlet and his father, so might we say of Shakespeare and Elizabeth: his kingdom was the inner world, hers the political realm. (p. 295)

As in Hamlet, the only true king seems to be a ghost.  Scratch the surface of these plays and one finds oneself staring at the crowned figure of vanity holding a skull in one hand and the fool’s bauble in the other. (p. 210-11)

As if he could not believe he had a true right to his inherited “kingdom” based in Essex, Oxford recklessly divested himself of all its physical trappings, till he had nothing to pass on but his name and his words.  The first went to his heirs of the blood, the second to his heirs of the spirit, an awesomely potent bequest that we still haven’t learned quite how to decipher.  The quest is daunting, too much for one lonely reader, or a whole fraternity of stargazers, to take on.  How can we bear to follow King Lear on his journey out into the raging tempest that mirrors the demons in his skull, once we know that he is not a stage puppet but a breathing portrait of the author, and the purified condensation of everything that the name “Shakespeare” calls up in our hearts and minds?  The jewel in the crown of Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom is Beauclerk’s courageous attempt to do just that:

Opening one’s heart to a great work of literature of the intensity of King Lear is like setting forth on a pilgrimage toward an inner realm on the horizon of one’s being.  Reading and walking, if undertaken in the spirit of wonder and intrepidity that transforms them into a way of life, refresh the soul in profound and allied ways.  Thoreau’s advice to walkers would be my advice to Shakespeare’s readers: “We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return – prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms.” As a work that shakes the foundations of western culture, King Lear demands this sort of self-abandonment.  We never quite return from the journey.

My copy of Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom has furious scribbles in the margins of every other page, some of them less than polite.  Yet when I told Charles Beauclerk in no uncertain terms that I could not agree with his theory on Oxford’s birth, he was most gracious, replying that he is open to hearing other theories; would I send him a copy when I write up my thoughts?  His True History of Shakespeare and Elizabeth may not be your cup of true, but it is certainly the work of a generous and intrepid spirit.    ~Marie Merkel

“You bee a sort of knaves”, sayd Skelton

January 16th, 2011 No comments
What is your theory?  That Oxford was born in 1548, the son of Joan Jockey?  What difference would that make to the creation of the Shakespeare canon?

Many thanks to the reader (identified below) who sent me this and a few other sharp questions about my re-examination of the documents relevant to Oxford’s birth.  Since any theory about Oxford’s true parentage would require DNA analysis to prove or conclusively refute, I’d better call this my hunch rather than theory.  In the spirit of possibility, I suggest these hypothetical and (to my mind) sensible reasons for the seemingly irrational or irresponsible marriages of John de Vere:

1. John de Vere made a bigamous marriage with “Joan Jockey ” because she was pregnant.  Otherwise, he would have just “kept her”, in the same manner that the witnesses of 1585 say he kept Anne of Tilbury Hall.

2. Earl John’s brothers-in-law Darcy and Sheffield disapproved of this alliance because Joan was a nobody, a mere village wench, and they wanted him to marry a somebody, preferably one of their kin.

3. Knowing that Lady Dorothy was dying, Darcy and Sheffield arranged for Enowes and Smith to “rid [Joan and Anne of Tilbury Hall] away from the …earl” because they wished him to marry one of their kin.  In Joan’s case, this “ridding away” required an act of horrific violence because John de Vere was very attached to his expectant second wife.  The men resorted to raping Joan and cutting her nose because they wished to destroy her as an honorable or attractive woman, and/or because their “spoiling” would cast permanent doubt on the paternity of Joan’s child, (if she was in the early stages of pregnancy), and/or because they wanted to leave the earl with zero temptation to make his marriage to Joan legal after the countess died.

4. John de Vere needed a wife in the spring of 1548 because Joan had given birth to a boy, and he wanted very much to raise the boy as his son and heir.  John became emotionally attached to this firstborn son from the woman he had married in White Colne Church because of the trauma she had suffered at the hands of his kin, and/or because his ancestors, the 13th and 14th earls of Oxford, had died without leaving a male heir, and/or because after ten years of marriage, his first wife Dorothy had only produced two daughters, with one dying “in swaddling clothes”.

I’ll be the first to admit that even if we find all of the above to be within the realm of possible, this very “possible” son may not have been Edward de Vere, and may not even have survived.  Nevertheless, I often imagine that Edward was Joan’s son.  For me, this narrative offers a more compassionate reading of John de Vere’s actions.  And the stain of bastardy –  in particular, the thought of such base blood possibly running in his noble veins – adds tremendous psychological depth to Edward Oxenford’s biography and to the works of his greatest biographer, William Shakespeare.

