A Filmmaker's Review: "The Shakespeare Enigma" (2011)
2/5 - Based on theory, portrayed as fact
So let's start with a bit of a history. I am a huge Shakespeare fan. I've read all the plays, I went to see a ton of them in the theatre and I've even got a ton of Shakespeare merchandise including bags, posters, etc. I have been a Shakespeare super-fan for well over ten years now and this is the very first time I have come across such an incriminating film. Unfortunately enough for myself I am also a huge Christopher Marlowe fan, owning the same amount of merchandise, having read and seen all the plays performed live and even having studied Dr. Faustus for nearly every year of my university life because it is so damn good. Marlowe and Shakespeare may have been around at the same time, they may have had a similar (ish) writing style and they may have had a similar target audience. But to suggest that they are the same person is a theory tried, tested and failed long before this film even came about in 2011.
Let's start with the good things about this documentary before we get on to the straight up laughable. First of all, it is well-researched. We have a good amount of research on Shakespeare's background, his mother and father, his home life and the way he studied and went off to London later on. This is an advantage of the film because of this being the beginning. Be that as it may, the film's audience is most obviously people who are entirely new to Shakespeare and Marlowe because of the primitive nature of the information. This, I believe is good. Why? Nobody who is a Shakespeare/Marlowe super-fan who has read and studied them most of their lives is going to believe for a damned second that they are the same person because they can recognise the stark differences in their works. Aiming it at a new audience would get them interested in these little Shakespeare theories that have been made up over the years. (Be that as it may, one of Shakespeare's plays is attributed to both Shakespeare and Marlowe but then again, it is noticed that there are clear writing style differences between the two of them and that's how it was decided. Very ironic when someone thinks they're the same person, isn't it?)
The next good thing about this film is that it is filmed in a way that can get new fans interested in Shakespeare. It is filmed like a thriller and yet, has the essence of major drama for which both playwrights are most famous. Starting off initially with the death of Christopher Marlowe and then explaining to us who Shakespeare was is an advantage because it allows the audience to make the connection - though the connection is false - it suits the film. The interest would come initially from the style of filming and then from the information that they are presented with. Unfortunately for the upper class snobs that read Shakespeare the very thought of him being from a working class background and being intelligent seems to make them sick and so, this is the primary cause of this strange and frankly, laughable theory that they attempt and fail to perpetuate.
Now let's move on to the disadvantages. The very first thing I'm going to say is that I would never in my life call this film a 'documentary' because it isn't based on any fact. It is just upper class snobs who think that working class people could never be as intelligent as that and so, they want to change it to suit them. To state that Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare are the same person is not only a fault it may prove that you haven't actually read either of their plays. Yes, the writing style is fairly similar but so were other writers of the day. For example, Cyril Tourneur's writing style was similar to Thomas Middleton's - you don't see people calling them the same person. It's only because Shakespeare was born poor that people want to make up something. If Marlowe and Shakespeare are the same person then why do we have dates for both of their births, records of where they were at the same time in different areas and people who have actually seen both of them on historical records? It is an unanswerable question that the upper class refuse to encounter. And so, this is yet again another rich people discrimination as they always do because working class people are apparently not allowed to be intelligent and not allowed to write for the theatre that well.
Apart from this film being just a bunch of rich people whinging about Shakespeare's working class background - it is also stagnant. The cinematography style is good yes, but the film itself hasn't really been put together very well. For starters, it doesn't seem to go through any real analysis of anything and keeps repeating the same thing over and over again. Most of what they state in the film is based on hearsay, theories, ideals of other people and the wants of some of the 'researchers' who are actually just people who want to believe in this pathetic theory for their own sake. It's a bunch of people tweaking facts to suit their own conclusions and unfortunately for the upper class, in the real world, facts don't care about your feelings.
I have read over 50 biographies combined on Shakespeare and Marlowe from people who have been researching them for years, I have read all of their plays and studied both modern and contemporary sources and I can honestly tell you today that I have never seen something so pathetic as this suggestion in my entire life. More a comedy than a thriller really. It always makes me laugh when upper class nobodies try to act intelligent. But it makes me laugh even more when people suggest that Marlowe and Shakespeare had the same writing style (which they didn't). So in conclusion, if you're a Shakespeare/Marlowe super-fan like myself, watch it for the jokes but obviously - you could never take this seriously.