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Yes, it’s another movie night. Yay! This time we are all going to watch the same movie, Shakespeare in Love. This film was released by Universal and Miramax Pictures in 1998. The film won seven Oscars including Best Picture. It is a romantic comedy about the theatre that is loosely based on an early period in the life of Williams Shakespeare.
A few things to keep in mind when viewing . . .
- First of all, have fun watching! Shakespeare in Love is a romantic comedy that has many entertaining elements. It is what is known in the theatrical world as a serio-comedic play. This means it is a comedy with certain serious or dramatic elements contained within the story. In this case, the main dramatic element is an exploration of the human condition and the reality that the creation of a play is an act of creativity inseparable from the life experiences and perceptions of the individuals that are involved in its creation.
- The film is an original screenplay written by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard. Previous to collaborating on this film, Tom Stoppard was already a world-famous, award-winning 20th-century playwright. His plays are still performed by many theatres to this day. As a result, the movie is more like a play than it is a film. Despite its theatrical stylization, the movie did win seven Academy Awards – Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Costuming, Best Production Design and Best Original Musical or Comedy Score.
- The film is a fictionalized scenario of William Shakespeare’s early life known in academic circles as “the lost years.” Marc Norman, Tom Stoppard’s screenwriting partner on the movie, said he consulted Stephen Greenblatt, a Shakespeare scholar, to make sure that at least the framework of the story followed what was known about Shakespeare’s life. Norman said, “I needed some sort of firm ground, some sort of confidence. The great thing about writing about Shakespeare is that everyone in the world knows him and there are only about five facts we know about his life.” John Madden, the film’s director, said, “The point about Shakespeare’s life is that nobody knows anything. All we know is that Shakespeare paid 50 pounds to join the Chamberlain’s Men [referenced in the movie] and that in his will he left his second-best bed to his wife — that’s about the sum of it.”
- “The lost years,” as portrayed in the film, involves the period in Shakespeare’s life in which he wrote Romeo and Juliet. While the film is fiction, it contains many factual elements and characters. Many of the characters, lines and plot developments are also references to several of Shakespeare’s plays. So, not only is the movie more like a play than a film, it is a “play” written in the style and using the formula of Shakespeare’s most famous comedic works.
- Despite its unique and creative interpretation of Shakespeare and his life and times, the film is nevertheless relevant for our purposes because it is, to date, one of the most accurate portrayals of the business of doing theatre and what it is like to be a theatrical artist that I have seen. It is a perfect visual representation of the ultimate goal and purpose of theatre and why it has been a relevant form of expression since 500 BC.
Some themes that are present in the film that have been constants throughout theatre’s 4000-year history:
- Producing a show is often beset with great difficulty and insurmountable obstacles. At times it seems that the play will never actually make it to the stage, but somehow it always works out in the end. As they say in the movie, “It’s a mystery.”
- Producers (referred to in the film as “the money”) often are NOT knowledgeable about theatre as an art form. They are only interested in the profit they can generate.
- Casting is not always based on talent, ability or correctness for a particular role. Sometimes it involves favors or ulterior motives, as seen in the film.
- There are often high strung, “diva” personalities to deal with, which typically involves performers who are not happy about the amount of lines or stage time that they have.
- There is often as much drama offstage as there is onstage.
The film asks, and in some cases answers, several questions about theatre that can help us get closer to our own definition as we seek to answer the question we have been exploring in this module, “what is theatre?” The questions are as follows:
- Does theatre really matter or is it just a mindless indulgence?
- Can a play show us the very truth and nature of love? In other words, can a play reveal to us the very essence of what is means to be human?
- Does a play that ends up being considered a significant work of theatrical art (i.e. Romeo and Juliet) exist because the artist was a “great” artist or because he or she was simply able to connect with their own humanity and recreate their own experiences on the stage?
- Does theatre have to be clean or perfect to be relevant? Life is not clean. In fact, it is often frightening, discouraging, unfair and harsh. If a play is to qualify as a “good” piece of theatre, should it be pretty and entertaining, or should it be honest and authentic?
- Watch the movie Shakespeare in Love from Miramax Pictures.
- View a low resolution version of the film here: Shakespeare in LoveLinks to an external site..
- High resolution versions of the film are available for rent or free with subscription on the following streaming platforms: Amazon Prime, YouTube, Vudu, Apple TV.
- After viewing the movie, respond to the topics/questions below based on the elements of theatre we have been studying in this module.
- Choose 4 out of the 8 response options and respond to your 4 topics/questions of choice in 3-4 sentences EACH. DO NOT respond in only 3-4 sentences total.
- Creativity is discovery. Cite and explain an example from the movie where a character made a discovery that they used in creating or performing in Romeo and Juliet.
- Creativity is technique. Cite and explain an example from the movie where a character used technique to accomplish something in life or in the performance of Romeo and Juliet.
- Creativity involves a burning curiosity, the power of concentration on tasks, the ability to create order when others see chaos, ability to find options and a willingness to take risks and fail. Site and explain one example from the movie in which a character used one of these methods to enhance their creativity.
- Environments can limit or enhance creativity. In the movie, Viola discovers a truth about Shakespeare’s past. When he has a chance to explain, he tells Viola about the situation or environment in his life that limited his individuality and creativity that he came to London to escape. What was that situation/environment? Explain.
- Being judgmental and overly critical of others can diminish creativity. In the movie, Richard Burbage becomes extremely angry and critical of Shakespeare when he discovers that Shakespeare gave Henslow the script he promised to Burbage. Later on in the movie, in the spirit of creativity and mutual respect for his fellow artists, what does Burbage do? Explain.
- Creativity takes time and often involves the need to adjust one’s schedule. In the movie, Shakespeare got behind on his writing deadline for Romeo and Juliet because he was seeking creative inspiration elsewhere. What “schedule adjustment” did Shakespeare make to obtain this inspiration? In other words, what was Shakespeare doing that prevented him from completing the play before rehearsals began? Explain.
- Theatre is live! It is happening in the immediate moment, so anything can happen. Site and explain an example during the performance of Romeo and Juliet portrayed in the movie where a decision had to be made in the moment in order that the show could continue.
- Impersonization is when an actor creates life on the stage. The actor plays a character and that character becomes a living human being that you as an audience member believe and identify with. Site an example from the movie when a character had apparent life and you, as the audience member, believed the authenticity of the performance. Explain why this moment in the life of the character affected you the way it did. How was this moment more than just mindless entertainment or “a bit with the dog?”