The missus had steadfastly refused to see this movie (she's a grammar prescriptivist, and apparently so hidebound in cultural dogma that she can't entertain a "what-if" about one of western culture's icons), so on an occasion to leave the house alone, I decided to see this movie.
image via freemovieratings.com
It's based on a supposition that the Edward, Earl of Oxford, wrote these plays, sonnets, and other works and farmed them out, first to one Ben Jonson, then to an unnamed and minor actor who assumed the name Shake-speare, hence taking credit for this body of work. All this is woven into a political thriller period piece over who will take Queen Elizabeth's crown at her death.
I confess: I checked out the reviews of the movie before sitting down to write this, and I fear they all missed the point in varying degrees. Much is made in these reviews to demean the idea of Shakespeare being a made-up name, the works by someone else. If art is to inform as well as entertain – and if the informing is to be taken literally, not obliquely, then they have a point. But if art informs by raising curiosity, then they're all wet.
My questions on leaving were more or less divorced from the political arena (for a change). I.e., What really caused the fire that destroyed the Globe theatre? What effect did the plays Henry V, Richard III, King Lear, and Hamlet, for instance, have on the English viewing public, poor and well off? Were Shakespeare's "historical" plays seen during their early days as literary attacks on the monarchy?
The movie was a bit swashbuckling, true, and that's the entrtaining part. And for the most part the acting came off well, with Vanessa Redgrave playing down her role as Elizabeth in tasteful fashion, leaving room for the rest of the story. In the end, I think Shakespeare would have approved – indeed, he would have been entertained by it, and he might have even been urged to consider the effects of his plays on his audiences.