23 Huge Facts About The Big Lebowski

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

You’re a Lebowski. I’m a Lebowski. These days, pretty much everybody loves The Big Lebowski. But it wasn’t always the case. Since its initial release and modest reception in 1998, the Coen brothers' oddball slacker-hero tale has enjoyed modern movie history’s most unusual (yet fairly inevitable) ascent to classic status. Here are 23 facts that might have eluded even the most accomplished Lebowski achievers.

1. THE BIG LEBOWSKI GOT SOME LOVE FROM THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS.

In December of 2014, The Big Lebowski became one of 700 "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" films preserved for future generations through the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry. The 2014 class of 25 films included the likes of Saving Private Ryan, Rosemary’s Baby, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The Registry praised the “tale of kidnapping, mistaken identity, and bowling” for its exploration of “alienation, inequality, and class structure via a group of hard-luck, off-beat characters suddenly drawn into each other’s orbits.”

2. ACCORDING TO JOEL COEN, THE PLOT DOESN'T REALLY MATTER.

Think about the many things you love about The Big Lebowski: the performances, the musical sequences, the endless onslaught of brilliantly quotable lines, the Jesus. Strangely, the actual plot of the movie is secondary (or fifth-dary) to most people’s enjoyment of the movie. Do you remember what happens to the missing money in the end, or if there even was missing money to begin with? According to Joel Coen, they knew the plot would probably be a bit confounding to most viewers on the first watch, and they also knew that it probably wouldn’t matter. “The plot is sort of secondary to the other things that are sort of going on in the piece," he said in a DVD extra for the film. "I think that if people get a little confused it’s not necessarily going to get in the way of them enjoying the movie.”

3. THE COEN BROTHERS PROBABLY DON'T LOVE THE MOVIE AS MUCH AS YOU DO.

 Directors Ethan Coen (L) and Joel Coen attend the 'Hail, Caesar!' photo call during the 66th Berlinale International Film Festival Berlin at Grand Hyatt Hotel on February 11, 2016 in Berlin, Germany
Pascal Le Segretain, Getty Images

We’re assuming the Coen brothers are plenty fond of The Dude: after all, he doesn’t end up facing imminent death or tragedy, which is more than most of their protagonists have going for them. But in a 2009 interview, Joel Coen flatly stated, “That movie has more of an enduring fascination for other people than it does for us.”

4. IT'S PARTLY INSPIRED BY RAYMOND CHANDLER'S THE BIG SLEEP.

In the rare interviews where the Coen brothers have discussed their inspiration for The Big Lebowski, they name-drop noir crime writer Raymond Chandler—in particular, his 1939 novel The Big Sleep. According to Joel Coen, Chandler novels “usually follow the main character as he encounters these different characters on a journey to uncover a mystery, or find a missing person, or whatever it may be in the novel. In this case, that was the model for this story.” But unlike hardboiled The Big Sleep protagonist detective Philip Marlowe, The Dude is dropped in "the most impossible of situations" and is “the person who seemed least equipped to deal with it."

5. THE DUDE IS PRESENT IN EVERY SCENE.

In true noir fashion, the lead character—in this case, The Dude, of course—is present in every scene in the movie. This includes the scene where Peter Stormare and the rest of the Nihilist crew are ordering pancakes in a diner, where Walter and The Dude’s van can be seen through the diner window in the background.

6. THE DUDE IS NOT THE LEBOWSKI REFERENCED IN THE TITLE.

This may seem obvious to some, but it probably comes as a surprise to others. The title The Big Lebowski is a reference to the millionaire Jeffrey Lebowski, and not The Dude. Jeffrey Lebowski is referred to as “the Big Lebowski” many times throughout the script, but in the movie, the only evidence that he’s the “Big Lebowski” comes when the Dude refers to him as such sporadically, just a few times throughout the film.

7. THERE'S A MUSICIAN CAMEO YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED.

Peter Stormare, Flea, and Torsten Voges in The Big Lebowski (1998)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Most Lebowski diehards know that Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea pops up a few times throughout the movie as one of the ne'er-do-well nihilists trying to shake The Dude down for ransom money (his credited name is “Kieffer,” in case you were wondering). It’s worth noting that gives Flea a not-too-shabby cult classic film resume, considering his appearances in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the last two legs of the Back to the Future trilogy, and Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho. But they might not know that singer/songwriter Aimee Mann also pops up as a nihilist—indeed, the one who has sacrificed a pinky toe for the cause. Mann would play a major part in another now-classic movie that had a hard go of it at the box office the next year, writing music for Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia.

