Shakespeare in Love
|Shakespeare in Love|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||John Madden|
|Music by||Stephen Warbeck|
|Edited by||David Gamble|
|Distributed by||Miramax Films (US)|
Universal Pictures (International)
|Box office||$289.3 million|
The film depicts an imaginary love affair involving playwright William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) and Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow) while Shakespeare was writing Romeo and Juliet. Several characters are based on historical figures, and many of the characters, lines, and plot devices allude to Shakespeare's plays.
Shakespeare in Love received positive reviews from critics and was a box office success, grossing $289.3 million worldwide and was the ninth highest-grossing film of 1998. The film received numerous accolades, including seven Oscars at the 71st Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress (Gwyneth Paltrow), Best Supporting Actress (Judi Dench), and Best Original Screenplay.
In 1593 London, William Shakespeare is a sometime player in the Lord Chamberlain's Men and poor playwright for Philip Henslowe, owner of The Rose Theatre. Shakespeare is working on a new comedy, Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter. Suffering from writer's block, he has barely begun the play, and is further distracted by attempts both to seduce Rosaline, the mistress of Richard Burbage, owner of the rival Curtain Theatre and to convince Burbage to buy the play from Henslowe. Shakespeare receives helpful advice on his play from rival playwright Christopher "Kit" Marlowe, but becomes despondent when he learns Rosaline is sleeping with Edmund Tilney, the powerful Master of the Revels. Henslowe, who is in debt to the ruthless moneylender Fennyman and in desperate need for a new play, begins auditions anyway.
Viola de Lesseps, the daughter of a wealthy merchant, who has seen Shakespeare's plays at court, disguises herself as a man named Thomas Kent to audition. "He" gains Shakespeare's interest when he auditions with a speech from Two Gentlemen of Verona after a series of actors bore him by reciting from Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, but when Shakespeare questions her, Viola runs away in fear of being discovered. Shakespeare pursues Kent to Viola's house and leaves a note with the nurse, asking Thomas Kent to begin rehearsals at the Rose. He sneaks into the house with the minstrels playing that night at the ball, where Viola's parents are arranging her betrothal to Lord Wessex, an impoverished aristocrat. While dancing with Viola, Shakespeare is struck speechless, but is forcibly ejected by Wessex. Wessex also asks Will's name, to which he replies that he is Christopher Marlowe after Wessex threatens to kill him. Shakespeare sneaks into Viola's garden, finding her on her balcony, where they briefly confess their mutual attraction to each other before he is discovered by her nurse and flees.
Inspired by Viola, Shakespeare writes quickly, completely transforming the play into what will become Romeo and Juliet. Rehearsals begin, with "Thomas Kent" as Romeo, the leading tragedian Ned Alleyn as Mercutio and the stagestruck Fennyman given a small role as the Apothocary. Shakespeare soon discovers Viola's true identity, and they begin a secret affair.
Viola is summoned to court to receive approval for her proposed marriage to Lord Wessex. Shakespeare accompanies her, disguised as her female cousin. There, he persuades Wessex to wager £50 that a play can capture the true nature of love, the exact amount Shakespeare requires to buy a share in the Chamberlain's Men. Queen Elizabeth I declares that she will judge the matter when the occasion arises.
When Burbage finds out that Shakespeare has both seduced Rosaline and cheated him out of the money he was paid for the play, he goes to the Rose Theatre with his Curtain Theatre Company and starts a brawl. The Rose Theatre company drives Burbage and his company out and then celebrate at the local pub, where a drunken Henslowe lets slip to a horrified Viola that Shakespeare is married, albeit separated from his wife. News arrives that Marlowe has been murdered, and a guilt-ridden Shakespeare believes Wessex has had Marlowe killed, believing him to be Viola's lover. Viola briefly believes Shakespeare has been murdered but he appears at her church, terrifying Wessex who believes he is a ghost. Viola confesses her love for Shakespeare, but both recognize she cannot escape her duty to marry Wessex.
