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203 of 248 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
I always accepted the idea that Shakespeare wrote his own plays, and considered anything to the contrary to be merely speculation not fact. So, the premise-what if Shakespeare never wrote a word, I found not to be appealing.

Upon reading some good reviews, I decided to see it, and found it to be a high quality production and a wonderful experience. Director Roland Emmerich previously directed 2012, and Independence Day, and writer John Orloff previously wrote some episodes of Band of Brothers, and as you watch this movie you will realise this term BoB originated with Shakespeare.

Anonymous proposes the Earl of Oxford wrote all the plays, anonymously donated them to Ben Johnson, a well known writer of the time for him to take credit. Then an uncouth illiterate actor, named Shakespeare steps in to claim the credit. The peer remained anonymous for reasons of social acceptability.

Another reason he may have remained anonymous which I totally loved was the parallel structure between what happened in the plays, and the real life events of the courtiers and Queen Elizabeth. Cecil, the courtier villain in this movie is a hunchback (historical fact), and brother in law of the Earl of Oxford. Richard 3 in Shakespeare's play is a hunchback, so the play becomes a social satire.

A scene where a man is stabbed through a curtain mirrors a scene in Hamlet. A usurped heir is sent to Ireland, and there is a plot to kill him, similar to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Hamlet.

Emmerich's direction gives Anonymous a much grander scope. We have big set pieces, such as a rebel attack on a bridge leading to the tower of London, rowing a boat in the Thames with the London skyline looming behind, an aerial shot of a huge crowd in the snow, and visual scenes of quite unsanitary London of the time, and he evokes the period very well. For example it rains on the actor in the theater, as he recites his lines. Certain scenes play out in ways we have not scene before, particularly Hamlet's soliloquy where he holds a knife, Richard 3 as caricature, crowd interaction and participation, sweet talking bawdy ladies with Shakespeare's words. I loved this. Visually outstanding, with exquisite and intricate costumes.

I liked the lead actors charisma and presence. He was so in character and looked older for the part that I did not recognise him till the credits. Rhys Ifans starred in Notting Hill, and Pirate Radio. He does a terrific job, perhaps his best work, as does the actor who plays Johnson. There is a particular scene between the two of them at the end that makes me tear up even as I write. Derek Jacobi, begins and ends the movie opening and closing the premise.

Vanessa Redgrave plays the doddering confused queen, and her daughter Joely Richardson plays her younger self, who has a torrid affair with the Earl of Oxford when she was young, producing an illicit heir. The queen has several torrid affairs which become part of the plot of succession. Shakespeare was played by Rafe Spall, son of Timothy Spall, who you have probably seen in several movies.

If the screenwriter was hoping to persuade me, he certainly made me think. Perhaps he goes too overboard with Shakespeare having a unique form of illiteracy, he can read words and memorise them but he can't write, and yet he is a scheming manipulative lout, a criminal, a drunkard, a successful entrepreneur, and a sociopath. Asked to speak to a crowd he stumbles inarticulately over his words. If Shakespeare was as inarticulate, and uneducated as portrayed, how could he have convinced anyone of his genius when he lacked the most basic skills of expression.

If not Shakespeare, then who?

Almost two centuries passed before anyone seriously questioned Shakespeare's authorship. It has been suggested that Sir Francis Bacon wrote these plays, but why would an already famous writer still living when Shakespeare's First Folio was published in 1623 give credit to someone else. DeVere appears to be the current favorite among conspiracy theorists. If DeVere was excluded from the court, as he is in the movie then he would not be in a position to satirise the court, or include such pointed commentary in his plays. DeVere as a child in the movie performs a piece from Midsummer nights dream for the queen. He could hardly have written it as an adult then, could he? Curiously, at times the movie appears to undermine its own premise.

According to Who Wrote Shakespeare? by John Michell, 26 different candidates have been proposed as the author of Shakespeare. I consider this an outstanding and well researched book, which lists all the candidates, and argues pro and con without taking sides, and is a good source of facts including Jonson's eulogy, and details about the Bard's will. Another book available on Kindle, Who Wrote Shakespeare? by James Shapiro argues the established view, and rebuts alternative authorship. It's worth exploring both these books to have a more global understanding of all the issues.