8. WHILE THERE ARE TONS OF FAMILIAR COEN BROTHER FILM FACES, THE FILM DOESN’T FEATURE THEIR MOST FREQUENT COLLABORATOR.

When it comes to familiar faces from the Coen-verse popping up, The Big Lebowski just might be the ultimate Coen ensemble movie. Major players include John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Jon Polito, John Turturro, and Peter Stormare. Missing, however, is the Coens' most frequent collaborator: Frances McDormand. McDormand, who has been married to Joel Coen since 1984, has had roles in eight of the Coens' movies (most recently, 2016's Hail, Caesar!). In 1997—more than 20 years before she won the Best Actress Oscar for Martin McDonagh's Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (which was promptly stolen, but quickly recovered)—she took home an Oscar for her portrayal of Marge Gunderson in Fargo.

9. THE COENS WANTED MARLON BRANDO FOR LEBOWSKI (EVEN THEY THEY KNEW IT WAS A LONG SHOT).

According to Alex Belth, who wrote the e-book The Dudes Abide: The Coen Brothers and the Making of the Big Lebowski about his time spent working as an assistant to the Coens, casting the role of Jeffrey Lebowski was one of the last decisions made before filming commenced. Names tossed around for the role included Robert Duvall (who passed because he wasn’t fond of the script), Anthony Hopkins (who passed since he had no interest in playing an American), and Gene Hackman (who was taking a break at the time). A second “wish list” included an oddball “who’s who," including Norman Mailer, George C. Scott, Jerry Falwell, Gore Vidal, Andy Griffith, William F. Buckley, and Ernest Borgnine. The Coens’ ultimate Big Lebowski, however, was the enigmatic Marlon Brando, who by that time was reaching the end of his career (and life). Apparently, the Coens amused themselves by quoting some of their favorite Jeffrey Lebowski lines (“Strong men also cry”) in a Brando accent. The role would eventually go to the not-particularly-famous (but pitch perfect) veteran character actor David Huddleston. In true Dude fashion, it all worked out in the end.

10. A WHOLE MESS OF PEOPLE CALL THE BIG LEBOWSKI ONE OF THEIR FAVORITE MOVIES.

It probably comes as no surprise, but you’re not the only one who loves The Big Lebowski. Actors Jennifer Lawrence, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, John Hawkes, Jane Lynch, Martin Starr, Eva Mendes, and Nick Offerman—plus directors Sam Raimi and Richard Kelly—have all name-checked it as one of their “Five Favorite Films” on Rotten Tomatoes. Rapper Talib Kweli is such a massive fan that, in 2013, he hosted a screening of the film at New York City's IFC Center.

11. A SEMI-SPINOFF IS COMING. MAYBE.

The Coens have repeatedly shot down anything vaguely resembling the idea of writing and directing a sequel, with Joel Coen flatly stating, “I just don’t like sequels.” Still, the rumors persist, and they reached a fever pitch in October of 2014 when unfounded claims that a sequel would start filming in January 2015 started swirling around the internet. However, in 2016, it was reported that John Turturro had begun filming a sort of spinoff that would feature his character from the film, the bowling-ball-licking, smooth-rolling, sex offender Jesus Quintana. It’s hard to believe, but Turturro’s legendary character pops up in just two scenes. Turturro (correctly) thinks the character needs more face time, and has been bothering the Coen brothers to revisit the character for years, or at least give him permission to go ahead and direct some kind of Jesus-centric spin-off. Currently titled Going Places, there is not a lot of information available on the film, though IMDb does note that it's scheduled for release this year.

