Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown (Henry IV, Shakespeare).

Here we go again. Roland Emmerych’s film “ANONIMOUS” attributes the Shakespeare opus to Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. The claim is neither new, neither unique. Other contenders are, inter alia, Queen Elizabeth I, Sir Walter Raleigh, Bacon, Fulker-Greville, and the list can go on. Even Muammar Qaddafi had his candidate in the person of a Sixteenth Century Arab sheik Zubayr bin William…! Walt Whitman, Sigmund Freud and Henry James were famous “doubters”.

The authorship war opposes mainly Stratfordians and Oxfordians, proponents of Edward de Vere. Indeed the latter has the most convincing case. Very little is known about Shakespeare and the Oxfordians gloss about the classical learning, the sophisticated play with words, the absence of name on the Quartos which point in their opinion to a writer with a more aristocratic background. Besides de Vere’s coat of arms depicts a loin shaking a broken “spear” and he was a patron of the private Blackfriars Theatre. They omit to ad that de Vere died in 1604, years before Shakespeare’s dramatic carrier ended.

The movie does not add to this literary feud which will continue forever maybe. We have few data and we are not even sure what Shakespeare looked like. Probably the portrait in the first folio by Martin Droeshout the Younger stands close to his likeness. The famous Chandos portrait (with the earring) appeals more to romantic, sensual inclination than to proven veracity. It alludes indirectly more to the writer of the Sonnets than to the author of the tragedies.

Codes, ciphers and cryptograms have been unearthed but the closer one comes to the man, the more distant he becomes. Most of the Sonnets are addressed to a young nobleman (“To the onlie begetter of these ensuing sonnets Mr. W.H.”). The identity of the “sitter” remains clouded in controversy, mostly because they refer to a homosexual relationship, possibly with Henry Wriothesley, Third Earl of Southampton, Shakespeare’s patron, reputed for his looks.

The mystery of the sonnets better remain as opaque as the man who wrote them. The Shakespeare myth which has preoccupied academics for centuries and will continue to do so, does not come close to the beauty of one single line of this genial man, who preferred to remain shrouded in a cipher of his own making. He chose to go for a walk in our heart, making sure to erase his steps.

It remains strange how the spell continues to obsess. Very few care about the wanderings of so many celebrities, composers or authors - Shelley and Rimbaud might figure among the few exceptions - while any hint or trace of the Bard continues to rattle our souls. He is truly a distant king whose words spill over his identity, which remains largely hidden, and leaves us, the humble subjects of his genius, searching forever and in vain for him.

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