After the highly anticipated opening of ANONYMOUS last weekend (well, there were a few people I’m sure who almost had to wait on line to see it), the excitement has diminished significantly. Two people I know were underwhelmed by the experience of seeing it. My sense is that this is the reaction the vast majority of those who venture to the movies will have regarding the film. A good number of movie critics, not to mention an impressive list of scholars, have panned the movie and its premise. I am reluctant to join the group in piling on more negative commentary considering that the film is likely to fade into oblivion soon. However, the concern I have is that some teachers will use the film and the promotional materials sent to them by SONY Pictures in the guise of lesson plans in their classrooms. Doing so would be a big mistake, in my book, and might influence students not to question the authorship of Shakespeare, but to ask why his work even matters at all.
The first activity (“Mistaken Identity”) invites students to “join the debate,” and then seems to lead the reader to conclude that the search for the “true” author of Shakespeare’s plays has merit: “Shakespeare supporters remind us that doubts about his authorship did not arise until more than 200 years after his death.” And then the question, ” What social and intellectual developments during that time might ahve prompted the search for the true author?” To be sure, a slanted question perhaps designed to get students thinking that there is an issue to be debated.
The second activity (“The Soul of the Age”) claims that the film presents a “compelling portrait of Edward de Vere as the true author of Shakespeare’s plays.” Remember, de Vere was dead for many years before a number of Shakespeare’s plays appeared on the scene (and there is no “compelling” explanation about how de Vere could have managed to write from the grave).
And the third activity (“A Kingdom for a Stage”) notes that the film has “all the elements of a Shakespeare play.” Perhaps it does, but does that mean anything? For those of you who have viewed the suggested activities associated with the film, you have undoubtedly found that they are based on lots of misinformation that will lead students far afield. This is one film that teachers should avoid.