12. JOHN TURTURRO WAS ORIGINALLY EMBARRASSED BY HIS SCENES AS JESUS.

Turturro may be giving new life to his Big Lebowski character, but the actor wasn't immediately enamored of Jesus. “The first time they showed [my scenes] to me, I was really embarrassed,” the actor told The Hollywood Reporter of The Big Lebowski in 2017. "I didn’t even get the movie when it came out. When I saw it, I thought [Jeff Bridges] was great, but it went over my head." But Jesus ended up being a fan favorite character, and Turturro explained that the new film is "not a spinoff of The Big Lebowski. It’s much more sexual. You find out that he was framed [as a pedophile].”

13. SINCE ITS RELEASE, SOME CRITICS HAVE CHANGED THEIR MIND ABOUT THE BIG LEBOWSKI.

Turturro isn't the only one whose opinion of The Big Lebowski softened over time. When you’re a cult classic, initial confusion just comes with the territory. As such, Lebowski—the ultimate cult classic—was hardly met with the near-universal acclaim it receives today when it was released in 1998. Roger Ebert didn’t hate, hate, hate it, giving it three out of four stars upon its initial release, but he didn’t praise it as an all-time great either. It wasn’t until 2010 that Lebowski entered Ebert’s pantheon of “Great Movies” when he awarded it a perfect four out of four stars. Ebert wasn't the only critic who changed his mind over time. Peter Howell of the Toronto Star initially wrote, “It’s hard to believe that this is the work of a team that won an Oscar last year for the original screenplay of Fargo.” But in 2011, he wrote a piece chalking his original poor review up to “festival fatigue,” and saying, “It may just be my favorite Coen Bros. film, and I’m generally a fan of the Coens.”

14. IT WAS A BOX OFFICE BOMB.

Steve Buscemi, Jeff Bridges, and John Goodman in The Big Lebowski (1998)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

The Big Lebowski was a total slouch at the box office, making an anemic $5 million over its opening weekend, and barely covering its $15 million budget at the domestic box office. But since its initial release, the movie has been nothing short of a cash cow, selling incredibly well on VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray.

15. THERE ARE SEVERAL CLEVER COEN EASTER EGGS YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED.

There are several Easter eggs throughout The Big Lebowski for fans of the full Coen filmography. Steve Buscemi’s character Donny, who famously can never get a word out without Walter telling him to “shut the f**k up,” is the polar opposite of Buscemi’s character Carl Showalter in Fargo, who chatters nonstop to his near-wordless crime accomplice played by Peter Stormare. One of the only reasons Stormare opens his mouth in Fargo is to mention his desire to find a “pancakes house.” He never ends up getting the chance in Fargo, but his nihilist character orders them in The Big Lebowski. It’s also Coen lore that Buscemi's dead body has ended up in smaller and smaller parts throughout their filmography, finishing up as a corpse in Miller’s Crossing, a disembodied leg in Fargo, and ashes in The Big Lebowski.

16. ONE FARGO EASTER EGG DIDN'T MAKE THE FINAL CUT.

In the film, it’s eventually revealed that Bunny Lebowski, Jeffrey Lebowski’s trophy wife, is named Fawn Knutson, and was born in Moorhead, Minnesota before running away to Los Angeles. But in the script, Bunny’s real name is Fawn Gunderson, and thus shares a surname with Fargo heroine Marge Gunderson, implying a possible relation. Moorhead is also notably a twin city of Fargo, North Dakota, sitting directly across the North Dakota-Minnesota border.

17. DUE TO THE PROFANITY, CABLE CUTS OF THE BIG LEBOWSKI HAVE REQUIRED SOME VERY CREATIVE EDITING.

“Do you have to use so many cuss words?” It’s surprising that Lebowski is a film that gained much of its following via post-theater cable television airings, considering “f**k” is uttered 260 times throughout, making it one of the most f-bomb-laden feature films ever made. However, even the edited-for-cable versions have gained something of a cult following for their, shall we say, creative word replacements. One version that aired on Comedy Central famously featured Walter bizarrely screaming, “Do you see what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps?" in place of a much more straightforward profanity.

