Monday, September 24, 2012

Generation "Anonymous": A fresh new voice revives a long-lost composer (hint: "Shakespeare"?)

Earlier this month, I received an email from a cellist based in New York state who has developed a "narrative concert" based around the music of the Elizabethan composer Thomas Weelkes. Her band, Rasputina, are musically rediscovering and reinterpreting Weelkes' canon -- and reconsidering the argument first put forward by Oxfordian researcher Eric Altschuler in the early 2000s that Oxford wrote Weelkes' music and/or lyrics.

Here's the video trailer for Rasputina's "Fa La La": 

Melora Creager, "directress" of Rasputina -- with a sheaf of musical credits including playing with Nirvana on their final 1994 European tour -- says "Fa La La" is slated to be premiered in New York in the fall of 2013. She hopes to tour the show around the country (the world?) thereafter. 

Still to come, a transcript of my interview with Creager. 

In the meantime, after the jump, her brief description of her vision for "Fa La La" and how the Shakespeare authorship controversy, among other things, provides grist for some tremendous music. 

Monday, July 02, 2012

Write What You Know

Novelist Nathan Englander has a new piece out on the website BigThink, below, in which he argues that "Write what you know" actually means, essentially, "Write what you feel." And it sounds really freeing. If you want to write a play about Venice, then write a play about Venice!

Having just completed a book about round-the-world voyages of scientists and explorers from the 1760s, and having traveled to only a tiny fraction of the locations portrayed in the book, I feel compelled to agree with him. 

Yet there's a crucial caveat that goes unuttered by Englander too. Consider "Shakespeare" vs. Ben Jonson. Now, for instance, Jonson sets Volpone in Venice, and Jonson never traveled there.

But as one Jonson scholar noted, "Romeo and Juliet is part of an Italian night [!]; Shylock would possibly be ill at ease away from the Rialto[!!]; but the scene of [Volpone] might as well have been laid in Madrid or Edinburgh for all the effect Venice has on the characters." 

In other words, Volpone is a great play -- just not a great Venetian play. 

"Shakespeare," on the other hand... well, the Jonson scholar above isn't just making idle chatter. SBAN and Richard Roe's Shakespeare's Guide to Italy are just two of a number of books over the years that concur with the Jonson scholar and make it clear how much personal experience of the author's own Italian travels went into R&J, Merchant of Venice, etc. 

So I certainly agree with Englander that writers should of course feel free to venture far and wide in the places and historical timeframes they write about. But there's still no faking first-hand knowledge. 

In that sense, pace Mr. Englander, "Write what you know" really requires no interpretation at all. Nothing more or less than... "Write what you know."

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"Anonymous" with a byline - screenwriter John Orloff interview (part 3)

Below -- in honor of the 462nd birthday of Edward de Vere (Apr. 12) -- we continue with the third and final part of our exclusive, long-form interview with Anonymous screenwriter John Orloff. (Here are links to parts one and two of the interview.)

Anonymous is now available as a DVD or Blu-Ray video disc and as streaming online video -- through Amazon. 

This site can only urge once more... Please see it. In my experience, and that of many I've spoken to, it's so rich and densely packed that seeing it a second time is better than the first. (Review here.) 

Anonymous also changes the conversation in the authorship debate in some fundamental ways. Its box office performance was good but not great: Falling somewhere between the revenues generated by Kenneth Branagh's 1996 adaptation of Hamlet and the 2004 Merchant of Venice (starring Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons). Nevertheless, it lives on and will continue to do so for many years to come -- albeit in less culturally conspicuous ways than in first-run cineplexes around the world, where it has been over the past six months.

At issue in this part of the interview with Orloff was a separate conversation I had had with the emeritus Berkeley English professor Alan H. Nelson about Anonymous. Nelson -- like most orthodox Shakespeare scholars and fans -- took great exception to actor Rafe Spall's over-the-top portrayal of Will Shakspere of Stratford as a bit of an illiterate oaf. (Pictured here, left to right, Sebastian Armesto [Ben Jonson], screenwriter John Orloff, Rafe Spall [Shakespeare])

Here is where the conversation picks up:

MARK ANDERSON: Let's talk about the portrayal of Will Shakspere of Stratford by Rafe Spall. How did you imagine him? How did that role evolve?

JOHN ORLOFF: Rafe is amazing. I love his performance in the movie. [The film] started off with the conceit that Shakespeare is a movie star.  He's young. He's handsome. He's got an ego. He loves the ladies. He's ambitious. But in his heart, he really wants to act. That's what his art is, and that's what calls him. 

He was always in our script as illiterate. The scene when Ben Jonson demands that he writes something in front of the Mermaid wits, that was always in the script. 

MKA: But when you say illiterate...

JO: He couldn't write. 

MKA: So in every draft, he was able to read his parts. But he just couldn't write. 

JO: Correct. That was always in there. 

And then Rafe came and read. And he really just broadened the character. He was always a little funny in our script. But Rafe broadened it -- but at the same time, I find his Shakespeare a little dark and menacing, as the movie progresses. And I like that about him. He's got a lot to lose, by the middle of the movie. And goddam it, he's going to protect it. There's a dark side to our Shakespeare. 

I would ask [Spall] what he thinks about the [authorship] issue. I think Rafe was on our set a "closet Stratfordian." He would never really comment. Fair enough. But what he did say is, 'I think Shakespeare is the hero of this movie.' And I'd say, 'What do you mean?' And he said, 'If he didn't do this, none of it would have happened. Thank God he said Yes to Ben Jonson.' So we have these fabulous plays. That's how he thought of Shakespeare. 

