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Anonymous Reignites Shakespeare Authorship Debate

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Anonymous, the controversial Roland Emmerich film that argues the plays of Shakespeare were actually written by Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, is released to cinemas today (28 October 2011).

Starring Rhys Ifans as the Earl, alongside Vanessa Redgrave, Joely Richardson, Rafe Spall, David Thewlis, Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance, the film has sparked protests in Stratford upon Avon and been branded by one critic as “a ludicrously reductionist view of England’s greatest writer”.

Cast members Jacobi and Rylance are both high profile affiliates of the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition, which has long argued there are doubts over the playwright’s identity.

Speaking to the BBC recently, Emmerich said, "I'm no professor, but I cannot believe that somebody who had nearly no education could write like this.”

And Rhys Ifans echoed these comments at a gala screening of Anonymous at the London Film Festival earlier this week. “There's absolutely no evidence to prove that William Shakespeare of Stratford was the author of these plays” he said. “So it's our duty as actors to ask the question and to offer up candidates. And Edward de Vere is a very convincing candidate."

But, speaking to Whatsonstage.com, Edward Hall, artistic director of the Hampstead Theatre and all-male Shakespeare company Propeller, refuted this. “Didn’t the Earl of Oxford die in 1604?” he said (Shakespeare's final play is believed to have been written in 1613). “There’s no doubt that one person wrote Shakespeare’s plays, and my opinion is that the Earl of Oxford had nothing to do with it. There’s more evidence to suggest it was Shakespeare than to suggest it was someone else.”

“Whether you’re an Oxfordian or a Stratfordian, you have to make a number of suppositions when presenting your case. But there are an awful lot more suppositions to be made if you argue it was the Earl of Oxford rather than Shakespeare.”

Although Hall, who is currently rehearsing Henry V, conceded that information about Shakespeare’s life is “sketchy”, he said there is sufficient evidence to “make a good argument” that he was the author of the plays.

“I only worry about what’s on the page. I must have directed half the plays in the canon and what I detect is a similarity of style, technique and structure that is robust, workmanlike, inspiring, and works extraordinarily well on an audience.

“When you come to some of the later plays you can tell there are other authors, which we know about, because they jump out at you. But otherwise the authorship doesn’t worry me because it doesn’t affect the drama.”

Anonymous has sparked protests from The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, who earlier this week taped over nine road signs bearing his name in Warwickshire to coincide with the film's premiere at the London Film Festival.

Paul Edmondson, head of knowledge and research for the Trust, said: "This film flies in the face of a mass of historical fact, but there is a risk that people who have never questioned the authorship of Shakespeare's works could be hoodwinked. Shakespeare is at the core of England's cultural and historical DNA, and he is certainly our most famous export."

The campaign has attracted the support of figures including Stephen Fry, Simon Callow and the Prince of Wales.


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