To paraphrase Shakespeare, it could be said the course of true history never did run smooth.
And in the case of the Bard himself that is certainly the case with the release of a film purporting that the body of work with his name on it was, in fact, penned by another.
The film, Anonymous, portrays the Warwickshire-born playwright as a drunk, and scandalously claims his great plays were in fact penned by Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.
This week, the movie, directed by Roland Emmerich, was rubbished by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust while legions of the Bard’s fans protested by covering up any mention of Shakespeare on signs across the region.
Now Michael Dobson, director of the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon, and Professor of Shakespeare Studies at the University of Birmingham, has sprung to the great playwright’s defence, debunking the film’s myths.
Professor Dobson said: “The film is as lurid, melodramatic and incoherent as the conspiracy theory it purports to endorse, and quite entertaining.
"I don’t have any problem with costume drama B-movies taking the most absurd views of history they like. Anyone who really believes that Shakespeare wrote Romeo And Juliet because he fancied Gwyneth Paltrow in drag would have to be bizarrely literal-minded too.
“But I do object to Sony Pictures’ publicity machine claiming that people ought to see this film because its nonsensical plot actually happened.
“That seems to me to move from the realm of surreal historical fiction and into that of outright lying.”
Myth One: Shakespeare didn’t write any of his plays as he was a drunken actor who could barely string a sentence together.
Professor Dobson said: “Daft costume movie or no daft costume movie, why are we even asking whether Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare’s plays?
“In his own lifetime, everyone knew he had, some had seen him do it. He was a popular public figure, mentioned as the author of the works that would be collected in the Folio in 1623 by a large number of his contemporaries.
“Later in the 17th century, neoclassicism happened, and snootier commentators lamented that every page of Shakespeare’s work showed that he hadn’t been to university.
“He wasn’t very good at imitating posh conversation, he gave too much stage time to middle and lower class characters, he made silly mistakes about continental geography.
"But despite this vulgarity he was the greatest playwright ever. So far, no story.”
Myth two: The Earl of Oxford is the true author of the plays.
Professor Dobson said: “The real-life 17th Earl of Oxford was a quarrelsome but fairly talented individual who died before many of Shakespeare’s best plays were written. This film strangely claims to champion him as an unsung hero by representing him as guilty of incest with the reigning monarch.
“Given the choice between identifying with that fiction-enhanced version of the Earl of Oxford, and with a mere successful man of the theatre from the Midlands, which would you choose?
“The powerful, self-aggrandizing emotional appeal of an archetypal romantic daydream? Or the richly-documented, if more prosaic, obvious historical truth?
“I for one am very grateful to Roland Emmerich for perfectly underlining the very genre and character of what is called the Oxfordian case.
“It is no less, and certainly no more, than an absolutely terrific plot for a B-movie.”
Professor Dobson added: “If you take this film seriously, it becomes a propaganda film on behalf of the idea that only titled people who have had expensive educations are capable of great cultural achievements.
“Sadly, in our moment of political history that is a mainstream and apparently acceptable viewpoint, rather than representing some sort of radical resistance to the status quo.”