For centuries, people have been debating the marvel of Shakespeare.  Who was the person who wrote some of the most deathless prose known to mankind, who has inspired countless audiences with the wonders of his words, who coined more phrases than any other single writer in the history of the world?  How could such greatness have come from an unlettered man born of common parents?

Anonymous explores the theory that it wasn’t William Shakespeare who wrote Hamlet, King Lear, and Henry V, but instead was Edward De Vere, the Earl of Oxford.  In the film Shakespeare is an illiterate, buffoonish actor used as a foil by De Vere in a titanic game of royalist politics.  Anonymous is rich in production values, with fabulous costumes, sets, and recreations of the Globe Theater and Elizabethan England.  The film is marked by a number of striking performances — including Rhys Ifans as the world-weary Earl of Oxford, haunted by his past and unable to stop or truly celebrate the torrent of words pouring from his quill pen, Vanessa Redgrave as the aging Queen Elizabeth, David Thewlis as Elizabeth’s manipulative adviser, Sir William Cecil, and Sebastian Armesto as Ben Jonson, who keeps Oxford’s secret.  Along with the true authorship of the Shakespearean library, Anonymous also reveals the intrigues and scandals underlying the Essex Rebellion and the succession of King James.

This movie demonstrates, with quiet yet unmistakable power, the triumph of Shakepeare’s words and thoughts — which ultimately conquer time and the petty politics of the court.  I recommend Anonymous to anyone who loves Shakespeare and period dramas, as I do.

Paying For The Toledo Tear-Down

Toledo, Ohio is on track to demolish a record number of abandoned houses this year.  By the time 2011 is done, Toledo city officials expect to have torn down more than 400 blighted residential structures.

What I find interesting is not that Toledo is having a problem with abandoned houses — Toledo, like many Midwestern cities, has been hard hit by our ongoing economic woes and home foreclosures — but that the demolition effort is being funded in significant part by the federal government.  The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is contributing more than $1 million toward the total cost.  Although the story linked above doesn’t identify the specific source of the federal funds, a look at the HUD website suggests that the funds are part of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program that began in 2008.  In 2010, Congress and President Obama allocated an additional $1 billion for that program, which makes grants to states and local governments to support, among other things, demolition activities.

I’m sympathetic to the problems that struggling cities like Toledo are confronting, but I think it is ludicrous that the federal government — using borrowed money, of course — is making grants to cities to deal with neighborhood issues like abandoned housing.  We simply don’t have the money, at the federal level, to become involved in every local issue that needs attention.  If Toledo concludes that abandoned houses are eyesores or crime magnets that need to be destroyed, Toledo should figure out how to prioritize and pay for that activity itself.

The Friendly Road To Cincinnati

Last week on the drive down to Cincinnati I passed this sign along I-71, as I always do.  There are two billboards, actually, with warnings about hell on one side and the Ten Commandments on the other.  (I’ve been doing pretty well on that graven image one, by the way.)

I always wonder what the judgmental owner of the property thinks this grim sign will accomplish.  Does he imagine a scenario where an unrepentant sinner is driving down the road, perhaps whistling in pleasant recollection of his various misdeeds?  Does he believe that the sinner will catch a glimpse of this sign as it flashes past, suddenly realize, with a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, the many errors of his ways, and then decide to follow the path of righteousness?  Does he expect the driver to make both a literal and figurative U-turn and be illuminated by the Ten Commandments on his return path to redemption?

I think hell certainly can be real, and it may well be found in very close proximity to this sign.