Film studies Shakespeare as fraud

Was the Bard a fraud? Did someone else really write the great plays and sonnets we attribute to William Shakespeare? This literary and historical mystery is the subject of the 90-minute documentary essay "Much Ado About Something" on "Frontline" (8 p.m., PBS). Directed by Australian filmmaker Michael Rubbo, "Something" sorts out the opinions of the many literary sleuths and conspiracy theorists who consider the Shakespeare "myth" to be the biggest literary cover-up in history.

Through the centuries, many have come to doubt that one individual could be responsible for the incredible output of plays and poems attributed to one William Shakespeare, a man of humble origins raised without a formal education. Shakespeare doubters have included Henry James, Mark Twain and Sigmund Freud. The father of psychiatry even wrote a book arguing that Shakespeare contemporary the Earl of Oxford was the true genius behind "Hamlet." Through the years, others have theorized that Francis Bacon was the real Bard. The classic television ensemble comedy "SCTV" even lampooned the Shakespeare-Bacon debate with a sketch titled "Shake & Bake."

Much of "Much Ado About Something" concentrates on the modern proponents of the theory that Shakespeare's playwright rival and contemporary Christopher Marlowe was the "real" Shakespeare. These "Marlovians" speculate that Marlowe did not really die in a bar fight in 1593, but instead faked his death and escaped to Italy, where his talent flourished. Marlovians argue that this explains why so many Shakespeare plays involve false identity and Italian settings.

Others aren't so sure. "To me, the people who think that Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare are either American snobs, or great British eccentrics," says Jonathan Bate, author of "The Genius of Shakespeare" (Oxford University Press, 1998). Even Susan Hunt, the wife of a passionate Marlovian, can't stand to see Shakespeare debunked. "The English take in Shakespeare with their mother's milk," says Hunt. "We love him." Viewers who love Shakespeare, the man and the myth, will appreciate this quirky little film.

Tonight's other highlights

  • Anthony Hopkins, Antonio Banderas, Matthew Modine and others discuss making movies with Alan Parker on "The Directors" (6 p.m., Encore).
  • Did you know that "Deal a Meal" creator Richard Simmons was once cast as a debauched Roman in director Federico Fellini's 1970 epic "Fellini Satyricon"? It's amazing the things you can learn on "Biography" (7 p.m., A&E;).
  • On back-to-back episodes of "CSI" (CBS), a book lover meets an unlikely end (7 p.m.), Grissom has his suspicions about a dead body in an elevator (8 p.m.)
  • A teacher (Matthew Broderick) loses his cool when an ambitious student (Reese Witherspoon) runs for class president in the dark 1999 satire "Election" (7 p.m., Fox).
  • Iowa and Southern California tangle in the Orange Bowl (7 p.m., ABC).
  • A business traveler vanishes at the airport on "Without a Trace" (9 p.m., CBS).
  • An expectant mother finds herself trapped inside a wrecked ambulance on "ER" (9 p.m., NBC).

Cult choice

Kirsten Dunst stars in the 2000 drama "The Virgin Suicides" (9:15 p.m., Showtime), written and directed by Sofia Coppola and featuring a moody soundtrack by Air.

Series notes

  • Joey finds himself engaged on "Friends" (7 p.m., NBC) ... Wrestling on "WWE SmackDown!" (7 p.m., UPN) ... "The Jamie Kennedy Experiment" (7 p.m., WB) offers two hours of improvisation.
  • J.D. and Elliot reassess their unusual relationship of convenience on "Scrubs" (7:30 p.m., NBC).
  • Jack becomes a personal assistant to a celebrity (Kevin Bacon as himself) on "Will & Grace" (8 p.m., NBC) ... Jake misrepresents himself to Dylan and Gavin on "Good Morning, Miami" (8:30 p.m., NBC).

Late night

  • Lisa Kudrow and Audioslave perform on "Late Show with David Letterman" (10:35 p.m., CBS) ... Jay Leno chats up Brittany Murphy, actor Michael Chiklis and music by Heather Headley on "The Tonight Show" (10:35 p.m., NBC).
  • Ray Liotta appears on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" (11:35 p.m., NBC) ... Halle Berry, Oliver Hudson and Kelly Rowland are booked on "The Late, Late Show with Craig Kilborn" (11:37 p.m., CBS).


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