But that’s a topic for another day.  For now, I’d like to follow up the theme of John de Vere’s passion for his firstborn son (as I imagine), with another question from the same reader:

Once the Nevil heiress left [Earl John], [Darcy and Sheffield's] need as representatives of the ruling party in their county, was to have the earl produce a male heir, as soon as possible, legally, by an appropriate member of the Essex upper classes, not someone like Joan Jockey.  Had Joan had a child, what need would there be to go through the elaborate process of getting him taken on as a foundling by another mother, one that was perfectly capable of producing children, as she did with Mary Vere.

On the first point, I’m not sure that Earl John’s in-laws needed him to produce a male heir, a.s.a.p.  What they didn’t need or want was an heir by commoners such as Joan, or Anne, or Dorothy Fosser.  Margery Golding’s family had the right connections – maybe not as good as the Wentworth match that Seymour and Darcy had hoped for, but she was a choice they could live with.

If Joan had given birth to the earl’s son, it would have been natural and humane for him to want to raise his own flesh and blood as his legal heir, rather than abandon him.  I imagine the price he might have demanded in return for lifting Margery Golding into the nobility was that she accept and raise this boy as her own.  It all comes down to a matter of the heart.  I believe John de Vere had a good one, and that his son remembered him with bemused respect and great melancholy.

Whatever the truth may be, as biographers seeking an empathetic understanding of our subject, how might we imagine Edward responding to the gossip he was bound to hear about Joan Jockey from his earliest years?  In 1566, three years after his sister Katherine challenged his “legitimacy of the blood”, someone put together a jest book deceptively entitled Merry Tales of Skelton.  Much to my surprise, in the Seventh Tale, I found an uncanny mirror of just how I’d imagined John de Vere’s love for his boy:

Skelton, the next Sunday after, went into the pulpit to preach, and said: Vos estis, vos estis, that is to say, You be, you be.  and what be you?  said Skelton.  I say, that you be a sort of knaves, yea, and a man might say worse then knaves; and why, I shall show you.  You have complained of me to the bishop that I do keep a fair wench in my house: I do tell you, if you had any fair wives, it were some what to help me at need; I am a man as you be: you have foul wives, and I have a fair wench, of the which I have begotten a fair boy, as I do think, and as you all shall see.

Thou wife, said Skelton, that hast my child, be not afraid; bring me hither my child to me; the which was done.  And he, showing his child naked to all the parish, said, how say you, neighbors all; is not this child as fair as is the best of all yours?  It hath nose, eyes, hands, and feet, as well as any of your:  it is not like a pig, nor a calf, nor like no foul nor no monstrous beast.  If I had, said Skelton, brought forth this child without arms or legs, or that it were deformed, being a monstrous thing, I would never have blamed you to have complained to the bishop of me; but to complain without a cause, I say, as I said before in my antethem, vos estis, you be, and have be, & will and shall be, knaves, to complain of me without a cause reasonable.

Does anyone else hear Shakespearean echoes in this?

Hamlet, as he contemplates suicide and the hereafter: “To be, or not to be.”

Shylock,  the despised, claiming his common humanity: “Hath not a Jew eyes; hath not a Jew hands?”

In Much Ado about Nothing, the 2nd watchman’s hilarious bumbling: “Bring Deformed forth”.

And Aaron the Moor, exulting in the birth of his bastard son:

‘Zounds, ye whore! is black so base a hue?
Sweet blowse, you are a beauteous blossom, sure.

Many thanks to Stephanie Hopkins Hughes for her good questions, and willingness to re-visit these disturbing years in Oxford’s biography.

Academic Response to ‘Anonymous’

November 27th, 2010 No comments


In his Oct. 29 post, “Academic Response to Anonymous”, Hardy Cook, editor of SHAKSPER: The Global Electronic Shakespeare Conference,  faced the looming crisis of Roland Emmerich’s Oxford-as-Shakespeare film (scheduled for release in September of 2011) by soliciting advice from members:

…how will we as responsible scholars and academics respond to and address the issues that will arise from the premier of this film.

A few days later, in a post offering “Evidence of Authorship ” he restated his query to include the subject of Emmerich’s film, Edward de Vere:

…my original query was concerned with ways to address those who might ask about authorship and in particular de Vere after seeing the film Anonymous when it is released

I especially liked Tom Reedy’s “No More Sneers” advice, and Dave Evett’s sensible caution against presumptions regarding “evidence”. On Nov. 17, I also sent Hardy Cook some thoughts on the matter, but since he didn’t include my response in what appears to have been his last digest on the thread, I’ve taken the opportunity to revise and upgrade my submission for posting here, with links and images.

