--Oscar Wilde’s reply to French novelist Émile Zola who complained to him about the “barbarous English language.”
There’s no accounting for genius.
Shakespeare was a glovemaker’s son. His contempory, Kit Marlowe, playwright with the “mighty line,” was a shoemaker’s son.
Beethoven’s father was a choir singer. James Joyce was the son of a civil servant.
All those artists were geniuses.
These thoughts were stirred by the new movie “Anonymous.” Its American director, Roland Emmerich, argues that “Shakespeare” was really Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.
Emmerich is perhaps best known for the 2008 film “10,000 B.C.” One reviewer called it “historically inaccurate but visually impressive.”
The same could be said of “Anonymous.” The worst offense of this film, aside from historic untruths about Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth, is that it portrays Shakespeare, Marlowe and Ben Jonson as idiots.
The earl graduated from mighty Oxford. Shakespeare “graduated” from grammar school. But a genius like Shakespeare could create unforgettable poetry (the sonnets) and astonishingly great plays.
A mere Oxford grad could do neither. The earl was not a genius.
Besides, the earl died in 1604 before some of the great plays of Shakespeare were written (“Antony and Cleopatra” and “The Tempest.”)
Eric Rasmussen, Shakespeare authority at the University of Nevada, Reno, has an answer to those who argue that “the country hick” Shakespeare could not have written Shakespeare’s works.
“It’s like saying that J.K. Rowling could not have written ‘Harry Potter’ because she was a welfare mom,” Rasmussen says.
The authorship controversy is at least 150 years old. The popular view in the mid-19th century was that Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare.
In 1920 Thomas Looney, English schoolmaster, proposed Oxford as the author because of his perception of Oxford’s parallel life with Shakespeare and Oxford’s noble blood lines.
In the 1950s Calvin Hoffman declared that Marlowe wrote the plays even though Marlowe was stabbed to death in a Deptford pub in 1593.
One reason for persistent doubts about the authorship is the scarcity of facts about Shakespeare.
This has led to rampant speculation by Shakespeare biographers like Stephen Greenblatt. He resorts to copious use of “might,” “may have,” “must have,” “may have been,” “perhaps” “quite possibly” and “if.”
But enough facts are known to make it clear that Shakespeare is the author of the god-like works.
The First Folio of 1623 was not a collection of the works of the earl of Oxford, Marlowe nor Bacon. It was a collection of Shakespeare plays published by his fellow actors, John Heminges and Henry Condell. Ben Jonson wrote a prefatory tribute.
Jonson, no mean playwright himself, extolled the Bard as “the wonder of our stage” and rightly declared him “not for an age but for all time.”
Falstaff, one of the greatest literary creations ever, is beyond the capacity of the earl.
Greenblatt describes Falstaff well: “A debauched genius, fathomlessly cynical, almost irresistible confidence, cowardly, lovable.” Or as Falstaff himself says in Henry IV (part 2): “Banish plump Jack and banish all the world.” Indeed.
In one of the saddest moments in all literature, King Henry V, the former Prince Hal, repudiates Falstaff, his former drinking buddy and hijinks pal: “I know thee not old man.”
The rebuke was essential. The new king had to make one thing clear: “presume not that I am the thing I was.” But it is still heartbreaking.
Shakespeare is full of insights beyond the earl of Oxford. Shakespeare glorifies Henry V. But prowling the Agincourt battlefield in disquise the night before the battle, the king hears strong anti-war sentiments from his soldiers.
The king says it would be a glorious thing to die in the king’s company. A soldier replies: “That’s more than we know.”
Nor was the earl of Oxford capable of writing these lines from “The Merchant of Venice” spoken by Shylock after being hounded, harassed and robbed by Christians:
“I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions…If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh?”
Some Shakespearean scholars are now saying it doesn’t matter who wrote the plays.
“We have the plays, absolutely sublime works,” UNR’s Rasmussen says.
But it does matter. The truth always matters.
The truth is that the Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare despite the crackbrained Looney, a wrong-headed filmmaker and a great Shakespearean actor like Derek Jacobi who lends his name to the lies of “Anonymous.”
No one has ever written more gloriously, profoundly and wisely than Shakespeare.