YOU DON'T have to know the history of William Shakespeare or the Earl of Oxford to know that "Anonymous" is completely full of beans.
All you have to do is look at the fellow set forth in "Anonymous" as history's secret Shakespeare, the actual author of the Bard's plays.
His name is Edward de Vere, played by Rhys Ifans as a contemptuous fellow, the gaunt and miserable owner of a permanent scowl. He holds a nosegay to ward off the scent of "the mob," turns away in embarrassment at the sight of a prostitute and is above all adamantly, consistently humorless.
This is the author of "Twelfth Night?"
This is the guy who mapped the psychology of the western mind? Chronicled the human condition, the high and low?
Who wrote the Elizabethan equivalent of "Twilight?"
Books have been written to argue that de Vere, Earl of Oxford, is the true author of Shakespeare's work, and if this subject interests you at all, you're better off sticking with one of those.
"Anonymous" is a silly, nonsensical, flat-footed rendering of those arguments, dressed up as a Dan Brown-ish conspiracy.
At the center of it is de Vere, who's got a shelf-ful of unreleased plays that he is finally moved to unleash when he becomes involved in various plots to determine who will succeed an aging Queen Elizabeth (at various ages, Joely Richardson/Vanessa Redgrave).
He uses his plays to move public opinion against the queen's treacherous advisers (David Thewlis, Edward Hogg), but for political reasons must remain anonymous, and so ends up paying off a drunken, whoring actor named William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) to pretend the plays are his.
"Anonymous" stacks the deck by making this actor/impostor Shakespeare an illiterate boob, but makes an even dumber mistake by making the Earl of Oxford illiterate in the ways of the theater.
In "Anonymous" he doesn't set foot in a public theater until Elizabeth is nearly dead, long after he's supposedly written most of his plays. It's not until he sees the effect of a play on an audience that he gets the idea to use his own work as a weapon.
So everything that Shakespeare learned of 16th-century theatrical showmanship, of the craft of writing for an audience, was already contained in the Earl of Oxford's dusty folios?
It's actually much less hard to believe that the job of writing for a bawdy, Elizabethan audience would be fulfilled by a drunken, whoring actor.
In fact, I'm surprised actors didn't boycott this anti-actor tract, since Shakespeare is one of their own, a theater geek. But there, in the prologue, is old Derek Jacobi of the Royal Shakespeare Company, who's played Lear, Hamlet, Bernardo, dissing Shakespeare as a frontman.
Conspiracy theories can be fun, and maybe Shakespeare, the old bear-baiter, would have appreciated this malarkey as much as any theatrical impresario.
But there's something grumpy, snobby and nihilistic about this de Vere business. Something that wants to crush individual genius, that doesn't like its randomness and unpredictability, that doesn't want it to be lowborn. That wants to pretend that it couldn't exist without tutors, a title or fencing lessons.
It wants some prosaic explanation of how it sprang into existence.
Was there an anonymous man who actually wrote "Hamlet?"
Maybe, but whoever he was, he had an unaccountable genius for language.
And a sense of humor.