A new movie called Anonymous asks a question that has kept academics debating for decades. Was it actually William Shakespeare, of Stratford-upon-Avon, who wrote the plays and poems attributed to him?
The film suggests it was Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans) who actually put pen to paper.
Then to hide his identity he hired a semi-employed actor named William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) to act as his literary beard.
There is no evidence to support the movie’s theory but at least one detail is consistent with history — the likeness of Shakespeare. Even though no painting of the Bard was done during his lifetime, the 1632 Martin Droeshout portrait showing the writer with, “a huge head, placed against a starched ruff,” has become the accepted version of his appearance in art and on film.
Shakespeare and his ruffed collar has popped up in everything from The Simpsons’s 2007 videogame to the Bugs Bunny cartoon A Witch’s Tangled Hare.
Playing the Bard as a lusty poet in Shakespeare in Love made Joseph Fiennes a star, but he was far from the first actor considered for the role. Daniel Day-Lewis and Kenneth Branagh both turned it down before Ralph Fienne’s little brother snapped it up.
The movie, about how Shakespeare’s love affair with Viola De Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow) helped him overcome writer’s block and pen Romeo and Juliet in her honour, earned 13 Oscar nominations and won seven, including Best Picture and Best Actress for Gwyneth.
One of the stranger depictions of Shakespeare on screen came in Jean-Luc Godard’s King Lear.
Called “Godard’s most insane, headache-inducing and inscrutable movie,” by one critic, it features Peter Sellars (not the Pink Panther actor, but an avant guard theatre director) as William Shakespeare Junior the Fifth.
In the movie’s post Chernobyl world, all of the world’s culture has been lost and it’s up to folks like Shaksper Junior to try recreate it. Searching for inspiration he scribbles familiar phrases in his notebook — “Love’s Labors Lost. As you wish. As you wish. As you wish. As you witch. As you which? As you watch. As you watch…” — as he tries to piece together the works of his long lost relative.
Best remembered as the Woody Allen movie you haven’t seen — the comedian plays Mr. Alien in an uncredited cameo — King Lear is a head scratcher, even for the often unfathomable Godard.