18. SEVERAL OF THE MAIN CHARACTERS ARE INSPIRED BY FOLKS THE COENS HAVE MET IN HOLLYWOOD.

According to the Coen brothers, The Dude is based in part on Jeff Dowd, a film producer they met while working on their directorial debut, 1984’s Blood Simple. Dowd, who also goes by “The Dude,” was 1/7 of the “Seattle Seven”—seven members of the Seattle Liberation Front that helped organize a 1970 Vietnam War protest at downtown Seattle’s federal courthouse and were charged with "conspiracy to incite a riot" after the protest turned violent. John Goodman’s Walter Sobchak also had a real-life, Hollywood inspiration: writer and director John Milius, who had a hand in the making of Dirty Harry, Apocalypse Now, Jaws, and Conan the Barbarian. Milius, who sports glasses, a beard, and a figure similar to Walter's, claims to be obsessed with the Vietnam War. But unlike Walter, he was never actually able to serve: After attempting to enlist in the 1960s, he was turned down due to his chronic asthma.

19. THE BIG LEBOWSKI WAS ONCE CITED IN A TEXAS SUPREME COURT DECISION.

In 2014, Texas Supreme Court Justice Debra Lehrmann cited the movie in a legal decision on a freedom of speech case. Lehrmann noted that it’s common knowledge that prior restraint, or censorship prior to an expression taking place, has been largely rejected by “the Supreme Court, this Court, Texas courts of appeals, legal treatises, and even popular culture." A footnote attached quoted Walter Sobchak's claim that “the Supreme Court has roundly rejected prior restraint.”

20. DUE TO THE VAGUENESS OF THE MOVIE'S MESSAGE (OR LACK THEREOF), THERE HAVE BEEN SOME VERY CREATIVE INTERPRETATIONS.

The Coen brothers’ indications that The Big Lebowski is about little more than oddball characters crossing each other’s paths has led to some interesting and creative analyses regarding what it all really means. Some of the more interesting takes have included Lebowski as a “a parable of Global Capitalism,” a “modern adaptation of Albert Camus' The Stranger and an illustration of the philosophy of Absurdism,” and even The Dude as “a contemporary Jesus," with the essay’s author noting, among other things, the similarity in hair styles. Oh, and did we mention Lebowski birthed a religious movement called Dudeism, which “preaches non-preachiness,” “practices as little as possible,” and shares common ground with the laid back ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism? Because it did.

21. THE RUG ALMOST ENDED UP TYING THE MOVIE TOGETHER.

Jeff Bridges stars in 'The Big Lebowski' (1998)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

The Dude’s rug is, in many ways, the driving force behind The Big Lebowski from start to finish. The notorious Lebowski rug was such a central part of the film, the Coens even participated in an interview with Floor Covering Weekly while promoting the movie. In a DVD extra, Ethan Coen notes that producer Joel Silver thought the film should end with The Dude getting his rug back, but the Coens never followed through.

22. FORMER ROLLING STONES MANAGER ALLEN KLEIN LOVED ONE LINE IN THE MOVIE SO MUCH, HE WAIVED THE LICENSING FEE FOR "DEAD FLOWERS."

From the Sons Of The Pioneers’s “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” to The Dude’s hallucinatory, vaguely pornographic odyssey set to Kenny Rogers’s “Just Dropped In,” the T-Bone Burnett-produced soundtrack is one of the many reasons Lebowski is an enduring classic. Former Rolling Stones manager Allen Klein even offered up the rights to the song “Dead Flowers” gratis. Initially, Klein wanted $150,000, but so adored the scene where The Dude talks about hating “the f**kin’ Eagles,” he waived the licensing fee. The Eagles crack apparently ended up causing some friction when Jeff Bridges later ran into Eagles member Glenn Frey. "I can't remember what he said exactly," Bridges said, "but my anus tightened a bit."

23. YOU'VE ALMOST CERTAINLY SEEN JEFFREY LEBOWSKI'S MANSION SOMEWHERE ELSE.

Mr. Lebowski’s not-so-humble Beverly Hills dwelling is known as Greystone Mansion in real life, and has popped up in The Muppets, The Prestige, Rush Hour, The Social Network, The Dirty Dozen, and, perhaps most notably, in the music video for Meat Loaf’s "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That).”

Fact-Checking 13 Plot Points in All Is True, Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespeare Biopic

Kenneth Branagh as William Shakespeare in All Is True (2019).
Kenneth Branagh as William Shakespeare in All Is True (2019).
Robert Youngson, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

After being the face of Shakespeare film adaptations to a whole generation in films like Henry V (1989), Much Ado About Nothing (1993), Othello (1995), Hamlet (1996), and Love's Labour's Lost (2000), Kenneth Branagh has stepped into the shoes of the Bard himself. The British actor plays William Shakespeare in the new movie All Is True, which the five-time Oscar nominee also directed.

