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What The Dickens?! February 8, 2012

Posted by nrhatch in People, Poetry, Word Play, Writing & Writers.

Yesterday, Charles Dickens celebrated his 200th birthday . . . in a manner of speaking. 

He didn’t get to wear a party hat, blow out the candles on his cake, or engage in any other memory-making moments.

Like Marley, he’s dead as a door nail.

He’s been a “has been” for more than 100 years.

But we celebrated for him . . . some of us, anyway.

I celebrated his birth by watching a movie about another famous English author . . . William Shakespeare.

The movie, Anonymous, questions whether the Bard wrote the plays, poems, and sonnets which bear his name. 

Or, whether, like his father before him, he remained largely illiterate, unable to put quill to parchment to record his thoughts for posterity:

Who was Shakespeare? This Elizabethan drama imagines that the man we call the Bard really didn’t pen his body of timeless plays. The stages of London erupt in intrigue as the real author of the classics credited to Shakespeare comes to light.

What an intriguing proposition!

Imagine achieving literary posterity for hundreds of years without writing any of the words attributed to you.

It boggles the mind.

Maybe Mozart didn’t compose musical masterpieces.  Maybe Michelangelo didn’t coax David from the stone.  Maybe Dickens didn’t conjure up the ghost of Jacob Marley. 

Maybe, in the end, we are all destined to be . . . Anonymous.

What say you?

Related reading:  Who Wrote Shakespeare? (USA Today) * Charles Dickens at 200 ~ Still the Great British Idol (USA Today) * Two Journeymen ~ A Gruff Nod to Dickens (Kate Shrewsday)


1. suzicate - February 8, 2012

I have not seen Anonymous, but what an interesting question it poses.
Think of all the beautiful prose we read that has been passed on for years that is merely tagged anonymous…and further yet imagine if Anonymous was really one and the same…

nrhatch - February 8, 2012

It’s a fascinating movie . . . full of deceit, treachery, intrigue, and politics. It portrays Shakespeare as an opportunist and blackmailer who readily claims credit for work that is not his own.

2. Victoria-writes - February 8, 2012

Happy birthday to Dickens. I love it when we celebrate a great Brit even though I like him mostly for the Muppet Christmas Carol 🙂 A lot of women had to pretend to be men like the Brontes or their books were just be “A lady” like Austen’s first.

nrhatch - February 8, 2012

London is celebrating his birth in a BIG way this year . . . at the Dickens museum, the London museum, and at ALL 33 of London’s libraries!

In April, London plans a citywide read of Oliver Twist.

3. granny1947 - February 8, 2012

Noooooooooo…Dickens is dead?
No-one told me.
Sorry…blame the meds.

nrhatch - February 8, 2012

I am dreadfully sorry to have broken the news in so blunt a fashion. Now, you’ll need to take a “chill pill” . . . to calm down AND to cool off! 😉

4. Richard W Scott - February 8, 2012

If Dickens were alive today, he’d be spinning in his grave!

nrhatch - February 8, 2012

One reason he became such a “Rock Star Writer” is because he LOVED being on stage reading his works to devoted fans. When he came to the states for the 2nd time, he earned the equivalent of one million dollars for his appearances.

Quite the global celebrity in his day! He might enjoy basking in the glow of all the hoopla being paid to his homage. 😎

5. William D'Andrea - February 8, 2012

Anonymous? Bah Humbug!

nrhatch - February 8, 2012

Perfect rejoinder, William! 😆

6. Andra Watkins - February 8, 2012

I saw the movie Anonymous, because I love Rhys Ifans. Academics have credibly debunked the theory in the movie, leaving me to watch it for sheer entertainment value – which was worth it. I always love seeing the time frame of Shakespeare recreated on the big screen. The costumes are sumptuous, the settings the jarring mix of opulent and squalid.

I think it is interesting to contemplate whether Shakespeare really wrote the works attributed to him. Knowing the way much of the written word gets produced today, did Dickens, Austen and people like them have a sea of people behind them, forcing them to write by committee? I wonder………

nrhatch - February 8, 2012

Good points, Andra.

These days, famous authors rely on “ghost writers” to pen many of their works . . . the writers of yore may have done the same. Especially since they did not have the same technological advantages available to today’s writers and had to write it out long hand, with quill or pen on parchment or paper.

According to Oxfordian theory, the film’s premise (that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford penned the poems and plays attributed to Shakespeare) has merit:


It’s fascinating to ponder.

