The movie Anonymous directed by Roland Emmerich opens this week. Except for the heavy use of computer-generated images, it's nothing like his previous disasteramas – The Day After Tomorrow, Independence Day and 2012.
But that's not why Anonymous is controversial: the ads show the silhouette of an Elizabethan man holding a quill pen, with the tagline, "Was Shakespeare a fraud?"
As long as there have been professional Shakespeare scholars, there has also been a minority of Shakespeare skeptics – people who believe that another writer used the byline of William Shakespeare, an actor and businessman, to protect himself. Some of the skeptics have been heavy hitters, including Mark Twain, Sigmund Freud, and Orson Welles; in our time, leading Shakespearean actors Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance have also raised the question. The alternative candidate for authorship is Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford – a court playwright and consummate insider of Elizabethan politics. (He was on the jury that sentenced Elizabeth's cousin and rival Mary, the queen of Scotland, to death.)
For those who believe the Earl of Oxford wrote the work – they are known as Oxfordians – Anonymous is an opportunity, but a dangerous one. It will expose millions of people to the authorship controversy. But it takes wild liberties with settled historical facts, which doesn't make the Oxfordian case look respectable.
Studio 360's Mark Anderson is the author of a book on the subject, "Shakespeare" by Another Name. He thinks the real author of Shakespeare has a biography that's downright Shakespearean. He took his case to Derek Jacobi, Roland Emmerich, and one of the few Shakespeare scholars who will even speak to a skeptic.