The film, which began rolling out in U.S. theaters on May 10, functions as a sequel of sorts to Shakespeare in Love. Call this one Shakespeare in Retirement. It depicts the Bard in the final few years of his life, which historians believe he mostly spent in Stratford-upon-Avon. Before his death in 1616, Shakespeare reunited with the wife and children he’d spent so much time away from while working in London.

All Is True takes its name from an alternate title used during Shakespeare’s lifetime for his play Henry VIII. The film frequently winks at its title, exploring the role of truth—or lack thereof—in the life of Branagh’s Will.

Spotty historical records leave many details about Shakespeare’s life in the realm of uncertainty, so filmmakers depicting the playwright must make use of broad artistic license to fill in the blanks. Mental Floss spoke with Harvard University professor and Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare author Stephen Greenblatt to fact-check All Is True. It turns out that the film’s depiction of Shakespeare is a mix of truth, presumed truth, and pure imagination.

1. Partially true: Shakespeare retired to Stratford-upon-Avon after the Globe burned down.

All Is True opens with the striking image of Will’s silhouette in front of a massive, crackling fire that destroys his prized playhouse. A title card tells viewers that at a performance of Shakespeare’s Life of Henry VIII (a.k.a. All Is True) at the Globe on June 29, 1613, during Act 1 Scene 4, a prop cannon misfired, starting the blaze. The next title card states, “The Globe Theatre burnt entirely to the ground. William Shakespeare never wrote another play.”

A prop cannon likely did misfire, and the resulting fire did destroy the Globe; while there were fortunately no deaths or serious injuries as a result, the fire delivered a serious financial blow to Shakespeare and other shareholders in the King's Men, the company of actors who performed at the Globe. But "never wrote another play" is a stretch. “The movie suggests he rode out of London, as it were, in the wake of the fire,” Greenblatt says. “But actually, it’s widely thought that he retired to Stratford before but he continued to write for the theater.”

The Tempest, for example, was likely the last play Shakespeare wrote solo, without a collaborator, and some scholars theorize he wrote it at home in Stratford-upon-Avon, not in London. Academics are divided as to which play was the final play Shakespeare ever wrote, but the general consensus is that it was either Henry VIII or The Two Noble Kinsmen, both collaborations with John Fletcher, which were possibly written during return trips to London.

2. True: Shakespeare’s daughter was accused of adultery.

Left to right: Jack Colgrave Hirst as Tom Quiney, Kathryn Wilder as Judith Shakespeare, Kenneth Branagh as William Shakespeare, Judi Dench as Anne Hathaway, Clara Ducz- mal as Elizabeth Hall, Lydia Wilson as Susanna Hall
Left to right: Jack Colgrave Hirst as Tom Quiney, Kathryn Wilder as Judith Shakespeare, Kenneth Branagh as William Shakespeare, Judi Dench as Anne Hathaway, Clara Duczmal as Elizabeth Hall, and Lydia Wilson as Susanna Hall in All Is True (2019).
Robert Youngson, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

The film depicts a man named John Lane accusing Shakespeare’s eldest child, Susanna Hall, of adultery. That really happened, and the real-life Susanna Hall sued Lane in 1613 for slanderously saying that she had cheated on her husband with local man Ralph Smith.

As for whether Susanna Hall really did have an extramarital relationship with these men, that’s not known for sure, and the film leaves this somewhat up to viewer interpretation. But her real-life slander case did succeed in getting Lane excommunicated.

3. Likely true: Shakespeare had no schooling beyond age 14.

When a fanboy approaches Will with some eager questions, he says, “They say you left school at 14.” The line may be a bit misleading: Shakespeare did not quit school as a student would today if he "left school" at age 14. But it is true that boys in Shakespeare’s time completed grammar school at around age 14. They then could begin apprenticeships. Shakespeare’s schooling would have been intense, though: He would have been in lessons from 6 a.m. to as late at 6 p.m. six days a week, 12 months a year (getting an extra hour to sleep in only during the winter, when school started at 7 a.m. in the dark and cold months).