John Webster, an unpleasant young boy who hangs around the theatre, spies on Shakespeare and Viola making love and informs Tilney, who closes the Rose for breaking the ban on women actors. Viola's identity is exposed, leaving them without a stage or lead actor, until Richard Burbage offers them his theatre and the heartbroken Shakespeare takes the role of Romeo. Following her wedding, Viola learns that the play will be performed that day, and runs away to the Curtain. Planning to watch with the crowd, Viola overhears that the boy playing Juliet cannot perform, his voice having broken overnight, and Henslowe asks her to replace him. She plays Juliet to Shakespeare's Romeo to an enthralled audience.
Master Tilney arrives to arrest everyone for indecency due to Viola's presence, but the Queen reveals herself having been in attendance and restrains Tilney, instead asserting that Kent's resemblance to a woman is, indeed, remarkable. However, even a queen is powerless to end a lawful marriage, and she orders Kent to "fetch" Viola because she must sail with Wessex to the Colony of Virginia. The Queen also tells Wessex, who followed Viola to the theatre, that Romeo and Juliet has won the bet for Shakespeare, and has Kent deliver his £50 with instructions to write something "a little more cheerful next time, for Twelfth Night".
Viola and Shakespeare say their goodbyes, and he vows to immortalise her, as he imagines the beginning of Twelfth Night, in character as a castaway disguised as a man after a voyage to a strange land.
- Gwyneth Paltrow as Viola de Lesseps
- Joseph Fiennes as William Shakespeare
- Geoffrey Rush as Philip Henslowe
- Colin Firth as Lord Wessex
- Ben Affleck as Ned Alleyn
- Judi Dench as Queen Elizabeth I
- Simon Callow as Edmund Tilney
- Jim Carter as Ralph Bashford
- Martin Clunes as Richard Burbage
- Antony Sher as Dr. Moth
- Imelda Staunton as Nurse
- Tom Wilkinson as Hugh Fennyman
- Mark Williams as Wabash
- Daniel Brocklebank as Sam Gosse
- Jill Baker as Lady de Lesseps
- Patrick Barlow as Will Kempe
- Joe Roberts as John Webster
- Rupert Everett as Christopher "Kit" Marlowe
- John Inman as Lady Capulet in play
- Sandra Reinton as Rosaline
The original idea for Shakespeare in Love was suggested to screenwriter Marc Norman in the late 1980s by his son Zachary. Norman wrote a draft screenplay which he presented to director Edward Zwick, which attracted Julia Roberts, who agreed to play Viola. However, Zwick disliked Norman's screenplay and hired the playwright Tom Stoppard to improve it (Stoppard's first major success had been with the Shakespeare-themed play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead).
The film went into production in 1991 at Universal, with Zwick as director, but although sets and costumes were in construction, Shakespeare had not yet been cast, because Roberts insisted that only Daniel Day-Lewis could play the role. Day-Lewis was uninterested, and when Roberts failed to persuade him, she withdrew from the film, six weeks before shooting was due to begin. The production went into turnaround, and Zwick was unable to persuade other studios to take up the screenplay.
Eventually, Zwick got Miramax interested in the screenplay, but Miramax chose John Madden as director. Miramax boss Harvey Weinstein acted as producer, and persuaded Ben Affleck to take a small role as Ned Alleyn.
The film was considerably reworked after the first test screenings. The scene with Shakespeare and Viola in the punt was re-shot, to make it more emotional, and some lines were re-recorded to clarify the reasons why Viola had to marry Wessex. The ending was re-shot several times, until Stoppard eventually came up with the idea of Viola suggesting to Shakespeare that their parting could inspire his next play.
Among the locations used in the production were Hatfield House, Hertfordshire (for the fireworks scene), Broughton Castle, Oxfordshire (which played the role of the de Lesseps home), the beach at Holkham in Norfolk, the chapel at Eton College, Berkshire, and the Great Hall of Middle Temple, London.
