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To be or not to be ... an Oxfordian

AnonymousI went on Tuesday -- Dipson Theatres' Bargain Night -- to see "Anonymous," the movie about the off-the-wall premise that Shakespeare's plays were written not by Shakespeare but by the Earl of Oxford.

It was beautiful to look at, if a little confusing here and there, and I thought it had some memorable scenes. I loved the scene near the end when the Earl of Oxford is dying and Ben Jonson -- a great poet in his own right, though you would not get that from the movie -- tells off the Earl's wife who all through the movie has been griping about all the writing he does.

"Madame," Ben Jonson says. "If we, and our civilization, and even our Queen are remembered at all, it will be because we lived in the age when he put ink to paper."

Thrilling! And I like the last scene in this preview, where you see the Earl of Oxford in his box, looking down on the stage.

So, all in all, yes, I liked "Anonymous." I will even go so far as to say I would like to see it again when I have not worked a long day beforehand and can keep more straight all the relationships and time warps.

What surprises me is how many critics and pundits absolutely hate this movie.

Jeff Simon, at our paper, was fair to the movie. He saw it as good entertainment, despite the flaws of the premise.

But, I mean, this person on Slate, she rants and rants.

The Washington Times gets worked up.

I get the idea "Anonymous" touches some kind of nerve among Shakespeare nerds, dramatizing this wackiness about the Earl of Oxford. I personally had never heard of that "theory" (I am afraid even to call it that because people seem so touchy). I had heard of the Christopher Marlowe theory, but not this one.

Apparently the people who believe this theory have a name. They are "Oxfordians." The people who hate the Oxfordians are afraid that this movie lends the theory legitimacy and people will exit the theater believing it.

They might have a point. "You totally leave believing the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare's plays," one friend told me before I saw the movie.

But she was kidding (I think). I mean, I think most people will see it as a story -- a good story.

And if they don't, so what? We could do worse than having a lot of people running around brooding about whether or not Shakespeare wrote the Shakespeare plays. I mean, it beats people thinking about Lady Gaga or something, doesn't it? I am just saying.

I go through this kind of thing all the time, being the classical music critic. "Amadeus" was a fiction. Mozart was not like the idiot portrayed in "Amadeus." You could almost compare that to the treatment Shakespeare got in "Anonymous."

And yes, people who don't know better leave "Amadeus" saying, "I didn't know Mozart laughed like that." That was an actual quote I overheard the first time I saw the movie. It drove me crazy. But I'm over it. And, trust me, Mozart is too.

Just a couple weeks ago I saw "Mozart's Sister." That was also, let us say, an embroidery of the truth. And sure, there will be people leaving the theater going, "Wow, Mozart's sister was at least as good a composer as he was." I've got news for you, no, she wasn't. But it made for a darn good story.

Reading these rants against "Anonymous," I find myself saying exactly that. "It's a story!"

Then I started seeing what was bugging all these people doing the ranting.

They are all worked up over the "elitist" notion that only a nobleman could have written Shakespeare's plays. It's OK if Shakespeare did not write them -- what bothers them is the notion, however preposterous, that a nobleman did. Over and over they return to that. Until it turns into: How could a rich nobleman possibly write those plays? The idea! The very idea!

What we are seeing is a reverse snobbery. How dare anyone think a rich man could have any kind of feelings, any kind of humanity, any kind of poetry in his soul. It's sort of an "Occupy Wall Street" attitude.

I'm sick of it. I personally believe Shakespeare wrote his plays. And I am glad of it. I like Shakespeare -- his face, his name, his legend. Heck, he may even have been Catholic, and I like that too.

But now, guess what? This griping gets to me.

It is enough to turn anyone into an Oxfordian.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman



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