This article addresses the construction of Shakespearean reputation and legacy in contemporary film through re-evaluation of the much-derided Anonymous (Roland Emmerich, 2011), in addition to John Madden's Shakespeare in Love (1998). In both films, the framing, presentation and performance of Shakespeare's contemporaries (Jonson, Marlowe, Nashe, Dekker and Webster) is key to an understanding of how both films figure what it means to be "Shakespeare" and what it means to be "not-Shakespeare". Viewing Shakespeare and his work through the eyes of his fellow writers, the films position Shakespearean reputation as formed both by and in spite of the observations of his friends and rivals.
In performing Shakespeare's contemporaries, writers and work are elided to create simple caricatures that contrast directly with the expectations of Romantic genius established for Shakespeare. In the cases of Marlowe and Jonson, however, more complex associations between competing literary legacies are brought into play that problematise the nature of the Shakespearean legacy. Emmerich's film, in seeking to rewrite the history of "Shakespeare", employs Jonson as its protagonist in order to question the nature of memorialisation, recognition and connoisseurship in preference to unquestioning fandom. In so doing, Anonymous provides a model for understanding the anti-Stratfordian experience through the overshadowing of other early modern dramatists.