In the movie Ben Johnson proclaims sincere affection for DeVere's language skills.
In reality, Ben Johnson famously said of Shakespeare: "he would... buy the reversion of old plays,"but then mark not whose 'twas first: and after-times may judge it to be his..."On Poet Ape.

The movie claims no manuscript written by Shakespeare survives. If you don't have evidence that Shakespeare wrote something, does that mean you have evidence someone else wrote it? You cannot infer alternative authorship from a negation, only from evidence. If you have evidence that these plays were previously written, and performed or were adapted from books, then you can verify that Shakespeare was not the originator, merely wrote a version, and credit the original source. It seems that with some of these plays, they were circulating already, and then Shakespeare wrote a version, or made his own adaptation, which then became the definitive version.

Only 18 of the 36 plays in the First Folio of 1623, were previously published during Shakespeare's lifetime. Eight of those 18 were published anonymously. A further 9 plays, pirated versions, previously published under the name of Shakespeare were rejected as Shakespeare plays.

In 1619 10 plays were published in what has become known as the False Folio. Later, in 1664 seven new plays would be published in the Third and Fourth Folios but most are rejected as Shakespeare plays today.

Some of these plays in addition to the 1609 Sonnets were apparently published without Shakespeare's authority or consent, and quickly pulled by the publisher. In addition there were several other plays such as Taming a Shrew 1594, King Leir 1605, First part of the contention 1595, Troublesome Raigne of King John 1591 all published anonymously but not attributed to Shakespeare.

The Passionate Pilgrime 1612 edition initially published under Shakespeare's name was reissued without Shakespeare's name following a complaint by writer Thomas Heywood. Only 5 of the poems published in the 1599 edition of Passionate Pilgrim are attributed to Shakespeare with certainty by Shakespearean scholarhsip.

Undoubtedly, this movie will stimulate debate and controversy. The idea that he didn't write a single word goes too far in my opinion, it would be interesting to know for sure what he did and did not write. I do think this is one of the best movies I have seen all year.

Wherever you stand on this, I highly recommend you see it, consider it, and form your own opinion. If you're like me, it's too tabloidy to be taken seriously, the once virgin queen now a nympho, having an illegitimate son with the real Shakespeare, and so on.

Even if like me you do not agree with the premise, you might be surprised to discover you still love the movie.

I think you will enjoy it, and I hope this was helpful.
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148 of 194 people found the following review helpful
on December 28, 2011
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
Roland Emmerich's new film, Anonymous, is inspired by the same theory that gripped Sigmund Freud during the last dozen years of his life--that "William Shakespeare" was the pseudonym and front man of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford (1550-1604). When you see this film and ponder its thesis, I hope you will remind yourself that Freud was passionately intrigued by the likelihood that de Vere was Shakespeare. Before long, I predict Freud will be vindicated. The film has generated much debate, some of it acrimonious. Yet the Anonymous website has a poll showing that only 51% of visitors still believe the traditional author wrote the canon.

When his wife Anne pleads with de Vere to stop writing plays, he replies, "The voices! I can't stop them. They come to me. I would go mad if I didn't write down what the voices say." This is an intriguing surmise about de Vere's creative process, as though his Muse speaks to him aloud. In fact, I suspect that some form of unusual awareness and tolerance of multiple self states plays a crucial role for some literary geniuses such as de Vere.

Psychoanalysts are in a unique position to elucidate the psychology of literary anonymity and pseudonymity. The evidence suggests that keeping one's authorship secret helps promote what Keats called Shakespeare's "negative capability"--keeping his own identity in the background as he created hundreds of utterly convincing characters. In a sense, Edward de Vere's most magical character of all was his pseudonym and front man, "William Shakespeare." With some likely assistance from the man from Stratford, this character lives on for most people more vividly than does de Vere himself. Why did de Vere have to conceal his authorship? For many reasons. Nobility did not write for the common theater. They rarely published poems under their own name during their lifetime. And the plays of Shakespeare spoof many powerful court figures, and comment on various court intrigues.