7. Rufus' Food and Spirits Guide - February 8, 2012

NPR had a really good piece yesterday on him and his books. Katherine loved that he wrote on deadline!

nrhatch - February 8, 2012

That’s one thing that I find so impressive . . . he would start publishing his stories in serial form BEFORE completing them.

Yowsa! That’s a dedicated, devoted, and driven dare-devil. 😉

8. kateshrewsday - February 8, 2012

What a fascinating angle, Nancy! I love this thought. Anonymous is fine with me: I don’t think the name of the contributor matters because their signature is in their creation. We’re all cogs in the intricate timepiece that is creation 🙂

nrhatch - February 8, 2012

I agree, Kate. As Cat Stevens sang:

Now, if I make a mark in time
I can’t say the mark is mine
I’m only the underline . . . of the word.

When Mozart created at age 5 . . . I expect that a bit of divine inspiration entered the mix. 😉

9. kateshrewsday - February 8, 2012

PS, thank you so much for your kind link!

nrhatch - February 8, 2012

Always a pleasure to send folks your way, Kate.

10. Judson - February 8, 2012

In the end, who wrote it doesn’t matter nearly as much as the fact that it WAS written … I’m reminded of this everytime I see a particularly pithy quote attributed to a certain person, and then later find it attributed to someone else entirely.

nrhatch - February 8, 2012

I agree, Judson. Whether Shakespeare wrote plays and poems, or had collaborative assistance in the endeavor, or merely loaned his name to work penned by the Earl of Oxford matters little to me . . . it’s the WHAT not the WHO that shines!

11. souldipper - February 8, 2012

Now I’m intrigued, Nancy. The “mood” of your post adds even more intrigue…

This will be the next movie to find.

Did you see Google yesterday? Great depiction of Dicken’s birthday celebration. Oh – I suppose it may have been different in other parts of the world…

nrhatch - February 8, 2012

I expect you’ll enjoy it, Amy. It’s a movie filled with “what ifs” . . . designed to make us question the landscape shifting underfoot.

I didn’t see Google’s depiction of Dicken’s party . . . but I’m sure that many made merry as they toasted the jolly old chap!

Pip, Pip, Cheerio!

12. thirdhandart - February 8, 2012

Very intriguing! The authorship question gives new meaning to William Shakespeare’s quote, “Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” Maybe Shakespeare had greatness thrust upon him.

nrhatch - February 8, 2012

That’s the perfect quote for this post, Theresa! In the movie, when theatre goers are calling Author! Author! . . . Shakespeare leaps onto the stage and into the spotlight ~ the rest, of course, is his story.

13. sufilight - February 8, 2012

Happy Belated Birthday Charlie! 🙂 I was not aware of this literary intrigue, very interesting.

nrhatch - February 8, 2012

I had heard rumblings about Shakespeare (the rumors have been circulating for 90 years, or so), but never honed in on the specific arguments until I heard about this movie.

Whether viewed as FACT or FICTION, the movie is a wonderful period piece . . . full of all the mud, muck, and mire that permeated London in the 1600’s.

14. aawwa - February 8, 2012

It is an interesting question you pose. I am inclined to think that we do become anonymous in time. Our reflection of our history will always be different to how others remember us and our deeds.


nrhatch - February 8, 2012

I agree, Lorraine. How many times are we SURPRISED by the actions of people we thought we knew “better than that”?

Why do we get angry at “global celebrities” when they misbehave, even if their behavior doesn’t impact us? We feel we’ve been duped when our “projection” of who they are/were doesn’t match up to their current actions. We feel they “let us down” . . . so we get angry.

But, in truth, we NEVER really knew who they were.

Even the most famous of the famous are, for the most part, enigmas and mysteries. If they are destined to be anonymous, how can the rest of us expect to avoid a similar fate? 😀

15. adeeyoyo - February 9, 2012

Yip, I think the only explanation is that Shakespeare had the imagination to tell tales verbally, but a ‘ghost writer’ actually penned the words. Lovely post, Nancy! 😀

nrhatch - February 9, 2012

Good thoughts, Denise. We are left to ponder and wonder . . . since we are unable to wander back through time’s passages to see for ourselves.

16. jannatwrites - February 9, 2012

I hadn’t heard about any of the Shakespeare controversy, but it is an interesting theory. Until recently, I thought that famous authors wrote all their books. I felt deceived when I discovered that they “cheated” and used ghostwriters, but tthis could explain why I sometimes lose interest in an author’s later works.

nrhatch - February 9, 2012

Exactly. The early works of Tom Clancy appealed a great deal ~ he put everything he had behind each story. Later on, he turned over the reins, relegating the writing to others . . . with predictable results. Now, he’s just a “brand name.” Bleh.

