'Anonymous': Was Shakespeare a Fraud?

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Already heading into classrooms from the film's producers is a slick six-page color brochure, "Anonymous -- Was Shakespeare a Fraud?" Its "Dear Educator" advice declares its "Target Audience… is students in English literature, theater, and British history classes," with "Program Objectives… to encourage critical thinking by challenging students to examine theories about the authorship of Shakespeare's works."

This PR-as-Teacher's Guide, which appears slanted in favor of Oxfordian claims, has been sent online to college Shakespeare teachers (link below). There's also a gorgeous coffee-table book confidently titled "Anonymous: William Shakespeare Revealed," and a documentary about making the film.

To avoid "spoilers," suffice it to say the film acts out Oxfordian theories of why Shakespeare got credit, Oxford didn't, and the Queen granted favors.

Long ago, this reporter and his classmates were sent out into the world with a warning from our professor, Tom Tashiro, that we might encounter people who just couldn't accept the idea that Will Shakespeare from the provincial market town of Stratford, west of London, could have written the great works… since he apparently didn't even go to college.

"He was a bright kid from the Midwest who made his way to New York!" beamed Tashiro.

I liked that analogy, being from the Midwest, and still do.

So, upon seeing the trailers for "Anonymous," I emailed my old college friend William Hunt who had later done award-winning scholarship on Elizabethan England in the course of getting his Ph.D. at Harvard.

Replying that "this Oxfordian business has always strained my pretty elastic credulity," and now a professor, Hunt summarized, unambiguously, thus:

"No, absolutely no competent student of the period, historical or literary, has ever taken this theory seriously. First of all, the founding premise is false -- there is nothing especially mysterious about William Shakespeare, who is as well documented as one could expect of a man of his time. None of his contemporaries or associates expressed any doubt about the authorship of his poems and plays. Nothing about De Vere (Oxford) suggests he had any great talent, and there is no reason to suppose he would have suppressed any talents he possessed."

American Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro of Columbia University told ABC News he agrees "Wholeheartedly! -- With every word of that!" when Hunt's reply was read to him over the phone.

Shapiro, whose recent book, "Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?" is one of the most comprehensive examinations yet of the "Shakespeare Authorship" phenomenon, has won highest praise from his academic peers in America and Britain for the originality, clarity and thoroughness of his work on Shakespeare.

He documents how it wasn't even until 200 years after Shakespeare's death that the notion of someone else being the author got going -- and all after a gathering deification of Shakespeare so great that some people began to grow uneasy with his common origins.

Since then, some 50 names have been championed as "The Real Shakespeare," virtually all by people who -- as Tashiro had warned - reject the idea that Will Shakespeare of Stratford, with no university creds or known foreign travel, could possibly create plays abounding in such knowledge, foreign settings, and wisdom so beautifully and universally expressed that it's been praised ever since his death as being "for all time."

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