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Film / Anonymous (2011)
aka: Anonymous

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Anonymous is a 2011 historical drama from director Roland Emmerich. Like many of Emmerich's films, it revolves around fringe conspiracy theories and features a major world landmark being destroyed, even if it is not a disaster movie like his previous work. It's based on the conspiracy theory that William Shakespeare did not author his plays, but was given them by the Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere.

Not to be confused with the web vigilante group.

The film contains the following tropes:

  • Alternate History:
    • The premise of the film is that Shakespeare never wrote his own plays, instead attributing them to Edward De Vere, the Earl of Oxford. Overlaps with Secret History in that the creators of the movie believe that that really happened.
    • Also, that Queen Elizabeth was not a virgin but had several bastard children. And that Edward De Vere was her bastard son who she then had sex with. Who fathered another one of the Queen's bastards.
  • Alternative Character Interpretation: In-Universe for many historical figures.
    • William Shakespeare was an uncouth, foul, egotistical buffoon and murderer of Christopher Marlowe.
    • Queen Elizabeth I was not the Virgin Queen but a sex-hungry despot who had so many bastard kids she lost track of them and ended up banging one when he grew up.
    • Edward de Vere was the true author of Shakespeare's plays, a tortured artist who wrote in secret because of his puritanical family, and the child and incestuous lover of Queen Elizabeth.
  • Anachronic Order: Kyle Kallgren at Brows Held High points out that this was probably done to stop the audience from noticing that the internal chronology of the film is both self-contradictory and flies in the face of almost all historical data (a large quantity of which are completely beyond a shadow of a doubt and are even affirmed by most if not all Anti-Stratfordian scholars).
  • Ancient Conspiracy: To cover up the fact that Shakespeare never wrote his own plays... and also that Edward De Vere was the child of Queen Elizabeth, as well as the father of another one of her children.
  • Anonymous Author: In-Universe. Edward, before Shakespeare starts taking credit for his plays.
  • Arranged Marriage: Between Edward and William Cecil's daughter.
  • Artistic License – History: Derek Jacobi appears in the beginning to admit that the story is just an intellectual exercise, not hard history.
    • The chronology is completely wrong. Macbeth is performed before Hamlet. Macbeth is widely considered to be a rather late production by Shakespeare, and directly references King James I (who ascends to the throne at the end of the film). The film also has Oxford writing A Midsummer Night's Dream as a nine-year-old, which would place the composition of the play in 1559, before the creation of blank verse drama in English.
    • Also, Christopher Marlowe figures out that Edward is writing the plays, because he realizes that the character of Polonius in Hamlet is meant to signify William Cecil, so Shakespeare murders Marlowe to prevent the truth from getting out. Hamlet was first performed in 1601 (1598 in the film.) Marlowe had already died in 1593, and Cecil in 1598.
    • The portrayal of Richard III as an Evil Cripple wasn't Shakespeare's invention: it appears as "fact" in Polydore Vergil's Anglica Historia, published in 1534 - over a decade before the births of both Edward and Shakespeare. In the film, everyone assumes the portrayal of Richard as a hunchback was an attack on Robert Cecil (who really was hunchbacked in real life; like the historical Richard III, he had scoliosis), but he wasn't a major figure at court at the time the play was written (probably around 1591-92).
    • Cecil was actually against Elizabeth naming James of Scotland as her successor, and for very good reason: it was Cecil, more than anyone else, who'd convinced Elizabeth to execute James's mother, Mary, Queen of Scots.
    • Surprisingly, the Earl of Essex DID hire Shakespeare to stage a play about King Richard in order to incite a riot so he could seize the throne. However, rather than Richard III, as shown in the movie, the play was Richard II. Which makes sense, as Richard II is (arguably) about a noble earl who does his solemn duty and deposes a corrupt and decadent monarch, whereas Richard III is (arguably) about how wonderful Queen Elizabeth's family is, and isn't it great that they're in charge now?
    • The Globe Theater catches on fire when torch-bearing troops chase Ben Johnson through it. The actual 1613 fire was an accident caused by a prop cannon.
    • At a gathering of playwrights, the idea of a play entirely in iambic pentameter is treated as revolutionary. Not only did Shakespeare write only one play entirely in that form (Richard II), but writing plays in verse was the common way of doing it back then.
    • While it's certainly up for debate if the "Virgin Queen" really was a virgin, popping out tons of bastard children to the point that she lost count/track of them without anyone noticing would be rather difficult given that the Queen has to actually, you know, physically undergo nine months of pregnancy followed by childbirth. Also note that Elizabeth regularly made a point of baring her belly precisely to demonstrate that she WAS a virgin, and not pregnant.
  • Artistic License – Botany: The Tudor Rose was not an actual flower, unlike what's depicted in the movie. It was merely a heraldic logo meant to depict the union of the House of Lancaster (whose emblem was a red rose) and the House of York (who used a white rose).
  • Awful Truth: Edward De Vere can barely keep standing after learning he has committed incest with his biological mother.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: William Shakespeare was actually a patsy for Edward De Vere, allowing him to publish poetry without affronting his aristocratic family.
  • Book Ends: The movie opens and closes on a New York theater where noted Oxfordian enthusiast Derek Jacobi discusses the authorship theories.
  • Brick Joke: Ben Johnson complains that Oxford's writing is just a passing hobby, saying "Last week it's gardening, now it's plays, next week it will be falconry!" Later, when Shakespeare is in Oxford's study, there is a hooded falcon perched off to the side.
  • Coitus Interruptus: At one point, Shakespeare is interrupted while having sex with a prostitute.
  • Downer Ending: The fraudulent Shakespeare winds up taking credit for all of De Vere's work, De Vere is a failure as both a playwright and a human being, and Elizabeth dies without a legitimate heir, marking the end of the Tudor line. The only upside is that James I likes theatre and so Robert Cecil can't stamp out De Vere's work entirely.
  • Evil Chancellor: William and Robert Cecil.
  • Historical Domain Character: Most of the characters in the film, obviously. The ones with their own page on TV Tropes could be mentioned: William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe and Elizabeth I.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: The Cecils, as well as William Shakespeare himself.
  • How We Got Here: The film opens with Ben Johnson trying to hide De Vere's manuscripts in the Rose theatre before soldiers burn it down.
  • Large Ham: Shakespeare himself is one of the bigger offenders, although several of the actors ham it up throughout the film.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: While it's revealed that Edward is Queen Elizabeth I's son, nobody has any idea who his real father is.
  • Parental Abandonment: Queen Elizabeth gives birth to Edward out of wedlock, then gives him up to be raised by the Duke of Oxford to avoid a scandal.
  • Parental Incest: Edward De Vere sleeps with Queen Elizabeth, who is secretly his mother. She also gets pregnant from their coupling.
  • Really Gets Around: Queen Elizabeth I, in contrast to her historical reputation as the Virgin Queen.
  • Succession Crisis: With Queen Elizabeth old and having no legitimate children, the Cecils want James of Scotland to take the throne of England after her death. Edward wants it to go to the Earl of Essex.
  • Surprise Incest: Between Edward and Elizabeth, his mother.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story/Based on a Great Big Lie: Depends on whether you're a Stratfordian or Anti-Stratfordian - historians favor the Stratfordian perspective, by a truly huge margin.

Alternative Title(s): Anonymous