But some people keep buying “his” books just because his name is on the cover. 😦

17. colonialist - February 9, 2012

So I must remember to celebrate Keats’s birthday by seeing The Barretts of Wimpole Street? 🙂

It seems awfully unfair if fame goes to the wrong person. Does this mean that maybe someone else will take credit for my novels in the future? That I will be relegated to having been the pen name of Horace Sandshock? Horrors!

nrhatch - February 9, 2012

Either that . . . or celebrate Keats by eating a heaping helping of Haggis while reciting the poetry of Robbie Burns. 😉

Fame is fleeting and fickle while we’re “here” . . . and of little value once we’ve “left the building.”

Enjoy the journey and leave the rest to the fates and muses.

18. Team Oyeniyi - February 9, 2012

Who knows how history will judge any of us…….

nrhatch - February 9, 2012

I rather enjoy my anonymity. Nobody cares much about what I say or do . . . leaving me lots of freedom and latitude to do and say as I please. 😉

19. Ruth - February 9, 2012

It’s an old (and unprovable) theory, an ongoing debate that’s kept a certain class of academic entertained for centuries; for me, I’d rather sit down and let the bard himself entertain me…

nrhatch - February 9, 2012

To believe . . . or not to believe . . . that is the question! 😀

20. spilledinkguy - February 9, 2012

Very interesting, Nancy…
kind of sad at the same time. That would certainly ‘re-humanize’ some great talents… but I still don’t think I’d want my mind to go there… it’s very comforting to have our heroes, I think…

nrhatch - February 9, 2012

It is comforting to believe that “super stars” and “super heroes” still exist.

21. SidevieW - February 10, 2012

i so enjoyed it, lots of interesting possibilities opened up

nrhatch - February 10, 2012

That’s how I felt, Sidey . . . lots of “what ifs” to ponder.

22. bluebee - February 10, 2012

Re ‘Anonymous’ – why would anyone ghost-write such successful plays and never out themselves? Maybe heads would’ve rolled in those days…

nrhatch - February 10, 2012

Protestant beliefs viewed the theatre as “suspect” and the political climate demanded allegiance . . . OR ELSE!

As the Queen of Hearts loved to say, “Off with his head!”

23. Julie - February 10, 2012

Sounds like a good movie, regardless of whether it bears any truth or not. Entertainment is a worthy goal in and of itself.

nrhatch - February 10, 2012

I agree, Julie. I especially enjoy movies with period costumes and settings since I cannot time travel to see them for myself.

24. johnell74 - February 11, 2012

It’s not often I visit, Nancy, but I did like this post. There are shards of Monty Python’s “decomposing composers” about it!
I never got to like Charles Dickens. I felt there were too many words and couldn’t get involved in his stories.
I did try persevering, but my eyelids kept closing!
Oh Dear……..


nrhatch - February 11, 2012

Monty Python’s “decomposing composers” . . . 😀

Some of Dickens’ works are wordy. If you’re ever inclined to give him another go, start with A Christmas Carol ~ it’s short . . . moves along at a good clip . . . with memorable, well-defined characters . . . and a fairy tale ending that can’t be beat!

25. judithhb - February 11, 2012

Any excuse for a celebration eh Nancy. I saw and enjoyed the movie Anonymous whether or not it contains the truth about Shakespeare. 🙂

nrhatch - February 12, 2012

That’s my thought, Judith. Most movies are FICTION, not documented FACT . . . pop some popcorn and enjoy a “parallel universe” while pondering the possibilities. 😀

26. Tilly Bud - February 13, 2012

I think all these conspiracy theorists miss the point – it’s not the author that matters, but the texts.

nrhatch - February 13, 2012

I agree. We get all caught up in the artist when the focal point should be the art. 😀

27. CMSmith - February 14, 2012

That’s a movie I wanted to see, thanks for reminding me. And then I’ll have to see what my college English prof and Shakespeare officionado has to say about it. . .

nrhatch - February 14, 2012

Ooh . . . let me know what s/he says. I find the idea fascinating . . . whether it’s based on FACT or FICTION.

28. eof737 - February 20, 2012

Maybe there is something to be said for being anonymous… How was the movie?

nrhatch - February 21, 2012

I loved the movie . . . beautiful period piece filled with political intrigue and ego’s shenanigans.

I love my anonymity. “Nobody” cares what I do or how I spend my days ~ I would hate to be Adele . . . living in a huge mansion filled with empty rooms because of the need to escape the paparazzi. Ack!

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