Local bard lover pokes at the heart of the current authorship controversy
There’s a fresh wickedness abroad, scurrilous, false, another of Hollywood’s cheap treacheries. It’s Anonymous, a movie that exploits the imagined “authorship controversy” about William Shakespeare. I’ll save you the price of a ticket. Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. The son of Mary Arden and glover John Shakespeare, William Shakespeare wrote the plays, the sonnets, the poems. But a credulous few have asked, how could a mere public-school boy who didn’t go to the University of Oxford produce works of such incomparable brilliance?
This elitist myopia is at the heart of much of the current silliness.
How do I know Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare? I’ve read Shakespeare, and know that no university could teach him anything. This guy was born knowing. I fell in love with him in a college lit class. It was Henry IV, Part I, with Falstaff, who astonished beyond all human deliciousness. After plugging away on the Elizabethan language and vocabulary footnotes, I decided to try a play on my own, and plucked a paperback King Lear from the library shelf. When I closed the little book I sat until the lights blinked. I had been somewhere. I felt deepened somehow and brought to a new consciousness. I’d even forgotten to smoke.
My boyfriend and I became bardolators, that is, people who idolize Shakespeare as the supreme genius of literature. English major hippies, we read everything he wrote, and devoured Shakespearean analysis and biography. We learned that he was well-educated at the free Stratford public school where only boys were taught to read and write. Consider the sexism in old England—Shakespeare’s illiterate mother couldn’t read Othello.
But her son was exposed to a feast of written language, including the works of Virgil, Erasmus, Seneca, the Bible, Chaucer, Homer, Holinshed’s historical chronicles, Montaigne, the published poetry of contemporaries. He had a shotgun wedding to Anne Hathaway and may have been bisexual. He went to London to become a poet, playwright and actor, and was praised by name for “his felicitous grace in writing.” My guess is that he got his ambition from his father, and perhaps from his mother his empathy, his infallible ear, his perception, maybe even the blistering wit. After his death, two friends who knew him as a writer and actor gathered his plays and published them.
My boyfriend and I at first found the authorship thing mildly interesting but ultimately empty. We had a friend who lived for a time with us. He had not read the plays but became seduced by the notion that Marlow was the real Shakespeare. Then he said it was Francis Bacon. Then Edward de Vere, the 17th earl of Oxford. Then Queen Elizabeth. Who else, he said, would know so much about court life? We easily disputed his claims but he proved himself impervious to reason and merely shook his head and presented a persistent and knowing smirk. He later grew enamored of the idea that NASA staged the moon landing.
I remember the day he left. We lived in a cheap, second-floor flat downtown, and my boyfriend ran up the stairs that night with a new biography and an album—a recording of Marlon Brando as Mark Antony rousing the malleable citizens of Rome to mutiny. We listened to it over and over. Goosebumps, and no one to mock them.
We split up years ago but remained friendly. Last week, he drove up in his Prius. He was irate. He’d heard about Anonymous. “We need to defend him,” he said.
I’d already figured this out. We had to rob Shakespere’s grave. It was the only way. We had to harvest his DNA and find a healthy female to carry the implanted clone. “We’ll see him born, see him grow, see him read his own Lear,” I said. “If we live long enough, we’ll see what he writes. I’d better renew the gym.”
Ex said my idea was old. “Remember The Boys From Brazil?” he said. “These Nazis cloned Hitler, and all these little Hitlers were growing up in South America.”
I knew my idea was somehow not original but had quite forgotten The Boys From Brazil. But the plural inspired. We could have the Bards from Brazil, only here, in the USA; one on the East Coast, one on the West. The South, too. What would a Shakespeare growing up in Mississippi be like? And how about a Hollywood Shakespeare? That would teach them. What would these new Shakespeares do? Would they text? Would one of them go on The Rachel Maddow Show to lampoon our politics? What a treasure trove of ego and idiocy we’ve set before them. I said I wanted to have charge of the Sacramento Shakespeare, groom his rearing as best I could. I babbled on.
“She is much out of quiet,” said Ex to the air, cleverly, from Twelfth Night.
Well, yeah. But the giddy fabulists of Tinseltown are not going to be set right by reason and scholarship. They don’t understand our outrage, because none of them have fallen in love with the world’s writer. We have, and will fight for his honor. They ought to make a movie about us: bardolaters, lovers, driven “mad as the vexed sea” by these puny imposters. They could call it Tempest 11.