The film has de Vere tell Ben Jonson, "All art is political." Attributing the plays' authorship to a commoner helped conceal some of their provocative critiques. Even so, the Elizabethan theater audience as depicted in the film recognized the character Richard III as a spoof of de Vere's hunch-backed brother-in-law, Robert Cecil. They also recognized Polonius in Hamlet as a disguised portrayal of de Vere's father-in-law. Some Shakespeare scholars still admit the latter is correct, though others have backed off from this identification, since it strengthens the case for de Vere's authorship.

You may have read some of the vitriolic attacks on Anonymous by Columbia University's James Shapiro and others. This fierce backlash intrigues me. The academic Shakespeare establishment usually treats the authorship question as taboo. In other words, many Shakespeare organizations and publications will not even discuss it. One English professor told me it would be "academic suicide" to research de Vere's possible authorship. A Shakespearean publication invited me to write a book review, then changed their mind once they read it, explaining that they had "blundered," and would never publish anything by an Oxfordian (that is, someone who thinks de Vere, Earl of Oxford, wrote the works of Shakespeare).

Both Emmerich and Orloff admit their film takes poetic license in order to provoke and entertain. But the Stratfordians are not amused. Their over-reaction to the film is Inquisitional in its tone. We instinctively sympathize with the underdog, all things being equal. The Shakespeare establishment may have made things worse for itself by forgetting this is just a film.

Many of the reviews of Anonymous have panned the film because its premise is so controversial. A common theme in these critical reviews is the assumption that the Shakespeare scholars must be correct, and there is "no evidence whatsoever" that Shakespeare did not write Shakespeare. Certain premises are repeatedly asserted to be incontrovertible refutations that de Vere could be the author. You've heard that many plays of Shakespeare are known with certainty to have been written after 1604, the year that de Vere died. But, as some Shakespeare scholars admit, we simply do not know with certainty when any of the plays were written. The conventional dating of the plays is based on Shakespeare of Stratford having died in 1616. So it was assumed he wrote roughly two plays per year, and these assumptions played a crucial if circular role in the conjectural dating of when the plays were written.

The Sept. 11, 2014 education supplement of The Times of London published an article about the Stratfordian Gary Taylor suppressing an updated article on The Psychology of Shakespearean Biography that was requested by the former co-editors of an Italian Shakespeare journal. He seems to have pressured them to resign. The story was also covered in the national edition of The Times the following day (as well as in The Telegraph-- that story has drawn over 2,000 online comments, far fewer than this review!).

If you'd like to read more, my Oxfreudian website has the full text of many of my 60 publications on this topic, along with links to several other relevant websites.

Richard M. Waugaman, M.D.
Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, and
Faculty Expert on Shakespeare for Media Contacts,
Georgetown University
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32 of 41 people found the following review helpful
Format: Blu-ray
This film has Elizabethan and Shakespearian scholars alike up in arms, because it suggests that the great, learned man known as William Shakespeare may not have written his own plays. I am a scholar of Elizabeth, and I saw it with a scholar of Shakespeare. Both of us were offended... and both of us were impressed.

Poet Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto) has been dragged into the Tower of London for concealing the politically motivated plays of the late, lamented William Shakespeare. His belief that they have burn down with the Globe Theater sends the audience into earlier times, and the artistic merits of the Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans). A man of title but no longer a fortune thanks to his debts and his insistence upon writing, he searches for a name to put with his voice. Ben seems the ideal choice, a poet of little regard and no actual voice, a playwright whose works are of little account. But he is offended at the notion of putting his name to another man's plays and passes the manuscript along to William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall), an actor who snatches up the opportunity to become famous. His plays swiftly come to the attention of the aging Elizabeth Tudor (Vanessa Redgrave), who recalls a much earlier time when she was similarly impressed by the Earl's works.