References to Elizabethan literature
Much of the action of the film echoes that of Romeo and Juliet. Will and Viola play out the famous balcony and bedroom scenes; like Juliet, Viola has a witty nurse, and is separated from Will by a gulf of duty (although not the family enmity of the play: the "two households" of Romeo and Juliet are supposedly inspired by the two rival playhouses). In addition, the two lovers are equally "star-crossed" – they are not ultimately destined to be together (since Viola is of rich and socially ambitious merchant stock and is promised to marry Lord Wessex, while Shakespeare himself is poor and already married). There is also a Rosaline, with whom Will is in love at the beginning of the film. There are references to earlier cinematic versions of Shakespeare, such as the balcony scene pastiching the Zeffirelli Romeo and Juliet.
Many other plot devices used in the film are common in Shakespearean comedies and other plays of the Elizabethan era: the Queen disguised as a commoner, the cross-dressing disguises, mistaken identities, the sword fight, the suspicion of adultery, the appearance of a "ghost" (cf. Macbeth), and the "play within a play". According to Douglas Brode, the film deftly portrays many of these devices as though the events depicted were the inspiration for Shakespeare's own use of them in his plays.
Christopher Marlowe is presented in the film as the master playwright whom the characters consider the greatest English dramatist of that time – this is historically accurate, yet also humorous, since the film's audience knows what will eventually happen to Shakespeare's reputation. Marlowe gives Shakespeare a plot for his next play, "Romeo and Ethel the Pirate's Daughter" ("Romeo is Italian...always in and out of love...until he meets...Ethel. The daughter of his enemy! His best friend is killed in a duel by Ethel's brother or something. His name is Mercutio.") Marlowe's Doctor Faustus is quoted repeatedly: "Was this the face that launched a thousand ships/ And burned the topless towers of Ilium?" A reference is also made to Marlowe's final, unfinished play The Massacre at Paris in a scene wherein Marlowe (Rupert Everett) seeks payment for the final act of the play from Richard Burbage (Martin Clunes). Burbage promises the payment the next day, so Marlowe refuses to part with the pages and departs for Deptford, where he is killed. The only surviving text of The Massacre at Paris is an undated octavo that is probably too short to represent the complete original play. It has been suggested that it is a memorial reconstruction by the actors who performed the work.
The child John Webster (Joe Roberts) who plays with rats is a reference to the leading figure in the next, Jacobean, generation of playwrights. His plays (The Duchess of Malfi, The White Devil) are known for their 'blood and gore', which is humorously referred to by the child saying that he enjoys Titus Andronicus, and also saying of Romeo and Juliet, when asked his opinion by the Queen, "I liked it when she stabbed herself."
When the clown Will Kempe (Patrick Barlow) says to Shakespeare that he would like to play in a drama, he is told that "they would laugh at Seneca if you played it," a reference to the Roman tragedian renowned for his sombre and bloody plot lines which were a major influence on the development of English tragedy.
Will is shown signing a paper repeatedly, with many relatively illegible signatures visible. This is a reference to the fact that several versions of Shakespeare's signature exist, and in each one he spelled his name differently.
Plot precedents and similarities
After the film's release, certain publications, including Private Eye, noted strong similarities between the film and the 1941 novel No Bed for Bacon, by Caryl Brahms and S. J. Simon, which also features Shakespeare falling in love and finding inspiration for his later plays. In a foreword to a subsequent edition of No Bed for Bacon (which traded on the association by declaring itself "A Story of Shakespeare and Lady Viola in Love") Ned Sherrin, Private Eye insider and former writing partner of Brahms', confirmed that he had lent a copy of the novel to Stoppard after he joined the writing team, but that the basic plot of the film had been independently developed by Marc Norman, who was unaware of the earlier work.
