The piquant documentary, MUCH ADO ABOUT SOMETHING, takes on the question of who actually wrote Shakespeares plays and poems. Now, I am of the opinion that in the final analysis, it doesnt really matter. The works speak for themselves and whether they were written by the Bard of Avon or not, they still glimmer with a rapturous use of language and subtle character development that has made them stand the test of time even in our age of the great whatever. But theres something in us all that loves a mystery and filmmaker Michael Rubbo presents one that is endlessly fascinating.
Not, though, the question of authorship. Thats interesting, too, in an esoteric sort of way, but the real mystery that Rubbo is delving into here is why people will devote themselves so passionately, so ferociously, and so all-consumingly to a cause and no cause does a better job of drawing that sort of devotion than this one. One hardcore eccentric runs a pet cemetery in the Pacific Northwest in order to have the time for his painstaking research into the authorship controversy. Another, actually dug up a Jacobean grave, >not< Shakespeares it should be noted, in an attempt to settle the question. Somehow, I just cant see fans of Dickens going that far should his authorship be impugned much less readers of Danielle Steele.
The specifics of Shakespeare the mans shortcomings are neatly and convincingly contrasted with people whose qualifications for authorship are sounder. People who owned books, were educated beyond grammar school, or who traveled to the places where the plays were set, none of which was true of Master Will.
Rubbo has a definite point of view and while he doesnt hit us over the head with it, he doesnt hide it either. Clearly hes convinced it was Christopher Marlowe wielding the quill, a man whose death at the height of his career as a playwright and spy smacks of a government plot and maybe even a cover-up. During an interview with a scholar who favors Shakespeare as Shakespeare, Rubbo confounds him with an esoteric bit of dating that knocks the wind out of his argument. The scholar stops short, grins a wide and foolish grin, and asks if Rubbo is sure about that. Hes obviously flummoxed and Rubbo is obviously enjoying the moment as his camera lingers on the grin that freezes as the youthful scholar sits waiting for someone to yell cut, not quite sure what to do with himself until then.
Rubbo talks to lots of other people, too, including a longtime married couple who manage to stay married despite being irrevocably on opposite sides of the question. You might or might not take seriously the musings of Mark Rylance, the actor/manager of the New Globe Theatre in London, but a sequence that has two actors reciting in tandem, one doing Marlowes work and the other Shakespeares, will give you pause. The lines are strikingly similar, close enough to make the word plagiarism spring to mind. Yet the exercise begs the question. Was Marlowe borrowing from himself or was Shakespeare borrowing from a writer who was not only his contemporary, but also a superstar of his time?
The undisputed star of the piece, though, is Dolly Walker Wraight, an avowed Marlovian, as devotees of Marlowe as Shakespeare are called, and it is as much her pluck, her erudition, and her Miss Marple-like no-nonsense attitude as her case for Marlowe that the camera and Rubbo adore. She makes her case not so much with rancor as with an world-weary sadness that those who disagree with her could be so thick-headed.
The case, much pro, little con Marlowe, plays out with all the intrigue of one of Marlowes plays or one of his reputed undercover operations, full of betrayal, subterfuge, and the infinite malleability of facts when zealots get their intellectual claws into them. MUCH ADO ABOUT SOMETHING is about much more than the Shakespeare-Marlowe question. Its about the capacity and zeal of people who have found a cause that overwhelms their lives while making their eyes light up with joy. We should all have such passion.