Marjorie Baumgarten, the movie reviewer for Austin Chronicle wrote: ““The play’s the thing,” proves Shakespeare in Love, as it presents the imaginary events that led to the creation of the playwright’s timeless romantic drama, Romeo and Juliet” (http://www.austinchronicle.com). Baumgarten is not the only one who feels this way about Shakespeare in Love. Roger Ebert, a Chicago Sun-Times movie critic, remarked that he “was carried along by the wit, the energy and a surprising sweetness” of the film(http://rogerebert.suntimes.com).
Indeed, the director of the film, John Madden with the support and help of screenwriters, Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, accurately managed to show us the speculations, of how Shakespeare might have written one of his best tragedies, Romeo and Juliet. The setting of the movie is 1593. The story begins when Shakespeare is just another scribbling London hack, not as well known as his friend-rival Christopher Marlowe and is short of money (http://www.austinchronicle.com). But still, “he’s a rising star, in demand by the impecunious impresario Henslowe, whose Rose Theater is in hock to a money lender, and Richard Burbage , whose Curtain Theater has Marlowe and would like to sign Shakespeare” (http://rogerebert.suntimes.com). William Shakespeare is writing a new play, “Romeo and Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter”, which would later be renamed “Romeo and Juliet”, for Henslowe. However he is suffering from a writer’s block (http://www.austinchroncile.com) and, telling Henslowe, that his new play is safely “locked up” in his head, he tries to find a muse in Rosaline. But the next day, he finds out that Rosaline is cheating on him and burns the beginning of “Romeo and Juliet”. This is when we meet Viola, the daughter of a wealthy nobleman de Lesseps, who is in love with theatre and acting. She prefers Shakespeare’s plays over Marlowe’s, and wants to act in one of his plays, but , because women were not allowed on the stage those days, she dresses up as a young man, Thomas Kent, and goes to the auditioning for Shakespeare’s new play. “As the man auditioning to play Romeo, Viola wears a mustache and trousers and yet somehow inspires stirrings in Will’s breeches; later, at a dance, he sees her as a woman and falls instantly in love.” Unfortunately Viola has to marry Lord Wessex, “who will trade his title for her fathers’ cash” (http://rogerebert.suntimes.com). Wessex is a mean and a cruel man, who is extremely selfish. He sees the couple dancing at the ball, and asks Shakespeare’s name, threatening him, so that he doesn’t meet Viola any more. But Shakespeare doesn’t want to tell him his real name, so he tells him the name of his friend-rival, Marlowe and leaves the house, being unable to find Thomas Kent.
The next day Viola, disguised as Thomas Kent goes to the Rose Theatre again, and starts rehearsing Romeo’s lines. This time Shakespeare manages to talk to “him” and asks him who he is. Thomas tells William, that “he” is the nephew of Viola’s nurse. William uses Kent as a messenger, to deliver some of his famous sonnets and love letters to Viola and they intimately talk about her in the boat. After this boat trip Shakespeare finds out that Thomas Kent and Viola de Lesseps is the same person “and the love story between Shakespeare and Viola slyly takes form” (http://rogerebert.suntimes.com). The director, John Madden uses montage, moving from the romantic scenes of Romeo and Juliet on the stage, to the affair between Viola and William. Here the movie proves that “the play is the thing” again (http://www.austinchronicle.com), because the affair between Romeo and Juliet is just as impetuous and passionate as the real one, between the author of the play and Viola and both, the lovers in the play and in the real life, know that their love is doomed. William Shakespeare also proves it to Queen Elizabeth, who sets up a wager between him and Lord Wessex, as to whether the play can capture the true nature of love, winning the wager. The proof is the audience’s reaction after Shakespeare and Viola play in “Romeo and Juliet” and we don’t know whether this is the play or the lovers’ real life.
“Shakespeare in Love” ends sadly, as the Queen says: “As stories must when love’s denied – with tears and a journey” and tells Viola to tell Shakespeare to write something cheerful for the Twelfth Night. In the end of the movie Shakespeare is writing his new play, the Twelfth Night, which was inspired by Viola, when he says: “It will be a love story, for she will be my heroine for all time, and her name will be … Viola!”, and this leaves us hoping, that their fate turned out the same way as in his new play (Shakespeare in Love. Dir. John Madden).
1) Shakespeare in Love. Dir. John Madden. Performers: Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Judi Dench. Universal, DVD, 1998
2) Ebert, Roger. Review of Shakespeare in Love, Dir. John Madden, Chicago Suntimes Online. 25 December, 1998. Retrieved 12 October, 2009.
3) Baumgarten, Marjorie. Review of Shakespeare in Love, Dir. John Madden, The Austin Chronicle Online. 25 December, 1998. Retrieved 24 October, 2009.