Edward de Vere

I wouldn’t go as far as to equate those who deny Shakespeare as the author of the Shakespeare plays with holocaust deniers, but both categories beggar belief. There is no doubt about either –the Nazi genocide of the Jews and the fact that William Shakespeare wrote the plays. The film Anonymous, which has just been released, has reopened the debate with its thesis that Edward de Vere is the author of the plays (http://bit.ly/oODvBj.). It’s absurd because there’s no evidence for it. However, with the mass media of our times – films, internet, television – we swallow information and scholarship in its watered-down, mostly uninformed or imagined forms, mistaking fiction for fact. For example, the film Shakespeare in Love, lapped up by vast audiences, has created the idea that the fictional events are historical events. The film portrays detailed events in the life of the young writer, including a full-blown romance, whereas we have no idea whatsoever about his life at that point. And no-one has any idea of what kind of person he was at any point in his life.

Come to think of it, though, this isn’t a new phenomenon. Shakespeare was himself as guilty as any modern media merchant of creating myths about historical figures. Take King Richard 111. We think of him as an out and out villain, a psychopath, crippled and with a hunch back. He wasn’t like that at all – we see him through Shakespeare’s eyes. Historians can do whatever they like, they can’t change that image of him. And what do we know about Brutus, the assassin of Julius Caesar? Nothing at all, really, but we know him well because of the way Shakespeare made him.

If Anonymous becomes a runaway hit, the uninformed will simply accept that Edward de Vere wrote the plays. Four centuries of scholarship will count for nothing. It’s similar to the way that the movement from the Mozart piano concerto that was used as the sound track for the film Elvira Madigan is usually announced, even on classical music radio stations, as ‘the Elvira Madigan theme,’ and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony as ‘the Clockwork Orange theme.’

We can imagine a hundred years from now, when all ‘knowledge’ is absorbed from popular culture, that no-one will know anything, although everyone will think he or she does.