Their romance (Joely Richardson, Jamie Campbell Bower) plays out against the political scheming of her advisors, among whom is the hunchbacked Robert Cecil (Edward Hogg). Much later, the Earl of Oxford intends to influence the decision of the queen as to which of her heirs will inherit the throne -- and the play Richard III will incite the peasants against her trusted advisor. What results is a clever blending of actual events and fictitious conclusions. Some of them, like the curiosity surrounding how a man of little learned means could have written such magnificent plays, are valid questions. Others, like the fact that Elizabeth had numerous illegitimate children, stretch the imagination a bit. But as far as rearranging history goes, it is exceptionally well done and will make you wonder at the end if any of it is possible. My friend began with the assurance that Shakespeare wrote his own plays and concluded wondering if her initial theory is in fact the truth. In that regard, the film is a masterpiece of manipulation, lent an air of seriousness through the early narration of renowned Shakespearian performer Derek Jacobi. But when it comes right down to it, some of the conclusions it draws are far too unbelievable and do no service to my favorite historical monarch.

Many have complained that this film is difficult to follow, since it jumps back and forth between three different timelines -- the semi-modern story surrounding the arrest of the poet concealing the literary masterpieces, earlier in his own life as the Earl found a voice for his plays, and as a young man when he was romantically linked to Elizabeth. It does require the audience pay attention but I had little trouble keeping up with events. In all regards, it is an accomplishment of costuming and actor choices. Everyone is magnificent in their respective roles and the dialogue flows with ease. I am curious, however, as to why so much of the score was slight revision on Elizabeth's score.

A decent way to reference this film would be "intriguing." It leaps to wild conclusions but carries the audience along for the ride. It has a leading man who is unlikable yet we are too fascinated to abandon him entirely. I'm honestly torn in my opinion of it because on one hand, it makes a startling argument and blends history so well that it left even me questioning the motivations behind certain events. But on the other, I hate revisionist history and that is what it is actively engaged in doing, smearing the reputation of Elizabeth I along the way. But as much as it started steam rising over my head, it also entertained me. So what am I left with? Mixed feelings.
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32 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on February 2, 2012
Format: DVD
I will admit that I did not follow all of the political machinations going on here, and I don't claim to know if the Earl really authored all those plays and sonnets or if W. Shakespeare did. It doesn't matter anyway. This film is quite entertaining and never lags or plods along. The performances are all quite strong, including the brief bookends provided by Derek Jacobi.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 3, 2014
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
Destined to be a classic, Anonymous is engrossing, the performances of the actors superb, the screen play brilliant. After buying the movie, I watched it 3 nights in a row!!
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on February 23, 2012
Format: DVD
When first I saw the advertisements for this movie, I had no desire to see it. Shakespeare is certainly one of my greatest literary heroes, and any slight against him (especially when said slight was a claim of complete illegitimacy) was not to be well-received by me. I was eventually convinced by a friend to watch this movie against my better judgement (it was a choice between Anonymous and The Ides of March; the R-rating of the alternative decided it for us), and am I ever so glad that I was. This movie is well-written, well-paced, true to the feel of the Shakespearean verse and, perhaps most importantly, very enjoyable to watch. If you are curious about whether or you would have any interest in this movie, I can strongly recommend it to you. It may be a bit long, but it never feels slow. If, however you are like I was, and you are avoiding this movie on account of its premise, I urge you to reconsider.

I don't know whether or not it's true, but now, at least, I certainly want to believe it.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on March 11, 2012
Format: DVD
Excellent movie. It's sad that this film is not getting all the credit it deserves because of the controversy of its message. I watched Anonymous with a completely open mind and a desire to be entertained, and I was not let down in the least. The acting was superb--Rhys Ifans was absolutely stunning as Edward de Vere, capturing so well his passion and pain as the real author (according to the story) of Shakespeare's works. I thought Sebastian Armesto did a fabulous job as well as the tortured Ben Jonson who must keep quiet about de Vere's identity. Movies should not be rated by whether or not a person agrees with the message the filmmakers were trying to communicate--they should be rated on the acting, the script, the cinematography, and the overall quality of the film. Anonymous excels in all areas. It is a fascinating and intricate story, beautifully told. If you like to watch movies of really great stories, then you will love this film.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 15, 2014
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
Although the plot is preposterous - at least I hope it is - it is so well done that you almost believe it.
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19 of 27 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 28, 2012
Format: DVD
Thank heavens for the current decade which seems to offer films for people with intellectual curiosity. "Anonymous" clearly leads the pack, but we also have the story of Freud vs. Jung well told in "A Dangerous Method" spy thriller "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy", the high finance "Margin Call" and Ralph Fiennes' tour d'force "Coriolanus".

