It’s a romance. Deal with it. It also happens to be one of my all-time favourite films. Shakespeare in Love is packed with beautifully characterized historical figures such as Christopher Marlowe, Richard Burbage, Queen Elizabeth, and of course, William Shakespeare. It’s also bursting with recognizable actors like Geoffrey Rush, Judi Dench, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Colin Firth. More than just a romance, Shakespeare in Love is also the winner of seven Oscars including best picture. It’s not hard to understand why I cancel all my afternoon plans each time this movie pops up on TV.
Shakespeare in Love is half “Romeo and Juliet” and half “Twelfth Night”. It begins with Will Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) struggling from writer’s block and clinging to the hope that Rosaline, his on-again-off-again lover and muse, will inspire him once again. Rosaline, however, is totally cast aside and more or less forgotten by everyone as soon as Will lays eyes on the beautiful Viola De Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow). Next, a bunch of things happen all at once: in a desperate attempt to settle accounts, Shakespeare’s manager hires actors for a play he thinks Will is close to finishing (…he’s not); we find out Viola is cross-dressing by day so that she can act the lead in said imaginary new play; Shakespeare exhibits gay tendencies towards his new leading ‘man’ and is very confused as to why; and Viola (as a lady) becomes engaged to a self-righteous, misogynistic prick (Colin Firth). This film makes use of all the deep moments in “Romeo and Juliet” with the comedic flavour of “Twelfth Night”, and encourages you to believe that this fictional romance between Will and Viola inspired the creation of Shakespeare’s suicidal star-crossed lovers. Shakespeare in Love uses history, duty, and comedy to create a believable backstory to the famous play.
Half of what is so wonderful about this movie is the writing. If you’re at all familiar with Shakespeare’s works you’ll recognize a few lines here and there thrown into everyday conversation. The setup is designed to look like Will heard the line, liked it, and then mentally jotted it down for use in a play later on. It’s perfectly probable that actual Shakespeare could have heard a ranting maniac scream, “A plague on both your houses!” and liked the sound of it so much he put it in one of his plays. The probability of these little moments is what makes the movie so juicy.
It’s also hilarious to see the representation of a man recognized as one of the greatest writers of all time, struggle with writer’s block. When I suffer writer’s block it feels like every word in my vocabulary has abandoned me without warning: like little soldiers deserting the white paper battlefield and leaving their General to face the blinking cursor alone. When Shakespeare suffers writer’s block, however, he describes his dried up imagination with such beautiful similes you’d swear he was painting the image of his strife right onto the backs of your eyeballs. It’s irony at its best. But in the moments when he gets excited and the words start flowing, what he says is so beautiful it distracts from the meaning. It’s a drooling, staring, “come again?” kind of situation. At times like this other characters have to chime in (for their benefit and ours) and say, “No. We haven’t the time. Talk prose.”
If your girlfriend is pressuring you to watch this movie and you think it’ll be nothing but deep v-neck shirts, candlelit bedrooms, and stolen glances, I reassure you with a pat on the back and a promise of comedy. Right when Shakespeare wishes aloud that he had better actors, the one, the only, Ben Affleck (our Batman-to-be) bursts through the double doors yelling, “Huzzah! What is the play and what is my part?” He agrees to lend his reputation as a famous player to Shakespeare’s little production (secretly still not fully written) if and only if he can play the title character.
It’s romantic, it’s funny, it’s beyond creative, and it’s so very very good. Shakespeare in Love is one of the best love stories of all time, which fits because it’s built around one of the most famous love stories of the past 400 years. The writing is so good it sounds like it was written by… well, Shakespeare. Each line will catch you with an appreciative gasp. I never get bored of this film, and for that reason I give it 10 heart-meltingly beautiful metaphors out of 10.