As Greenblatt wrote in Will in the World, “the instruction was not gentle: rote memorization, relentless drills, endless repetition, daily analysis of texts, elaborate exercises in imitation and rhetorical variation, all backed up by the threat of violence.”

No surviving records confirm that Shakespeare attended the school in Stratford-upon-Avon, but most scholars safely assume that he did. The grammar school there was free and accessible to all boys in the area, the exception being the children of the very poor, since they had to begin working at a young age.

Regarding the fanboy moment in the film, Greenblatt says, “The implication of that moment was precisely to remind us that [Shakespeare] didn’t go to university, as far as we know. I’m sure he didn’t. He would have bragged about it at some point" (as many of his contemporaries did).

4. Likely true: Susanna Hall was literate, while Shakespeare’s wife and younger daughter were not.

While boys received a formal education in Elizabethan and Jacobean England, girls did not. The film depicts Susanna as skillful at reading, unlike Will’s younger daughter, Judith, or his wife, Anne.

This is likely true: Greenblatt says that “the general sense is that Susanna was literate and that Judith and Anne were not,” though this is another area of Shakespeare’s family history that scholars cannot know for certain.

“This is a trickier matter than it looks,” Greenblatt says, “because lots of people in this period, including Shakespeare’s father, clearly knew how to read, but didn’t know how to write. This would be particularly the case for many women but not exclusively women in the period—that writing is a different skill from reading and that quite a few people were able to read.”

5. True: Shortly after his son’s death, Shakespeare wrote The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Judi Dench as Anne Hathaway and Kenneth Branagh as William Shakespeare in 'All Is True'
Judi Dench as Anne Hathaway and Kenneth Branagh as William Shakespeare in All Is True (2019).
Robert Youngson, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

When Will insists that he did mourn Hamnet, his only son, who died in 1596 at age 11, Anne bites back, “You mourn him now. At the time you wrote Merry Wives of Windsor.”

It’s a gut-punch from Anne not just because Merry Wives (featuring the ever-entertaining character Falstaff) is a raucous comedy but also because it was, in the most cynical view, a cash grab. Shakespeare likely wrote Merry Wives after the Falstaff-featuring Henry IV Part 1 but before moving onto the grimmer Henry IV Part 2, “to tap an unexpected new market phenomenon,” scholars Martin Wiggins and Catherine Richardson wrote in British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue regarding the "humours comedy," which debuted to immediate popularity in May 1597.

There is another way to interpret this: Both parts of Henry IV deal with a troubled father-son relationship, and the conclusion of Part 2 depicts a son taking up the mantle of his deceased father. Perhaps Prince Hal and King Henry hit too close to home for Will (who in this film hopes his son will follow in his poetic footsteps), and a lighthearted comedy is what he needed.

6. Very unlikely: The Earl of Southampton visited Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, was one of Shakespeare’s patrons, and Shakespeare included a lengthy dedication to Southampton in his poem The Rape of Lucrece. Despite that affiliation, the idea that Southampton (played by Ian McKellen, yet another acclaimed Shakespearean actor) would have visited Shakespeare’s home in Stratford is just “a piece of imagination,” according to Greenblatt. He points out that “it’s difficult to imagine any longer the social abyss” between an earl and someone like Shakespeare but explains, “The difference in social class is so extreme that the idea that the Earl would trot by on his horse to visit Shakespeare at his house is wildly unlikely.”

It is more likely that fellow playwright Ben Jonson would have visited Shakespeare, as he does later in the film.

7. Uncertain: Shakespeare’s sonnets were published “illegally and without [his] consent”

This is what Will reminds the Earl of Southampton of in the film. Regarding that term illegally, it’s worth first noting that though copyright law as we know it did not exist in 16th century England, “there definitely were legal controls over publication,” Greenblatt says.

“This is a notoriously complicated matter—the publication of the sonnets,” he explains. “It is still very much open to question. It’s not a settled matter as to whether Shakespeare did or did not have anything to do with the publication of those sonnets.”

