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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Shakespeare in Love

- Eyes, look your last.

This week's movie rental was Shakespeare in Love, a 1998 film directed by John Madden and written by Marc Norman and playwright Tom Stoppard, and starring Joseph Fiennes (see my post on the film Luther), Gwyneth Paltrow, Rupert Everett, and Judi Dench, among others.

- Rupert Everett as Christopher Marlowe

The basic plot: Shakespeare, not yet famously famous, is having trouble with writing his latest play (the proto Romeo and Juliet) .... he fears his work is not as inspired as that of Christopher Marlowe, and apparently never having been in love, he just can't write it well. That is, until he meets Viola, the daughter of a wealthy merchant and a fan of his work. He discovers she's disguised herself as the young male actor portraying Romeo in his fledgling play and they begin a romance. Their stars are crossed, however - he's already married with children (though separated) and she must soon make an arranged marriage with the odious Lord Wessex. Their relationship lasts only through rehearsals and the first showing of the play.

- cross-dressing Viola

There were a couple of things I especially liked about the film. One was that the character of Shakespeare changes for the better through experience: when the film begins, he's a perhaps brilliant writer but a fairly flawed person who hurts Viola by concealing the fact that he's married, and who endangers the life of his writing rival, Marlowe, with his lies. But when Viola hears from others about his marriage and flees in rears, and when Marlowe is murdered, Shakespeare regrets his actions, praying on the floor of a darkened church ...

The other thing I liked was the way the relationship and the play acted upon each other: the growing love between Shakespeare and Viola transformed the play on which Shakespeare was working, and the rehearsing of the play transformed the feelings they had for each other as well. ... it was a kind of synergism, the real and the fictional romance combining to produce results otherwise unobtainable.

- many moments from the romance of Shakespeare and Viola, like their first meeting at a dance ....

- become incorporated by Shakespeare into his play: here's the dance scene as shown in Zeffirelli's version of Romeo and Juliet

The one thing I didn't like so much about the movie was the ending, though I'd guess most people would consider it to be very good, especially given the constraints of Shakespeare's real-life circumstances. The end finds Viola resigned to doing her duty as Wessex's wife in being shipped off to the new world. And the end finds Shakespeare observing the cloud's silver lining, declaring Viola shall be his eternal muse. She asks him to write her well, and he assures her that she will never age for him, nor fade, nor die.

Call me wrong, but my idea of true love doesn't have it ending in a bow to the inevitable, nor in a renunciation for some greater good. I think true love is messy and brave: it puts life before art, it dares to watch the beloved age, fade, and die, it does what it must, not what it's supposed to ... it tries to do what Romeo and Juliet tried to do, not what Shakespeare and Viola did.

Or at least so I imagine ;)


Blogger Michael J. Bayly said...

Great review, Crystal! I especially like (and appreciate) your closing thoughts on "true love."



4:53 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Thanks for the comment, Michael :)

1:58 PM  
Anonymous Sverige said...

Some people seem to have very strong reactions against this movie but I think its multifaceted story takes time to sink in. Imagine trying to take one of the greatest pieces of English literature - Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet - and inventing an entire backstory to explain how and why it was written. Writer Stoppard (a playwright himself who certainly understands the ups and downs of writing a successful play) takes many memorable lines from the play and creatively inserts scenes, big and small, that provide "inspiration" for them. It is also refreshing to see historical England in a more light-hearted context.

5:36 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


Thanks for the comment. I think you're right - since I posted this I have come to like the movie more than I did.

An interesting other movie I recently saw was Anonymous - about Shakespeare too, but not lighthearted.

6:27 PM  

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