~*~*~*~*~

Dear Hardy Cook,

It seems to me that most of your respondents reacted against the main issue that will arise from viewing Emmerich’s film (namely, the authorship question) in general, and against the ways in which the case for Oxford has been presented in particular.  My response is more on the nut-n-bolts level of strategic preparation.  In order to anticipate how Emmerich’s story will pique the public’s curiosity, it seemed to me that you might want to have a better idea of what “Anonymous” will actually be about.  A few suggestions:


1) READ THE WORKS THAT INSPIRED THE SCRIPT: In 2004, I had the opportunity to read John Orloff’s original script, which told an imaginative “insider’s story” of the Elizabethan theatre world from the triple perspective of Ben Jonson, William Shakspere and the earl of Oxford.  The script opened from a “Sons of Ben” perspective with the closing of the theaters in 1642, five years after Jonson’s death in 1637, before diving into the bitter rivalries that accompanied the tail end of the Elizabethan era and Oxford’s life.  From what I recall, Orloff’s version of “William” seemed inspired in part by Alden Brooks, who saw him as the frippery-of-wit writer, play-broker and all-around knave that Ben Jonson excoriated in his epitaph “On Poet-Ape” (see “The Dyer’s Hand”, 1943,  and Charles Wisner Barrell’s review, “A King of Shreds and Patches“).

If you take the time to follow Brooks’ reading of the various legends, pamphlets, plays and poems upon which he builds this reprehensible image, you’ll find the essence of his “Wm. Shakspere of Stratford” in the scurrilous character of “Captain Tucca“, who appears in Jonson’s “Poetaster” and in the Marston-Dekker reply, “Satiromastix“.  Scholars long ago identified other characters from these “Poet’s War” plays as lampoons on Marston, Dekker, Weever and Jonson, but no one has yet found a real-life counterpart for Tucca.

If, indeed, Emmerich gives us a Brooks’ inspired play-broker/pander/showman as his take on “William Shakespeare”, the best answer to questions on this portrayal might be to suggest a reading of these plays, along with “The Dyer’s Hand” and more recent (albeit less imaginative) studies of the Poetomachia, such as James Shapiro’s Rival Playwrights, and Shakespeare and the Poet’s War by James Bednarz.

2) READ UP ON THE HISTORY COVERED BY THE MOVIE: We know for certain that Emmerich has chosen the Essex Rebellion and the fateful staging of Richard II by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, for the catastrophe of his narrative.  Students and the general public may see a version of these events that highlights Shakespeare’s play as a provocative transgression – one that should have been severely punished but wasn’t. Be ready for the inevitable question, “Why not?”  With a dispassionate and respectful approach, the Essex Rebellion of “Anonymous” could provide a marvelous teaching opportunity, and a perfect launch into “Henry V”, “Julius Caesar” and “Troilus & Cressida“.

3) KNOW THE BASIC FACTS OF OXFORD’S BIOGRAPHY: Emmerich’s film will show the well-connected earl of Oxford walking about the streets of London as a patron, poet and direct contemporary of William Shakspere.  Be prepared for people to ask, “Couldn’t they have known each other?” or “Wouldn’t Shakspere at least be very aware of the earl, maybe even curious about him?”  Whatever the claims that others have made in his behalf, Edward Oxenford did, indeed, serve as patron to writers and playing companies, and had direct connections, whether through blood, enmity or patronage,  to major and minor literary figures of the day: Henry Howard, Arthur Golding, Philip Sidney, John Lyly, Gabriel Harvey, Thomas Nashe, etc.


Reportedly, Emmerich will present Oxford as a royal bastard with an identity crisis, along the lines of Charles Beauclerk’s study of an alienated poetic psyche, Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom. You should know that Oxford was regarded as illegitimate by his half-sister Katherine, who soon after their father’s death brought a case against him that would have stripped him of his name and inheritance.  On record, we have Charles Arundel’s witness of Oxford’s fury “that the Queen said he was a bastard for which cause he would never love her, and leave her in the lurch one day.”

Finally, I suggest that you portray the movie as Opportunity rather than Disaster.  Ridicule – of the film, of the authorship question, of Oxford himself – may seem to your students like a nervous defense against a devil you don’t dare look in the face.  The way I see it, anything you can say that will send your seeker back to The Bard’s ever-living poetry, with confidence in his or her own ability to discern the truth, may turn out to be a kindness long remembered.     ~Marie Merkel