8. Uncertain: Shakespeare wrote some of his sonnets for and about the Earl of Southampton.

Ian McKellen as Henry Wriothesley in 'All is True'
Ian McKellen as Henry Wriothesley in All is True (2019).
Robert Youngson, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

One juicy debate about Shakespeare that endures is the question of who (if anyone) is the subject of his sonnets. Some speculate that his poems that describe a fair youth refer to the Earl of Southampton.

The film imagines a slightly more complicated—and perhaps more believable—situation than the idea that Southampton and Shakespeare had a fling: Will harbors feelings for Southampton, unrequited by the Earl, who reminds Will, “As a man, it is not your place to love me.”

“There is no way of achieving any certainty,” Greenblatt wrote in Will in the World regarding whether the sonnets were written as love tokens for anyone in particular. “After generations of feverish research, no one has been able to offer more than guesses, careful or wild.”

9. True: 3000 attendees could fit into the Globe for one performance.

In an elaborate, impressive clapback directed at Thomas Lucy, a local politician who repeatedly insults Will, the celebrated playwright cites his many responsibilities in London, then says he somehow “found time to write down the pretty thoughts you mentioned.”

It’s true that Shakespeare was both a businessman and poet. His status as a shareholder in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (later the King’s Men) was actually unprecedented: “No other English literary playwright had ever held such a position,” Oxford professor Bart van Es wrote in Shakespeare in Company, adding that becoming part owner of the Globe, “the most impressive venue in London … placed him in a category entirely of his own.”

Among the accomplishments Will lists for Lucy is filling the Globe with “3000 paying customers per afternoon.”

“That is the upper end of the size of those public theaters, as far as we now know from archaeological evidence,” Greenblatt says. “Three thousand is at the high end, but yes. Whether they actually got 3000 people every afternoon is another question.”

Meanwhile, the reconstruction of the Globe that opened in London in 1997 has a capacity of about half that. Its dimensions are the same as the Globe of Shakespeare’s day but modern fire codes don’t allow playgoers to be packed in quite so tightly.

10. True: Shakespeare wrote Thomas Quiney out of his will.

The film depicts the retired playwright adding his son-in-law-to-be, Thomas Quiney, to his will in anticipation of Quiney's marriage to Will's youngest daughter, Judith. A couple of months later, Shakespeare amends his will again after it’s revealed that Quiney fathered a child by another woman before marrying Judith.

This may have really happened. Shakespeare summoned his lawyer in January 1616 to write Quiney into the will. Then in March, a month after his wedding, Quiney confessed in the vicar’s court to being responsible for the pregnancy of unmarried Stratford woman Margaret Wheeler, who had just died in childbirth (along with the child). Shakespeare then met again with his lawyer to strike out Quiney’s name and insert Judith’s name instead. However, some historians dispute that Shakespeare made this change as a result of the scandal; they instead suggest that it was due to practical concerns about Judith’s financial future.

All Is True reverses scholars’s common assumption that Shakespeare had a better relationship with Susanna’s husband, physician John Hall, than with Judith’s. It depicts Will’s removal of Quiney from his will as a reluctant necessity. “What the movie does is suggest [that John] Hall is an obnoxious, Puritan prig and that Thomas Quiney is actually a very nice fellow,” Greenblatt says.

One aspect of Shakespeare’s relationship with Hall that the film leaves out entirely is scholars’ assumption that Hall would have tended to the playwright during any sickness that led to his death. The cause of Shakespeare’s death is unknown, however, and Hall’s surviving casebooks date back only to 1617, the year after Shakespeare’s death.

11. Unlikely: Shakespeare’s family recited his verse at his funeral.

At what appears to be Will’s funeral, Anne, Judith, and Susanna (all with varying levels of literacy) read aloud the words of a dirge sung for the supposedly dead Imogen in Cymbeline. “Fear no more the heat o’ th’ sun,” they quote, “Thou thy worldly task hast done … All lovers young, all lovers must / Consign to thee and come to dust.”

The words are evocative of Scripture. (“Be not afraid” / “Have no fear” is said to be the most repeated phrase in both the Old Testament and the New Testament—and of course there’s the Genesis passage often read at funerals: “For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”) Greenblatt says it is “very unlikely” that verse not from the Bible would have been recited at a funeral at the time of Shakespeare’s death, adding, “but I found that moment quite touching.”

SPOILER WARNING: The remainder of this article includes spoilers about some major twists in All Is True.

