A month ago I asked, How should we deal with Anonymous? In general, other than some assorted Twitter chats, I’ve not said much.
But today it opens, and it’s come to my attention that people (students in particular) may show up here looking for a counter argument. So I wanted to use this space not necessarily just to present my own position, but to give you readers the opportunity to offer yours as well.
This is a movie, made for entertainment value, made not by academics for the purpose of proving an academic theory, but my moviemakers for the purposes of entertaining you enough to make money. In this sense it is exactly the same as Shakespeare in Love.
The primary difference is that one movie was made by people who know, love and respect Shakespeare and his works, and were completely open with the fact that their movie was pure fiction. Anonymous wants you to believe that some of it is real.
Personally I don’t think that anybody involved with the actual making of the movie cares one way or the other about Oxfordian theory. I think that any statements Roland Emmerich (the director) or others make to the press are just glorified trolls, drumming up interest in their project. I think that the minute the movie is out of the theatres, no one will ever speak of it again.
What troubles me is the idea that there are classrooms where teachers are presenting this movie to their students as if it has any academic merit at all. If you are a student and your teacher wants you to see this movie, you are almost certainly in one of the following situations, so act accordingly:
* Your teacher actually believes this theory and is trying to convert you. This is a very dangerous place for a teacher, and is the exact same kind of thinking that would have you learning that we didn’t land on the moon, or that cavemen rode dinosaurs. The freedom to question things does not in any way legitimize the alternate theory you may come up with.
* Your teacher is working off of free educational materials that were distributed along with the movie. Think about that. The company that made the movie sent out “educational” materials hyping their movie. Because that couldn’t possibly be a biased source. So head home and tell your parents *that*. “My teacher is telling us exactly what the movie company told her to say! Next month we’re learning about the historical accuracy of Shrek’s friends the talking donkey and the sword-fighting kitty.”
* Your teacher wants to teach you the value of questioning “established” fact, and make up your own mind. I can live with this, this is a good thing to teach. This is not a good WAY TO TEACH IT, since it’s been made pretty obvious that the motivation here is to make an entertaining movie and not to tell an accurate story. If you want to teach about the existence of the authorship question, there are many other documentary films to use.
For the record, I don’t think that Shakespeare was a god among men who wrote perfect plays every time he picked up a pen. I’m quite happy with the theory of collaboration, and have no problem with the idea that there’s plenty of Fletcher and Middleton and others mixed in with his work. That’s not what the authorship question is about. The authorship question starts with the idea that Shakespeare could *not* have written the works, because of who he was. And then goes about trying to find candidates to fit who they feel earned the right to be considered for authorship.
In conclusion? If your teacher is trying to teach you to question authority and to consider alternate theories, I can’t argue against that. It’s a good thing. If your teacher is trying to argue that this particular theory *is* true, because of what this movie says? Then you are being taught poorly, and your teacher is precisely the authority that you should question. Make up your own mind, but be sure that you’ve got good sources for your information first.
For more information from people who *do* have the academic cred to speak intelligently on the topic, I’ll point you to Blogging Shakespeare, the site run by the Stratford Birthplace Trust. They’ve put out a free e-book on the subject. Look around the site while you’re there, you’ll also find the 60 interviews that they did with experts in the field.
Ok, I’ll let someone else talk. This is not the post for debating my position – if you have a different one, post it. I’d like anyone who comes here to read a variety of opinions. I’ll disclaim right up front saying that I WILL REMOVE ANYTHING WITH PERSONAL ATTACKS OR OTHER FLAME-WAR GENERATING COMMENTS. Post your opinion and let it stand for itself. Links allowed.