I started to think of Shakespeare as a Greek tragedy. He was the fool. He has the fool's role in our Shakespearean tragedy. 

MKA: So Rafe thinks Shakespeare's the hero. You think he's the fool. 

JO: In the sense that he's our comedic relief throughout the film, which I think it needs, because it's such a serious, somber and at times melodramatic story. It needs that lighter touch that Rafe peppers throughout the film. 

And, listen, if you're going to go there. If you're going to say Shakespeare didn't make the plays, you don't want to make him a super-smart character, do you? Because you're kind of shooting yourself in the foot. You don't want to make an argument in the universe of the film that he's totally capable of making the plays. You want to make the argument of, 'No, he's some stupid actor.' You have that line when Oxford discovers that it's Shakespeare. The first thing out of his mouth is, 'An actor??!! An actor, for God's sake!' As if it's the worst thing imaginable. 

It was also poking in the eye of professors -- my own professors. I would also argue that the thing scholars know least about is Shakespeare and his personality. And so I think the version we have of Shakespeare is just as justifiable as Joseph Fiennes' Shakespeare. The professor [Alan] Nelson might have a big issue with Shakespeare in my movie. But that's because he's coming to it with his own emotional baggage of his impression of who Shakespeare was. I'm not responsible for that emotional baggage. I can't help him with that. 

Thursday, March 08, 2012

The FAQ - from this Oxfordian's POV

I recently received a questionnaire from some high school students doing a project on Edward de Vere, Shakespeare and the authorship question. They asked some good questions that really got to the heart of the matter in the Shakespeare debate.

A number of readers have requested I post the (14) questions and my responses to them. 

What follows are one Oxfordian's opinions and perspectives. Others in the trenches of course have very different opinions and points of view. Vive la diffĂ©rence. 

With that caveat in mind, then...

1. How long have you researched Shakespeare and the authorship question?

I have been researching Shakespeare and the authorship mystery since 1993. I wrote a book, published in 2005, "Shakespeare" by Another Name, which was republished in ebook format last year. 

SBAN presents what I -- along with a small but growing minority of scholars, writers, theatrical professionals and Shakespeare buffs -- suspect is a very likely scenario, namely that the Elizabethan court dramatist Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, played a key role in the creation of the plays and poems published under the name "Shakespeare." I personally suspect de Vere was essentially the author himself. Others find a group collaboration scenario more probable. In any event, de Vere deserves much more attention by both scholars and people in the theater -- who of course bring these works to life. 

2. What ultimately made you believe Shakespeare was not the true author of all of his plays, sonnets, etc.?

Here's a great website that collects many of the so-called "anti-Stratfordian" arguments but does not advocate for any alternative "Shakespeare" candidate. Check out the YouTube video, in particular. A fine introduction to the case. 

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Anonymous, the contest - win a free DVD/Blu-Ray

For the next 48 hours, Recently the "Shakespeare" by Another Name blog will be holding held a contest to win a free DVD or Blu-Ray disc of the movie Anonymous. To enter, just share the link to this blog post with your network on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn or your favorite social network of choice and email the link to feedback at shakespearebyanothernname dot com.

The contest ends at noon eastern US time on Friday (Feb. 10). Friday afternoon, then, the contest's winners will be notified. 

UPDATE: The contest's two winners have been notified. Congratulations to both! And thank you to all who entered the contest. See the Facebook page ShakesVere for more.

The first place winner received a free DVD or Blu-Ray copy of the newly released historical thriller Anonymous. (Winner's choice of DVD or Blu-Ray, whatever works for your home video setup.) 

Second place is a copy of Anonymous's companion book

So what is Anonymous? It's a fantastical historical rollercoaster ride based on the epic life and very Shakespearean times of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. As Rex Reed wrote in the New York Observer
Shakespeare may be the most performed playwright in the history of letters, but in 400 years not one original script has been found in his own handwriting. When he died at 52, survived by an illiterate wife and daughter, he left behind in his will no mention of a single manuscript. In Anonymous, an obvious labor of love for director Roland Emmerich, the culprit is identified as Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, a wealthy aristocrat who could not attach his real name to works of lusty romance, tragedy and political intrigue because they lampooned prominent members of the court. ... I found it a complex cornucopia of ideas and panache. You go away sated.
Or as Morgan Freeman told USA Today, "Have you seen Anonymous? Oh, don't miss that one. Do. Not. Miss. Anonymous. Another well-made movie; very well-done."

Of course, Anonymous is also a glorious piece of Hollywood filmmaking -- which means it sometimes takes some liberties. This blog, while unreservedly recommending the movie, has chronicled a few

To really delve into de Vere's tremendous depth and epic, page-turning life  -- with its rich network of connections between de Vere's life and the "Shakespeare" works -- Edward de Vere's literary biography, "Shakespeare" by Another Name is the book to read. 

Just a few months ago "Shakespeare" by Another Name was released as an ebook, and less than the price of a movie ticket will open a whole new world of connections to the greatest plays ever written

In the words of some prominent journalists and reviewers, SBAN is a gripping and controversial alternative biography of the Bard that "deserves serious attention."[1] The book "makes a compelling argument,"[2] "quite a compelling argument"[3] that is "especially impressive."[4]

[1] The New York Times
[2] USA Today
[3] The Chicago Sun-Times
[4] The Atlanta Journal-Constitution