Shakespeare in Love (1998)

In a way, it’s surprising how rarely Shakespeare turns up in the Oscars lists. Perhaps in his day, though, he would have been considered too lowbrow for such an august awards ceremony, too entranced with swordfights and dick jokes. Whatever the case, I’m glad this film was on my list, since it captures the spirit of Shakespeare really well, what with its women-disguised-as-men and wordplay and noble rivalries.

I hadn’t realized that Tom Stoddard was credited as a writer on the screenplay, which probably explains why it’s so awesome. I really liked Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Thank God for Shakespeare fanfiction. One of the things I’ve been thinking about in watching movies throughout Oscar history is how films portray other sorts of entertainment – like how in this age, we look at the early era of Hollywood, and the early era of Hollywood often focused on other forms of theater, pre-movies. So in this film, we see theater from several hundred years ago, and yet it’s remarkably recognizable. Is that because it reflects the way actual theater looked back then, or simply because it mirrors what is most familiar to us today? To be fair, it’s probably a little of both, though I can’t help but notice that we can’t be so different from medieval folk if we all can enjoy watching other people acting out stories.

Just the other day, I watched some behind-the-scenes bit on a Doctor Who episode that focused on Shakespeare (battling a supernatural witch creature rather than falling in love). They were excited about filming in the restored Globe Theater in London because, according to David Tennant, even the Shakespeare in Love people weren’t given permission to film there. Regardless, they managed to replicate the same look of that era’s theater in the sets of the Rose.

On my brief trip to London last summer, I was thrilled that I made time to tour the Globe, a little thatched-roof theater on the South Bank of the Thames. I’d debated watching a performance – I think they were doing King John in honor of the Magna Carta, and if you’re anything like me, you probably didn’t even know that was a Shakespeare play. In the end, though, I think getting the guided tour was far preferable to standing on a patch of ground for three hours, or worse, sitting on one of those cramped bleacher seats.

It seems like the kind of film that would only be enriched by knowing more about Shakespeare’s time and the contemporary environment of London. Of course, there’s little we actually do know about his life, only the generalities of theater and politics in that era, from we can extrapolate personality traits or suppositions. I like the idea of a sexy young Shakespeare, filled both with passion and loss.

Some of the moments in the film I liked best were those ones in which we see parts of a play in parallel with scenes from life, with the lines serving both parts in different ways. There’s an acted-out sword fight interrupted by an actual angry nobleman and his guards, brandishing real weapons. Shakespeare visits Viola in her rooms, using his own lines as foreplay. “I’ll come again,” he says, rehearsing lines during sex. It’s complicated and convoluted and difficult to explain as a plot point, just like your average Shakespeare play, which may be why we still find them so compelling today.


Theme: Shakespeare

First Time Watching? No, though I apparently slept through most of it the first time.

Final Verdict: Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?