The film's plot can claim a tradition in fiction reaching back to Alexandre Duval's "Shakespeare amoureux ou la Piece a l'Etude" (1804), in which Shakespeare falls in love with an actress who is playing Richard III.
The writers of Shakespeare in Love were sued in 1999 by bestselling author Faye Kellerman. She claimed that the plotline was stolen from her 1989 novel The Quality of Mercy, in which Shakespeare romances a Jewish woman who dresses as a man, and attempts to solve a murder. Miramax Films spokesman Andrew Stengel derided the claim, filed in the US District Court six days before the 1999 Academy Awards, as "absurd", and argued that the timing "suggests a publicity stunt". An out-of-court settlement was reached, but the sum agreed between the parties indicates that the claim was "unwarranted".
The film is "not constrained by worries about literary or historical accuracy" and includes anachronisms such as a reference to Virginia tobacco plantations, at a time before the Colony of Virginia existed. A leading character is a member of the House of Wessex, which died out soon after 1125. Queen Elizabeth I never entered a public theatre, as she does in the film. Between Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night, Shakespeare wrote ten other plays over a period of six years. The biggest historical liberty concerns the central theme of Shakespeare struggling to create the story of Romeo and Juliet as he simply adapted an existing story for theatre. The Italian verse tale The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet had been translated into English by Arthur Brooke in 1562, 32 years before Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.
Janet Maslin made the film an "NYT Critics' Pick", calling it "pure enchantment". According to Maslin, "Gwyneth Paltrow, in her first great, fully realized starring performance, makes a heroine so breathtaking that she seems utterly plausible as the playwright's guiding light." Roger Ebert, who gave the film four stars out of four, wrote: "The contemporary feel of the humor (like Shakespeare's coffee mug, inscribed 'Souvenir of Stratford-Upon-Avon') makes the movie play like a contest between Masterpiece Theatre and Mel Brooks. Then the movie stirs in a sweet love story, juicy court intrigue, backstage politics and some lovely moments from Romeo and Juliet... Is this a movie or an anthology? I didn't care. I was carried along by the wit, the energy and a surprising sweetness."
Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a 92% approval rating based on 138 critical reviews, with an average rating of 8.3/10. The website's critical consensus states: "Endlessly witty, visually rapturous, and sweetly romantic, Shakespeare in Love is a delightful romantic comedy that succeeds on nearly every level." On Metacritic, the film holds a score of 87 out of 100 based on 33 critical reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".
Shakespeare in Love was among 1999's box office number-one films in the United Kingdom. The U.S. box office reached over $100 million; including the box office from the rest of the world, the film took in over $289 million.
The Sunday Telegraph claimed that the film prompted the revival of the title of Earl of Wessex. Prince Edward was originally to have been titled Duke of Cambridge following his marriage to Sophie Rhys-Jones in 1999, the year after the film's release. However, after watching Shakespeare in Love, he reportedly became attracted to the title of the character played by Colin Firth, and asked his mother Queen Elizabeth II to be given the title of Earl of Wessex instead.
In recent years, the film's Best Picture win over Saving Private Ryan has resulted in much criticism, with many considering it as one of the worst winners in the ceremony's history. Many attributed it to Harvey Weinstein's aggressive campaign for the film.
American Film Institute recognition:
In 2005, the Writers Guild of America ranked its script the 28th greatest ever written.
In November 2011, Variety reported that Disney Theatrical Productions intended to produce a stage version of the film in London with Sonia Friedman Productions. The production was officially announced in November 2013. Based on the film screenplay by Norman and Stoppard, it was adapted for the stage by Lee Hall. The production was directed by Declan Donnellan and designed by Nick Ormerod, the joint founders of Cheek by Jowl.
The production opened at the Noël Coward Theatre in London's West End on 23 July 2014, receiving rave reviews from critics. It was called "A joyous celebration of theatre" in the Daily Telegraph, "Joyous" in The Independent, and "A love letter to theatre" in The Guardian.
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