"Anonymous" gives us the popular theory that Will Shakespeare was not the author of the works which bear his name. The film stars Rhys Ifans as the Earl of Oxford, Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Elizabeth, Rafe Spall as Shakespeare, and Sebastian Armesto as Ben Johnson. To the average viewer only Redgrave's name will be familiar.

Welsh born Rhys Ifans is probably best known for his role as Spike in "Notting Hill" (1999) and as Xenophilius Lovegood in "Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows" (2010), although he won a BAFTA for "Not Only But Always", a 2004 TV movie. His performance here is great, showing great maturity compared to some of his earlier films.

Rafe Spall is best known to British TV viewers although he did appear in several films including a role as Jonathan Harker in a 2006 version of "Dracula" and played Noel in "Shaun of the Dead" (2004).

German born Roland Emmerich produced and directed the film. Emmerich is best known for his work as writer and director of the block buster hit "Independence Day" (1996) as well as "Stargate" (1994), "Godzilla" (1998), "The Day After Tomorrow" (2004). "Anonymous" is a clear change of pace for Emmerich, however, it handles it very well.

There's lots of material for those who are interested in Shakespeare and his plays, plus a secondary plot about politics (almost mandatory in any British film) as well as fabled stories about the sexcapades of the Virgin Queen.

BTW - Redgrave does a great job as the Queen, but my personal favorite remains Bette Davis.

The costumes, photography (and new CGI technology) and scenery are breath taking, giving us the feeling that we are really in 17th Century England.

The film earned over $1 million in its opening weekend in the US in October 2011, which is a poor showing given the $30 million budget. Through the end of the year the total earnings were about $15 million.

Roger Ebert called the film "ingenious" and "a marvelous historical film" and Rex Reed called it a "dazzling panorama of Tudor history". Variety, however, was disappointed and said the drama "veers close to comedy" and the reporter from The New Yorker found it too confusing.

Bottom line - a clever, entertaining look at Tudor England and the works of Shakespeare.

(FWIW - I believe that films like this, which don't cater to the normal popcorn crowd, need to be supported so that we continue to get thought provoking cinema. Here we have an excellent film so it makes it easy to recommend it)
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19 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Verified Purchase
I always accepted the idea that Shakespeare wrote his own plays, and considered anything to the contrary to be merely speculation not fact. So, the premise-what if Shakespeare never wrote a word, I found not to be appealing.

Upon reading some good reviews, I decided to see it, and found it to be a high quality production and a wonderful experience. Director Roland Emmerich previously directed 2012, and Independence Day, and writer John Orloff previously wrote some episodes of Band of Brothers, and as you watch this movie you will realise this term BoB originated with Shakespeare.

Anonymous proposes the Earl of Oxford wrote all the plays, anonymously donated them to Ben Johnson, a well known writer of the time for him to take credit. Then an uncouth illiterate actor, named Shakespeare steps in to claim the credit. The peer remained anonymous for reasons of social acceptability.

Another reason he may have remained anonymous which I totally loved was the parallel structure between what happened in the plays, and the real life events of the courtiers and Queen Elizabeth. Cecil, the courtier villain in this movie is a hunchback (historical fact), and brother in law of the Earl of Oxford. Richard 3 in Shakespeare's play is a hunchback, so the play becomes a social satire.

A scene where a man is stabbed through a curtain mirrors a scene in Hamlet. A usurped heir is sent to Ireland, and there is a plot to kill him, similar to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Hamlet.

Emmerich's direction gives Anonymous a much grander scope. We have big set pieces, such as a rebel attack on a bridge leading to the tower of London, rowing a boat in the Thames with the London skyline looming behind, an aerial shot of a huge crowd in the snow, and visual scenes of quite unsanitary London of the time, and he evokes the period very well. For example it rains on the actor in the theater, as he recites his lines. Certain scenes play out in ways we have not scene before, particularly Hamlet's soliloquy where he holds a knife, Richard 3 as caricature, crowd interaction and participation, sweet talking bawdy ladies with Shakespeare's words. I loved this. Visually outstanding, with exquisite and intricate costumes.