12. Uncertain: Shakespeare’s offspring wrote poetry.

Kathryn Wilder as Judith Shakespeare, Kenneth Branagh as William Shakespeare in All is True (2019)
Kathryn Wilder as Judith Shakespeare and Kenneth Branagh as William Shakespeare in All Is True (2019).
Robert Youngson, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

In All Is True, when Will voices grief for his son who had died 17 years prior, he often references Hamnet’s apparent talent as a poet. “He showed such promise, Anne,” Will cries.

Branagh’s film imagines that Hamnet wrote poems full of wit and mischief. Then Judith drops the revelation that she actually crafted the poems, dictating them to her twin brother, who knew how to write. All Is True thus displaces the controversial authorship question from Shakespeare to his children.

“There’s no historical trace of any of this,” Greenblatt says. “That is just an invention.”

13. Uncertain: Hamnet Shakespeare died of the plague.

The other revelation that stuns Will in All Is True is about Hamnet’s death. Will looks at the record noting young Hamnet’s death and becomes suspicious about whether his only son really died of the plague. He confronts Anne and Judith, pointing out the small number of deaths in Stratford in the summer of 1596, saying that the plague strikes with “a scythe, not a dagger.” At this point, Judith confesses that her twin took his own life after she threatened to tell their father about the true author of the poems. She then tearfully recalls Hamnet, who did not know how to swim, stepping into a pond and drowning.

Though the historical record doesn't supply a cause of death for Hamnet, many historians assume he died of the bubonic plague. For the film's revelation about Hamnet’s suicide, which Greenblatt deems as another imaginative invention, Branagh and screenwriter Ben Elton seem to have taken inspiration from the real parish register recording burials at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford, which lists no more than two dozen burials between June and September 1596. Meanwhile, a plague epidemic hit Shakespeare’s hometown shortly after the poet’s birth in 1564 and lasted about six months, killing more than 200 people in Stratford, which was about a sixth of the population.

As Greenblatt points out, the storyline about Judith’s poems and Hamnet’s death serves as a commentary on Virginia Woolf’s compelling essay, “Shakespeare’s Sister,” which appears in A Room of One’s Own, published in 1929. The essay imagines a tragic story for Shakespeare’s fictional sister who is as gifted as her successful brother but is not permitted to go to school and whose parents scold her each time she picks up a book. “She was as adventurous, as imaginative, as agog to see the world as he was,” Woolf wrote.

Greenblatt observes that the central theme of All Is True seems to be “the tragic cost of not having full access to literacy if you were a woman.” He notes, though, that in Elizabethan and Jacobean England, “there were actually quite a few [literate] women, and the work of the last generation, particularly feminist scholars, have recovered a much larger field than Virginia Woolf could have understood or than the movie suggests, of women who were reading and writing in the period.”

Kenneth Branagh’s All Is True is in theaters now.

David Lynch Drew a Damn Fine Map of Twin Peaks, Washington

David Lynch and Mädchen Amick in Twin Peaks
David Lynch and Mädchen Amick in Twin Peaks
1990 ABC/Spelling Ent./CBS Paramount Domestic Television

It can be tough even for die-hard fans of Twin Peaks to navigate its convoluted narrative. In the original 1990-1991 television series, the 1992 film (Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me), and the 2017 Showtime continuation (Twin Peaks: The Return), director David Lynch offered a sprawling examination of weirdness in a small town. Now fans have discovered Lynch has drawn a map, J.R.R. Tolkien-style, of his weird wonderland that helped his cast feel a little less lost.

Actor Kyle MacLachlan, who portrayed FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper on the show, posted Lynch’s hand-drawn map of Twin Peaks on Instagram.

“Two years ago, we made a journey back to a little town with some amazing Douglas Firs,” MacLachlan wrote. “Today I wanted to share a fun part of Twin Peaks history: to create a sense of place for the show, David Lynch drew this map of the town.”

Lynch is no stranger to illustration. In his career, he has worked in a variety of media including painting, drawing, sculptures, and anthropomorphic lamps. More than 500 of his pieces were on exhibit in Maastricht, the Netherlands recently, with another exhibit due to open in Manchester, England on July 6.

[h/t Vulture]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER