Red Ned Tudor Mysteries

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Yes Virginia, there really is a Shakespeare

Or the turd besplattered premise of Anonymous (to quote Sir Thomas More)

Greetings my well regarded readers, all several of you, I have some quite good news to impart, for most of this last month Red Ned’s The Liberties of London has been sitting amongst the August company of Amazon UK top 100 Historical Fiction Mystery list.  Either at its peak of 22 or more usually in the 30’s to 70’s, I must thank all you UK readers for your discerning taste and if you enjoyed it please leave a review on Amazon or send a copy to your friends.  As well I’m please to announce that my latest novel in the Red Ned Tudor Mystery series –The Cardinal’s Angels is now out on Amazon.  While in another genre I’ve released the first of my Peter Wilks Archaeological Mysteries series- Terra Australis Templars also on Amazon.

Today’s article pushes a little ahead of my usual period of Henry VIII’s England, considering the current fraca concerning History and Hollywood I thought we’d look at Emmerlich’s latest piece Anonymous.  As you may have noticed from the splashy ads its a fictional tale about the Earl of Oxford as the secret author of one of the greatest collections of plays in the western world, no less than the real writer of all of Shakespeare’s sonnets and plays.  So you ask where does that leave poor ol’ Will Shakespeare?  Well for Oxford to rise Will has to go down and its not just a minor downplaying no, instead the illustrious bard is portrayed as an illiterate drunken buffoon, whom it seems can hardly make it as a hack player.  Which is as you may understand is a bit of a come down.  How did they do this you ask?  How else…by the magical faerie dust of Hollywood.

Hollywood History???

The film industry in Hollywood has an interesting relationship with history.  A Love/Hate one, in that history provides some wonderful sources for cinematic stories and when viewed via very particular psyche of the film producer is never dramatic, or lurid or speculative enough.  It has to be bigger, or more dramatic, salacious and so forth!  Okay, I’ll just give the silly example of Pearl Harbour.  An experienced battle hardened fighter pilot shoots down lots of Japanese aircraft during the December 7 attack, (which in its self is a very demeaning presentation of the event) then translates himself into a bomber pilot just in time for the Doolittle Raid.  Oh dear that really warps a valid historical event into a sad travesty.  So in the meantime let us just accept that Hollywood has a tendency to ignore reality in preference to the more wilder flights of fantasy.  So its entertainment, no worries!  Well yes, and no, as humans we are natural storytellers and a vast amount of our learning, habits and interpretation of the world around us is made up of stories.  This simple fact is much utilised by the advertising industry, which one must admit is a legalised business for the dissemination of, not to put too fine a point on it ‘untruths’ or ‘marketable truths’. 

Bearing this in mind it should be no surprise that Emmerlich has sort to boost his films performance and historical credibility by any means possible.  This marketing of history has included offering Anonymous educational modules to school pushing as it is termed the Oxfordian view.  Well its only marketing, so why should we care?
I believe we should, for a number of reasons, not the least because re inventing the past into a pliable fantasy pastiche is a common tool used to stifle criticism and complaint against abuse.  This fantasization of the past has been utilised by all manner of opportunists, ranging from political ideological driven parties like National Socialist to more purely commercial organisations such as News International.
First a quick look at poor ol’ Will.

Shakespeare?  Bladerdash!!  Oxford!!
The Oxfordians, as they term themselves like Climate Change skeptics appear to accept not one single shred of evidence regarding the authenticity of Shakespeare’s works.  These non-viable pieces of evidence include written accounts by his contemporise, such as Dekker, Johnson and Greene and range from memorials, reports and snide viperative assertions (Greene, a fellow writer who knew little about restrain either with a poisoned pen or dicing).  I will not go over the lengthy academic accounts of why the plays must have been by Shakespeare, or how the studies were based on thorough analysis of verse, word style changes and so on.  There are more than enough scholarly works on that solid research without my need to build up the case. 

The best I can do is recommend a book by Bill Bryson- Shakespeare: The World as Stage.  It is perhaps the simplest and most entertaining account of what we do know about Will, (not a lot) and where that came from (or didn’t).  As well it shines a very disturbing spotlight on the origins of the rival authorship claims and their evidence…or actually supposition… or maybe fabrication and even a heavy dash of delusion. 
Thus having raised that issue I pass onto what I feel is my strongest ground for dismissing Emmerlich’s Anonymous as a poorly contrived piece of dog’s vomit masquerading as entertainment.

Queen Elizabeth- Gloriana Triumphant…Or slut?
I don’t quite see the logic in this scripting and portrayal of Queen Elizabeth as either a historian or writer, it just makes a bad film even worse.  According to the storyline Gloriana has three illegitimate children, one of which is the Earl of Oxford, the hero of Anonymous.  Even more disturbing, later on Elizabeth is so much the ditzy raving slut that she tries to seduce her own bastard child ie Oxford.  Err what is this?  The Queen of England has even less morals than Paris Hilton, or even Caligula?
Oh spare me!  Not just tacky, but insultingly demeaning, I mean what would Americans think, if in a novel or screen play I suggested that George Washington regularly bent the young servants over the banister rail, unbuttoned his breeches and gave them a damned good ‘rogering’?  See what I mean the imagination shudders to an abrupt halt.
Queen Elizabeth’s reign defined the later Tudor period as a ‘golden age’ of achievement in art, science and discovery, which was made manifest by her survival from plot, assassination and invasion.  Her political acumen, was regarded as legendarily incisive, though also frequently and according to some in her Privy Council notoriously indecisive.  As for her rivals, their strident public condemnations of Elizabeth were full of accusations of ‘an apostate excommunicate and protestant whore, dripping with the blood of catholic martyrs’.  This overtop treatment tends to indicate an obsessive fear and betrays a sneaking respect for the formidable Queen of England. 
But hey, this is a Hollywood fantasy, lets just ignore the fact that Elizabeth was the most closely watched princess in the pre Victorian era.  The fright of the Thomas Seymour affair and its resulting investigation has been frequently cited as enough to convince a young Elizabeth that public and private virtue were her strongest defences from the Tower, the axe and rebellion. 
As many a historian has noted, after her upbringing at the tumultuous Tudor court which claimed her mother plus more than a few relations and friends Elizabeth’s overwhelming motivation was survival.  How any of this complexity and depth of person and character appears in Anonymous is well beyond debateable…it doesn’t.

Thus when it comes to Hollywood versions of Elizabeth, I think we are better served by the interpretations of Cate Blanchett, Dame Judy Dench, Glenda Jackson, and Betty Davis or even Quinten Crisp.  
Alright we’ve hopefully salvaged the reputation of Gloriana, the discussion will continue in part 2 next week in;

How to win Friends and Influence People in Elizabethan England

So will I spend money on Anonymous or recommend it?  While the CGI scenery is very good and the costumes passible, on the whole the script and plot lack even the most basic credibility or coherence of the Bold and the Beautiful…So no. 

Dont forget to have a browse through the list of books on my Amazon Author's page or my List of Best Tudor Fiction

Regards Greg


  1. does a good debunk. One of the strongest arguments against Oxford is the quality of the extant poetry that can be reliably sourced to Oxford himself.

    I so desperately want to draw fun at the people taking the Oxford claims so seriously when it's biggest proponent was someone called Looney. But I won't.

  2. Also a full comparison of virtually all extant works of each protagonist, plus a host of contemporaries is at

    "Oxford's poems have many more total relative clauses (TRCs) than Shakespeare's, and many fewer hyphenated compound words (HCWs) and feminine endings. Shakespeare wrote at the 11th-grade level (GRL), Oxford at the 7th. Even ignoring feminine endings tests as dubious, Oxford's poems fall outside Shakespeare's profile by four of the six tests."

  3. I have no interest in ANONYMOUS - I know what Hollywood does to history. I'd rather read about him in a book. Thank you for the list of Tudor Fiction.