Cross-posted from Lady Sabre & The Pirates of the Ineffable Aether.
Caught this piece on NPR this morning, Renee Montagne interviewing John Orloff regarding the movie Anonymous. And aside from the very many reasons to stick a thumb in the eye of the Shakespeare Didn’t Write Shakespeare debate, one thing was savagely clear to me. It’s apparent at the end of the piece, if you read or listen to it – Orloff doesn’t stick to his guns. He’s claiming de Vere wrote the plays, but at the end of the interview, he claims authorship isn’t the issue – it is, he says, “What we’re really doing is having a question about art and politics and the process of creativity. And that’s what the movie is about. It’s not about who wrote these plays; it’s about how does art survive and exist in our society.”
I haven’t seen the film, I have to declare that right off, here. Thus I write with willful ignorance on the matter, and the limb upon which I stand creaks and bends and may well break. But it seems to me that you can’t have it both ways, here. You can’t proffer something claiming to be historical revision and then back away from it at the same time. And if you’re going to put forth the argument, at least, for God’s sake, have the courage of your convictions.
Which are apparently absent, here.
The response to the following really set me off. “Historical and literary inaccuracies abound in Anonymous — Christopher Marlowe, who is a character in the film, was dead by the time it takes place, and the screenplay suggests that Oxford wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream when he was a green youth. But Orloff points out that Shakespeare himself collapsed time in his history plays.
“Real life doesn’t unfold in three acts,” he says, “but a movie has to.”
So his basic argument for the inaccuracies are that the guy who didn’t write plays did the same thing?
There are two things that really stick in my craw about this whole thing. The first is the basic premise that Shakespeare didn’t write the plays; an argument – in this context – that is entirely contingent on the conceit that only a nobleman could have developed the literary chops to create such enduring works of art. I find this, at its root, a classist argument, a reductive argument, and an inherently snobbish one, to boot (and was hardly surprised to discover that Antonin Scalia is another supporter of the argument – he practically makes my point right there; that Mark Twain would believe the same I find much harder to swallow, but, as Randy Newman once sang, “Pluto’s not a planet anymore, either.”) I find it petty. This is the same kind of argument that extends today, in variation, to declare that genre fiction isn’t “real” literature, or that, God forbid, someone who never attended college cannot possibly write a work of merit.
Wonder what Orloff would think about someone coming along fifty years after his death and claiming he couldn’t have possibly written any of his works, because he didn’t have the right parents, or go to the right school, or because he never even visited the forest of Tyto. (If that’s too oblique, I’ll explain – Orloff wrote the screen adaptation for the second Legends of the Guardians motion picture.)
The second is I find the whole thing incredibly crass. Because I don’t believe that Orloff believes what he’s selling. Rather, I suspect this is jumping on the conspiracy bandwagon. After all, books and films purporting secret histories have been doing pretty well of late.
Haven’t seen it, like I said. Could be a brilliant film. But that damn, “real life doesn’t unfold in three acts,” defense of deliberate misinformation in a story that’s purporting to reveal a real truth?
You can’t have it both ways. Either argue your facts within the fiction or admit that it’s fiction and be done with it. But the whiff of scandal over this smacks of a whore’s perfume.
I love Shakespeare’s works, his plays particularly. And one can argue that, even if he didn’t write them, the works remain and retain their beauty and power. The text is the text, after all.
But to a writer, it’s more than that. It’s what they leave behind.
It’s a legacy.