Dir. Lisa Wilson and Laura Matthias. USA. 2012

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“There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn't true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true."
Søren Kierkegaard

Directed by Lisa Wilson and Laura Wilson Matthias with Roland Emmerich as the Executive Producer, Last Will and Testament documents the life of Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, making a compelling case for his authorship of the works of William Shakespeare. Shot in 32 locations in both the U.S., and the U.K., the film was five years in the making with 253,000 words of interviews being recorded before editing. It was conceived as a factual complement to the fiction film Anonymous and as an antidote to those who claim that the Emmerich film is a "far-fetched fantasy." 

Using clips from Anonymous to enhance the film's dramatic aspects, the documentary includes interviews with Oxfordians and Stratfordian spokespersons and discussion of key issues and events pertinent to the authorship debate. Anti-Stratfordian contributors include a wide cross-section of the academic, literary, and theatrical community that include actors Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance, authors Charles Beauclerk (Shakespeare's Lost Kingdom) and Diana Price (Shakespeare's Unauthorized Biography), Professors: Roger Stritmatter PhD,Coppin College, Dr. William Leahy, Brunel University, and Associate Prof. Michael Delahoyde, Washington State University.

Two of the highest-profile Stratfordians, Stanley Wells, Honorary Chairman of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, and Jonathan Bate, Oxford University are given film time to state their views while other Stratfordian spokespersons, such as James Shapiro, were approached but declined to be interviewed. The first part of the film discusses the orthodox candidate, William "Shaksper" of Stratford, and the reasons that argue against his authorship of the canon. The second section is devoted to the life of Edward de Vere, the main alternative candidate, describing his roots, his education, his life as a courtier, and the circumstances that led to his use of a pseudonym in his literary output.

According to author Charles Beauclerk, Oxford was a more credible poet and playwright than William of Stratford and, even though he preferred anonymity to fame, he could not resist leaving clues as to his true identity in his work. Beauclerk also made the comment that it was Oxford who instigated the English Renaissance and that "if we get Shakespeare wrong, we get the entire Renaissance period wrong as well."

The final part of the film describes and dramatizes the totalitarian nature of the Elizabethan monarchy, the issue of succession that sparked the Essex Rebellion, the biographical connection of Edward de Vere to the plays and poems of William Shakespeare, and the roles of Queen Elizabeth I and Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton.

Last Will and Testament is an informative, entertaining, and thought-provoking film, no matter which side of the Shakespeare authorship debate you are on. Directors Wilson and Matthias were motivated in making this film by their concern for the truth, whether it turned out to be reassuring or upsetting to some. To paraphrase Belgian playwright, poet and essayist Maurice Maeterlinck, a truth that may be uncomfortable to some ultimately has more value than the most consoling falsehood.

While the Oxfordian case is clearly and convincingly made in the film, the authorship issue remains a towering literary mystery. Only the closed-minded have certainty. Ultimately the film requires us to assess the information to form our own opinion, to call upon our knowledge, intuition, logic, and common sense to make our own decision. When one can be comfortable with the mystery of not knowing, truth inexorably and inscrutably will reveal itself into the light. In that respect, Last Will and Testament challenges us more profoundly than ever.


Howard Schumann

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