I liked the lead actors charisma and presence. He was so in character and looked older for the part that I did not recognise him till the credits. Rhys Ifans starred in Notting Hill, and Pirate Radio. He does a terrific job, perhaps his best work, as does the actor who plays Johnson. There is a particular scene between the two of them at the end that makes me tear up even as I write. Derek Jacobi, begins and ends the movie opening and closing the premise.

Vanessa Redgrave plays the doddering confused queen, and her daughter Joely Richardson plays her younger self, who has a torrid affair with the Earl of Oxford when she was young, producing an illicit heir. The queen has several torrid affairs which become part of the plot of succession. Shakespeare was played by Rafe Spall, son of Timothy Spall, who you have probably seen in several movies.

If the screenwriter was hoping to persuade me, he certainly made me think. Perhaps he goes too overboard with Shakespeare having a unique form of illiteracy, he can read words and memorise them but he can't write, and yet he is a scheming manipulative lout, a criminal, a drunkard, a successful entrepreneur, and a sociopath. Asked to speak to a crowd he stumbles inarticulately over his words. If Shakespeare was as inarticulate, and uneducated as portrayed, how could he have convinced anyone of his genius when he lacked the most basic skills of expression.

If not Shakespeare, then who?

I did some online research. Apparently, almost two centuries passed before anyone seriously questioned Shakespeare's authorship. It has been suggested that Sir Francis Bacon wrote these plays, but why would an already famous writer give credit to someone else. DeVere appears to be the current favorite among conspiracy theorists. If DeVere was excluded from the court, as he is in the movie then he would not be in a position to satirise the court, or include such pointed commentary in his plays. DeVere as a child in the movie performs a piece from Midsummer nights dream for the queen. He could hardly have written it as an adult then, could he?Curiously, at times the movie appears to undermine its own premise.

It has been suggested that Sir Thomas North, North of Shakespeare: The True Story of the Secret Genius Who Wrote the World's Greatest Body of Literature, wrote the materials on which some of Shakespeare's plays were based.

He did translate Plutarch which Shakespeare used as a source in several plays such as Julius Caesar, Troilus and Cressida, Coriolanus, and Anthony and Cleopatra, adapting them for the stage, converting the words from prose to verse. According to this book, Shakespeare purchased North's works, and then adapted them from the page to the stage. In some cases the corresponding passages in Shakespeare are word for word what was written by North. Somehow North did not get credit. Rosalinde from As You Like It apparently is Elisa Nord, (north)North's daughter.

Hamlet was adapted from a centuries old story called Amleth, and had several iterations, including Dial of Princes by North. Shakespeare made numerous changes to the original story Amleth, making it way darker according to a book I read Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories.

In the movie Ben Johnson proclaims sincere affection for DeVere's language skills.
In reality, Ben Johnson famously said of Shakespeare: "he would... buy the reversion of old plays,"but then mark not whose 'twas first: and after-times may judge it to be his..."Epigram no.56.

The movie claims no manuscript written by Shakespeare survives. If you don't have evidence that Shakespeare wrote something, does that mean you have evidence someone else wrote it? You cannot infer alternative authorship from a negation, only from evidence. If you have evidence that these plays were previously written, and performed or were adapted from books, then you can verify that Shakespeare was not the originator, merely wrote a version, and credit the original source. It seems that with some of these plays, they were circulating already, and then Shakespeare wrote a version, or made his own adaptation, which then became the definitive version.

Undoubtedly, this movie will stimulate debate and controversy. The idea that he didn't write a single word goes too far in my opinion, it would be interesting to know for sure what he did and did not write. I do think this is one of the best movies I have seen all year.

Wherever you stand on this, I highly recommend you see it, consider it, and form your own opinion. For me, it's too tabloidy to be taken seriously, the once virgin queen now a nympho, having an illegitimate son with the real Shakespeare, and so on.

Even if like me you do not agree with the premise, you might be surprised to discover you still love the movie.

I think you will enjoy it, and I hope this was helpful.
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