Peer-Reviewed Journal Details
Mandatory Fields
E. Semple
Borrowers and Lenders: The Journal of Shakespeare and Appropriation
"'A darker story': Two Shakespeares, art, and history in Emmerich’s Anonymous" (Forthcoming)
In Press
Optional Fields
Shakespeare; Anonymous; authorship conspiracy; Emmerich; film; Earl of Oxford; film director; screening the author; Elizabeth I; paratexts.
Roland Emmerich’s film Anonymous (2011) infamously splits the character of Shakespeare into two disparate figures. In its alternative Tudor past, the ‘real’ Shakespeare – the Earl of Oxford – and Elizabeth I embark on a lifelong relationship that has shocking consequences for history and literature. The film’s other Shakespeare is the actor Will, who acts as the front for Oxford. Over the course of the film, Will is revealed to be a dangerous buffoon; he is boorish, near-illiterate, fame-hungry, and homicidal. The film presents itself as conscious not only of its cinematic ancestry, but of dramatic and theatrical history. In this article, I demonstrate that Anonymous projects a coherent trajectory for Elizabeth’s reign that is mapped onto Shakespeare’s creative process and his plays – from the youthful magic of Dream to the decayed tragedy of Hamlet – and in doing so adapts and appropriates the Tudor past to serve its aims. Finally, I connect the film’s author-hero to the film’s director through an examination of the film trailer, poster, and in particular Emmerich’s propagandist video “Ten Reasons Why William Shakespeare is a Fraud”. Like the film, these paratexts aim to unseat Shakespeare as literary god, but they also reveal how Anonymous is deeply invested in appropriating Shakespeare’s authority, as well as his economic and cultural capital. Ultimately, I argue that Anonymous and its paratexts seek to deconstruct Shakespeare as icon in order to reshape our present and stimulate debate over the value and meaning of art in the twenty-first century.
Grant Details