Covering Shakespeare Up!

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Today (25 October) is St Crispin’s Day, a day when we should recall the Battle of Agincourt and Henry V’s stirring speech to his outnumbered troop.

Instead, here in Stratford-upon-Avon, it’s more of a case of ‘Hung be the heavens with black!’ (Henry VI Part 1, 1.1.1)

As box offices await the arrival of the new Hollywood film Anonymous, which portrays William Shakespeare as a fraud, the playwright’s name is disappearing from pub and street signs up and down the country.

The blackout is a bid to highlight the potential impact of the film’s attempt to re-write English culture and history. Even the famous Gower Memorial statue in Shakespeare’s home town of Stratford-upon-Avon has been covered up to illustrate how different the world would be without William Shakespeare. Pubs are shrouding their Shakespeare-themed names and in Shakespeare’s county, Warwickshire, road signs bearing his name have been taped over.

The cover-up is part of our on-going campaign to tackle the film’s conspiracy theory that William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon was a barely literate front man for the Earl of Oxford.

The film flies in the face of a mass of historical fact, but there is a risk that people who have never questioned the authorship of Shakespeare’s works could be hoodwinked. We thought that our project would remind us that Shakespeare is at the core of England’s cultural and historical DNA, as well as (arguably) our most famous export.

Today’s activity barely scratches the surface, but we hope it will remind people of the enormous legacy we owe to William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon Avon. Where better to start a conversation about the true author than in the pubs and streets that bear his name?

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has also taken the conversation online with a website, 60 Minutes with Shakespeare, featuring the voices of HRH The Prince of Wales and Anonymous director Roland Emmerich, as well as 60 authors, actors and scholars answering the big questions about Shakespeare in 60 seconds each.

This Friday (28 October) will see the publication of the our free e-book, Shakespeare Bites Back (co-authored by Stanley Wells and I), which sets out the evidence for Shakespeare and discusses the phenomenon of the Shakespeare Authorship Conspiracy Theory. Register for your free copy at

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Author:Paul Edmondson

Head of Research and Knowledge and Director of the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Follow Paul on Twitter @paul_edmondson
  • Stephen Wittek

    Yes, and if you check I think you’ll find that Bacon directed ‘Anonymous’ as well.

  • Quercusrubus
  • Laura Catchpole
  • Cheryl Gruendemann

    Mark…. I agree that the PT (Prince Tudor) theories go too far for me, as well. If you check in with the DeVere Society of UK you’ll  see their take on this aspect. I do believe it’s there for the shock factor, given Emmerich’s history. It’s a movie, and it’s not meant to tell anything but a story. He chose the most shocking story he could imagine to garner the most attention. He went for it, as the saying goes. He certainly managed to get the attention of Stratfordian scholars rather quickly! Funny how they had managed to ignore the authorship question for hundreds of years, and bury the lack of factual evidence for the man of Stratford and yet one silly movie just completely unnerves them! Kind of magical, hey?

  • Cheryl Gruendemann

    Anti-shakespearean? Oh my no… it’s not anti-shakespearean! You’ll discover as you regain your sanity over the loss of the status of Empire, that Shakespeares works are beloved world over, but who he was as a man is in doubt and that question is travelling faster then the speed of light! There’s more than enough information growing out of this simple question to help you catch up someday. It is truly desperate to attempt to suggest this is an american plot against your ideology, when the interest in authorship is world wide! And the candidates are of course all English, so sleep well… you won’t lose it all! You’ll just be learning all about the definition of the mythology of historical figures. Indeed, history is seldom anymore factual then Hollywood when it comes to creating myths! It’s an interesting lesson for us all.

  • Giovanni A. Orlando.

    Shakespeare was Bacon … I am adding my comments on Facebooks … Adieu, Adieu, Adieu …

  • Stephen Wittek

    Although I applaud the spirit and ingenuity of this project, I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t exactly the sort of thing the producers of ‘Anonymous’ were hoping for: tons of free publicity. In the world of advertising, you score points by getting people to pay attention to you, not by having the superior historical argument. Why not just let ‘Anonymous’ die unnoticed? We all know that Shakespeareans will win this battle in the end. Ten years from now, ‘Anonymous’ will be a standard text in ‘Shakespeare and Film’ courses and the rest of the world won’t even know it ever existed. 

  • Cardiff Shakespeare

    Despite James Shapiro warning us about this film back in 2009 at a Shakespeare conference on Biography at the Globe, I’ve been looking forward to the new Anonymous film as a “what if”/ parallel world story. People often think that the idea that Shakespeare didn’t right Shakespeare mostly comes from snobby Oxfordians who don’t think that the son of a glove-maker could have written the plays. Now I’m asking myself: is it snobbery to think that your average Joe Bloggs is going to be taken in by this film, that they will see this story as some kind of historical fact? I’m looking forward now to seeing how intelligent the film is about the controversy it could expect to be produced. Is it raising interesting (even witty) questions about people’s investment in Shakespeare the bard, or is the film just cashing in on the controversy.

  • Annie Martirosyan

    You had better keep on mourning the big cancellation of your puppetry, Cheryl, as you did a few days ago. And yes, Warwickshire is not a village, nor is Stratford.
    We are not mourning – we are exposing the anti-Shakespearean sick rants with an aim to put an end to them.

    Indeed, Mark. Hollywood has shortage of native history as it is and corrupts Britain’s admirable past with its glamorous, base tools.

  • Helen Gordon

    The reaction in Warwickshire seems like a strange way to call attention to the myths about Shakespeare, but I’m glad to see some Englishmen taking the authorship question seriously.  Emmerich is doing the world a great favor to draw back the curtains of censorship and suppression that have hidden from Shakespeare lovers the more likely biography of the master poet-playwright.  We have only a few facts about the man who spelled his name Shakspere or Shagsper but never the same way that the author’s name was spelled. We have only a few facts from court records about the person who has been traditionally presumed to be the same person as the famous author; everything else is pure speculation.  Those who want a book that sets forth the problem very clearly should read Charlton Ogburn, Jr., THE MYSTERIOUS WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE; THE MYTH AND THE REALITY, published about 1982.  For more recent scholarship, go to the web sites of the Shakespeare-Oxford Society (many links to recent scholarship), or the Shakespeare Fellowship, where a great deal of material is available without charge.

  • Markwi20

    Dear Cheryl, I could say what an odd way to behave in relation to the money that Hollywood has spent supporting this film.  To create a semiotic weapon that this film represents; to “fly in the face of historical fact”, as Dr Edmondson puts it, is disrespectful agenda  seeking snobbery of the highest order.

    Queen Elizabeth an incestual schemer?

    It is absolute bunkum, no matter how impressive the visual impact of the film is. Use great CGI and costumes, and a great deal of the public will believe the story as an absolute truth.

  • Cheryl Gruendemann

    I do not mean to be disrepectful but..  your piece reminded me just a tad of the theme of Simon Peggs movie, Hot Fuzz. It’s as if PC Nicholas Angel just arrived in Warwickshire!  Just think the lengths they went to, to win their place as “safest village”. Is this endemic to all small English villages? Is the statue drapped in black for the occassion? What an odd way for intelligent sophistocated Englishmen to behave. Or perhaps that too is another myth from England.

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