I’ve loved Shakespeare since I first encountered his work in a high school textbook. I think I may be the only kid in my school to ever say that, but it’s true. Oddly, I didn’t learn to love poetry until much later. Since even Shakespeare’s plays are giant poems, it looks like I would have hated it at first sight. Then again, there’s little rhyme or reason to the whys and wherefores of first loves of any kind. I eventually discovered his sonnets and fell in love there too, but it was Romeo and Juliet that first captured my swoonprone young heart. Then Hamlet was my favorite for a time. Later it was Macbeth, and now it’s The Tempest. My taste can be fickle and fast moving at times, but stays true in its general direction. I’ve had the best intentions to read all of the plays eventually and randomly, and still do. It’s just taking a very long time. Poor Titus Andronicus has been waiting for me to rejoin his pages much longer than I’d intended to abandon him. Alas.

I’ve watched and enjoyed a number of film adaptions. First the old Romeo and Juliet starring Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey right in a high school English class, and later the modernized Leo DiCaprio and Claire Danes version. The filmed Macbeth stageplay starring Ian McKellen and Judi Dench. Patrick Stewart as Prospero, in The Tempest. My favorite adaptation of them all is Julie Taymore’s extravagant Titus, with Anthony Hopkins’ riveting portrayal of the title character as its centerpiece. His “Crossroads” speech, as he lies prone speaking into the hard, unyielding stones is one of the most powerful scenes I’ve ever seen.

When Anonymous first started gaining buzz a couple of years ago, I was torn. I knew I would eventually watch it, since Vanessa Redgrave plays Elizabeth I, but what of the controversy? Shakespeare lovers were immediately up in arms over this movie that dared to question the Bard’s authorship of that huge, renowned body of work. What if it tainted my near lifelong enjoyment of his work?

Well, I’ve watched it now, and my admiration for “my” Shakespeare remains intact, in spite of the fact that I enjoyed the movie. It is a very densely packed film, with many characters and enough plot threads to keep even the most eager viewer mentally on their toes. Since part of my brain stayed wary, it was a challenging two plus hours.

It was also very beautiful. Visually, historically, and emotionally. Framed within the brackets of a modernday stage play, Anonymous takes us back to Shakespeare’s own time, and draws us in to a web of what if that unspools like a romantic historical espionage thriller, with a dash of soap opera high almost over the top drama…bejeweled by the performances of Vanessa Redgrave and her daughter Joely Richardson, as old  and young Elizabeth I.

Set aside all belief in the age old Virgin Queen thing, because Anonymous’ Elizabeth is anything but chaste. She is passionate, willful, demanding, regal, and beautiful, right through every breath until her last. Her court’s history changing aspirations and accompanying machinations take advantage of her fatal weakness…the Earl of Essex, to great and tragic effect. I was already familiar with that aspect from the marvelous old black and white more chaste version starring Bette Davis as Elizabeth I, but this version seemed to use the tragedy that was Elizabeth and Essex to stab straight to the heart.

So there is a lot more to this movie than the question of whether William Shakespeare really was our beloved bard. As for that question itself, I thought the way the prospect was framed in the modernday stageplay made it clear that the entire premise was an elaborate exercise in what if. A few “facts” (or were they?) lead to the age old sentence behind all of fiction…here’s what MIGHT have happened. Sort of like what happens when science fiction writers start with…I think there are other intelligent lifeforms out there…here’s what might happen if they come here.

My take on Anonymous is that it didn’t set out to prove that all those plays and sonnets were written by someone else. It just showed how that scenario might have looked all those misty centuries ago. Yes, it made a man named William Shakespeare look very unsavory. A character created by a 21st century imagination. I didn’t like that character, but the movie in no way made me lose literary faith in “my” Shakespeare. As someone who has strolled the gorgeous English garden of Anne Hathaway’s cottage near the famed river Avon, it’s going to take a lot more than a work of clever, charming…beguiling even…fiction to dislodge my still swoonprone heart from my romantic, idealized love of William Shakespeare and the words and words, and words that bear his name.

Anonymous Official Trailer 2

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