'Anonymous': Was Shakespeare a Fraud?

PHOTO: Rhys Ifans stars in Columbia Pictures "Anonymous."
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Oh boy, here we go. "Anonymous," a new film due out at the end of the month, dramatizes the 90-year-old theory that the works of Shakespeare were actually written by the tumultuous and increasingly broke London aristocrat Edward De Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, courtier to Queen Elizabeth I.

Vanessa Redgrave plays Elizabeth. Sir Derek Jacobi guides us in and out of the story.

Rhys Ifans (previously acclaimed for his wonderfully goofy turn as the inexcusable flat-mate in "Notting Hill") transforms easily into a troubled and thwarted Earl of Oxford, penning great plays in secret.

Supporters of this Oxford authorship theory, "Oxfordians," include U.S. Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and John Paul Stevens, Orson Welles and Sigmund Freud, no less.

Others who decry or cast serious doubt on Shakespeare as the author also include Mark Twain, Supreme Court Justice Blackmun, and actors Redgrave and Jacobi.

None of whom -- and here's the irritating rub -- are professional Shakespeare scholars, people who commit themselves to long years of exposure to the myriad bits of hard evidence that keep surfacing from the England of 400 years ago.

And never mind that Oxford died in 1604, before (say the peer-reviewed professional scholars of the period) a number of quintessentially Shakespearean plays including "The Tempest," "All's Well That Ends Well" and "Antony and Cleopatra" could possibly have been written. (Shakespeare died in 1616.)

There are too many similarities, say Oxfordians, between events in the fictional lives of Hamlet plus a few other Shakespeare characters and the life of the Earl of Oxford.

His high-class education is also documented while there are no education records for Shakespeare.

The film's visually compelling digital depictions of Shakespeare's London give vibrant life to any illusion.

They are so detailed, gritty, thoroughly researched for accurate appearance, with breathtaking high, wide and close-up shots of the Globe theater, the jerry-built houses piled up on London Bridge, muddy street and glistening court scenes, all brought to life by high-octane actors channeling passionate confusion and human frailty while wearing with greatest ease the authentic clothing of the times, that high school and college teachers worldwide are bound to assign the film, if for no other reason than to bring Shakespeare and his times alive for their students -- make it all real, or at least real-ish.

In other words, the 200-year-old notion that someone other than Will Shakespeare, the London actor and theater co-owner from Stratford, wrote the plays and poems that bear his name is about to get an unprecedented tidal wave of publicity of a kind that may bring big smiles to the eyes of Hollywood producers but make the eyes of professional Shakespeare scholars start, like stars, from their spheres, cause their knotted and combinéd locks to part, and each particular hair to stand on end like quills upon the fretful porpentine.

That's how the ghost of Hamlet's father imagines a mere mortal would react upon seeing the horrors of purgatory, in which now he burns.

Professional Shakespeare scholars now anticipate a sort of academic purgatory as they brace for a flood of questions bound to come from all sorts of students, teachers and movie lovers new to the authorship question.

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