Thursday, June 28, 2012

Would You Want Your Name On This?

I caught up with Anonymous, the historical thriller by Roland Emmerich a couple years ago.  I didn't expect much--it flopped and the critics didn't like it--and I wasn't disappointed.  But it raises a question about historical accuracy that I've always found interesting.

The movie is about Edward de Vere, Elizabethan courtier and secret author of Shakespeare's plays.  He can't openly claim credit for the works that pour out of him, so an actor who can't even write steals the money and fame for classics like Henry V and Richard III, which are actually designed to further de Vere's political intrigues.

There's the rub.  The idea that Shakespeare was a devious buffoon and Ben Jonson a dupe is preposterous, even insulting.  But should I care?  "Historical" works regularly get things wrong--Richard III is probably further removed from history than Anonymous (to go from the sublime to the ridiculous).  I can enjoy a movie like JFK while recognizing everything in it is nonsense, so why not something set centuries ago?

The sets and costumes conjure up the age quite well (though the attitudes are sometimes modern enough that the groundlings become a mosh pit). The action and intrigue isn't bad.  Maybe I'm too hard on the film.  Am I letting my knowledge of history get in the way?


Anonymous Lawrence King said...

I tend to dislike such things if I feel that they are actually persuading people to believe their warped view of history.

"Shakespeare didn't really write Shakespeare" is believed by several academics, but the vast majority reject this as absurd (and rightly so). The Da Vinci Code, the ancient Egyptians being black (i.e., ethnically identical to sub-Saharan Africans), and the CIA octopus that can monitor and control every single street on the planet are similarly believed by significant numbers of people.

On the other hand, alternate history novels such as those by Harry Turtledove can be fun, since his readers know they are fiction. I think that I would enjoy Anonymous a lot more if everyone felt that way about it.

9:42 PM, June 28, 2012  

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