Saturday, September 17, 2011

Anonymous class 1: Why search? Why ask?

This week, we're welcoming all to join in a discussion led by the teachers of an eight-week course called "Anonymous the Movie and William Shakespeare's Identity." (Description here [PDF], p. 21.)

The class is offered by the University of Minnesota's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) and taught by OLLI science/liberal arts leader George Anderson* and retired Univ. of Minn. humanities professor James Norwood.

The instructors have one question this week which they'll be asking their students -- and ask anyone else to join in here and on the "ShakesVere" Facebook page. It's as follows:

Monday, September 12, 2011

Anonymous post-Toronto: The Good, The Better, The Oscars?

It has been fascinating to monitor the press coverage of the Oxfordian Columbia/Sony Pictures film Anonymous as it had its official premiere at the Toronto Film Festival this past weekend. It opens in movie theaters across North America and the UK on Oct. 28 -- and throughout the rest of the world in the two months following.

The upshot has been very upbeat: Four reviews (that I've been able to find) have posted so far, and all four are anywhere from begrudgingly positive to wholly positive. 

After the break, excerpts from the four. First, though, SBAN blog correspondent Ted Alexander was in attendance at last night's screening and had the following to report: 
    I loved the movie as did my wife and daughter. Crowd liked it too. No standing O but sustained applause.
    I think the movie succeeded spectacularly as entertainment. The actors were superb in their roles; the story was interesting and I thought,well-told; the cinematography, costuming, CGI, etc were all great. I really enjoyed all the bits of the various Shakespeare plays that they staged in the film (really enjoyed the Henry V, Mark Rylance does a wonderful job with the opening chorus).
    Now as to the historical accuracy of the movie, there are a lot of things wrong, especially chronologically and a lot of things that are highly speculative. I'm not a proponent of the PT theory but it does serve the plot well and makes the story more interesting. We don't know anything about what sort of relationship Ben Jonson had with the author but the way it is portrayed in the film feels like what I imagine it could have been or at least what I would have liked it to have been if that makes any sense. I really liked the Jonson character in the film. He has one of the best lines in the film to de Vere's wife when leaving their home near the end of the film.
    All-in-all I think the writer and the director have done a masterful job of creating an entertaining film that is still enlightening in some significant ways while taking liberties with the facts. Bravo! Can't wait to see it again.

(Mr. Alexander also took a handheld video of the audience Q&A with director Roland Emmerich, five members of the cast and the screenwriter John Orloff.)

**EDITED on Sept. 13 to add correspondent Kathryn Sharpe's brief review after attending the other public screening to date of Anonymous -- this year's Shakespeare Authorship Studies Conference in Portland, Ore.:
I loved it. Emmerich says it's his story of Shakespeare--a darker story. He changed the known history when necessary to convey an "emotional truth" just as Shakespeare did with his history plays. The changes will bother people who know what actually happened, but it's not unlike seeing your favorite book made into a film. Things will change for the sake of the art form. The most memorable scene for me? The interior of Oxford's study, with shelves piled high with leather-bound manuscripts, those precious manuscripts. And Hank Whittemore said that he does not mind that the movie will be picked apart and compared to the historical record, because it is not a pure fantasy (as was Shakespeare in Love), it is about real people, real literary works. Real politics and real power.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

"Shakespeare" the Venetian: Why Titian matters

Following up on the previous post -- which finds Hamlet using dialect peculiar to East Anglia, where Edward de Vere grew up -- it's worth remembering that the Shakespeare canon is also brimming with evidence that the author knew and wrote about Italy from first-hand experience. 

In a few cases, it's even possible to date when the author must have been there -- or, at least, communicated with someone who was in Italy at the time. 

The Shakespeare epic poem Venus & Adonis provides one such clincher. It contains lines that suggest the author was in Venice -- and was capable of gaining entrĂ©e to a prestigious Venetian artist's studio -- sometime before August 1576, when the artist died. 

Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, traveled in Italy using Venice as his home base from May 1575 through March 1576. When de Vere traveled to La Serenissima, the city of canals had one superstar celebrity who arguably eclipsed all other cultural figures in town: The painter Tiziano Vecellio, a.k.a. Titian (c. 1488/1490 - 26 Aug. 1576). 

When the king of France, Henri III, had visited Venice in 1573, the king insisted on meeting Titian at the master's Venice studio. The octogenarian artist, former arch-rival of Michelangelo, had met and in many cases painted most of the leading intellectual, cultural, religious and political figures of the century

An Italianate English lord -- an emissary from Queen Elizabeth's court -- visiting Venice would have almost been expected to pay homage to the city's greatest living cultural icon. To have neglected to do so could have verged on the impolitic. 

If de Vere did indeed meet Titian, for starters, he could have heard a first-hand account of the life and the grisly death of one of Titian's patrons, the Duke of Urbino. The dearly departed Oxfordian scholar Andrew Hannas long advocated that Titian's portrait of Urbino, pictured here, was arguably the pictorial inspiration for King Hamlet's ghost, cap-a-pie, as Horatio says
A figure like your father,
Armed at point exactly, cap-a-pie [head-to-toe],
Appears before them, and with solemn march
Goes slow and stately by them: ...
On the Elsinore battlements, we hear again about the ghost's armor, his pale complexion and his "countenance more in sorrow than in anger." Check, check and check. The apparition does, the soldiers say, have a grey beard. (Titian's Urbino doesn't.) Then again, aren't all ghosts supposed to look grizzled? 

Anyway, Hamlet's play The Mousetrap stages Urbino's murder. Titian's patron was poisoned by a courtly rival named Gonzago. In the ear. (Hamlet says of the murderer, "His name's Gonzago: The story is extant, and writ in choice Italian.")

Titian could have told de Vere all about the gruesome deed his patron fell prey to and the insider politics behind Hamlet's play-within-a-play. 

Titian also had in his studio at the time a masterpiece that would become a prime inspiration for the first work ever published under the name "Shakespeare," the 1593 epic poem Venus and Adonis